Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

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To this day, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. There’s nothing like seeing the morning fog roll over this ancient site. Follow along with us as we describe what life was like on the trail and what we did at the “Lost City of Incas”.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

While Peru is a massive country with many places to see, it seems that glimpsing Machu Picchu in the flesh is on just about every traveler’s bucket list.

We are no exception. In fact, I’ve been twice.

Back in 2012, I traveled to South America with some friends and, like most backpackers, Machu Picchu was on our itinerary. We did a one-day hike and arrived at the ruins early in the morning as the fog was beginning to disappear.

Seeing these ancient ruins as llamas meandered past was really spectacular. To this day, it is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen.

But I had one big regret about my visit to Machu Picchu: Not hiking the famous Inca Trail.  I have been itching to go back ever since.

Lucky for me, I have a husband who has been dreaming of hiking the Inca Trail since he was young, And it’s always been on my South America bucket list, so I got a second go at something that for many is a “once in a lifetime” experience. 

We actually booked our 2 spots for the Inca Trail months before we even purchased our flight to South America.

Ballsy, huh? Yeah, we’re badasses.

Choosing a tour company for the Inca Trail trek

With nearly one million tourists visiting the famous ruins each year, there is a seemingly endless amount of tour companies to pick from. So as you can imagine, choosing one to go with was a daunting task. 

Ranging from minimalist and dirt cheap to over-the-top luxury, we had our work cut out for us.

After reading reviews and researching multiple companies, we decided upon Peru Treks. With five stars on TripAdvisor and a reasonable price, we were happy with our decision and started counting down the days ‘til our journey began.

Peru Treks did not disappoint us. We were served delicious four-course meals, and although we had to wake up before sunrise each day, the porters greeted us with tea in hand outside our tent. Talk about “room service”.

The thing that we appreciated most about Peru Treks is they have a reputation for treating their porters right. We always try to travel responsibly, so knowing they have fair business practices was very important for us because not all the tour agencies can say the same. 

Note: We are in no way affiliated with them and did not receive any discount. We just truly liked our experience. 

Insider Tip: We loved our trek on the Inca Trail, but it is getting more and more popular by the year. If you’d prefer to escape the crowds but still have the same end point, consider doing the Choquequirao trek, which you can actually do without a guide.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Our group of 14 was from all over the world. Australia, Sweden, Brazil, and the United States. And we were of all ages. There was even a family in our group with four kids ages 12, 11, and two 8-year-old twins!

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

The four-day trek itself was pretty difficult at times – Day 2 in particular.

The second day is known for being the toughest, so we set out early for a 5 hour hike. 

Completely uphill. Oh, and don’t forget about the altitude. At more than 4,200 meters (13,800 feet) at times, we all got short of breath without much effort. Still, it was not as bad as hiking above 5,000 meters on our the Everest Base Camp trek.

The landscape along the way was stunning and made up for all the out-of-breath moments.

DSC_5232.JPG
DSC_5341.JPG

When I would stop to breathe and readjust my pack – which was a common occurrence – porters would whiz past me. They carried packs four times the size of mine, wore sandals, and some were old enough to be my grandfather. They were incredible.

And made me feel a bit inadequate.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail

Arriving at “Dead Woman’s Pass” – the point at which the path starts going downhill – was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. We had the hardest part behind us.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Our guide, William, pointing out "Dead Woman's Pass", which we had crossed the previous day. Damn, we were high!

Our guide, William, pointing out “Dead Woman’s Pass”, which we had crossed the previous day. Damn, we were high!

Exploring Machu Picchu

We woke up at 3:30 the last morning of our trek, which just happened to be my birthday, in order to make it to our destination before the gates opened to the tourists arriving by bus.

Tents Campsite Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Before arriving to our final destination, we needed to read up on the history of Machu Picchu. There’s so much to learn and we didn’t want our faces buried in books as we walked around the ruins.

When we reached the grounds, the fog was hanging so thick and low that you couldn’t see more than just a couple meters ahead. Needless to say, when we took a group picture at the famous viewpoint, it looked more like we were inside a cloud than at the famous Inca ruins.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Sun Gate: the entrance to Machu Picchu

Sun Gate: the entrance to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Soon after though, the fog began to lift, and Machu Picchu began to emerge from the mist in all its glory.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
 

It was an unforgettable sight. And since we were there early, the only people at the site were people who had just completed a trek. There was a certain camaraderie amongst us.

Before long though, people started arriving in all directions. Large packs of middle aged foreigners wearing wide-brimmed hats and carrying massive cameras swarmed around tour guides reciting the history of the ruins in just about every language.

Machu Picchu is listed as one of the 7 New Wonders of the World and is on countless lists of places to see before you die – deservingly so. You can’t, however, deny the shift in atmosphere from peaceful during the early morning hours, to crowded and buzzing with people as morning slips away.

People. Were. Everywhere.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

It is incredible how perfectly square the Incas made their bricks.

After our guide, William, gave us a two-hour tour of the ruins, we were free to explore. We wandered about, dodging tourists, and taking pictures. 

Read Next: Best way to visit the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.

One of the best moments of the day occurred after we had hiked up some stairs to get a better view without tourists obscuring our photos. We were talking with our backs to the ruins and when we turned around we had a little surprise waiting for us… Llamas! 

Lucky for us, we had our cameras ready and snapped these beauties:

Llamas Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Llamas Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Hiking the Inca Trail was an incredible experience. We met some amazing people and saw some of the most breathtaking sights. 

Read about our time in Cusco here!

Boots Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

More photos from the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Our incredibly hard-working porters

Our incredibly hard-working porters

The porters set up a tent each day for lunch, then took it down and rushed ahead of us so it would be set up in time for dinner. We were pretty pampered.

The porters set up a tent each day for lunch, then took it down and rushed ahead of us so it would be set up in time for dinner. We were pretty pampered.

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Some seldom-visited ruins along the trail

Some seldom-visited ruins along the trail

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Donkeys everywhere!

Donkeys everywhere!

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
The porters have to take breaks too!

The porters have to take breaks too!

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Ben decided this was where the Incas held concerts back in the day and he reenacted.

Ben decided this was where the Incas held concerts back in the day and he reenacted.

Ben decided this was where the Incas held concerts back in the day and he reenacted.
These kids were troopers!

These kids were troopers!

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru
The cook even baked a cake to celebrate my birthday on our last night!

The cook even baked a cake to celebrate my birthday on our last night!

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Cusco Peru

Comments (35) on “Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

  1. Ramiro says:

    Hi there,
    Amazing experience in Machu Pichu, thank you for sharing.
    I’d just like to update some information. Many visitors expect to add the Huayna Picchu hike to their experience. Nevertheless, I’d like to inform that the Huayna Picchu is still closed until further notice (2021). We hope to be able to hike the amazing Huayna Picchu the following year. Cheers and see you soon in Machu Picchu.

  2. lifexpeditions@gmail.com says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this information, it is very useful for people interested in coming to Peru.
    I want to tell you that this beautiful Inca trail is soon to open its doors again since July 2021 after all the difficulties that Covid-19 gave us.
    Lifexpeditions.com

  3. register@salkantaytrekking.com says:

    Friends and I are planning on doing the classic Inca trail in 2021, thank you so much for your post, it is one of the best that I have read so far and breaks things down quite well and explains what to expect.
    What do you think? about http://www.salkantaytrekking.com

  4. evelyn@hotmail.com says:

    La caminata era muy bonito del Camino Inca y nuestro guía, Edwin estaba muy bien informada. Estuvimos muy bien atendidos, increíble variedad de excelentes platos de nuestro chef cada día y buena calidad y equipo Vamos Machupicchu de viaje son muy amable, empresa muy bien organizado los cuales sin duda utilizar de nuevo.
    http://www.vamosmachupicchu.com/

  5. ambermiblack@gmail.com says:

    Very good this blog has very good information I thought to do the Inca Trail, I was thinking about doing in September but the availability is very limited recommended the alternative route salkantay trek and I am looking forward to the operator agency that is lets go inca trail me They gave very good recommendations

  6. elvis@kenkoadventures.com says:

    Very good experience in Machu Picchu Katie and Ben and thank you very much for sharing it with us. It is important to remind everyone who is interested in doing this trek , that there are two basic tours, 4 days (classic) and 2 days (short). The classic one has to book at least 6 months in advance and the short one 2 months in advance. Of course there are more alternatives to get to Machu Picchu as the beautiful Salkantay Trek that I hope you can do soon.

    Greetings from Peru!

    Elvis

  7. stephanie.castillo0621@yahoo.com says:

    This sounds like an amazing experience! We are planning a trip to South America in just over a years time but are torn between Buenos Aires and Lima. I would love to visit Machu Picchu and hike the Inca Trail but we would have a 4 and 5 year old along with us. Do you think it would be too difficult for them? We are a very active family and hike/camp often but only in the states.

  8. ajmsteinbrenda223@gmail.com says:

    Thank you very much for the excellent information of the blog and has very good shots, I thought to make the Inca road in July but there is no availability, the good thing is that there are very good alternatives to get to the wonder of Peru are the salkantay trek I found a good price
    regards

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey there, glad to hear you’re finding more things to do in Peru. We would love to explore around there again!

  9. jameswilliamscumpa@gmail.com says:

    My partner and I just completed our vacation in Machu Picchu, and highly recommend this company http://inkatrailexplorer.com/machu-picchu-packages/machu-picchu-travel-full-day-tour/ . We opted for the two day tour, beginning with a day in the Sacred Valley, and a day in Machu Picchu (via train). Months before our trip, the company was very helpful with suggestions. The tour covered us from our landing at the Cusco airport to taking us back to the airport and everything in between. Our guide for the tour, Juan de Dios, was exceptionally knowledgeable and informative – – he’s also a great guy and very personable with a great sense of humor and perfect English speaking skills. We were very pleased with the tour and the accommodations in Cusco that were part of the tour. The price of the tour was very reasonable considering everything that was included. I also want to mention that we are a gay couple, and that everyone associated with Inka Trail Explorer treated us very graciously and made us feel welcome.

  10. lifexpeditions@gmail.com says:

    There are many alternative routes to Machu Picchu such as the Salkantay trail, Inca Jungle, rainbow mountain, Choquequirao trek, Lares trek, by train and also by bus.

  11. tgluck@usnews.com says:

    Hi Katie!

    Loved reading your post! My boyfriend and I just planned our trip to Peru! We want to do a 1 day tour to Machu PIcchu (not the hike) since we won’t have enough time. Do you recommend any specific site we should use to get a 1 day tour? Thanks!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Tessa! I’m excited you’re planning on going to Machu Picchu. I can’t think of any one day tour companies off the top of my head, but I when you are searching for a tour make sure to find one that pays its guides well and has good reviews! Happy planning!

  12. Kayli Young says:

    Hi Katie!

    First, I love reading your blog! My boyfriend and I booked our Peru trip for two weeks in September. I am so excited to visit this beautiful country! Second, I have a couple questions regarding Machu Picchu:
    1. We actually didn’t book with a touring company to hike Machu Picchu with. Do you suggest doing so? We purchased the Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu ticket and planned on (hopefully) spending just one day at Machu Picchu if possible. Are the ruins supposed to be a multiple day hike?
    2. Sort of goes in ties with the first question, how long did it take for you to reach the peak of Machu Picchu? We are afraid that since we aren’t going through a tour company we will end up being stranded if it takes too long to reach the top and to descend.

    Please, all the feedback and tips would be very much appreciated! Thank you!

    Kayli

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hi Kayli, you have a great trip awaiting you! Since the early 2000’s tourists have not been able to hike to Machu Picchu without a guide. This means that if you want to incorporate a hike with your visit to MP, you MUST go with a tour company. There are different types of hikes – from several days to very short – and from the classic Inca Trek (4 days/3nights) to lesser known ones. Easy ones, hard ones, and even hikes that involve mountain biking too!

      Alternatively, you can just buy the entrance to MP in advance and wander around the ruins by yourself. It sounds like this is the route you’re taking? If you do this, you cannot hike there, but instead will take a shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes (the closest town).

      If you really have your heart set on hiking (I would strongly recommend it!), I would suggest reaching out to a company and telling them you already have your entrance permit. Perhaps then they could work out some kind of discount since you don’t have to get it through them. Typically though, people get all of it through the company, so the package price you’ll see online includes your entrance ticket as well as all food, tent/equipment, guide, porters, transportation.

      I hope this helps!

  13. treknepalhimalaya@gmail.com says:

    Yes, Hiking in the mountains is an amazing adventure activity and peru is the best destination. But are you planning same experience in Nepal, of course we Nepal Footprint Holiday offers you with the best experience trekking and hiking in Nepal Himalayas. Since 2001 we are operating the trekking in Nepal and its ongoing. Go through our website https://www.nepalfootprintholiday.com for details.

  14. info@sparrowexplorer.com says:

    I can see many incredible things that the world hide for us here. but, I would like to recommend you to visit Peru and fine amazing places as worldwide known.
    choose for a local company who has a responsible tourism in all Peru. http://www.sparrowexplorer.com/

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hi Anna. We were there in the spring time around mid-April. We would totally recommend that time of year to go!

  15. Amanda says:

    Im leaving for Peru in a month and your blog has been fantastic to get ideas! what is the company you did this trek with ?

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hey Amanda, thanks for the nice comment! We did our Inca Trail trek through Peru Treks.

      http://www.perutreks.com/

      We had a great experience and felt like the porters were treated well (better than some other groups we saw). Best of luck planning your trip!

  16. deena8473@yahoo.com says:

    Hey you two – this is Deena from Denver, Colorado. I am so impressed and excited for your world adventures. I started my worldly travels as a solo woman back when it was unheard of and everyone was afraid for me taking off for a year to waunder the globe in my 30s and 40s. I am now 64 and after retiring recently I’m actively looking to go to all the places I haven’t been yet – like Galagapos and Machu Picchu. Your information is wonderful and helpful in getting me back in the saddle. Due to limitations now, I need to either go with a tour or find less rigorous independent travel. Do I need to book M.P. before I leave home? Or, can I arrive in Quito and book something locally in 1-2 days? I like the idea of paying the locals and not the tour companies which I have avoided all my life, but may need to embrace now. Good travels to you.

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hi there Deena, We’re so happy to connect with a like-minded soul! We are always so impressed talking to women who traveled solo a few decades ago, because that would have been such an unheard of thing to do. Good for you to defy what people think is possible!

      I would certainly recommend booking Machu Picchu before you leave on your trip. Due to increasing amounts of tourists each year, they are limiting the number of permits for visitors each day. Definitely do a bit of research, because some companies take advantage of the locals. We liked Peru Treks, because although they were a bit more expensive, they focused on treating their porters well. You can even look into some shorter treks if you don’t want to do the full 4-day hike.

      I hope this is helpful. Thanks for the kind words – they really mean a lot 🙂

      Travel on!

  17. kawanib@gmail.com says:

    this site is such an inspiration for me and my husband. We have recently planned a trip to Peru in March for our first inca trail with Alpaca Expeditions Tours

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