Comprehensive Guide to Hiking the Short Inca Trail With Hotels, Price, and Review

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Peru Travel Blogs | 0 comments


There are few adventures as iconic and awe-inspiring as hiking the ancient pathways of the Incas to discover the enigma of Machu Picchu. For those seeking a condensed yet equally profound experience, the Short Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu offers an unforgettable opportunity to trek through rugged mountain terrain, lush cloud forests, and historic ruins culminating in the breathtaking sight of the lost city itself.

This exclusive guide will walk you through the wonders of a two-day trek that compresses the full grandeur of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu into a more manageable yet no less magical experience.

If you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu, consider reading this travel review of the Short Inca Trail Machu Picchu 2-Day Tour. It provides valuable insights that can help you make an informed decision before embarking on this adventure.

Short Inca Trail Hike Review

2-day trek: The short Inca Trail is a great option for those who are short on time but still want to experience the Inca Trail. It is a challenging hike, but it is much shorter than the classic Inca Trail, which is 4 days long.

Machu Picchu: The ultimate goal of the Inca Trail is of course, Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. The short Inca Trail ends at the Sun Gate, which offers stunning views of Machu Picchu.

Sun Gate: The Sun Gate (Inti Punku in Quechua) is an archaeological site located near Machu Picchu. It is thought to have been a checkpoint used by the Incas to control access to Machu Picchu.

Wiñay Wayna: Wiñay Wayna is an Inca archaeological site located on the short Inca Trail. It is thought to have been a religious or administrative center.

Cloud forest: The short Inca Trail passes through cloud forest, which is a type of rainforest that is characterized by its misty and humid conditions. The cloud forest is home to a wide variety of plants and animals.

Inca ruins: The short Inca Trail is lined with Inca ruins, which are a testament to the ingenuity of the Inca civilization. The ruins include temples, palaces, and agricultural terraces.

Challenging hike: The short Inca Trail is a challenging hike, but it is doable for people in reasonably good physical condition. The hike is mostly uphill, and there are some steep sections.

Beautiful scenery: The short Inca Trail offers stunning views of the Andes Mountains. The trail also passes through cloud forest, which is a beautiful and unique ecosystem.

Short Inca trail to Machu Picchu map

Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Short Inca Trail With Hotel

Introduction to the Short Inca Trail

The 2 day Inca trail to Machu Picchu is a path less traveled by hikers compared to the renowned classic Inca Trail of 4 days. However, it is soaring in popularity due to its accessibility and condensed schedule, ideal for trekkers with time constraints. This trek winds its way through diverse Andean landscapes. It is offering an intimate interpretation of the imposing history that towers over the region.

The allure of this trek is not just in its destination but in every step taken to reach it. Each stride engages the traveler with a sense of the challenges faced and the spirituality that thrived through the Inca civilization centuries ago.

History and Culture Along the 2-days Inca Trail Trek

Understanding the significance of the short Inca Trail and Machu Picchu is pivotal to appreciating the full breadth of this hike. The Incas were masterful architects and stonemasons, and remnants of their genius can be found all along the path to the last refuge of the Incas.

The Short Inca Trail is more than just a physical challenge. It’s a cultural passage that meanders past exquisite ruins, revealing a living history that shaped modern Andean traditions. Here, you’ll encounter archaeological marvels like the Wiñay Wayna, an architecturally stunning complex perched on a mountainside. With agricultural terraces that seem to hang on to the edge of existence.

Engaging with local Quechua-speaking communities and appreciating their customs adds a layer of warmth to the experience. These interactions, whether it’s buying a handmade textile or being serenaded by the sounds of their traditional music, create a cultural exchange that resonates long after the trek.

Related Travel Article: Comprehensive Guide to The Inca Trail Difficulty

short inca trail tour
Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 2 days – Tour

The Hiking Experience and Distance

The Short Inca Trail covers a distance of approximately 10 kilometers on the first day and 5 kilometers on the second. Which though short in comparison to the classic trail, is no easy feat. Trekkers are treated to a challenging ascent that rewards with panoramic views of the surroundings, ensuring a physical test balanced with natural beauty.

The difficulty of the trail is not in its length but in the steep stone steps and altitude gains. The trail is often narrow, with precipices on one side, invoking a sense of adventure and adrenaline. En route, the diverse ecosystems transition from mountain tundra to lush cloud forests, with many species of flora and fauna to admire.

Each turn uncovers flora and remnants of Inca engineering; the trail is lined with stone steps, tunnels, and bridges, all serving as testaments to a civilization that existed in harmony with their environment and geography.

Machu Picchu hike difficulty

Logistics and Preparation

Short Inca trail to Machu Picchu difficulty

Preparation is key when undertaking this bucket list adventure. Securing permits for the Short Inca Trail must be done in advance, often months prior, due to the trail’s high demand and commitment to sustainable tourism. Weather can be unpredictable, ranging from searing sun to chilling rain, so a versatile packing strategy is essential.

Recommended items include sturdy hiking boots, a lightweight yet warm sleeping bag, a headlamp, extra snacks. Warm clothing for cold nights, and the mandatory waterproof backpack to protect against the elements. Training for the altitude is also advisable, as the highest point on the trail, known as the Sun Gate, sits at an elevation of 2,720 meters (8,920 feet).

The sense of self-sufficiency and preparedness only adds to the rewarding feeling one experiences on completing the hike.

How much is the Inca Trail Cost?

There are nearly 500 licensed trekking companies in Cusco.

Hence, competition is fierce, which leads to service or quality variations for those looking to differentiate themselves with a superior business, and a race to the bottom for the rest.

The latter is more common. That’s why finding a great Inca Trail tour that is affordably priced can be tricky.

For a 4-day Inca trail itinerary. Costs with a local operator can range from US$550 on the low end up to US$1,500 for a luxury Inca trail tour.

The short Inca trail (2D/1N) can cost anywhere from $500-$700, and the 7-day Salkantay-Inca hike ranges from $750-$2000.

The price differences are driven by several factors: 

  • The quality of the operator
  • The quality of their service
  • The size of the group
  • Inclusions and exclusions (for example, train and entrance tickets) 
  • Whether the trek is a private or open group
  • Whether pre and post-hotels are included, and the type of hotel

Short Inca trail hike by Month

It’s important to note that February is closed off for maintenance. Ensuring the preservation and safety of the trail for years to come. January and March typically see persistent rains, mostly at night, with days that are overcast yet occasionally sunny. The end of the rainy season in April brings milder rainfall and pleasant days, a pattern that also occurs in November and December as the rainy season resumes.

The months of May through October generally offer warm and dry weather, ideal for hiking. However, the peak period between June and September provides the clearest days and freshest nights, making it the optimal time for trekking.

Choosing when to walk the Inca Trail is a crucial decision that impacts the overall experience. Regardless of the month, this historic trek promises an unforgettable adventure through the heart of the Inca Empire. Surrounded by majestic landscapes and the enduring legacy of an ancient civilization.

Unique Experiences

The short inca trail tour offers many unique moments that make each trek distinct. Encounters with local communities provide insight into Andean traditions and ways of life. From the exchange of small gifts to simply sharing a smile, the mutual respect between travelers and the local populace fosters a sense of unity that transcends language barriers.

Wildlife sightings are common in the more verdant sections of the trail. Keep an eye out for the Andean spectacled bear, the indigenous national animal of Peru, and myriad bird species like the Andean Condor.

The diversity of the local ecosystem provides constant delight, from the sweet scents of the orchids to the vibrant colors of the hummingbirds that flit through the air.

luxury train to machu picchu
luxury train to machu picchu

Your Itinerary: A Two-Day Journey to Remember

The Short Inca Trail manifests as a compacted expression of the typical four-day trek, condensed without compromise and overflowing with experiences. Here’s what you can expect from each day of your adventure.

Day 1 – The Hike to Machu Picchu

The two-day hike includes a day of trekking to reach the final stretch of the Inca path, culminating in a late afternoon arrival at Machu Picchu. It involves a significant amount of walking but is manageable with an average fitness level.

pre-departure briefing

Before commencing the hike, you’ll have a pre-departure briefing the night before. Your Tour Leader will explain the essentials to bring, the weather outlook, and the expected duration of the hike.

Bright and early the next day, you’ll board the Peru rail train from Ollantaytambo Hotel escorted onto the Peru Rail Expedition at 6.00 am.

This well-maintained train boasted large windows offering stunning vistas of the mountains and Urubamba River. The train will stop at km 104, which means your disembarkation.

And so, your walking adventure begins here.

The initial four hours of the Short Inca Trail experience.

These 4 hours proved to be quite the challenge during the hike. In a continuous four-hour ascent, you’ll wind around the mountain edges on a well-maintained trail, encountering what seems like an endless staircase.

As you start, the Urubamba River flows by your side, gradually shrinking until it’s merely a thin line in the distance.

Despite beginning the trek with several groups, each person moves at their own pace. In a matter of minutes, you’ll find yourself walking alone on the path. Your expert guides will establish a pace that’s sure to keep you motivated.

The initial section of the hike is exposed to the sun, but you’ll be thankful for the shaded parts of the trail with overgrown trees offering respite. However, you won’t want to linger too long in the shade, as it also attracts mosquitoes. We highly recommend using insect repellent.

Pro Tip: A good strategy for managing your hike is to take a five-minute break to organize your belongings, apply insect repellent, and have an energy bar before continuing.

Wiñay Wayna – ForeverYung

After a challenging four-hour ascent, hikers are greeted with a breathtaking sight: Wiñay Wayna, an Inca marvel. This marks the convergence point with the iconic Inca Trail, serving as the final campsite before Sun Gate for those on the traditional four-day trek.

Before reaching this juncture, they would have passed through other campsites. Wiñay Wayna’s upper level boasts ancient house structures, offering glimpses into the past through remnants of window frames and drainage systems.

The scenic vistas from the rainbow window temple rival prime real estate. Adjacent to the dwellings are terraces, a common feature in various Inca sites, likely utilized for crop acclimatization purposes.

Machu Picchu Hiking Tours
Winayhuayna Inca Trail tour 7 days
Winayhuayna Beautiful Inca city
Winayhuayna Inca Ruins

Midway through the day – Lunchtime

After Wiñay Wayna, your lunch stop awaits! Indulge in a hearty and nutritious seasonal meal featuring quinoa, chicken, avocados, fruit, and energy bars. This satisfying lunch will lighten your backpack, providing a welcomed break. Take a half-hour to rest and freshen up at the basic facilities in the final campsite before continuing your journey to the Sun Gate.

The Famous Sun gate

The Sun Gate offers visitors a breathtaking first view of the Machu Picchu valley below and marks the finish point to the 1 day Inca trail treks to one of the world’s most remarkable historical sites, Lost City of The Incas.

Here, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view from the sun gate. Photographing the incredible ruins while learning more about the Inca culture and history. Take some time to explore this ancient wonder and appreciate flora and fauna from the top of Sun Gate in Peru.

Pro Tip:

While hiking the Short Inca Trail, you’ll witness the breathtaking sunset and sunrise at Machu Picchu the following day. Highly recommended experience!

Upon capturing your initial glimpse, begin a stroll towards the ancient ruins. Pause above Inca City to behold its magnificence up close, as the sun begins its descent and the crowds thin out, allowing you a serene encounter with this marvel.

Regardless of how many times you’ve seen images of it before your visit, the experience is awe-inspiring. Capture the moment, share this remarkable journey with your companions, and conquer the Inca Trail in just two days.

Sun Gate Peru Machu PIcchu
Sun Gate Machu Picchu

Day 2 – Exploring Machu Picchu and Hiking Huayna Picchu

On the second day of the brief Inca trail, you’ll explore the ruins and, with advanced booking, ascend either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.

Exploring these inca ruins with a guide provides a deep dive into their mystique. The precise stonework, celestial accuracy, and harmonious fusion of urban design with natural topography embody the Incan reverence for Pachamama, Mother Earth.

Opting for a hike up Huayna Picchu rewards you with unparalleled vistas of Machu Picchu below—a perfect conclusion to this immersive journey of discovery.

Huayna Picchu Mountain Hike
Huayna Picchu Mountain or Montana?


The two-day Short Inca Trail hike is more than just ambitious sightseeing; it is about the embodiment of wanderlust, the cultivation of the human spirit, and the preservation of ancient cultures. The satisfaction of reaching Machu Picchu on foot is unparalleled—it is earned, not given.

This guide aims to demystify the logistics of the trek, elucidate its cultural and historical significance, and offer insights that will not only benefit prospective trekkers but also encourage a deeper engagement with the world around us.

The Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu beckons adventurers who possess the curiosity to explore and an appreciation for history. The trail is a remarkable intersection of the ancient and the modern, where every traveler stands in the footsteps of the Incas, momentarily bridging the chasm of centuries. It’s a narrative that you write with each step, a story of resilience, discovery, and a shared humanity that makes every ounce of sweat worthwhile.


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Cesar Conde

I’m Cesar Conde, owner of Tour Leaders Peru & Travel Advisor and my other side job is Nomadic Digital. I share my own amazing Tour Experiences, travel stories, guides, and itineraries for travelers like you and me!


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