Skip to Content

Machu Picchu Hike – The Inca Trail

Machu Picchu Hike – The Inca Trail

Completing the four-day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu was like everything, and like nothing, that I thought it would be.

I read about the journey, attended the orientation, and talked to a number of people before setting off for the trek. During that process I received a lot of conflicting information.

None of this detracted from the experience, but knowing the facts may have helped me prepare a little better. Or maybe it is such a subjective experience that everyone’s perspective is a little different.

Here are a few “Fact or Fiction” examples to give you an idea of what I mean.

Fact or Fiction #1: The Inca Trail Day 1 is Pretty Easy

Steep steps on the Inca Trail

Steep steps on the Inca Trail

The first thing we were told: Day # 1 is pretty easy, but Day 2 is so difficult that a few people who decide to give up and turn around.

There are a number of factors at play here. Each company that provides guides has a little different strategy for hiking the trail.

The company we went with pushed us pretty hard both on day #1. It involved both up and down hill hiking.

Then there was day #2, which involved a full 11 hours of hiking, four of those hours being straight up hill. Honestly, for me both days were pretty challenging.

Pin it for later:

Machu Picchu Hike - The Inca Trail

Your experience is going to depend on your fitness level, how long you stayed at a higher elevation level prior to the hike in order to acclimate. Also how your body adjusts to the altitude.

Some of that you won’t know until you are actually there. Despite it being a challenging hike most people who take it on are able to complete it.

Inca Trail View

Looking over the Inca Trail – some places make you feel like you are sitting at the edge of the earth

Fact or Fiction #2: Hiking boots and poles are necessary pieces of equipment.

Dead Woman's Pass The Inca Trail

Celebrating getting over “Dead Woman’s Pass” after 4 hours of hiking up hill.

This again is a personal thing. I was quite surprised that much of the trail is composed of stone steps.

The more difficult thing for me was actually hiking down hill – and there is quite a bit of this. On the Inca Trail you climb well above the elevation of Machu Picchu and have to hike DOWN to it.

Poles for me were pretty important, but I also hiked the whole thing in sneakers and they were just fine for me.

Again, it depends on how much ankle support you personally need.

(Note: you can buy a pair of hiking poles in Cusco for about the same price that it would be to rent them from the tour providers, and then re-sell them).

Machu Picchu Hike

Your efforts are rewarded by stunning views along the way

Fact or Fiction #3: The toilets along the trail are disgusting.

Inca Trail Toilet

Floor toilet along the trail

The answer to this one is both true, and false.

One of the things that surprised me the most about the trail was that especially during the first day, we ran into quite a few locals who live in the area.

There were houses along the way, some of which provided some of the nicest toilet facilities to hikers.

On the negative side, the donkeys they used to haul things up and down that section of the trail also deposited their own leavings along the way.

This made some sections a little unpleasant. Not what I expected.

I also didn’t expect that there would be vendors selling things like Pringles potato chips along the way. Huh?

Donkey on the Machu Picchu Hike

One of many donkeys we met on the way to Machu Picchu

The company we hiked with had a portable toilet that they brought along for the trip.

We only had to share with our small group, but still, it was a pretty unpleasant in there some of the time.

Word to the wise – hand sanitizer and disposable wipes are your friend on the trail!

snow capped mountains along the Inca Trail

Views like this can take some of the sting out of an unpleasant trip to the bathroom

Fact or Fiction #4: You will eat like a king on the Inca Trail.

appetizer salad

Appetizer salad – one of four courses for our first lunch

This is likely a factor in which tour company you use. We hiked with a company that was very well rated and we paid a little more to hike with them.

The food was beyond what I would have expected. We had at least a four course meal for both lunch and dinner.

Along with that was a big breakfast, snacks along the way and social hour with food before dinner. They even made a cake (made on a camp stove!) on last day.

I wouldn’t call the food restaurant quality, but what they pulled off, having to haul everything they needed on their backs, was astounding.

Food on the Inca Trai

The food just kept coming

Cucumber Toucan

Vegetable carving? Not what I expected at a camp dinner

Cake on the Inca Trail

The chef’s celebratory cake on our last evening

Fact or Fiction #5: Machu Picchu is one of the most astonishing, spiritual site that you are likely to ever encounter.

Large archaeological site on the Inca Trail

Large archaeological site on the way to Machu Picchu

You’ve all seen the trophy Machu Picchu photo – and I truly treasure mine.

The fact is that the famous lost city has been found by the masses. On the day we were there it was absolutely packed.

There are several almost equally impressive sites that you will see along the way, in addition to Cusco’s much less crowded Sacsayhuaman.

The two thousand pound stones that are tightly joined together so much so that you can’t fit a knife between them are an impressive awe-inspiring sight.

Don’t get me wrong, I still recommend making the trek and seeing the historic site. Although some would disagree and proclaim that they and hated their experience visiting Machu Picchu.

I have to say overall that my favorite vision along the way was watching the city come into focus early in the morning as the fog cleared after passing through the sun gate on the last day. It’s pretty spectacular.

One of several sites on the way to the way to Machu Picchu

One of several sites on the way to the way to Machu Picchu

Stunning views out of stone windows along the trail

Stunning views out of stone windows along the trail

Fact or Fiction #6: The best way to hike the Inca Trail is to wait until the last minute and negotiate with a local tour company when you get there.

Machu Picchu Hike

Tiered land carved into the mountains by the Incas

Ruins along the Inca Trail

Ruins along the Inca Trail

I ran into several people who used this strategy, much to their own disappointment.

It is necessary to obtain a permit and to use a guide in order to hike the Inca Trail. Only 500 permits for hikers (including porters) are given each day.

There are other lesser known hikes to Machu Picchu that don’t require either a guide or a permit that you can research in advance if you are interested in saving some money and still reaching the famous Lost City of the Incas.

View of Machu Picchu from above

View of Machu Picchu from above

Fact or Fiction #7: The cost of the porters is covered as portion of the fee that you pay your tour agency.

Inca Trail Porters

The heros of the Inca Trail

We thought this was true until we attended our orientation the day before we started our hike. While the tour company indicated that they do compensate the porters.

This was disputed by the staff who accompanied us. There was a STRONG urging to tip the guide, chef and porters.

While we felt a little duped (we didn’t pick an inexpensive tour company) but in the end we did follow the recommended tipping guidelines.

The porters work is extraordinarily arduous. Despite having newer regulations that require porters to carry no more than 25 Kg each, it was difficult seeing them actually haul that much on the steep challenging trail.

On one hand, it felt positive to be able to offer work for these farmers who were there trying to support their families.

That is, until you witness first hand how difficult it is do their job. There were also older porters, one 65-year-old in our group, who struggled along with sweat rolling down his face.

Although he did pass me several times each day that we hiked. I learned that some porters only do the trek once before seeking alternative ways to support themselves. Thanks, but no thanks.

I still have difficulty reconciling my feelings about the porters. But one thing is certain, I wouldn’t have been able to make the trek without their help.

Porters on the Inca Trail

Porters carrying a burdensome load

There are many people who forgo the hike and find their way to Machu Picchu on the train.

The hiking experience isn’t for everyone, but I can say that the hike itself was by far the most memorable and personally rewarding part of the trip.

Machu Picchu Hike

Our Iconic Machu Picchu Photo! Well deserved.

I met some wonderful people, learned a great deal about the Inca civilization from our guide, and most of all am very proud that I was able to complete the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. Not everybody does.

Machu Picchu Hike

Well earned group photo celebration

At this point all of the memories of the horrid bathrooms, nasty bug bites and relief that I didn’t come down with any infections that my guide warned us about have all faded.

I’m left with the comment I’ve heard so many others made about the trip. It was really difficult, but I’m so glad I did it. Very true.

Additional articles about Peru that you might enjoy: 

 

 

Bob Morris

Sunday 22nd of January 2017

The toilet facilities and the unexpected along the trail is an experience. BTW, In the early 1970s while working for Procter and Gamble I introduced Pringles Potato Chips to the Toledo and Detroit markets. I could tell some stories about that. Your reports are very well done and the pics are great.

Annalise

Sunday 20th of November 2016

Great blog post! I'm going next year and I'm so excited! :) x

Tanasia @ Green Global Travel

Thursday 24th of March 2016

You took some great photos! The part about the restrooms along the way was a little unnerving, but glad you had a great experience overall.

Ashlee

Sunday 8th of November 2015

Your photos are amazing! The view along the trail would be sooo worth the pain.

Marc

Wednesday 28th of October 2015

Nice adventures and great pictures. I wanted to do this hike for a long time and I am decided to do this next year. It looks like it simply worth trying it.

Sean

Sunday 1st of November 2015

It's a challenging hike, but it's definitely worth doing. Have fun!