In recent years, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has become a rite of passage for adventure travelers. By hiking the trail, you enter the park from the “Sun Gate” at dawn and are able to see Machu Picchu from a high vantage point. Trekkers can snap some amazing Inca Trail photos of ruins, mountains and llamas along the way, and get images of Machu Picchu just as the morning fog clears.
Inca Trail treks begin in Cusco, where travelers acclimatize themselves to the high altitude before setting out on the trail. Only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day – 200 trekkers, and 300 guides, cooks and porters. Travelers must book months in advance to be guaranteed trail permits. Peak months for trekking are May – September, the dry winter season. Some hikers, though (like me!), prefer the green rainy season of the spring.
The “Classic” Inca Trail hike is 4 days and 3 nights of intense trekking. Travelers ascend multiple passes, the highest of which is over 4300m above sea level (over 14,000 feet). Camping along the route is primitive, with tents set up by porters each night. In the morning, after breakfast, the campsite is completely torn down and moved for the next day. The only luxury is the meals: many trekkers are surprised by the delicious fare prepared by their chefs along the route.
Day trippers to Machu Picchu can take a train from the nearby city of Aguas Calientes. But true adventurers will tell you that’s not the way to see it. The best way is after pushing yourself to the limits of endurance with four days on the trail’s high altitudes and rocky terrain. And then that night, after a long-overdue shower or soak in the hot springs, celebrating with a round of pisco sours.
View Inca Trail photos of ruins and sites usually seen only by those who make the trek. Click on any image to open the gallery.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Gallery
Most Inca Trail Treks begin in Cusco, Peru
Detail of a door on a home in Cusco
The streets of Cusco
Fountain in the Cusco main square
Doors of a church in Cusco
A street scene in Cusco
The town of Ollantaytambo, where many travelers spend the night before their trek.
Local crafts from a village outside Ollantaytambo
A woman shows how yarn is made and dyed for crafts
The iconic photo at the start of every trek
Km82, the start of the Inca Trail route
Trekkers receive a passport stamp upon entering the park
The first ruin site, Llacapata
A welcome sight, indicating the evening’s campsite
The view from the first and highest pass at over 14,000 feet
We survived Dead Woman’s Pass!
Guides, chefs and porters for our 15 trekkers
View of the cloud forest of the trail
A llama high above the Urubamba river
The ruins of Intipata
A typical section of the trail
The lush, terraced ruins of Wiñay Wayna
Sign for Intipunku, signaling the end of trek and entrance to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, as the fog begins to clear
Machu Picchu with the mountain Huayna Picchu in the background
The green agricultural terraces of Machu Picchu
Plaques at the daily entrance of Machu Picchu
A celebratory round of pisco sours for our trekkers!