Planning a trip to Machu Picchu and feeling overwhelmed by all of the trekking options? A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Incan masterpiece in Peru offers numerous trails with breathtaking views.
This article is your go-to guide for discovering the best hikes at Machu Picchu, providing detailed insights on each trail along with top tips for an unforgettable experience. Ready to conquer these ancient paths? Let’s go!
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Table of Contents
Guide to Machu Picchu Hikes Key Takeaways
- Machu Picchu offers a variety of hiking trails inside the site, including Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, Sun Gate (Inti Punku), and the Inca Bridge.
- The Classic Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, and 2 – Day Inca Trail are popular and rewarding hikes to Machu Picchu.
- It’s best to hike between the Months of May to August, you should spend some time in Cusco before the hikes to acclimatize. Bring cash for water and snacks.
- For a unique experience, explore lesser – known trails like Vilcabamba Traverse, Inca Jungle Trek, Lares Trek, and Ancascocha Trek.
Overview of Hikes in Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu offers a variety of hiking trails, including Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, Sun Gate (Inti Punku), and the Inca Bridge. Please note that these hikes require their own admission at Machu Picchu and are not included in the Machu Picchu general admission, for more information check out our Ultimate Guide to Secure your Machu Picchu Tickets.
Huayna Picchu is a great hike for an amazing birds eye view of Machu Picchu. It’s a medium-level climb that reaches 9,000 feet at the highest point. Only 400 people are allowed to do it each day, and there are only 4 entrance times at 7AM, 8AM, 9AM and 10AM.
So, if you want to do this hike, book your spot six months before you go, it’s very important to secure your permit in advance! It’s also worth mentioning that this hike may not be suitable for those with a fear of heights as it involves steep ascents and narrow paths.
Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu Mountain is a great hike with fewer people. It’s not as hard to do as some others. From the top, you can see all of the Andes mountains around you. This makes it worth all the hard work to get there!
This hike is 2.4 miles each way. That may seem like a lot, but it’s not too bad if you take your time and rest when you need to. To go on this hike costs $55 USD. However, remember that this money helps maintain these ancient places for everyone! This hike only has 2 entrance times at 7AM and 8AM.
Sun Gate (Inti Punku)
The Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, is a must-see on your Machu Picchu hike. Built by the Incas, it once controlled who could enter Machu Picchu. Now, it presents hikers with stunning views of the ancient city and its nearby mountains.
Many tour packages used to include a hike to this spot in their itinerary because of these breathtaking sights. Now only Inca Trail hikers have access to the site. It’s also loved for delivering an amazing sunrise over Machu Picchu that you won’t forget!
The Inca Bridge stands strong on a rocky cliff. Here, you can see amazing views of the green mountains all around you. This stone bridge was part of an old trail to Machu Picchu. Some people think it was a secret way into the city.
This short and accessible hike, suitable for all ages and fitness levels, follows an ancient Inca pathway leading to an original Inca drawbridge. This bridge was strategically designed to protect the western entrance to Machu Picchu. The trail itself is a blend of dirt paths and Inca stone steps, making it relatively easy to navigate. However, the sheer drop-offs in certain areas add an element of adventure, urging trekkers to tread with caution.
As you embark on this journey, you’ll be surrounded by the diverse flora and fauna of the region, with the chance to spot various bird species and vibrant orchids. About 15 minutes into the hike, the main attraction awaits: the Inca drawbridge. While the bridge is in a state of disrepair and crossing it is prohibited, it stands as a testament to the ingenious engineering skills of the Incas. The bridge, precariously perched on the side of a cliff, offers a glimpse into the defensive strategies employed by the ancient civilization.
But be careful, this hike can be hard and risky for some folks, it also requires its own admission known as Circuit 1/2 + Inca Bridge!
Top 3 Classic Hikes to Machu Picchu
Discover these iconic trails and start planning your adventure today!
Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Classic Inca Trail is the most famous and popular trek to Machu Picchu. It takes 4 days and 3 nights to complete, covering a distance of 26.7 miles (43 km). This trail offers breathtaking views of the Peruvian jungles, Incan ruins, and the majestic Andes mountains.
However, it’s important to note that permits are limited to 500 per day, with only 200 allocated for trekkers. So if you’re planning on taking this route, make sure to secure your permit in advance! The Classic Inca Trail is truly an unforgettable adventure that allows you to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Incas and experience their rich history firsthand.
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek is a physically demanding 5-day hike in Peru that offers breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks and beautiful Andean terrain. This trek covers a distance of 72 kilometers and includes seven passes, reaching an elevation of over 15,200 feet (4,600 meters).
The highest point of the trek is Huayanay Pass, which sits at an impressive altitude of 15,255 feet (4,650 meters) above sea level. It’s important to note that the Salkantay Trek is typically completed in four days and three nights.
So if you’re up for a challenging adventure with stunning scenery along the way, this trek might be perfect for you!
2-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The 2-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, also known as the Short Inca Trail is a great option for those who want a shorter and less crowded trek. Embarking on the 2-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is like stepping back in time. Starting from KM104, trekkers cross the Vilcanota/Urubamba River and ascend through a cloud forest teeming with diverse bird species and vibrant orchids.
As you hike, you’ll encounter the remnants of ancient Peru, where elaborate festivals once honored the sun and rain gods, pivotal to their agricultural cycles. The trail’s highlight, Wiñay Wayna, showcases the Inca’s architectural prowess with its finely-carved stones. But the real treat awaits at the Sun Gate, offering the first breathtaking glimpse of Machu Picchu. The hike to Machu Picchu culminates at the iconic citadel, where history and nature converge in harmony.
On the second day, an early start allows ample time to explore the Machu Picchu citadel with a guide. After soaking in the rich history and stunning views, there’s free time to further explore or even hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. As the day winds down, a train journey whisks travelers back to Cusco, marking the end of an unforgettable journey. And for those wondering, the highest point on this short trail is the Sun Gate (or Inti Punku) at an altitude of approximately 2,720 meters (8,924 feet) above sea level.
Additional Machu Picchu Hikes
Discover even more exhilarating Machu Picchu hikes, including the thrilling Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu and the adventurous Huchuy Picchu Hike inside the ruins of Machu Picchu.
The Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca Jungle Trek is a thrilling journey that combines the raw beauty of nature with the rich tapestry of Incan history. Starting from the picturesque town of Malaga Pass, trekkers are treated to a diverse landscape that shifts from the towering snow-capped peaks of Huacay Willca to the lush cloud forests teeming with vibrant flora and fauna.
As participants pedal down the trail, they’re transported back in time, tracing the ancient pathways once trodden by the Inca civilization. The trail is not just about biking; it’s a multi-sport adventure that includes rafting in the high Amazon Jungle and ziplining across the vast Peruvian canopies.
In the heart of the trail lies the town of Santa Maria, a hub of culture and tradition. Here, trekkers can immerse themselves in the local customs. As the trail winds its way towards the iconic Machu Picchu, participants get a chance to explore Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the ancient citadel.
The culmination of the trek is the awe-inspiring sight of Machu Picchu, where history, spirituality, and nature converge, offering trekkers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Jungle Inca Trail is more than just a hike to Machu Picchu; it’s a journey through time, celebrating the enduring spirit of the Inca civilization and the breathtaking beauty of Peru.
Huchuy Picchu Hike
The Huchuy Picchu Hike is a great option for those looking to explore lesser-known easier trails around Machu Picchu. This hike takes you on a shorter and easier trek inside Machu Picchu to the small mountain of Huchuy Picchu and away from the crowds. Huchuy Picchu also requires its own admission attached to Circuit 4 of the Machu Picchu Tickets. The entrance times are every hour from 7AM to 12PM.
Huchuy Picchu, often overshadowed by its famous sibling Machu Picchu, is a lesser-known Incan archaeological site located near Cusco, Peru. The Huchuy Picchu trail offers a more tranquil and off-the-beaten-path experience for trekkers looking to explore the Andean landscapes without the crowds. The trail is considered moderate in difficulty. While it’s shorter than some of the other treks, it still offers its fair share of ascents and descents, providing trekkers with a good workout.
While it might not have the grandeur of Machu Picchu, the journey to Huchuy Picchu is filled with stunning vistas, ancient ruins, and a deep dive into the rich Incan history. So, if you’re someone who loves a good trek with a mix of history and nature, but without the touristy hustle, this might just be your next adventure!
Exploring Lesser-known Hikes to Machu Picchu
Discover lesser-known Machu Picchu trails like the Vilcabamba Trail, Lares Trek, and Ancascocha Trek for a unique and off-the-beaten-path hiking experience.
The Vilcabamba Trail is a challenging and remote trek that takes you through breathtaking landscapes in Peru. This trek doesn’t require a permit, so you can embark on it whenever you’re ready. This trail is generally 5 Days long though you will find some treks online as long at 8 Days.
The Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu is like that secret spot only locals know about. It’s a hidden treasure that’s still pretty untouched by the touristy crowd. Imagine trekking through snow-capped mountains and pristine Inca trails without bumping into a horde of selfie-stick wielding tourists every few steps. And guess what? Along the way, you’ll stumble upon some lesser-known Incan ruins like Vitcos-Rosaspata and the Ñustahispana (the White Rock). And yes, you’ll probably have these spots all to yourself.
Now, don’t let the tranquility fool you. This trek is no walk in the park. It’s one of the more challenging routes to Machu Picchu. We’re talking about 50-60km of trekking, with some pretty intense mountain passes to conquer. So, lace up those hiking boots tight! The trail can get muddy, especially during the wet months, so gear up accordingly. And if you’re thinking about the highest point, Tulla Tacanca takes the crown, sitting at a whopping 4,500m above sea level. But trust me, the views? Totally worth every huff and puff.
After all the trekking, the grand reward awaits – the iconic Machu Picchu. On the last day, you’ll start super early, aiming to catch that magical sunrise over the ancient city. Most tours offer a guided exploration of the ruins, but you’ll also get some free time to wander around. And if you’ve still got some energy left, consider climbing Huayna Picchu for an epic view. Just remember, those climbing permits get snatched up pretty quickly, so plan ahead! After soaking in all the history and snapping a gazillion photos, you’ll head back to Cusco, with memories of an adventure of a lifetime.
The Lares Trek
Ever thought about taking the road less traveled? The Lares Trek is your ticket to a genuine slice of Peruvian magic. While everyone’s hustling on the Inca Trail, you’ll be weaving through the heart of the Andes, with local villagers and curious alpacas as your companions. It’s not just a trek; it’s a cultural immersion. The landscapes? Breathtaking. The history? Rich and deep. And the vibe? Pure, unfiltered Peru.
Here’s the scoop: the Lares Trek isn’t just about putting one foot in front of the other. It’s an experience, curated to perfection. The guides? They’re storytellers, history buffs, and your personal cheerleaders all rolled into one. Hungry? The trail food is more than just sustenance; it’s a culinary journey through Peruvian flavors. And shoutout to teams like Karikuy, whos guides seem to have the magic formula for making every trekker’s experience memorable and hassle-free.
And then, after days of adventure, you’re greeted by the pièce de résistance: Machu Picchu. Imagine standing there, with the first rays of dawn lighting up the ancient city, and feeling the weight of centuries of history around you. It’s surreal, it’s magical, and it’s the perfect climax to your Andean adventure. So, lace up, pack up, and set out. The Lares Trek is waiting, and it promises memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Ever heard of the Ancascocha Trek? It’s like the secret handshake of the trekking world. Nestled deep in the Andes, this trail offers a unique blend of pristine landscapes and ancient Incan wonders. Spanning about 5 days, you’ll cover some serious ground, with the highest point being the Huayanay Pass at a dizzying 4,650 meters (or 15,256 ft for those who prefer feet). But hey, with great heights come great views, right? And trust me, the panoramas here are nothing short of spectacular.
What sets the Ancascocha Trek apart isn’t just the scenery, but the stories that come with it. As you wander through the trail, you’ll encounter remnants of the Incan past, from age-old constructions to quaint villages that seem frozen in time. And speaking of time, you’ll be walking through areas where traditions haven’t changed for centuries. It’s like a live history lesson, minus the classroom. Plus, with the Vilcabamba and Urubamba mountain ranges as your backdrop, every step feels like a postcard moment.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, the Ancascocha Trek serves up its showstopper: Machu Picchu. Standing there, with the ancient city sprawled out before you, it’s hard not to feel a rush of emotions. It’s the culmination of days of trekking, of stories shared, and challenges overcome. And as you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll realize that every step, every breathless moment, was worth it.
How to Plan your Machu Picchu Hike
When planning your Machu Picchu hike, start by choosing a reputable tour company that offers guided hikes to ensure a safe and organized experience. Research the cost of hiking the Inca Trail and budget accordingly, keeping in mind additional expenses such as tipping guides and staff.
Pack appropriately for the hike, including essential items like sturdy hiking boots, rain gear, and a first aid kit.
Choosing a Tour company
When planning your Machu Picchu hike, it’s important to choose a reliable tour company. Look for companies with good reviews and a track record of providing excellent service. One reputable adventure travel company is Karikuy Tours, founded by Julio Cesar Tello. Yes, shameful self promotion here.
We offer guided hikes to Machu Picchu and other exciting destinations. Remember that Inca Trail permits are limited, so book your trekking trip well in advance to secure your spot.
Planning ahead will ensure you have a memorable and well-organized experience exploring this ancient wonder of the world.
The Cost of Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a tour company can cost around $700 USD per person for a group rate. If you prefer a private tour, the cost can range from $800 USD to $1,800 USD depending on how many people are in your group.
Keep in mind that entrance into Machu Picchu itself costs 152 soles or about $45 USD. And if you need transportation back to Ollantaytambo, one-way train tickets can range from $55 USD to $180 USD.
It’s also important to remember that it’s customary and recommended to tip your guides, chefs, and porters between 60-150 soles (about $20-50 USD) per person.
Tipping Guides and Other Staff
Tipping guides and other staff is an important part of planning your Machu Picchu hike. It’s a way to show appreciation for their hard work and dedication. At the end of your hike, it is recommended to tip guides and staff based on the level of service you received and how satisfied you are.
The general tipping etiquette suggests giving 10-15% of the total cost of the trek. Tips can be given in local currency or US dollars. By tipping, you are acknowledging the effort they put into making your experience enjoyable and memorable.
Packing for Machu Picchu Hikes
To ensure a comfortable and successful hike to Machu Picchu, it is important to pack the right items. Here are some essential things to bring, items may vary depending on the trek itself but this is a general list, for more visit our Ultimate Machu Picchu Packing List Guide:
- Backpack: Choose a sturdy backpack that can hold all your belongings and is comfortable to wear during the hike.
- Sleeping bag and sleeping pad: These items are essential for camping along the trail. Make sure they are lightweight and suitable for cold temperatures.
- Change of clothes: Pack enough clothes for the duration of your hike, including hiking pants, moisture-wicking shirts, a warm jacket or fleece, and extra socks.
- Hiking boots: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots that provide ankle support and have a good grip on various terrains.
- Rain gear: It’s important to be prepared for rain during your hike. Bring a waterproof jacket or poncho, rain pants, and a waterproof cover for your backpack.
- Hat and sunglasses: Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses with UV protection.
- Sunscreen: The high altitude can intensify the sun’s rays, so apply sunscreen with a high SPF before starting your hike.
- Insect repellent: Keep mosquitoes and other bugs at bay by bringing insect repellent with DEET.
- Headlamp: A headlamp is essential for navigating in low-light conditions at night or in tunnels along the trail.
- Trekking poles: These can help reduce strain on your knees and provide stability while hiking on uneven terrain.
- Water bottle: Stay hydrated by bringing a reusable water bottle that you can refill along the way.
- Toiletries and toilet paper: Pack travel-sized toiletries such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper (as it may not always be available).
- Light snacks: Carry energy bars, nuts, fruits, or other lightweight snacks to keep your energy levels up during the hike.
- Camera: Capture the incredible views and moments along the Inca Trail by bringing a camera with extra batteries or a portable charger.
- Passport: Remember to bring your passport as it is required for entry into the Inca Trail.
- Money: Tipping tour guides and porters is customary on the Inca Trail, so make sure to bring enough cash in Peruvian Soles or US Dollars.
Tips for Hikes at Machu Picchu
Acclimatize before your hike to avoid altitude sickness and enjoy the experience. Know when to travel and what to bring.
Time to Acclimatize
Acclimatization is crucial when visiting Machu Picchu to prevent altitude sickness. It is recommended to take the time to adjust properly before exploring the archaeological site. Altitude sickness can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, and dizziness due to the high elevation of Machu Picchu.
To avoid these issues, spend a few days in Cusco or other locations at a similar altitude to acclimate your body. This will help you enjoy your hike and experience without any discomfort.
The Best Time to Go
The best time to travel to Machu Picchu is during the dry season, which lasts from May to October. This is when you’ll have sunny and clear skies, making it easier to explore the ancient ruins and hike the trails.
During this time, daytime temperatures range from 18-20°C (65-70°F), so it’s comfortable for outdoor activities. However, be prepared for cold nights as temperatures can drop to freezing.
If you prefer fewer crowds, consider visiting from November through April (excluding February). It may be rainier during these months, but you’ll get a more peaceful experience exploring Machu Picchu.
What to Bring & Not to Bring
When planning for your Machu Picchu hike, it’s important to bring the essential items that will make your journey more comfortable and enjoyable. Some things you should definitely pack include a backpack, sleeping bag, hiking boots, rain gear, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, headlamp, trekking poles, water bottle, toiletries, toilet paper and light snacks.
Don’t forget your camera to capture those amazing moments! It’s also crucial to have your passport with you as it is required to enter the Inca Trail. However prepared you are physically and mentally though don’t forget about tipping tour guides and porters on the Inca Trail – so be sure to bring some money for that purpose.
Remember not to overpack or carry unnecessary items that will only weigh you down during the hike. Keep in mind that there might be limited space in your backpack and carrying too much weight can tire you out quickly.
Avoid bringing heavy electronics like laptops unless absolutely necessary. Instead of bulky books or guidebooks opt for digital versions on your phone or e-reader if possible – this way it takes up less space but still provides useful information.
Visiting Machu Picchu During Pandemics and Travel Advisories
COVID19 is over but it’s still important to check for peru travel restrictions before visiting Machu Picchu. Make sure to stay updated on the latest information and follow any regulations set by the Peruvian government.
To enter Machu Picchu, we recommend booking your Machu Picchu tickets in advance. Regular entrance tickets can sell out quickly, especially during the high tourist season of May to August, so it’s best to plan ahead and secure your spot.
Keep in mind that health protocols and safety measures may be in place to ensure a safe visit for everyone. Stay informed and prioritize your health and safety when visiting this incredible destination during these uncertain times.
Frequently Asked Questions About Machu Picchu Hikes
If you’re planning a hike to Machu Picchu, you might have some questions. Here are some common ones answered:
How long does it take to hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
The Classic Inca Trail takes 4 days to complete. It’s a challenging trek that covers about 26 miles.
Do I need a permit to hike Huayna Picchu?
Yes, you need a separate permit to hike Huayna Picchu. Only a limited number of people are allowed each day, so it’s important to book in advance.
Is there an age limit for hiking at Machu Picchu?
There is no official age limit for hiking at Machu Picchu, but it is recommended that children be at least 12 years old due to the steep terrain and altitude.
Can I do a day trip to Machu Picchu or do I have to stay overnight?
You can do a day trip if you want, but many people choose to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes so they can explore the site more fully.
Are there any health concerns when hiking at high altitudes?
Altitude sickness is a concern when hiking in the Andes Mountains. It’s important to acclimatize properly and drink plenty of water.
How can I hike in Machu Picchu?
There are several hikes to Machu Picchu that can take from 4 to 5 days as well as hikes inside Machu Picchu that take a couple hours.
What are some popular trails for hiking to Machu Picchu?
The most common trails are the Salkantay Trail that goes by Humantay Lake and over the Salkantay Pass. The Classic Inca Trail Route is another favorite with views of Nevado Veronica from Dead Woman’s Pass.
Are there other sights to see while hiking to Machu Picchu?
Yes! Along with viewing the Incan Empire ruins at Huilquijasa and Phuyupatamarca, you can also visit Llactapata near the Sacred Valley.
Is Huayna Picchu Safe to Hike?
Yes, handrail wires have been added for safety while climbing the steepest parts of the mountain, we do not recommend it if you are afraid of heights.
Remember: Always check with your tour operator or travel advisor for the most up-to-date information and recommendations regarding your specific journey.
In conclusion, the Ultimate Guide to Machu Picchu Hikes provides you with a variety of trails and tips to enhance your hiking experience. Whether you choose the classic Inca Trail or explore lesser-known paths like Vilcabamba Traverse, there is something for everyone.
Remember to plan ahead, acclimate properly, and pack accordingly for a safe and enjoyable journey. Now go out there and conquer the breathtaking beauty of Machu Picchu!
Founder of Karikuy, an organization in Peru that brings travelers to visit and explore the country. Julio also runs the Karikuy Volunteer program and is the editor of this blog. Julio likes to write about his adventures in Peru as well as Peruvian folklore, mysteries and secluded locations.