Excellent Inca Trail distance and altitude graphic sign including forts and camping places en route, spotted at Wayllabamba checkpoint by Steve Pastor.
Is the Inca Trail worth the expense?
The Inca Trail is an incredible experience but really expensive at $600++ per person for an official package and generally a booking 3 months in advance is needed, though late deals are almost certainly possible to find in Cusco.
Alternatively consider hiking to the ‘new’ ancient site of Choquequirao instead though you should still try to see Machu Picchu via train, perhaps with an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes and a brisk walk along the trail from the MP end, just to see what the fuss is about. Actually a half day walk from MP’s Inti Punku will offer a good feel of the ambience.
Machu Picchu has become so overrun with tourists recently that authorities, with financial assistance from France, are working hard to excavate and improve access to an alternative and even more isolated site.
Inca Trail Photos
Photos © Jim Stevenson
Beside the train track with a young group at the start of Jim’s three days and two nights on the Camino Inka.
Acclimatising to the altitude
Due to the vast costs of this trek these days young backpackers are a rare species, mostly replaced by underfit and overweight (and affluent) older folks laden with walking sticks, big cameras and bigger hats, many of them turning back within hours of setting off. Jim passed at least 20 heading for home on the first day. The biggest problem is not levels of fitness, it’s altitude, particularly if you fly into Cusco and hit the trail within a few days before acclimatising properly.
Acclimatising is the key to managing the the Inka Trail. This is not your average long, steepish trek. It’s at 4, 000 metres! Get real, that’s high! Hang out a bit in Arequipa, hike Colca Canyon, walk around the Altiplano near Puno, then spend a few days in Cusco, maybe take a walk around Ollaytaytambo, then head for Km 88/82.
An early part of the Trail.
A charming garden-path, low altitude, sub-tropical section of the trail.
And the top of the first, highest and hardest pass of the Inca Trail, Dead Woman’s Pass at 4, 200m. This is the killer. Get past it and you’re coasting.
The Peruvian guide’s kitchen tent with space for hiker’s tents all around.
There is also a simple but useful Dining Tent erected daily by the porters.
Jim: “Food was first class considering the location, they even carried a gas stove, large. We were served popcorn before dinner, lots of mint tea, they even had beer. . tents for two, new and comfortable.
I ran a lot of the way with the porters as if you leave with them pretty soon you’re alone. When you stay with the group you spend most of the time waiting for the snails. ”