The Inca Trail was used by the Incas as a pilgrimage to reach the revered city. Along the route, ancient travellers passed many Inca cities, with ups and downs that vary by some 3000 feet in altitude. The trail is already notably high– typically above the 10,000-foot range– with the highest spot being “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,700 feet. Nowadays, it has become the most popular hike in all of South America.
Unforgiving and unforgettable, the Inca Trail is a heart-pounding, head-spinning trek into the Andes. Few other trekking holidays compete with the beauty of the snow-capped peaks, tangled cloud forest, wild orchids, humming birds and Inca ruins that rise from the mist along the Inca Trail.
Certainly no other trekking holiday can compete with it for its sense of history, as you tread the ancient road network of the Incas. And no other trekking holiday rewards you with the glory of Machu Picchu at the end. If you are fit enough, the Inca Trail is one adventure tour you must make a priority in your lifetime.
A challenging first few days over Salkantay pass etc., then a simply beautiful second third as we descend to the Sun Gate and into Machu Picchu itself, then a very relaxing few days sightseeing several amazing towns (Ollantaytambo and Pisac in particular – we only had an hour in Pisac and I’d’ve liked to stay there for an afternoon). The porters on the trip are amazing of course, but the cook was a genius! The most delicious trout in quinoa one night and cooked in a mess tent over a single gas stove…
This is definitely a bucket list trip which has you constantly on the go from start to finish. You will not be disappointed but be prepared to feel exhausted at the end of your travels. I have been away with Exodus many times in the past and have always had positive experiences with them. There were a couple of minor hiccups on this trip, hence I have marked down one star. However, with such a complicated trip to book, it was inevitable this may happen.
Our local partners have years of experience taking groups on Inca Trail tours, and this means they know how to provide the best service on the Inca Trail.
We time our arrival at the Sun Gate for later in the day when it is quieter. Then, after a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed, feeling refreshed, we return to Machu Picchu the following morning for a full guided tour.
We look after our local staff well, paying more than the average wage, providing suitable clothing, and working with local communities to improve the lives of our porters and their families.
About 500 people start the trek every day during peak season; we have the experience and the know-how to avoid the crowds and queues (call us if you want to hear some of our secrets!).
We have great gear and choose the best campsites, avoiding the crowded campsite at Wiñay Wayna, which most other groups use.
We take toilet tents so each group has private facilities and doesn’t need to share the less-than-pleasant ‘public’ toilets.
We have permanent staff in Cuzco whose sole job is to ensure all tents are in tip-top condition for each trek. All tents are set up and ready for when you arrive in camp in the afternoon, so you can truly relax as soon as you finish your walking.
While many operators provide their clients with just a thin foam mattress, we use proper thermarests to ensure a good night’s sleep!
Our excellent cooks prepare delicious, filling and fresh meals including three-course hot dinners and hearty lunches.
We know the little extras that make a great trek an incredible trek: morning tea is delivered to your tent to get you going for the day, along with a bowl of hot water to wash in.
Inca Trail permits – early booking essential!
There is a daily cap on the number of trekking permits available for Inca Trail trips, and they sell out very quickly, especially for peak season treks. For this reason, we recommend booking your trek at least six to eight months in advance, particularly for the peak trekking months of May to September. Better still, book before the permits come on sale and we will try to purchase your trek permit as soon as they are released. If permits do sell out, we do also offer an alternative yet equally spectacular route – The Moonstone Trek – which does not require permits and can be substituted for the Inca Trail on most tours.
Highlights of Inca Trail holidays
Dead Woman’s Pass The ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, the first pass on the Inca Trail, is notoriously the toughest and most demanding part of the whole trail. Trekking to 4200m is slow going, relentless and requires every ounce of your stamina, especially if you’re still acclimatising to the altitude. Once you reach the top, usually on the second day, expect to be exhausted to the depths of your soul but totally uplifted by views of snow-capped mountains, endorphins and a powerful sense of accomplishment.
It’s impossible not to feel enormous respect for the Inca workers who carved the stairways into the mountainside and laid over 22,000km of these Inca roads stone by stone. You’ll also be in awe of your fighting-fit porters, the rightful descendants of Inca Chaqui messengers, who bound past you on the trail carrying bags, food and camping equipment without seeming to break a sweat.
Phuyupatamarca After a tiring trek over the second pass and descent through exotic cloud forests you’ll notice the ancient Inca forts, store houses, tunnels and settlements begin to increase, a hint that you’re nearing the end of the Inca Trail tour.
Phuyupatamarca, the ‘town above the clouds’, is a real landmark on the Inca Trail. Complete with a fresh running water system devised by the Incas and beautiful ceremonial baths, it marks a welcome stop before one last test of endurance: the tough bone-shaking descent down 2600 worn Inca steps to Wayna Picchu.
Wiñay Wayna Almost as beautiful as Machu Picchu itself, Wayna Picchu – ‘forever young’ or ‘to plant the Earth young’ – is set amid verdant green Inca terraces made up of spring-fed stone baths and a waterfall tumbling from the peaks above. Stop here to offer thanks to the Inca Earth Goddess Pachamama for getting you this far, because nearby is the campsite you’ll call home before your final trek along the Inca Trail to Intipunku and your first, unforgettable sight of Machu Picchu.
Intipunku and Machu Picchu Most groups strike out for the entry point of the legendary Sun Gate of Intipunku in the dark in order to catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu gloriously lit by the rising sun – a fitting end to your walk along the Inca Trail.
No matter how fatigued you are, no matter how badly your muscles ache, the moment you see the majestic sacred citadel of Machu Picchu laid out before you, birds singing in your ears and blood pumping through your veins, it makes every step of the Inca Trail worthwhile.
See our trips above for Exodus holidays that include Inca Trail tours and Machu Picchu.