Hiking the 4 days/3 nights Inca trail to Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu is on almost everyone’s bucket list.
The famous Inca ruins high in the Andean mountains fascinate many people but most take the train to get there. With a “this is the trip of a lifetime” mentality we decided to hike the 4 days/3 nights Inca trail to Machu Picchu instead.
We did a lot of research before doing the trek (aka we read 1 or 2 blogs and talked to our travel agent) to make sure we were prepared. And surprisingly we were (somewhat) well prepared. So we want to share our experience with anyone interested in hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

Tip: before heading onto this hiking adventure, spend a few days in Cusco to get used to the altitude.
To find out how to spend your time in Cusco, read our guide about things to do there

Hiking the 4 days/3 nights Inca trail to Machu Picchu - Contents

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complete guide to hiking the inca trail to machu picchu

What to know before hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu

To preserve the history of the Incas and all heritage sites it is not possible to hike the Inca trail without a guide. You can choose to go with a group or hire a personal guide, depending on your budget and the experience you want to have. 
We decided to go with a group and ended up being 5 people excluding our guide and the porters. But we have also seen companies with groups of 20 people.

a river marks the starting point of the 4 day inca trail to machu picchu
inca trail sign at the beginning of the trek

Time and distance of the Inca trail

The most common Inca trail is 42 kilometres spread over 3 1/2 days of hiking. The last day is the shortest because you enter Machu Picchu through the sun gate around 9 am.
There is a shorter 1 day hike as well, starting close to Machu Picchu along some parts of the original Inca trail.

The 2nd day is the most difficult, not because of the distance but because of the altitude and elevation gain. It’s also quite strenuous on the knees because there are not many flat passages all day.

Tip: if you have the option to get walking sticks for the trail, DO IT! You’ll thank us later.

steep steps on the second day of the inca trail
the andean mountain range leading up to the dead woman's pass on the second day of the inca trail
The view over ancient Inca ruins Runku Rakai on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Prices and what you get for your money

Depending on how luxuriously of a hiking and camping experience you want the prices for hiking the Inca trail start at around $500 per person. This includes a briefing before the trek, bags to fill with anything you need for 4 days, all meals and camping equipment, entry tickets to Machu Picchu and train tickets back to Ollantaytambo.

You can bring your own equipment if you want to carry it; the porters will only carry 1 bag per person weighing a maximum of 5 kg.
They’re also carrying a kitchen/dining tent, all cooking and eating equipment like pots, pans and plates, and of course food.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included on all days (except breakfast on day 1 and lunch on the last day), as well as some snacks. It’s mostly fruits and cookies or granola bars; anything additional you have to carry yourself in your day backpack. 
The porters also offer to boil extra water to fill up your bottles for the day so there’s no need to bring heavy bottled water.

Some companies offer shower tents as part of the trek. Ours did not so we brought baby wet wipes which worked just fine.

Tip: if you have the option to have walking sticks, say yes! They’re life savers!

The view of ancient Inca ruins Llactapata. This is the first stop on the Inca trail from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.

When to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu

High season is from November to January as the Inca trail is closed in February for maintenance. 
October is the best month to go because the weather is perfect for hiking: slightly overcast, around 15°C and not too windy. We only had half a day of rain which was the worst hours during the entire hike. We also had the trail almost to ourselves because high season hadn’t started yet.

The view of Machu Picchu mountain and ruins as seen from the sun gate.

What to pack for the Inca trail

When packing for the Inca Trail it’s important to know that the weather can change in a heartbeat.

Tip: Pack for the worst case scenario, which is rain all day every day!

Layers, layers, and more waterproof layers

Layering clothes is the best way to get through the hike because you can take off and put on whatever layers you need. The layers you’re packing should be light weight, easy to clean and, most importantly, quick to dry. Even if it doesn’t rain, any clothes left unpacked over night in the tent will get damp.

Tip: even if the weather is overcast, bring a hat because the UV rays are much stronger so close to the equator!

If it does rain you want to wear waterproof EVERYTHING. The key word here is waterproof, not water resistant. Rain jackets are not the greatest choice in that case. And even backpack covers soak through so an extra poncho on top of all that is the way to go.

The view over the Andean mountains in Peru on day one of the Inca trail.
The view over ancient Inca ruins Runku Rakai on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

Shoes vs boots

Since you’ll be walking a lot, invest in the right shoes or boots. We decided to go with boots because Nadine is prone to ankle sprains (which, surprise surprise, did happen a few days before the trek).
These great hiking boots from Asolo are not only comfortable, light weight and protect your ankles, they’re also waterproof and have perfect grip on slippery rocks.

The view from Winaywayna campsite of the Andean mountains. This is the last campsite of the Inca trail before reaching Machu Picchu ruins and mountain.
steep steps on the second day of the inca trail

Daypack

As we said before the porters are only carrying a limited amount of luggage for each person so it’s best if you carry your own daypack. Depending on what you need clothing and snack wise this backpack can range anywhere from 15-30 litres. Peter bought this one from The North Face and it held snacks, changes of clothes, water and first aid kits for the 2 of us.

Read also: our ultimate packing list for hiking the Inca trail! (coming soon)

Hiking the Inca trail - 4 days, 3 nights

Briefing

2 days before starting the Inca trail hike we had a meeting with our guide. He explained the route, handed us the bags the porters would carry and answered all our questions. He also gave us valuable tips on how to pack our daypack.

Two llamas in the Andean mountains on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
The view of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Day 1 - Ollantaytambo to Wayllabamba

The first day starts off with a 5:30 am wake-up call and pick up by the guide and the head-porter from the hotel at 6 am. We picked up the other 3 people hiking with us at their hotel and then made our way to Ollantaytambo. On the way we stopped for breakfast (which is not included in the price of the trek), and then headed to kilometre 82 where the Inca trail starts.

Day 1 of the Inca trail is 12 kilometres of hiking, mostly on flat terrain. One stop on the way is Llactapata ruins, an ancient Inca site used for agricultural experiments and astronomy.

Day 2 - Wayllabamba to Pacaymayo

The 2nd day of the Inca trail is the most difficult. After waking up at 5:30 am again and having breakfast, you’ll leave the campsite at Wayllabamba around 6:30 am. 
The hike itself may only be 9 kilometres but this part of the trail is called Dead Woman’s Pass for a reason. Half of the way is steep uphill with an elevation gain of 1200 meters, all the way up to the highest point during the entire hike, 4200 meters. The way down is not as easy as you’d think; stairs made from rocks of different sizes and shapes really put the walking sticks to the test.

Fun fact: the Dead Woman’s Pass doesn’t get its name from being difficult (nobody died hiking that part of the trail), but from the mountains being shaped like a woman’s body.

The view from the summit is incredible and definetely worth the breathing problems and knee pain. 
After what seems like the longest hike of your life (at least if you’re as untrained as we are) you can enjoy lunch at Pacaymayo knowing you won’t have to walk again until the next morning.

Two llamas in the Andean mountains on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
the andean mountain range leading up to the dead woman's pass on the second day of the inca trail
The view from the summit of dead woman's pass on the second day of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Day 3 - Pacaymayo to Winaywayna

With your legs still hurting prepare yourself for a 5 am wake-up call on day 3. After breakfast the part of the Inca trail with the longest distance starts, 15 kilometres over mostly flat terrain.

The first stop of the day are the Runku Rakai ruins. Runku in Quechua, the native language of the Inca and their descendants, means egg shaped, and rakai means rough. So the oval ruins of Runku Rakai literally translate to rough egg shape. It’s easy to see why.

After lunch you’ll stop at the ruins of Intipata, the place of the sun. It uses the same terrace layout for year-round agriculture as most Inca sites.

Day 3 of the Inca trail ends at Winaywayna campsite. Winaywayna means forever young and was a village that produced all the food for Machu Picchu.

The view over the ancient Inca site of Winaywayna in Peru.

Day 4 - Winaywayna to Machu Picchu and return to Cusco

The last day of the Inca trail starts with a 3:30 am wake-up call after which you have to wait in line for an hour. The gate to Machu Picchu park opens at 5:30 am and the line gets long fast. 
The breakfast is short because everything is packed and transported back to Cusco. Bagged breakfast and snacks are provided for the last 4 kilometers to the Sun gate, the original entrance to Machu Picchu.

Because Machu Picchu is one of the most popular sights in Peru, and one of the seven wonders of the world, entry tickets sell out quickly. Hiking the Inca trail includes entry to Machu Picchu with the added bonus that you don’t have to book a time slot to enter, as you would have to if you just wanted to visit the site. When entering Machu Picchu you need to bring your passport because you can get a stamp of Machu Picchu. After hiking 42km in 4 days that’s a nice souvenir.

After a 2-3 hour tour through Machu Picchu you take the bus down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, the closest town. There you can have lunch (not included in the tour price) before catching the train back to Ollantaytambo. From there hop onto a minibus back to Cusco.

There you have it, you just successfully completed one of the most classic treks in the world: hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Congratulations!

The view of Machu Picchu ruins and mountain as seen from the sun gate.
The view of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

I hope you enjoyed this guide about hiking the 4 days/3 nights Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
If you want to know more about Peru or Machu Picchu, I have more guides coming soon.

Let me know how you liked this guide, or ask me questions.

XO, Nadine