There are several different routes and starting points for the Inca trail, ranging in length from two to seven days of hiking. The most popular choice is the Classic Inca Trail route. It starts at kilometer 88 on the railway line that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu and covers 43km (26.6 miles) of varied terrain, ranging in elevation from 2600m to 4200m and in vegetation from barren grassland to encroaching jungle. Along the way are several superb Inca ruins and at the end lies Machu Picchu. This route can be hiked in two days, but most people choose to take three full days and three nights, with the fourth day consisting of a short hike to Machu Picchu at sunrise. Variations on the Classic Inca Trail all follow the main trail but start earlier along the Urubamba river valley. The longest of these routes starts at Km 77 near Chilca, which adds a full day of hiking away from other tourists but doesn't add much in terms of scenery that you wouldn't otherwise see by starting later on the trail. Another start point, Km 82, has its reward in six miles of wonderful views of the Urubamba valley as well as a breathtaking view of the Patallacta ruins. It adds about three hours of hiking to the Classic trail. THIS IS THE HIKE I RECOMMEND. A shorter trail starts at Km 104 and reaches Machu Picchu after a day's hike, though most trekkers choose to spend one night along the way to see Machu Picchu at sun rise. Choose this trail if you are short on time or if you are not in adequate condition to hike the Classic Inca Trail. These alternate starting points can all be reached by train. Be prepared and watch the km markers - the train stops only briefly so be ready to get off. In addition, all but Km 104 can be reached by bus. Check the current schedule at the visitor's office in Cusco, or ask any of the many tour operators to give you a lift. Finally, there are two outstanding alternative hikes which take you away from all the crowds. One follows the Silque valley over a 4800m pass and joins the Classic Inka Trail at Huayllabamba. The other starts in the village of Mollepata and passes over the shoulder of Mount Salcantay (5000m)past glaciers on its way to the Urubamba valley. These two routes take six to seven days to complete. NOTE: All of these routes are one-way. It is not permitted to hike from Machu Picchu back toward the Urubamba valley.