11 Essential Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Hiking to Machu Picchu is the experience of a lifetime.  These 11 tips for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will help you prepare and make the most of your experience.

Kendall and I completed the classic 4-day trek with Alpaca Expeditions and had an incredible experience, partially because we had adequately prepared. We want you to have the knowledge you need to make your visit to Machu Picchu worth it.

11 Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

You here you have it. In no particular order, our 11 tips for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

1. Choose the Right Time to Hike

When you decide to hike the Inca Trail can make a huge difference in the experience you have. There’s really no ‘one right time’ to visit; it just depends on your preferences.

Are you trying to avoid crowds? Or is great weather your biggest priority? There are so many factors to consider when planning your trip.

Kendall and I visited in May, and we think this is one of the best months to visit Machu Picchu.

2. Understand Altitude Sickness

The Machu Picchu archeological site is situated at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet (or 2400 meters) above sea level, and many people have issues with altitude sickness along the trail, especially if unaccustomed to high-altitude hiking. 

Most people recommend arriving in the higher-altitude city of Cusco at least a few days before your scheduled trek to acclimatize. Altitude is also a big factor for many travelers trying to decide between spending time in the cities of Lima or Cusco.  

Kendall and I spent one and a half days in Cusco before our trek and didn’t have any problems, but most people spend a little longer.  We could feel the elevation difference on our first day in Cusco as we hiked up to a city overlook and had to take frequent rest breaks. 

During our trek, Alpaca Expeditions provided coca leaf tea in the mornings and after dinner, which is believed to help with altitude sickness as well. They were a fantastic tour company that helped us stay safe in Cusco as well as on our trek.

3. Understand the Trail Difficulty 

How in shape do you have to be to hike to Machu Picchu?  Well, we hiked between 6 and 10 miles each day while on the Inca Trail. 

On our second day, which is the hardest day of hiking with Alpaca, we ascended over 4,000 feet to Dead Woman’s Pass, back down into a valley, and then up to a second pass, hiking around 10 miles. 

Much of the steep sections of the trail are made up of big stone steps, which can be hard to navigate for some.  We thought the hike was a good challenge and very doable, but we are very comfortable with long-distance hikes and big elevation changes.   

Stairs on the Inca Trail Peru, bringing or renting trekking poles is one of the best tips for hiking the inca trail to machu picchu
The trail involves a LOT of stair climbing | Inca Trail Peru

4. Be Prepared for Hot Weather, Cold Weather, and Wet Weather

The Inca trail passes through several different microclimates, which is part of what makes hiking the route such a cool experience. 

We hiked in mid-May, and the temperatures on our first day were quite hot.  However, on our second day, the weather up at Dead Woman’s Pass was very chilly, and we were glad to have our long leggings and jackets. 

We were lucky and didn’t really get rained on while on our trek, but rainy days are very common, even when hiking during the dry season.  We had packed ponchos that would have covered us and our backpacks if necessary. 

tourist with cloud-covered mountains in the background at Dead Woman's Pass
Chilly weather up at Dead Woman’s Pass

5. Bring (or Rent) Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are a big help on the Inca Trail.  I’ve got some chronic knee pain and having poles made a world of difference while trying to navigate the many miles of stone stairs. 

NOTE: you are required to have rubber tips on the ends of your poles to avoid damaging the stone on the trail.  There are often vendors selling these right near the entrance to the trailhead. 

tourist descending stairs with trekking poles

6. Sleep With Earplugs

I am a big believer in the importance of quality sleep, while at home and especially while traveling.  I always bring earplugs when staying abroad because I never know what the noise level will be like outside. 

For the Inca Trail, having earplugs helped block out the nighttime noise of other hikers coming and going at night, and we slept fairly well during our hike and the rest of our 7-day stay in Peru.

7. Bring a Fresh Set of Clothes for Each Day

This is something we didn’t do, and we regretted it.  I am used to reusing the same hiking clothes for a few days, and then having one designated clean set for sleeping. 

The one thing we didn’t think about with the Inca Trail is that the air humidity prevents your clothes from drying out overnight.  So if you sweat at all during the day you are going to be putting on a wet t-shirt in the morning when it is chilly.  Not the end of the world, but also not comfortable.

8. Sun protection is a Must!

The Inca Trail is a fairly difficult trek that involves a lot of elevation change, and the last thing you want is to be sunburned.  Not only are burns uncomfortable, they can lead to dehydration, fatigue, headaches, and even fevers.  Not what you want while trying to complete this trail. 

I wore a light cotton long-sleeved shirt that was great for protecting my arms, and we each had a small travel-sized container of sunscreen in our daypacks. 

tourist with hat and jacket, andes mountains in the background
Kendall wore a hat and jacket for most of the trek (even on the hot days). If you are like me and can’t stand wearing long sleeves in the heat, be sure to bring enough sunscreen.

9. Book Huayna Picchu Tickets in Advance

Huayna Picchu is the iconic pointed mountain located right behind the Machu Picchu archeological site.  This 2.5-mile steep hike is a great way to see the incredible views of the mountain range, and Kendall and I loved it. 

Like reserving a spot to hike the Inca Trail, tickets to Huayna Picchu must be purchased FAR in advance; 3-4 months is the recommendation. 

Most of the best Inca trail tour companies offer to book this for you, just be sure to ask when reserving!

the Andes Mountains as seen from a distance
Our view from the top of Huayna Picchu

10. Arrive 30 Minutes Early to the Train Station Platform

The 1-hour 45-minute train ride that will take you from Aguas Calientes back to Ollantaytambo leaves on time, and you don’t want to miss your ride (especially if taking one of the later afternoon trains). 

Our tour group had coordinated picking us up in Ollantaytambo and shuttling us back to our Airbnb.  Therefore, passengers who miss their train ride may likely miss their connecting shuttle transportation back to their hotel. 

The town of Aguas Calientes is a great spot to stop for lunch and do some souvenir shopping, but make sure to be at the train platform 30 minutes before departure time.

11. Bring Enough Cash

We underestimated how much cash we would need on the Inca Trail, and had to scramble to find an ATM in Ollantaytambo before heading to our Airbnb because we had used up every last sol. 

We had wanted to tip our tour guide, porters, and tour chefs (Kendall and I in total contributed about 250 or 300 soles).  And then there were also multiple stops along the trail where we bought snacks and drinks.  So be sure to bring enough cash with you!

Read more about recommended tipping here.

Inca Trail Peru Route Map

4 Day Inca Trail route map from Alpaca Expeditions
Our route with Alpaca Expeditions; this map is taken from their official site

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