Planning for the 4-day Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu has been a dream for us for many years now, and we finally did the Inca trail this year. The Inca trail is by far one of the most famous hikes in the world – a 43 km hike combining beautiful mountain scenery, cloud forests, Inca ruins and of course the destination being the ultimate reward: Machu Picchu, the mysterious "Lost City of the Incas".

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu really is an amazing trek and experience, but it does require a bit of planning. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering doing this once in a lifetime experience.

1.      Is the 4 day Inca trail right for you?

This is literally the first question you need to answer. The classic Inca trail is no joke, involving hiking for 8-10 hours a day, climbing up hours at a stretch, down hours at a stretch, horrible large stone steps, steep drop offs, narrow paths, high altitudes, intense sun, crazy winds, temperature ranges of over 50 degrees. And that’ just the start of it – you will be roughing it out for 4 days . Before you plan to do the hike, read about it, see a few videos and know what you are getting into. Also know that there are multiple options to get to Machu Picchu – including other less intense hikes (2/3day that do not follow the Inca trail), and the train. But the bragging rights and sense of achievement are reserved solely for the Inca trail J

2.    Plan in advance

Permits to the Inca trail are limited to 500 per day, 200 of which are for hikers and 300 for the tour operators/porters etc. In high season, these permits have high demand and usually sell out 3-4months earlier. We were flexible with dates, but wanted to go in August and made our booking in January. By March, the permits for August were sold out. When booking, you need to provide your passport number – the permits cannot be transferred.

3.    When to go

The best months to do the Inca Trail are from May to September when the conditions are fairly dry and the weather generally sunny. However, this time is also winter in Peru so the nights can be very cold. September onwards is the rainy season and believe me, you DO NOT want to be hiking those crazy stone steps in the rain.

4.    Pick a company

For the last many years, hikers are only allowed to do the Inca trail through one of the registered operators. Operators range in prices from $450-$900, and seem to offer the same services for the most part. Personally, it was very important to pick a responsible operator who looks out for porter wellness – the porters are the true heroes of the Inca trail.

We went with InfoCusco – not the cheapest in the list, nor the most expensive. They were very responsive over email, answered all our questions, and made booking easy online. Overall, we were extremely happy with our trail experience and I would definitely recommend them.

5.    Extra Porter? 

Once you have selected your tour operator and a time to go, make your reservation. At this time, the company will require your name, nationality, passport number, whether you are a student, meal preferences and trek start date.  I highly recommend getting an extra porter – this way you will enjoy the hike a bit more, plus you can rest in knowing that the porters really need and want to work the trail to make some extra money. If you are considering doing the Inca trail, they probably need the money more than you.   

Once you have confirmed your reservation, get excited, it is going to be a blast! Next steps: prepare a checklist of what you will need for the hike, and start walking as many stairs as you can :)  

If you have any questions about the Inca trail, please ask away in the comments section below. 

Read about the full Inca trail experience starting with Day 1 HERE, and stay tuned for my post on the ultimate packing list for the hike. 

Exploring Peru's Sacred Valley

Fall Flavors at The Gibson, DC