Inca Trail: Whats the Big Deal?

This iconic trek to Machu Picchu is often misunderstood and confused with other alternative treks around Cusco.  Here we outline the basics on the Inca Trail and why it’s so special.

What is the Inca Trail?

The fact is there isn’t just one Inca Trail.  The Incas built a massive system of trails all across their empire for transporting goods, soldiers and sending messages.  Quapaq Ňan,  or Great Inca Road,  was the principal highway and it ran for a staggering  6,000km from Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and down into Chile.  It is possible to follow the whole trail though only 25% is still visible.  Just ask Laurent Granier and Megan Soon who walked the whole Inca Road in a mere 18months!

Inca Road through Sangay NP, Ecuador

Kyle on the Inca Trail in Ecuador

What’s the Classic Inca Trail?

The best preserved part of the massive network of Inca Trails is the 43 km section running from the Sacred Valley to the Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru.  The normal time for walking along the Inca Trail section is the much more manageable 4 days, though the 5 day Inca Trail is highly recommended.

Why do the Inca Trail?

Hiking the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail

This fabulous trail through the Andes is an iconic trek.  The Inca Trail is consistently voted as one of the top 5 treks in the world alongside the likes of treks in Nepal and the Alps.  The Inca Trail offers an unbeatable combination of varied scenery, history and local Peru culture; not forgetting the spectacular finish as you descend to the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu.  The route is littered with birds, orchids, Inca ruins and spectacular views with a great variety of scenery each day.  A really great all round trek.

What is it like on the Inca Trail?

You walk through a variety of landscapes including traditional farming communities, cloud forest and high Andean paramo with beautiful views of snow capped mountain ranges; so each day gives you completely different scenery and experience.
The trail is sometimes on Inca-built stone pathways or even a few steep stone steps, at other times it is a regular, clear trail.
There are opportunities for seeing grazing llamas, humming birds and plenty of orchids and, if you are lucky, the elusive spectacled bear.
On each day there are impressive Inca ruins to explore (time permitting)
For the regular 4 day Inca Trail, the toughest day is the second taking you over the highest pass (appropriately named Dead Woman’s Pass) at over 4, 000 m.

Look into the 5 Day Inca Trail for a more relaxed pace and more opportunities for exploring on the way.

Orchids over Machu Picchu

Orchids Over Machu Picchu

It is a challenging trek but with full support from experienced guides and porters, anyone who is reasonably fit can achieve.

Is the Inca Trail overcrowded?

The Inca trail became a victim of its own success in the ´90s and suffered environmental damage.  To address this, the government imposed many  regulations including a limit on the number of people that can be on the trail at any one time.  Anybody wishing to do the Inca trail must do so as part of an organized group and must have a permit to enter the trail.  As the numbers of permits are strictly limited,  places fill up fast so you need to book your spot in advance.  To get away from the crowds you could take the 5 Day Inca Trail.

What is an Alternative Inca Trail?

Peru has some of the best trekking on the world.  There are plenty of alternative treks you can do BUT there is only ONE Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and this is the only trek that will take you directly to Machu Picchu.  Other alternatives such as Lares, Salkantay, the Weavers Way and the Inca Jungle Trail are all good treks – but they  end up at the train station, not at Machu Picchu.


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