Machu Picchu, the iconic ancient Inca city nestled high in the Andes mountains of Peru, has long captivated adventurers and history enthusiasts alike. As one of the most sought-after treks around the globe, many are eager to discover just how long it takes to hike Machu Picchu.

With a variety of hiking routes available, navigating through various terrains and altitudes can make this journey uniquely appealing or challenging for every traveler.

Key Takeaways

  • The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu covers a total distance of approximately 26 miles (43 kilometers) and is usually hiked over 4 days and 3 nights.
  • There are alternative routes available such as the Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek, Choquequirao Trek, and Vilcabamba Trek, that vary in length and difficulty.
  • Proper physical preparation with training for endurance, acclimatization to altitude, essential gear such as hiking boots and waterproof clothing, booking in advance through reputable tour companies, and hiring professional guides are crucial for successful hikes.
  • Altitude sickness can be a serious concern when hiking the Andes mountains due to high altitudes, which reach over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), but proper rest breaks along the way can help mitigate symptoms.

Understanding The Inca Trail And Alternative Routes To Machu Picchu

Understanding The Inca Trail And Alternative Routes To Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail is a historic trail that leads hikers to Machu Picchu, but there are also alternative routes available for those who are looking for a different experience or have limited time.

History And Significance Of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” is a captivating symbol of ancient civilization in Peru. Built in the 15th century by the Incan emperor Pachacuti as a royal estate and religious retreat, this architectural marvel features more than 150 buildings, mainly composed of impressive temples, sanctuaries, residences, and agricultural terraces.

Its significance goes beyond mere history; Machu Picchu is also considered one of the most important cultural sites in South America that gives valuable insights into Inca engineering expertise and their way of life.

Rediscovered in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham, it has since captured imaginations worldwide not only for its outstanding preservation but also because it remained hidden from Spanish conquistadors during their conquests, thus evading destruction.

Location And Terrain Of The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is located in the beautiful Andes mountains of Peru, starting from kilometer 82 on the Cusco-Machu Picchu railroad. The trail passes through a variety of landscapes, including lush forests, high-altitude alpine tundra, and breathtaking vistas.

Hikers will be surrounded by stunning views of snow-capped peaks, cloud forests teeming with diverse flora and fauna, and historic Incan ruins along the way. The route also includes several challenging sections featuring steep inclines and declines, so hikers need to bring sturdy hiking gear that can withstand rough terrain.

Different Hiking Routes And Their Distances

There are several hiking routes to choose from when planning your adventure to Machu Picchu. Each route varies in distance, difficulty, and duration, allowing you to choose the best option for your personal fitness level and preferences. Here is a comparison of the different hiking routes and their distances:

Hiking RouteDistanceDuration
Classic Inca Trail26 miles (42 km)4 days, 3 nights
1-Day Inca Trail Express5 miles (8 km)5-8 hours
Salkantay Trek46 miles (74 km)4-5 days
Lares Trek21 miles (34 km)3 days, 2 nights
Choquequirao Trek40 miles (64 km)5-8 days

Keep in mind that the distances mentioned above are approximate and can vary based on the specific route you choose. Regardless of which hiking route you decide on, each provides a unique and memorable experience on your journey to the iconic Machu Picchu.

Alternative Routes To Explore

Apart from the classic Inca Trail, there are other alternative routes that hikers can take to reach Machu Picchu. These routes offer different levels of difficulty and lengths of time:

  1. Salkantay Trek: This route is a popular choice for those who prefer a more challenging and less crowded trail. The trek starts in Mollepata and lasts for 5-7 days, covering a total distance of 74 km (46 miles).
  2. Lares Trek: This hike takes you through the Andean highlands and rural communities, where you can experience traditional Peruvian culture firsthand. The trek varies in length between 3-5 days, covering a total distance of approximately 33 km (20 miles).
  3. Choquequirao Trek: This lesser-known trek offers stunning views of the Andes mountains and passes by ancient Inca ruins on the way to Machu Picchu. The trek is usually completed in 8-9 days and covers a total distance of approximately 58 km (36 miles).
  4. Vilcabamba Trek: This trek was once used by the Incas as an escape route from Spanish invaders in the 16th century. It passes through remote villages and pristine forests, offering an off-the-beaten-path experience to hikers. The trek lasts for approximately 6-8 days and covers a total distance of about 80 km (50 miles).

Regardless of which route you choose, it’s important to plan ahead and book your permits well in advance to ensure availability and a successful hiking experience to Machu Picchu.

How Long Is The Inca Trail Hike To Machu Picchu?

How Long Is The Inca Trail Hike To Machu Picchu?

The Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu spans over 4 days and covers approximately 26 miles (43 kilometers) in total, but the length and difficulty can vary depending on the specific route and altitude.

Total Length Of The Trail And Number Of Kilometers Hiked Per Day

The entire Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu is only 25 miles (40 km) long, covering a variety of terrain from high Andean mountain passes to lush subtropical forests. The classic Inca Trail is usually hiked over 4 days and 3 nights and covers 26 miles (42 km).

Depending on the specific route chosen, hikers will trek between 7-10 hours per day, covering approximately 6-15km each day. However, the distance and difficulty can vary depending on altitude changes along the trail.

Elevation Changes And Challenging Points Along The Trail

The Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart, as it involves steep elevation changes and challenging points along the trail. The highest point on the trail is Dead Woman’s Pass, which sits at an altitude of 4,215 meters (13,828 feet) above sea level.

Another challenging aspect of hiking the Inca Trail is acclimatization to high altitude. Altitude sickness can be a serious concern for hikers at such high altitudes.

Despite these challenges, many hikers find that completing the Inca Trail hike is one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve ever had.

Factors Affecting Hiking Time

Various factors can influence the time it takes to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Some of these factors include:

  • Altitude: The high altitude of the Andes mountains and Inca Trail can make hiking more difficult and slower, especially for those not acclimated to the elevation.
  • Physical fitness level: Hikers who are in better shape may be able to complete the trail faster than those who are not.
  • Route taken: Different routes on the Inca Trail vary in length and elevation gain, which can affect how long it takes to complete.
  • Weather conditions: Rain, fog, or other extreme weather conditions can slow down hikers and make conditions more challenging.
  • Group size and speed: The number of people in a hiking group and their individual speeds can impact how quickly or slowly a group progresses.
  • Rest breaks: Frequent rest breaks can prolong the time it takes to complete the trail, while fewer or shorter breaks may help hikers finish faster.
  • Photography stops: Many hikers want to stop along the way for photos, which can add extra time to the trek.
  • Overall health condition: Pre-existing medical conditions or injuries could add extra fatigue during hikes, hence slowing things down.

Proper consideration of these factors is important when planning for a successful hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Tips For Successful Hiking To Machu Picchu

Tips For Successful Hiking To Machu Picchu

“Proper physical preparation, essential gear and items, altitude acclimatization, and hiring a professional guide are key tips for successfully hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Physical Preparation And Training

Physical preparation and training are crucial for a successful hike to Machu Picchu. As the Inca Trail involves walking long distances with steep inclines at high altitudes, it is important to have a good level of fitness before embarking on this adventure.

In addition to regular exercise, spending time hiking and walking in hilly or mountainous terrain can help build endurance and prepare you for the challenges of the Inca Trail.

Acclimatization is also an essential aspect of physical preparation for Machu Picchu. Spending a few days in Cusco or other nearby towns before starting your hike allows your body time to adjust to higher altitudes, reducing the risk of altitude sickness during your trek.

Essential Gear And Items To Bring

Before you start your hike, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared with the right gear and items. Here are some essential things you should bring with you:

  1. Hiking Boots: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots that can handle rough terrain and provide support for your ankles.
  2. Backpack: A sturdy backpack is essential for carrying all your gear, food, and water during the hike.
  3. Waterproof Gear: Bring a waterproof jacket or poncho to protect against rain, as well as a dry bag to keep any electronics or important documents safe.
  4. Clothing Layers: Temperatures can vary greatly during the hike, so it’s important to bring lightweight clothing layers that can be easily added or removed depending on the weather.
  5. Sun Protection: Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, or buff to protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays.
  6. Water Bottles/Bladder: Staying hydrated is key during the hike, so pack enough water bottles or hydration bladders to last throughout each day.
  7. Trekking Poles: These can be incredibly helpful, especially while ascending and descending steep trails.
  8. First Aid Kit: Always carry a basic medical kit that includes bandages, blister treatment, and Diamox if needed (for altitude sickness).
  9. Headlamp/ Flashlight: This will come in handy when Hiking through tunnels just before reaching Machu Picchu.
  10. Insect repellent: Mosquitoes may be pretty active in some areas along the trail.

By making sure you have all these essential items before setting out on your Machu Picchu trek, you’ll have an easier time navigating the challenging terrain and enjoying all the incredible views along the way!

Planning And Booking In Advance

Planning and booking in advance are crucial for a successful hike to Machu Picchu. Due to the high demand of hiking permits, it is advisable to book as early as possible, preferably 6 months before your intended trip.

This applies not only to the classic Inca Trail but also other alternative trails available.

It is important to note that the number of permits issued for each day on the Inca Trail is limited and strictly enforced by Peruvian authorities in an effort to preserve this historical site.

Planning ahead will give you an opportunity to secure your spot before they sell out.

Booking through a reputable tour company ensures a smoother process because they will take care of all necessary arrangements such as obtaining permits, hiring professional guides with botanical knowledge and organizing transportation from Cusco or surrounding areas.

Acclimatization To Altitude

Acclimatization to altitude is a critical aspect of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The trail reaches altitudes of over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), which can cause symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache, dizziness and nausea.

It is important for hikers to gradually acclimate themselves to the high altitude by spending at least two days in Cusco or other nearby towns before starting the hike.

Additionally, it is recommended that hikers take breaks regularly throughout their trek and move at a slow pace to avoid exerting too much energy and putting undue stress on their bodies.

Those who are particularly sensitive to changes in altitude may consider taking medication or using supplemental oxygen during their hike.

Staying Hydrated And Fueled Up

Staying properly hydrated and fueled up is essential for a successful hike to Machu Picchu. At high altitudes, it’s easy to become dehydrated and fatigued quickly. Therefore, hikers should carry plenty of water and electrolyte-rich fluids such as sports drinks.

Additionally, coca leaves tea or candies are recommended by locals in Peru as they help mitigate altitude sickness symptoms like headaches and nausea through better circulation within the body.

As hiking at high altitudes can make one feel less hungry than usual due to changes in metabolism caused by oxygen deprivation, carrying energy-dense foods can be helpful; for example quinoa bars or chocolate bars containing caffeine which provides a quick burst of energy while hiking.

Hiring A Professional Guide

It is highly recommended to hire a professional guide when hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Not only do they have extensive knowledge of the area and its history, but they can also offer helpful tips for acclimatization and pacing yourself throughout the hike.

Hiring a guide can also enhance your overall experience with their entertaining storytelling and insider information about the Inca civilization. They’ll ensure that you don’t miss out on any highlights along the way while ensuring your safety on challenging terrain.

Other Factors To Consider

Other Factors To Consider

Weather conditions can greatly impact the hiking experience to Machu Picchu, so it’s important to research and plan accordingly for the best time of year to visit.

Weather Conditions And Their Impact

The weather conditions in Peru can be unpredictable, especially in the Andes mountains where Machu Picchu is located. It’s important to be prepared for different types of weather and their potential impact on your hike.

Rainy season runs from December until April, while the dry season spans May through September. During the rainy season, trails can become muddy and slippery, making it more challenging to hike.

It’s crucial to plan ahead for any type of weather condition by packing appropriate gear such as a waterproof jacket, hiking boots with good traction, warm layers for colder temperatures at night, sunglasses for sunny days and sunscreen regardless of the time of year you’re visiting.

It’s also essential to know that during extreme weather conditions like heavy rains or lightning storms access to some sections or campsites may be limited or cut off completely due to safety concerns.

Therefore keeping an eye out on updated information about trail closures is important before starting the trek.

Recommendations For The Best Time To Hike Machu Picchu

The best time to hike Machu Picchu is during the dry season, which lasts from May to October. During this period, the skies are clear and there is little chance of rain or cloud coverage obstructing your view of the stunning Andes Mountains.

It’s important to keep in mind that weather patterns can still be unpredictable even during the dry season. Therefore, packing some waterproof gear such as a poncho or rain jacket would still come in handy just in case.

How Long Is the Hike to Machu Picchu – FAQs

How long is the typical hike to Machu Picchu?

The duration of the hike to Machu Picchu varies depending on the route you choose and your level of fitness. The shortest route, the Classic Inca Trail, takes about four days and covers approximately 26 miles. Other routes such as Salkantay or Lares can take between five to seven days.

Is altitude sickness a concern while hiking to Machu Picchu?

Yes, altitude sickness is a concern when hiking in Peru due to the high altitudes involved in reaching Machu Picchu. It is recommended that hikers take time to acclimate themselves before attempting any strenuous activity at high elevations.

What are some tips for preparing for a hike to Machu Picchu?

Some important things hikers should consider before embarking on a trek through the Andes include training with uphill walks or runs, acclimating oneself over several days prior to beginning the ascent and packing appropriately including necessary gear such as waterproof clothing & sturdy boots.

Are there alternative ways to reach Machu Picchu besides hiking?

Absolutely! Visitors who don’t have time to make it by foot can take advantage of other modes transportation including trains departing from Ollantaytambo station (about 1 hour train ride away). It offers different levels of service/amenities according to budgets ranging from backpacker-friendly budget options up to luxury travel experiences.


Hiking to Machu Picchu is an amazing adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. The length of the hike can vary depending on the route you choose and your physical ability, but it’s important to remember that this journey is not just about reaching your destination – it’s about enjoying every moment along the way.

By following our tips for successful hiking and being prepared, you can enjoy the stunning vistas and breathtaking landscapes while immersing yourself in Peruvian culture.