A Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail

A Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous of South America's trekking routes.  

The 26 mile trek includes a mix of Inca ruins, mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest and subtropical jungle, leading to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Though the terrain is not extremely difficult to hike, the high altitude will make it hard for an unprepared hiker.  Hikers will need to spend several days in Cusco before the hike to adjust to the altitude.  Drinking lots of water will help to acclimatize to the altitude.

There are only 500 Inca trail permits available per day, including support staff such as cooks, porters, and guides.  So, we recommend booking your Inca trail tour at least 3 months in advance.  During the peak summer months, however, you may want to book even further in advance.

A Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail

When to visit

The dry season, which is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to October or November and the rainy season is from December to April.  The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains.  Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures from around 32-50ºF.


What to Pack

The tour operator you choose will help determine exactly what you need to bring on the trek.  Usually they supply the appropriate duffel for you to pack and for the porters to carry, which can weight up to 17.6 lbs. You will carry only a light day pack.  Usually they also provide all camping equipment, except for sleeping bags, which are available to rent.  We highly recommend layering with water soluble clothing, or fabric the doesn’t retain moisture, and advise against wearing cotton, which absorbs water quickly and is slow to dry which can make for an uncomfortable trek.  

We recommend you bring the following:

  • A small day pack that holds your sunglasses, hat, sun screen, insect repellent, a camera, a reusable water bottle, a wind jacket and rain gear
  • One complete change of clothing per day
  • Sweater and jacket for cool days or nights, gloves and winter hat recommended
  • A down jacket is recommended for evenings, as it can get very cold at night
  • Warm sweat pants for evening around camp and in tent
  • Comfortable high top and water proof hiking boots
  • Comfortable wool socks
  • A pair of sneakers to wear around camp and a pair of flip flops for showering
  • Passport
  • A flashlight and batteries
  • Personal toiletries and medications
  • Medium sized towel
  • Peruvian currency (soles) for tips and small purchases along the way
  • Sleeping bag (if you choose not to rent one)


Entry Documents

You will need a passport that is valid at least six months after your date of arrival.  Citizens from the US, UK, Canada and Australia visiting as tourist do not need a visa.  Tourist may stay a maximum of 90 days, should you be staying longer you will need to request an extension from the Peruvian immigration authorities.  All visitors must fill out a copy of a tourist card which will be provided on your flight to Peru; keep this in your passport and present it to authorities when departing the country.



We recommend tipping your porters $10 per day and tipping your guide $15-20 a day.


Machu Picchu

Your journey will begin in Lima, where you will spend the night and depart the next day for Cusco. On most treks you will hike an average of 4-7.5 miles per day.  Once you reach Machu Picchu you will spend the night and return to Cusco by train the next day.  If you do not want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can also get there by train.

If you're not keen on doing the hike yourself, you can join one of the many tours that operate various trips incorporating Machu Picchu, such as Contiki's Ultimate Inca Trail, Inca Panorama, or Peru Uncovered.


Written and Contributed by Global Basecamps