INCA TRAIL: The trekking and camping route with 43 km of route, is the most famous route in Peru and possibly one of the most spectacular in America, is part of the 23,000 km of roads built by the Incas in South America. The longest Inca Trail, or Inca Trail, begins in Piscacucho at kilometer 82 of the Cusco to Machu Picchu railway line. It crosses different ecosystems, colossal archaeological sites and places rich in flora and fauna, until it reaches the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. From this route there is a circuit to Salcantay (6,271 m.a.s.l.). The Inca Trail is part of the Qhapaq Ñan.
Outdoor Tours in Cusco
Inca Trail – Trekking to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu runs along the Qhapaq Ñan, the roads built by the Incas, a network of more than 23 thousand kilometers. Every year, approximately 25,000 walkers from all over the world travel the extraordinary 43 km of this cobblestone route, built by the Incas to reach the impregnable Inca city of Machu Picchu, deep in the high jungle and at the top of a mountain.
The Inca Trail, with the Inca city of Machu Picchu as its final destination, is the best known and most popular route among international tourists coming to Peru. The total journey is approximately 43 km and takes four days, including a day’s visit to Machu Picchu. The natural scenery inside the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is impressive. With views of snow-capped mountains, cloud forests and a walk through the beautifully preserved ruins, it is an unforgettable experience.
The tour begins in the town of Qorihuayrachina, at kilometer 88 of the Cusco – Quillabamba railway line, and takes between three and four days of arduous walking. During the route, which crosses an impressive altitudinal gradient -with climates and ecosystems as different as the high Andean puna and the cloud forests- two high passes must be overcome (the largest of them, Warmiwañuska, at 4200 m.a.s.l.) to finally conclude with a magical entrance to Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku or Inca Gate.
One of the main attractions of the route is the network of Inca settlements of carved granite that follow one another along the way (Wiñay Wayna, Phuyupatamarca), immersed in natural scenery of breathtaking beauty. An exuberant nature with hundreds of species of orchids, multicolored birds and dreamlike landscapes are the ideal complement to this indispensable route for hikers.
There is also a shorter trekking of 2 days of trekking, for people who have little time or do not want to do the whole trail, this is a good alternative that allows to know the last part of the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Entrance to the Inca Trail is limited to 500 people per day, including guides and porters. Admission is conditioned on being accompanied by an official guide and few travel agencies are accredited to operate this hike. Given their demand we recommend to book this tour 6 months in advance. Normally in February the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance. More information in Visits to Machu Picchu
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (4 days / 3 nights)
The total distance of the road is approximately 43 km and starts at kilometer 88 in a place called Q’oriwayrachina. To start the trail, you need to cross the Kusichaca bridge, (an important Inca bridge using Inca techniques, which was built with steel cables that allowed visitors to cross the Urubamba River). Then you must head to the left bank of the river through a forest of eucalyptus trees to start the day calmly.
Almost immediately, you will arrive at the archaeological complexes of Q’ente, Pulpituyoc, Kusichaca and Patallacta. From this last point, you must follow the road to the left of the river Kusichaca, in the area with the same name, where you will not only see the bridge, but also find the tombs, aqueducts, terraces, paths and a canyon. You will have to continue until you reach the small village of Wayllabamba and the Inca aqueducts. It’ll take about four hours to cover the nine kilometers to this place. The first night you can camp here, but for more comfort it is recommended to stay in Llullucha, 1.6 km further on.
The second day is more difficult as you will have to climb to 4,200 m.a.s.l., crossing the Warmiwañusqa pass, the first and highest point. If you suffer from “soroche” (altitude sickness) it is best not to stop and descend quickly to the valley of the Pakaymayu River, where you can camp. This place is 7 km away and about 8 hours walking distance.
The third day is the longest but the most interesting. You can visit impressive resorts like Runqurakay, the second pass, at 3,800 m.a.s.l. This is a walled complex with interior niches that was perhaps a small place of rest, guard post and place of worship. After crossing the second pass, we will descend to Yanacocha (the black lagoon), and then climb up a path with stone steps until we reach another group of buildings that attracts the attention of visitors. This place is called Sayaqmarka a pre-Hispanic complex with narrow streets, buildings built on different levels, sanctuaries, patios, canals and an exterior wall of protection. At the top of the buttress you can see many constructions that lead you to suppose that they were once a temple and an astronomical observatory where there was a permanent water supply and excellent food storage.
Sayaqmarka is a place full of mystery and charm. The approximate distance to Runkuraqay is 5 km, 2 hours away. This complex is located at 3,600 meters above sea level. There are excellent roads and a tunnel through this complex. We recommend that you camp near the Phuyupatamarca ruins or 3km further on at the Wiñay Wayna Visitor Centre, where you can buy food and drinks or use the restrooms. The ruins of Phuyupatamarca are the best preserved of those we have observed so far.
It has been built on a solid base of several metres in some cases. The ruins of Wiñay Wayna took this name possibly because of the abundance of a type of beautiful orchid flowers that blooms almost all year round throughout the area. The Peruvian government and the Viking Fund signed an agreement in 1940 to investigate the area, and sent the Wenner Gren expedition led by Professor Paul Fejos. But despite the expedition, there is no precise information on the specific function of the six groups of dwellings near Machu Picchu. They are divided into four well-defined sectors: the agricultural sector with many terraces, the religious sector, the fountain sector and the residential sector where the houses are located.
On the fourth day, which starts around 8 a.m., walkers arrive in Machu Picchu, the Sacred City of the Incas at approximately 11 a.m. after an 8 km walk through the jungle. Follow the marked route and then drink some water at the Wiñay Wayna Visitor Centre. The path is clearly marked but we recommend not to get too close to the cliff.
Camping is prohibited at Inti Punko. You must leave your travel gear at the control entrance and enjoy, knowing that you will know the most important monument in this part of the continent. You have time to walk around Machu Picchu until mid-afternoon, to take the train back to the city of Cusco. We recommend that you check the departure times of the train to return to Cusco.
If you plan to stay in the town of Machu Picchu (formerly called “Aguas Calientes”), the distance from Puente Ruinas station to Machu Picchu is 2 km. It takes about 20 minutes on foot along a narrow road that is parallel to the train line.
The Qhapaq Ñan was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in June 2014.
Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador share the Qhapaq Ñan.
The Great Link of the Andean Universe
The Inca roads did not represent merely the power of a state around a space articulated by 23 my kilometers of roads, but also the link between the natural and the supernatural, within a cultural universe that spanned from the north of Argentina and Chile to the plains of Venezuela.
The Qhapaq Ñan or the Great Andean Road is an extensive network of roads perfected by the Incas, which aimed to unite the various peoples of the Tahuantinsuyo for an efficient management of the existing resources along the Andean territory. Thanks to the Qhapaq Ñan, the Incas were able to communicate temporarily and spatially the great historical, natural and cultural diversity of their entire territory.
The Qhapaq Ñan, also known as the Great Andean Road, was the backbone of the political and economic power of the Inca Empire. The road network of more than 23,000 km long connected several production, administrative and ceremonial centers built in more than 2000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture.
The main axis of the road, also known as the Camino Real on the road that runs along the Andean peaks and is the most visible between Quito and Mendoza. In addition to this backbone on the highest peaks of the mountain range, other routes run from north to south along the Pacific coast. The Inca Empire organized its road network on a continental scale; its roads are an invaluable expression of the spirit of organization and planning of the available labor force and constituted a key instrument in the unification of the Empire, physically and organizationally.
This route is a demonstration of universal value on a large scale. Expert meetings have been held to identify the cultural significance and unitary value of the entire network with a view to considering options for inclusion on the World Heritage List through various forms of technical cooperation.
The Incas of Cusco achieved the construction of this infrastructure with a unitary character in less than a century, making it functionally coherent and establishing additional centers of commerce, exchange, production and worship, adapting the production sectors to the topography and climate of each ecological floor along the Way. El Camino also expressed its harmonious relationship with its people and its adaptation to the complex Andean landscape. Today, the cultural landscape of the Qhapaq Ñan forms an exceptional backdrop, where Andean cultures continue to convey a universal message: the human ability to turn one of the harshest geographical landscapes of the Americas into a habitable environment.