How Hard is The Inca Trail? A Guide for First-Time Hikers

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Inca Trail | 0 comments

How hard is the Inca trail

Before embarking on the 9-day tour from Cusco, a common query lingers: Just how challenging will the Inca Trail prove to be?

Before starting the classic 4-day Inca trail hike from Cusco, one burning question you will have on my mind is how hard is the 4-day Inca trail. With no expectations and limited trekking experience? As a Tour Guide in Peru, I face different experiences with tourists hiking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

I have to admit, sometimes tourists ask silly questions. Would I end up collapsing halfway and crawling the rest? Or worse, would I have to call for a USD 8000 helicopter rescue? Maybe I’d give up and wait at the campsite for days until someone saved me?

Fortunately, none of these scenarios unfolded (though collapsing was a possibility). After four intense days of hiking the Inca trail, You stood in awe as you beheld the breathtaking view of Machu Picchu through the sun gate.

If you are also wondering how hard is to conquer the classic Inca Trail, we prepared a video summary of our all experiences and some helpful tips for your adventure!

The main Question is if the Inca Trail is worth it.

Is hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu a worthwhile experience? The Inca Trip is perhaps one of the most iconic and sought-after hiking experiences in the world. Located in Peru, this 26-mile hike winds through stunning Andean landscapes, ancient ruins, and breathtaking views of the majestic Machu Picchu. But with its popularity comes the question – is it worth it to hike the Inca Trail?

For many, the answer is a resounding yes. The Inca Trip tour offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in both nature and history at the same time. As you make your way along the trail, you will encounter various archaeological sites that give insight into the rich culture and civilization of the Incas.

how much does the Inca trail cost?

The total cost of the Inca Trail will depend on several factors such as the tour company, the time of year, and the level of service provided. However, a general estimate for a standard four-day/three-night trek is between $800 and $900 per person.

It’s important to keep in mind that going for a cheaper option may result in lower quality services, especially for the treatment of porters. The Inca Trail is physically demanding and porters play a crucial role in carrying supplies and equipment. Therefore, it’s recommended to choose a reputable tour company that pays fair wages and provides proper working conditions for their porters.

Additionally, the cost may also vary depending on the time of year. The high season for the Inca Trail is from June to August when prices may be higher due to increased demand. The low season is from November to March when prices may be slightly lower.

It’s also worth noting that there are different routes and options for trekking the Inca Trail, with varying costs. For example, there are shorter or longer treks available, as well as luxury options with upgraded accommodations.

What is included in the cost?

While trekking the Inca Trail can be quite expensive, it’s important to remember that this cost includes various expenses such as permits, guide fees, transportation, meals, and camping equipment. It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience that many consider well worth the investment.

Inca Trail Original Stairs carved in the bedrock
The Incas turned a 500m hillside into a staircase, etching each step out of the natural shape of the bedrock

How Hard is the Inca Trail Hike?

Embarking on the Inca Trail is no ordinary trek; it’s a journey that demands both physical and mental resilience. As an official Tour Guide will share my experiences in this guide, I want to provide you with detailed insights and valuable recommendations to navigate the challenges of the trip.

Let’s talk about the mental aspect first: Undoubtedly the most formidable challenge. Picture yourself on Day 2, ascending to Dead Woman’s Pass. The relentless climb triggers incessant self-doubt, questioning your very ability to conquer it. However, reaching the pass signifies a turning point, a metaphorical descent into a phase where progress becomes more manageable than retreat.

The Inca Trail hiking Trip, characterized by steep ascents and descents coupled with the punishing altitude, can make even seasoned hikers feel humbled. Remarkably, individuals who had conquered Kilimanjaro admitted that the 4-day Inca Trek proved more demanding.

If You Have a chance to hike with me I’ll share anecdotes of past trekkers – those with tantrums, perpetual complaints, and even tardy arrivals at camp under the cloak of night. Listening to these tales provided solace right?

So, is the Inca Trail challenging?

Undoubtedly, yes. It tests your limits, pushing you beyond what you thought possible. Yet, this very difficulty gives the journey its profound meaning. On Day 3, amidst breathtaking landscapes resembling desktop wallpapers, and on Day 4, as you stand at the Sun Gate beholding Machu Picchu, a triumphant sense of accomplishment washes over you.

In conclusion, undertaking the Inca Trail is no walk in the park, but that’s precisely what makes it worthwhile.

The hardships encountered pale in comparison to the awe-inspiring reward – a truly special encounter with Machu Picchu that etches an indelible mark of achievement in your memory. Now, armed with this insight, prepare yourself for an unforgettable expedition along the ancient Inca Trail.

Can anyone hike the Inca Trail?

Inca Trail Private Tour
Inka trail Private Tour To To Machu Picchu

Officially, embarking on the iconic Classic Inca Trek in Peru is a regulated endeavor that demands the presence of a tour guide. According to Peru’s Ministry of Tourism, all trekkers venturing on this historic route are required to be accompanied by a certified tour guide as part of an organized group to ensure safety and enhance the overall experience.

How fit do you need to be for the Inca Trail? – The Altitude Factor

Research indicates that overall fitness levels do not significantly impact acclimatization speed. Therefore, regardless of your fitness level for trekking this classic hike to Machu Picchu, it is imperative to dedicate a minimum of two full days for acclimatization at a similar altitude before commencing the adventure.

Short in Time? You can still hike the Inca Trail only in 2 Days

How to prepare yourself when you arrive in Cusco!

As part of your tour leaders. We want to enjoy Peru. We have a dedicated day for acclimatization in this vibrant city. It’s crucial to take it easy and allow your body to adjust to the high altitude (Cusco sits at around 3,400 meters above sea level) and the change in atmosphere.

Here are some helpful tips to make your acclimatization smoother: stay away from alcohol (sorry!), focus on deep breathing, stay hydrated, and avoid overexertion. Before to intent to hike the Inca trail, we highly recommend you do a classic day tour in Cusco City.

To manage altitude sickness, many locals use coca leaves and coca tea (mate de coca), which you can easily find in Cusco. It’s also wise to pack painkillers (such as aspirin or paracetamol) in case of headaches, as well as anti-nausea medication, just in case.

Inca TrailMap
Map Of The Inca Trail 4 Days

How is The Weather On The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?

The Andean weather can be unpredictable. You might experience sun, rain, and cold temperatures all in a single day.

Temperatures in the region are fairly consistent throughout the year. Days reach higher temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius (70-80 degrees Fahrenheit) and drop into the low digits. Campsites on mountain passes are especially cold (Pacaymayu and Chaquicocha ). You may experience sub-zero temperatures at night and in the early mornings.

Pro Tips: Adding layers to your duffle bags can increase the weight, But makes will help a lot with cold weather.

Can a beginner do the Inca Trail? – Physical Fitness

A solid level of fitness is required. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete, but the fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy the Inca hike. Regular cardio exercise, strength training, and hikes at home can help prepare you for this Hiking adventure.

Absolutely! Beginners can conquer this remarkable hike in Peru, which I am proud of, leading them to Machu Picchu.

Inca Trail elevation

This exhilarating twenty-six-plus mile route (43 km) presents a thrilling combination of steep inclines, challenging descents, stamina-sapping ‘staircases’, and tricky switchbacks you will hike over four to 5 days at an elevation nearing 13,828 feet (4,215 meters).

In conclusion, The difficulty of the Classic Inca Trek to Machu Picchu is considered to be a moderate-level hike But fear not! Along the way, you’ll be delighted by breathtaking natural and historic wonders that will leave you in awe.

Inca Trail Hike
Dead woman Pass Elevation 4.215m

Comparing the Difficulty of the Inca Trail to Other Trail Options

The Inca Trail is the most famous of several hiking routes to Machu Picchu. These routes vary in terms of distance and difficulty.

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay trek is a challenging and rewarding alternative to the Inca Trail. It takes hikers through diverse landscapes, from high mountain passes to lush rainforests, and offers stunning views of the famous Salkantay peak along the way.

Many travelers choose to combine the Salkantay trek with the Inca Trek tour for a more immersive experience. This 7-day combo trip allows hikers to experience both routes and see some of the most iconic sights in Peru, including Machu Picchu.

Solo Hikes: If you prefer to hike solo, the Salkantay trek is a great option as it is less crowded than the Inca Trip. However, it is recommended to hire a guide or join a tour group for safety reasons and to ensure proper permits are obtained for camping along the route.

Whichever option you choose, hiking the Salkantay trek to machu picchu will be an unforgettable journey filled with breathtaking scenery and cultural immersion. So lace up your hiking boots and get ready to conquer this epic trek in Peru!


If you are considering the Vilcabamba trek, be prepared for a challenging and strenuous journey. This trekking route is not well-known and is much less traveled than other routes to Machu Picchu. As a result, it offers a unique and remote experience for those who are up for the challenge.

The Vilcabamba trek typically takes around 8-9 days to complete, covering a distance of approximately 80km. Along the way, you will encounter steep ascents and descents, rocky terrain, and high altitudes. It is essential to be in good physical condition before attempting this trek.

During some sections of the trek, you may be walking for more than 10 hours a day. It is crucial to have endurance and stamina to endure long days of hiking at high altitudes. Regular exercise and training leading up to the trek can help improve your fitness level.

Additionally, due to its remote location, there are limited facilities along the Vilcabamba trek. You will need to carry all necessary supplies with you, including food and camping equipment. This adds an extra level of difficulty to the trek as you will need to carry a heavy backpack throughout the journey.

Lares Trek

Lares Trek 4 Days best Alternative Trek to Machu Picchu

For those seeking a less challenging option than the Inca Trekking tour, the Lares Valley trek presents a favorable alternative. Spanning just over 24 miles (39 kilometers), this trail typically takes 2-3 days to complete.

Contrasting with the Inca Trail, the Lares Trail offers a more gradual ascent with fewer stairs to climb. It meanders through scenic farmland in the picturesque Lares Valley.

An Easier Way To Hike The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

One option for a shorter, easier hike on the classic Inca Trail is the 2-day trek. But how hard is the short Inca trail? This alternative route still allows hikers to experience the iconic Sun Gate at the end of their journey, but cuts out some of the more challenging parts of the trail. This can be a great option for those who are not able to complete the full 4-day trek or who want a less strenuous experience.

The 2-day trek typically starts at a later point on the same route as the longer hike, allowing hikers to cover approximately half of the distance. This means you will still get to see many of the stunning ruins and landscapes along the way, but without having to walk as far.

One advantage of this shorter trek is that it requires less physical endurance and stamina. This may be appealing to those who are not used to high-altitude hiking or who have physical limitations. However, it’s important to note that even though this route is shorter, it still involves steep climbs and descents and can be physically demanding.

Additionally: since this is a popular option for those looking for an easier hike, there may be more people on this route compared to other trails in Peru. This can potentially affect your overall experience if you prefer a quieter atmosphere while hiking.

Ultimately: whether you choose to do the full 4-day trek or opt for the 2-day option, hiking the classic Inca Trail is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Whichever route you choose, make sure to properly prepare physically and mentally for your journey and follow all safety precautions recommended by tour guides or park officials. Happy hiking!

Top Tips For Inca Trail Trek!

Patallacta inca Trail
First Inca Trail Areological site along the Inca Trail – Llactapata or Patallacta

Book well in advance

Only about 200 out of the 500 permits per day for the Inca Trail are allocated to hikers. Booking Your trek with Tour Leaders Peru six months in advance would be crucial. While traveling in Latin America, you’ll encounter individuals who missed out on the Inca Trail due to late inquiries.

Travel in the Dry Season

The best Months to hike to machu Picchu are July, August, and September When planning a trip to Machu Picchu, one of the most important factors to consider is the best time of year to visit. While this ancient Incan citadel can be visited year-round, certain months offer the best weather, fewer crowds, and more enjoyable experiences.

The peak season:
Visiting Machu Picchu is between July and September. During these months, the weather is generally dry with clear skies, making it ideal for hiking and exploring the ruins. This also coincides with summer vacation in many countries, so expect larger crowds than usual.

August Month: specifically is considered the best month to visit Machu Picchu due to its mild temperatures and minimal rainfall. It’s also during this month that Inti Raymi, the Incan festival of the sun, takes place. This can be a great opportunity to witness traditional ceremonies and celebrations.

On the other hand: If you prefer to avoid crowds and save some money, consider visiting Machu Picchu during the shoulder seasons of April-June or October-November. During these months, the weather is still pleasant but there are fewer tourists, making it easier to take in all that Machu Picchu has to offer.

Rain Season: If you don’t mind rain and want a quieter experience, December-March is considered the low season for visiting Machu Picchu. The rainy season can bring heavy downpours and even occasional closures due to landslides, but it also means lush green landscapes and lower-ticket

Prep for the altitude

The altitude can impact even seasoned hikers. At 4200 meters above sea level at the trail’s peak (Dead Woman’s Pass), breathing in enough oxygen becomes challenging. Mental readiness helps face this, and cardio exercises to boost lung function prove beneficial.

Pack like a pro

The essentials you’ll want to have include insect repellant, bandaids, and a cozy coat. Don’t forget a flashlight and toilet paper for convenience. And grab some slip-on shoes for easy wear around the campsites!


So, how long is the Inca trail from Cusco to machu picchu? now you know it It’s a challenge, no doubt. But it’s also an unforgettable adventure that will reward you with memories to last a lifetime. Lace up those hiking boots, and let’s hit the trail!


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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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