The Inca Trail: A day-by-day breakdown of what to expect
Secondary Categories: Peru
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most famous multi-day treks in the world. But we’re sure you’ve got loads of other questions. Like how long is it really? What can you expect on each day? And how fit do you have to be to complete it?
How long is it?
This depends on which Inca Trail you’re talking about. The Great Inca Trail, aka the Qhapaq Ñan, is 25,000 miles long, spanning seven modern-day countries…But don’t worry, you won’t be trekking that far!
Clever marketing means that when most people think of the Inca Trail they’re picturing the classic 4-day hike that starts in the Sacred Valley and enters Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate on the final day. This Inca Trail measures 28 miles (45 km) from start to finish.
Hiking 28 miles over four days may not sound like much. But this is before you factor in the altitude and the pendulously steep inclines and descents. That said, even these obstacles can be overcome through personal determination, pre-trek acclimatization in Cuzco, and embracing the assistance of personal porters and hiking poles. We speak from experience…
Read on for a day-to-day breakdown of exactly what to expect on the classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu:
Day 1 – 6.8 miles
- After transportation from Cuzco, hikers breakfast in the tiny village of Piscacucho, home to the start of the Inca Trail at KM 82
- The first part of the Inca Trail is a dirt path that passes rural houses and farms
- Main ruin site of Llactapata seen from overlooking hill
Day 2 – 7.5 miles
- The path turns to stone in places, passes through semitropical forest
- Uphill most of the day to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,830 feet above sea level
- After the summit, steep descent on stone steps to the campsite
Day 3 – 10 miles
- Steep ascents and descents, but altitude not as high as Day 2
- Several ruin sites, including Runkuracay (round ruins), Sayacmarca (a slight detour off the main path), Phuyupatamarca (overlooks valley), and Intipata (massive terraces)
Day 4 – 4 miles
- Early morning start through Machu Picchu checkpoint
- Enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate
- Tour of the Machu Picchu citadel
Part of the whole
The Incas originally built “Inca trails” to connect their once massive empire, which stretched from Quito in Ecuador down to Santiago in Chile. Cusco, the capital, was the hub of the empire and numerous stone pathways extended from the city and crisscrossed through the region, connecting major sites and places of military importance. The 4-day trek to Machu Picchu is but one (admittedly magnificent) section of this massive network.
The word Cuzco means “navel” in the native language of the Incas, and it was here that the four suyus (regions) of the empire met. These regions were connected by thousands of miles of Inca trails that ranged in width from a few feet to a dozen yards. This network of trails, known as the Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, is of special importance to SA Expeditions as we’ve spent several years trekking and rediscovering over 3000 miles of Inca road with a team of humans and llamas.
With no written language, the empire relied on relay runners called chaskis who darted down the paths delivering oral messages as well as quipus, collections of dyed and knotted strings that conveyed messages that remain (almost) indecipherable to modern man.
For loads more first-hand information about the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu check out some of our other blogs:
- An in-depth, first-hand account of hiking the Inca trail
- What to pack for the Inca Trail
- Weather in Peru
Now that you’ve done your homework, all that remains is to book the Inca Trail adventure of a lifetime. Choose between the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and the shortened version of the Inca Trail. Or have one of our Destination Experts craft the bespoke itinerary of your choice.