Years of experience hiking South America’s most sought-after trail has taught us that slower is almost always better. Read on to find out why we prefer the five-day Inca Trail to the classic four-day itinerary.
The Inca Trail is, arguably, the most famous 28-mile section of mountain path in the world. The scenery is incredible, the hidden ruins you’ll pass en route are fascinating, and the path itself is widely regarded as one of the greatest engineering works of pre-industrial man. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned accessing the mystical sanctuary of Machu Picchu via the legendary Sun Gate and then getting up close and personal with the enigmatic citadel’s expertly crafted walls, arches, and staircases.
The access to the mystical sanctuary of Machu Picchu via the legendary Sun Gate.
For as long as ‘hiking the Inca Trail’ has been a thing, the trail has been completed over four (fairly exhausting) days. We still offer the four-day Inca Trail on request, but the five-day version is our go-to option. Experience has shown us that doing the trek over five days results in a less crowded, more relaxed, and ultimately more fulfilling experience.
In addition to the incredible ruins, the Inca Trail is famed for the diversity of its topography and ecosystems.
If crowds are really not your thing, however, we’d advise signing up for one of the other incredible treks in the region, such as the Great Inca Trail, which is quite unlike any other trek in South America, or our exclusive Great Inca Trail Day Hikes itinerary which involves no overnight camping but features a plethora of original Inca pathways.
The 20,500-feet Mount Salkantay was one of the holiest apus, or sacred peaks, in the Inca religion.
The five-day itinerary breaks Day 3 of the classic Inca Trail into two much shorter days. This means you’ll reach Machu Picchu on the afternoon of Day 4. Then, after a brief visit to the citadel, you’ll head to a hotel for a well-earned rest. The next morning you’ll return to Machu Picchu relaxed and refreshed for a full tour. The most obvious advantage of the five-day route is that you won’t get as tired as you would on the four-day version. But there are plenty of other points in its favor.
The classic five-day Inca Trail trek involves visits to all the trail’s famous sites, including the ruins at Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna.
Taking your time means being able to truly appreciate the incredible scenery, flora, fauna, and history you encounter en route. This excerpt from Mark Adams’ New York Times bestseller Turn Right at Machu Picchu goes some way towards explaining why having the time and energy to appreciate the trek is absolutely essential to the Inca Trail experience. (The conversation is between the book’s author and Johan Reinhard, a renowned explorer, archeologist and anthropologist.)
JR: “These are not standard Inca sites. They were built for a purpose. Where else in the Inca empire do you find a path leading to these sorts of sites?”
MA: “What does this mean in regard to understanding what Machu Picchu was?”
JR: “It means that you can’t just take Machu Picchu in isolation – you have to see it in context of the sites leading up to it.”
MA: “So the Inca Trail isn’t just a pretty shortcut that Pachacutec took on his way to his summer home?”
JR: “Mark, you can’t finish the Inca Trail and not know that this was the end point of a pilgrimage.”
The five-day itinerary allows you to hike on a different schedule to other hikers – this is one of those rare cases where lie-ins are encouraged, and the early bird definitely doesn’t catch the worm – with the result that you can have the trail pretty much to yourself on days three and four. What’s more, on Day 3 you’ll have the extra special privilege of camping at a different site that isn’t nearly as crowded as any of the other sites.
On the fifth and final day you’ll wake up feeling properly rested (after a night in a real bed!) and able to fully appreciate Machu Picchu. The extra day will also mean that you’ll still have plenty left in the tank to summit Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain – something that should be a real highlight of any visit to Machu Picchu but which can feel a tad overwhelming on the four-day itinerary.
Some highly-recommended pre-trail reading. (Photo: Brooke Kathleen)
Whenever you trek with SA Expeditions, you opt for a superior standard of service, equipment, and comfort. We pride ourselves on employing the best guides in the business; people who live and breathe the Andes and its proud Inca heritage. Our trail cooks are also a cut above the competition – and so are the ingredients they cook with. You can count on three hearty and delicious meals a day, as well as a delicious lonche (mid-afternoon snack) upon arrival at each campsite.
You can count on experienced porters and tented luxury en route to Machu Picchu.
As veterans of the Andes, we don’t cut corners when it comes to equipment. We know that being able to get a good night’s sleep can make or break a trek, which is why our tents, sleeping bags, pillows, and four-inch inflatable sleeping mats are all of good quality and in excellent condition. We also go out of our way to make the trek itself easier by providing complimentary trekking poles (you’ll thank us on Dead Woman’s Pass!) and a wicked trail mix, and by employing porters to carry your overnight stuff (check out our detailed Inca Trail packing list here). In camp, you can make use of solar-powered recharge decks to charge your phone and camera. We provide (discreet) solar powered lighting in all communal areas, and we also bring plenty of flashlights along.
The starting point of Dead Woman’s Pass.
For extra comfort, you might want to consider our out-of-this-world Luxury Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This premium version of the trek includes extra porter support and a supreme level of comfort. At the end of each day, we provide hot-water showers and the option of a professional massage (on a proper massage bed!). When it comes to catering, you can count on complimentary alcoholic beverages (pisco, wine, and beer) and top-notch cooking. And at night, we pull out all the stops by providing ultra-cushy air mattresses, feather duvets, and polar sheets. Put bluntly, our luxury Inca Trail experience is something else.
Take advantage of high-end camping equipment and porter services, including a portable hot shower, gourmet meals and luxurious bedding along the trail.
It makes sense to get the most out of the Inca Trail experience by taking your time and savoring everything the five-day trek has to offer. Whether you opt for the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or the Luxury Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you’re in for a treat. Either way, be sure to book well in advance (booking a year ahead of time is not unheard of) and remember that the trail is closed for the month of February every year.
Contact one of our South America Destination Experts now to start crafting the bespoke Andean adventure of your dreams.
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