Hiking the 1 Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as a Beginner Hiker (What It’s REALLY Like!)

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I don't generally describe myself as “a hiker.” Have I *done* some epic hikes around the world in the past? Yes. But hiking is not an activity I frequently engage in just for fun, unless there's some sort of big payoff at the end.

So when my friend Ashley and I were talking about booking a trip to Peru, hiking the Inca Trail honestly did not really cross my mind. A multi-day hike that requires a high level of fitness and sleeping on the ground is NOT something that sounds fun to me.

But when I learned there was a shorter, 1-day version of the Inca Trail that we could hike instead, I was intrigued. Hiking through the mountains to Machu Picchu certainly seemed like enough of a cool payoff to convince even this self-professed non-hiker to consider breaking out the hiking boots.

So we booked it. … And then I spent the next several months mildly freaking out about whether I could do it as a mid-size, averagely fit woman in my mid-30s who doesn't hike a lot.

Spoiler alert: I did it!

Amanda at Machu Picchu in hiking clothing

The hike was epic and incredible, and 100% worth it. But the 1-day Inca Trail hike is not “just” a day hike. It's an 8-mile-long hike at roughly 8,000 feet of elevation, and isn't suitable for everyone – especially if you aren't prepared for it.

So, because I want to make sure you ARE prepared for it, here's everything I think you need to know about the 1-day Inca Trail hike experience, from someone who's an infrequent (or even beginner) hiker.

TL;DR cheat sheet to the most important info in this post:

  • How long is the 1-day Inca Trail? It's roughly 8 miles, and can take anywhere from 4-8 hours to complete.
  • How hard is the 1-day Inca Trail hike? Do I need to prep/train for it? Unless you are very fit and a frequent hiker already, yes, I would highly recommend training. The hike is at 8,000+ feet of elevation, is mostly uphill, and includes thousands of stone steps.
  • Can I do it on my own? No, a hiking guide and hiking permit are both required for anyone on the Inca Trail. Permits can sell out months in advance.
  • What do I need to bring? At least 2 liters of water, hiking poles, good hiking shoes, rain layers (this hike is up in the cloud forest), sun protection, bug spray, electrolytes, and room in your pack for lunch.
Green mountain views along the Inca Trail
The views along the Inca Trail are worth it

What is the Inca Trail?

First off, what exactly is the Inca Trail? There is actually a huge network of trails and roads remaining throughout South America that were used by the Inca people to trade and travel. But the one that we collectively know today as “the Inca Trail” refers to one specific hiking trail in the Andes Mountains in Peru that leads to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail – AKA the Camino Inca – is usually regarded as the most famous trail in South America (and maybe in the entire world). The “Classic” version of the trek follows a historic Incan pilgrimage path through the mountains that would have originally been reserved for the emperor and nobles to travel to Machu Picchu.

The Classic Inca Trail is 43 kilometers (26 miles) long, and is usually hiked over the course of 4 days, with trekkers sleeping at basic campsites along the way. This version of the trail is quite difficult – and is not what we'll be talking about here!

Hikers on the Inca Trail in Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail

What is the 1-day Inca Trail hike?

The 1-day version of the Inca Trail hike is more or less what it sounds like: a shortened version of the Classic Inca Trail route that is done in just one day. This route covers the last 8-ish miles (12-13 km) of the Classic Inca Trail, with hikers entering Machu Picchu through the iconic Inti Punku, or Sun Gate.

This version of the hike isn't quite as strenuous as the full Classic Inca Trail, but it's still pretty demanding, with thousands of stone steps and maximum altitude of nearly 9,000 feet.

How long does the 1 day Inca Trail take?

The internet will tell you that the 1-day Inca Trail hike takes anywhere from 4-6 hours, but full disclosure: it took our group almost exactly 8 hours when you added in breaks for food, photos, and just catching our breaths. So something to keep in mind!

4 women hikers posing above Machu Picchu
Our group of Super Ladies at the Sun Gate!

How to book the 1 day Inca Trail hike

Whether you're doing to Classic Inca Trail or just the 1-day Inca Trail hike (or any of the other multi-day hikes in the Machu Picchu region, for that matter), you MUST have both a hiking permit and a local hiking guide. You CANNOT do this hike on your own.

And this is something you need to plan ahead for. Only 750 people are allowed on the Inca Trail each day (including hikers, guides, and porters), so you need to book your hike well in advance. During the busiest hiking months in Peru (May-August), Inca Trail permits can sell out months in advance (especially for the longer 4-day hike). I would not recommend just showing up in Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Machu Picchu) or even Cusco and expect to be able to book the hike last-minute.

So the first step is going to be to book your hike. When you book through a company, they will handle securing a permit and guide for you. I booked the 1-day Inca Trail hike as an add-on to the Peru tour I did with Intrepid Travel, so Intrepid handled securing permits and a hiking guide for us.

Starting the 1-day Inca Trail hike
Our group was small since we booked it through Intrepid and basically had a private tour

For me, the 1-day Inca Trail trek cost $360. That included my Inca Trail permit, a hiking guide, and a second guided visit to Machu Picchu the day after our hike. (Note that it did not include accommodation, since that was already included in my longer Intrepid tour.)

Is there a 2-day Inca Trail tour?

If you're searching for companies to book the 1-day Inca Trail trek through, note that some companies sell this as a 2-day tour. If it's sold that way, know that you'll still only spend one day hiking the Inca Trail, but that you'll also return to Machu Picchu the day after your hike to get a tour of the ruins.

These 2-day tours are usually more expensive, but also include some meals and overnight accommodation, usually in a hotel. This is the option I would recommend to get the full Machu Picchu experience! (Prices generally range from $400-$600 per person for these.)

Hiker looking towards ruins of Wiñay Wayna
Me looking towards Wiñay Wayna on the hike

Prepping for the 1 day Inca Trail hike

The reason I got so anxious before my own trip to Peru was because I had a hard time finding information on just how difficult the 1-day portion of the Inca Trail really was. I'd read accounts of the Classic Inca Trail that made it sound very challenging, but I had no concept of what the 1-day hike was like.

To me, 8 miles at around 8,000 feet sounds pretty strenuous, but I was finding 1-day Inca Trail hiking tours with descriptions saying it only took a few hours, and that it was “ideal for families, beginner hikers, and visitors short on time.” Which was it?! How hard is the 1-day Inca Trail hike really?

(Answer: If you're not a frequent hiker and aren't in excellent shape to begin with, this is a challenging hike!)

View of the Urubamba River from the Inca Trail
You start down by the river and climb, climb, climb!

Should you train for the Inca Trail? (Yes.)

So now that I've done it, let me lay it out for you. I am a woman in her mid-30s. I'm a US size 14(ish). At home I work out a couple days per week (I go to cross-training-style classes 2-3 days per week, and usually fit in at least a walk or two, too). I wouldn't call myself a complete couch potato, but I'm also not exactly running marathons.

Starting about 6 weeks before my trip to Peru, I actually *trained* for this Inca Trail hike. It was the middle of winter for me, so doing actual training hikes wasn't really possible. I therefore did my training in the gym.

I was still going to my workout class 2-3 times per week, and then I was hitting the gym 2 additional times per week. At the gym, I focused on cardio. I started out with the elliptical at a pretty fast pace, and then added in walking on a treadmill for 30-45 minutes at a time at various inclines (I tried to keep it at 6-8% as much as possible, pushing it up to 10% for a few minutes each workout).

And then I eventually added in time on the StairMaster, too. I started out barely being able to survive 5 minutes on this machine at the slowest pace it would go, but by the end of the 6 weeks I could climb stairs for 20-25 minutes at a time (still at a pretty slow pace, but that's fine since the Inca Trail isn't a race).

I will say that I think this stair climber element was essential for me! I DID still find the Inca Trail to be a challenging hike, but never at any point did I feel like I could not do it. (I only found myself truly gasping for breath maybe 3 times, all at the highest elevation point of the hike.)

Steps on the Inca Trail
A decent portion of the trail looks like this!

(But if I had gone into this hike without any extra training at all? I know I for sure would have struggled A LOT. Please be honest with yourself about your fitness level before signing up for this hike – even the “short,” “easy” 1-day one!)

Notes on high altitude in Peru

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Inca Trail is more than a mile above sea level. On the 1-day hiking route, the elevation starts at around 7,054 feet (2,150 meters), goes up to 9,022 feet (2,750 meters), and ends at Machu Picchu at 7,972 heet (2,430 meters). This is all high altitude, and everybody (and every body) deals with altitude differently.

You need to factor in this altitude when prepping for your trip. My Peru tour was 15 days long, and by the time we got to Machu Picchu, we had already spent a full week at much higher altitude while visiting places like Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, and Cusco. Our bodies were well-adjusted already (thanks to following these high altitude tips), so the altitude of the hike felt mostly okay.

I DO NOT recommend planning your Inca Trail trek at the very beginning of your Peru trip. Especially if you live close to sea level at home and don't regularly hike at altitude, you should not fly into Cusco and expect to do any sort of hiking the very next day. Your body needs at least 1-3 days to adjust to operating on less oxygen at high altitude.

Amanda in vegetation along the Inca Trail
Even being acclimated to the altitude, there were still a few times during this hike when I was struggling to catch my breath.

1 Day Inca Trail Hike: What It's Really Like

Okay, and now let's talk details of the hike itself! I took photos of (and later wrote myself notes about) all the stages of the hike so I could share it all with you.

Again, I'd consider myself a completely average hiker. Average size, average fitness level, average experience. This was a challenging hike, but not overwhelming. The trail is well-maintained (they actually shut it down for a month every year for maintenance), and the scenery is stunning. You'll also get to visit an Inca ruin along the way that might be even more impressive than Machu Picchu!

Train from Ollantaytambo

No matter how you've booked your hiking tour, you're going to start your adventure on a train. The train that runs from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) is the way that everybody gets to the site. There are a couple different train options, including a more “local” train, and then the fancy tourist train with panoramic windows.

Panoramic Machu Picchu train
Panoramic Machu Picchu train
Machu Picchu train views
The train views are epic!

The train ride as a hiker lasts about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The train stops at Kilometer 104, seemingly in the middle of the forest, and all the 1-day Inca Trail hikers disembark (my small group of 4 women was the only one getting off the train on the day I did this hike!).

In my case, we met our hiking guide at KM 104 (but we were with our regular Intrepid Travel tour leader on the train). In other cases, your hiking guide might already be on the train with you. Either way, this is where the adventure truly begins!

PRO TIP: Use the restroom one last time on the train before it stops if you can! There are toilets at the trail checkpoint at KM 104, but the one on the train is much nicer.

Starting the hike at KM 104

You'll get off the train and walk a few steps down to the Urubamba RIver, which you'll cross using a wooden bridge (after stopping for some start-of-the-hike photos, of course!).

Two women in rain gear standing on a wooden bridge at KM 104
Official start of the 1-day Inca Trail hike

You'll then hike slightly uphill through the forest for a very short distance to the KM 104 trail checkpoint. Here, our guide had to show our passports and Inca Trail hiking permits, and then gave us a little introduction to the trail and what to expect. We started the actual hike at almost exactly 9 a.m.

Chachabamba ruins

Almost immediately starting the hike, you'll hit your first Inca site of the day. The small ruin of Chachabamba is just above the Urubamba River, and we stopped here briefly to see some of the remains of buildings before continuing up into the cloud forest.

Chachabamba Inca ruins
Chachabamba ruins

Cloud forest + mountainside

The next section of the 1-day Inca Trail is the most difficult – but also possibly the most beautiful. You climb up through the forest first, using a series of stone steps and narrow trails.

The Inca Trail is in an interesting location, in the Andes Mountains, but also just on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. Much of the hike is within a high altitude cloud forest, where it's lush and green year-round (and also wet and humid year-round!).

Hikers in rain gear on steps on the Inca Trail
Yup, it was a little wet when we started the hike!

Eventually, you leave the tree cover of forest and the trail begins skirting along the side of the mountains. This was my favorite part, personally, as there was a cool breeze and plenty of epic scenery to enjoy.

It was crazy to look back down towards the river far below us, realizing we'd just hiked up from there in the space of about an hour.

Amanda in hiking gear on the Inca Trail, with a river far below
We hiked from the river all the way up here in about an hour!

There's a little hut before you start the more exposed part of the hike where your group will likely take a break for food/water, and perhaps to take off a layer of clothing. It was raining when we started our hike, but by the time we got to this hut the sun was out and we were all feeling toasty.

The trail continues climbing gradually until you get your first glimpse of Wiñay Wayna, the second Inca ruin you'll visit as part of this hike. The ruins are perched up on the side of a mountain, and barely even look real.

Exposed trail along the Inca Trail
Epic (if exposed) trail views
Inca Trail
Trail from one of the huts we stopped at
View of Wiñay Wayna ruins
First view of Wiñay Wayna

Visiting Wiñay Wayna

Before you get to Wiñay Wayna, you'll go downhill for a bit (yes I grumbled at this bit because I knew we'd have to just go straight back up again!), and then pass a surprisingly large and beautiful waterfall. The spray felt SO NICE after hiking in humidity for several hours.

Waterfall on the Inca Trail
A lovely waterfall break

You'll hike up to the “entrance” at the bottom of the ruins next, and probably stop briefly for photos and a water break. And then it's time to climb.

Wiñay Wayna translates to “forever young,” and I personally think maybe it's called that because you need to have young knees to get around this site. There are at least 400 large stone steps to climb, and when you've already hiked several hours and haven't yet stopped for lunch, it's definitely a challenge!

Climbing steps at Winay Wayna Inca ruins
Up, up, up the stairs we go

We stopped a couple times on the way up to learn a bit about the history of the ruins and enjoy the views. It's truly a stunning site, and ONLY people who hike the Inca Trail have the chance to see it.

It felt very special to be there, for sure.

Wiñay Wayna ruins
Wiñay Wayna ruins
View from the top of the Wiñay Wayna ruins
At the top of the Wiñay Wayna ruins

Lunch break

After some time at Wiñay Wayna, it's a very short distance to the campsite that the 4-day Inca Trail hikers use on their final night on the trail. You'll stop here (or somewhere nearby) for a lunch break, as there are basic facilities like a couple pavilions and toilets.

With our group's hiking pace on the more difficult front half of the hike, we reached our lunch stop just before 1:30 p.m. (4.5 hours into our hike).

We had packed lunches with us, and took a break for roughly 30 minutes to sit, eat, and rehydrate.

Pavilion on the Inca Trail
Our lunch stop

NOTE: While your hiking company will likely provide lunch for you, you'll need to carry it yourself. So when planning/packing your hiking backpack for this trek, keep in mind that you'll need to allow space to carry your lunch!

Inca Flat to the Monkey Steps

The next section of trail our guide referred to as “Inca Flat.” Which means that it's not really flat at all, but rather a series of gradual inclines and downhill sections, still skirting along the sides of the mountains. You might find the ground more slippery here, but the trail is also once again more covered by trees.

For me, this was the least enjoyable part of the hike. The scenery wasn't as viewable, and without pretty things to look at, I definitely focused more on the fact that I was feeling tired.

Inca Trail through the forest
“Inca Flat” trail

The “Inca Flat” culminates in a staircase that local guides refer to as the “Gringo Killer” or the “Monkey Steps,” as it's basically a vertical stone staircase that most people have to climb up using both hands and feet. Luckily it's only about 50 steps up.

Monkey Steps on the Inca Trail
Monkey Steps from the bottom
Amanda on the Monkey Steps
Me on the Monkey Steps

The last uphill section of the trail (15ish minutes from the Monkey Steps) is a bit of a slog, but it leads to the iconic Inti Punku, or Sun Gate.

Arriving at the Sun Gate

Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate, is the original entrance gate into Machu Picchu. It sits roughly 300 meters (984 feet) above Machu Picchu, with a sweeping view down over the whole city.

View towards Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
View towards Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

For those who hike the Classic Inca Trail over 4 days, they arrive at the Sun Gate around sunrise on the last morning, with the hopes of seeing Machu Picchu in the first light of day. (This doesn't always happen, of course, since this is a cloud forest!)

For 1-day Inca Trail hikers, however, you'll arrive here in the afternoon (we arrived around 3:30 p.m., and were one of the last groups to get there that day).

Amanda posing at the Sun Gate
I DID IT; from here it's all downhill

Walking through the gate and seeing Machu Picchu far below for the first time is a goosebump-inducing memory for me.

Hike down into Machu Picchu

You'll have time to take some photos and celebrate making it to the Sun Gate before it's time to start the long downhill hike into Machu Picchu itself.

Anyone who hikes will know that hiking downhill is harder on the joints than going uphill, so I was especially happy to have my hiking poles with me for this portion of the hike.

Starting the hike down to Machu Picchu
Starting the hike down to Machu Picchu

It took us roughly 45 minutes to hike from the Sun Gate down into Machu Picchu.

Hiking into Machu Picchu
Arriving in the city of Machu Picchu

Special viewing area for hikers

Another privilege Inca Trail hikers get at Machu Picchu is a dedicated viewing area above the ruins. You only share this viewpoint with other Inca Trail hikers (and in the afternoon, it's only going to be hikers who did the 1-day Inca Trail hike).

We stopped here for 15-20 minutes to take lots of photos and celebrate our accomplishment.

Machu Picchu ruins
We got SO lucky with the weather!
Hiking group of 4 women at Machu Picchu
So proud of us!

FUN FACT: Machu Picchu means “old mountain” in Quechua. But it's properly pronounced “mah-choo PEEK-choo.” If you say it “mah-choo PEE-choo,” you're actually calling it “Old Penis.”

Don't miss the bus

While there's not exactly a time limit on the trail, you do need to finish your hike at Machu Picchu before the last shuttle bus leaves for the day (5:30 p.m.). If you miss the bus, you'll have to walk another couple miles into Aguas Calientes town, which I promise you won't want to do.

From the viewpoint, you still have to hike down through Machu Picchu to the bus stop (it took us 15-20 minutes). Your hiking guide should be keeping an eye on the time in case you're at risk of missing the bus.

Machu Picchu shuttle bus
Catching the bus to Aguas Calientes

Even with our slower hiking pace, we thankfully did not have to rush to make the bus. We got there with time to spare.

Visiting Machu Picchu on Day 2

The benefit of booking a 2-day Inca Trail tour is that your hiking permit also comes with a ticket to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu the day after your hike. This is great, because I can tell you that I would have had absolutely zero interest in a slow-moving historical tour of Machu Picchu after hiking for 8 hours that first day.

At the end of the hike, I was so sweaty and tired and hungry that the only thing on my mind was getting to our hotel and eating a cheeseburger.

The second morning, we met back up with our hiking guide to catch the bus back up to Machu Picchu. As of 2024, the site has implemented a new ticket system where you have to book a timed ticket for a specific tour circuit and visit with a licensed guide. They're testing this out as a way to control the crowds and better preserve the ruins.

Llama at Machu Picchu
Llama at Machu Picchu

The tour route assigned to Inca Trail hikers includes the lower portion of the city. Our tour lasted about 1.5 hours, and we saw ruins of things like temples, fountains, and houses. Note that you do NOT climb back up into the terraces to see that “iconic” Machu Picchu view again – your chance for that is at the end of your hike!

NOTE: Umbrellas are not permitted into the Machu Picchu ruins. So pack a good raincoat or poncho! Hiking poles are also not allowed in the ruins, unless you are over the age of 65 or have a medical condition.

Our second visit to Machu Picchu was entirely in the fog and rain. In fact, when we arrived we couldn't see anything at all!

Thankfully, clouds don't stick around here very long in the mountains, and the fog parted a few times and made the whole scene very dramatic. It rained the whole time, though, which made me extra thankful that we'd had such great weather on our hike.

A foggy Machu Picchu
A foggy Machu Picchu
Exploring Machu Picchu in the rain
Exploring Machu Picchu in the rain

Packing essentials for the 1-day Inca Trail

And now that you know what the hike is like, you might be wondering what to wear and what you need to bring on this trek.

You don't need to worry about camping gear or porters on the 1-day Inca Trail hike; you just need to bring a day pack filled with all the essentials for the trail.

The main things you NEED for the 1-day hike are:

  • A good day pack – A small backpack with hip straps is key. It doesn't have to be a fancy hiking backpack – I took my Flash 22 pack from REI, which is affordable and super lightweight but still has hip and chest straps. It was the perfect size to carry everything I needed. (I wouldn't go much smaller, as you want room to stuff extra layers into as you shed them, but also wouldn't go much bigger, either.) Note that
  • Water, and lots of it – You need at least 2 liters for this hike, and more if it's really hot. I have a 2-liter water bladder that fits in my day pack, and drank almost every last drop. I recommend a water bladder with a straw as opposed to water bottles you'll have to hold or continually get out of your pack.
  • Hiking poles – These are highly, highly recommended on the Inca Trail. Not only can they help you climb all those steps, but they're also useful for keeping your balance and not slipping on the long downhill portion at the end. You can either bring your own (I have these, which fold down to fit in a suitcase), or rent some before your hike.
  • Hiking shoes – Good shoes (and socks) are essential! I wore my waterproof Oboz low hiking shoes, but if you need ankle support on uneven ground, I recommend full boots. People do do this hike in trail runners, but I would make sure they have good grip and are waterproof. I like merino hiking socks, too.
  • Rain layers – You'll be hiking through a cloud forest, and the chance of it raining is high! I packed my Columbia raincoat and rain pants. A raincover for your backpack is also a good idea.
Two hikers posing at Machu Picchu
All the essentials on our backs
  • Sun protection – You might also find yourself in full sun on this hike, so be prepared for that, too! Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are all worth packing, as well as a long-sleeved shirt (I wore this Columbia one).
  • Bug repellant – This is a tropical cloud forest, meaning there might be bugs – especially if the sun comes out! We ran into some mosquitos, and were happy we had packed some bug spray.
  • Your passport – You must show your passport at the trail checkpoint along with your Inca Trail hiking permit, so don't forget to bring it!
  • A dry bag – Since you're going to have your passport on you (and probably your wallet), a small dry bag is worth packing, just in case you find yourself in a downpour.
  • Electrolytes – You're probably going to sweat quite a bit, and might be on the trail up to 8 hours. Packing electrolytes is not a bad idea to replace what you'll be sweating out! I wouldn't recommend filling your water bladder with electrolytes or Gatorade, but I found these chewable electrolytes before my hike and they were tasty and perfect for hiking.
  • Snacks – Protein bars, nuts, and other small snacks are easy to throw into your bag in case you need an energy boost. I also brought these energy beans for a caffeine boost.
  • Tissues + a plastic bag – Just in case you gotta *go* on the trail. (Be sure to pack out ALL your trash.)

And don't forget to leave room in your pack for lunch! A boxed lunch was provided for us, and we needed to carry these ourselves.

Amanda at Winay Wayna on the Inca Trail
Protecting myself from rain and sun simultaneously

What NOT to pack for the Inca Trail

You really don't want to bring more than you need on this day hike. A few things I don't recommend carrying:

  • A big camera – Originally I was planning to bring my big, DSLR-sized camera to capture all the beautiful scenery. I ended up leaving it behind because of all the rain in the forecast. And I'm SO GLAD I did. It would have added a couple pounds to my day pack, and that quite honestly would have sucked. The photos I took with my iPhone were just fine!
  • “Just in case” items – You might want to throw an extra pair of socks into your bag in case your feet get wet, but I wouldn't bother with a full change of clothes or anything like that. If you don't really *need* an item, I would leave it behind.

When to hike the Inca Trail

What's the best time of year to hike the Inca Trail? Well, the most popular time of year to hike it is May-August, during Peru's dry season. It's drier, but also hotter and busier during these months. (If you plan to hike during this period, you'll want to book your tour/hiking permits months in advance!)

March-May and September-late November are also decent times. These are shoulder seasons at Machu Picchu, when you might run into some wet weather, but you'll generally face less crowds.

View towards Machu Picchu
We hiked in late March

The only time you CAN'T hike the Inca Trail is in February, when the Inca Trail is closed for both safety (February is the rainiest month in this part of Peru) and conservation/trail maintenance. You can still visit Machu Picchu in February, but you can't hike there.

Other hiking posts you might like:

Is the 1-day Inca Trail hike one you'd like to do?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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10 Comments on “Hiking the 1 Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as a Beginner Hiker (What It’s REALLY Like!)

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  1. Amanda,
    Did you get to Ollantaytambo from Cusco? And if so what was your mode of travel?

      I was on a longer guided tour of Peru, so we traveled by private van from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. If you’re booking on your own, most of the 2-day tour options start in Cusco, so they’ll handle the transport to Olla for you!

    This is one of the most useful posts I’ve read – rich in detail and with plenty of practical information. I’m doing this very trek (through Intrepid) with a few friends in the first week of August and found your post in time to begin my preparations. I’ve circulated your post to others in my group too who found the post equally informative. Thank you for this!

      So happy to hear you found it useful! I hope you all have an incredible hike.

    Thank you for including so much detail, Amanda! This gives me a better understanding of the hike than anything else I’ve seen. I would absolutely LOVE to do this someday. I will note that the 2-day tour you linked to states, “Your backpack must not exceed 25L due to local regulations at the site of Machu Picchu.” So while you recommend not going much below 22L, you can’t go much above that either! I was a little surprised, because my day pack is 30L; I’d have to buy/borrow/rent something smaller.

      I’m glad you found this useful, Sara! I couldn’t find any guides online that truly described this hike – so I wrote one myself! As for the backpack restriction, I’m 99% sure it’s just for the actual ruin site of Machu Picchu; I don’t believe there’s any restriction on the size of your hiking backpack for the trail. But I honestly would not have wanted to carry much more than I did up all those steps!

    I didn’t know about the advice about not doing it as soon as you get there. I have heard that if you can’t acclimate to high elevation for a few weeks, you are better off doing it right away. I ran the Leadville CO Marathon the day after I arrived, and starts at 8,000 ft, and goes up to 13,000 ft. I had no elevation sickness.
    To go from sea level to 8,000 feet, fully acclimatized takes 4 weeks. So it also depends on what altitude you are coming from.

      Yes obviously it depends on what elevation you usually exist at, and your overall fitness level. If you are running marathons in the Rockies, then it’s perhaps not something you need to worry about! But for me, someone at a more average fitness level who lives at sea level, I don’t think I would have fared well jumping right into this hike without allowing a couple days to adjust to the altitude. (And we’re not talking about weeks to fully, fully acclimatize; most people adjust enough in 1-3 days to go about normal activity again.)

        Enjoyed your thorough, clear-eyed article about the “short” hike to Machu Picchu. Fun to read and detailed enough to make me realize that these poor old knees would be crying “uncle” before lunch. I will look into Intrepid’s trips in the area, tho’, as you got me to put Machu Picchu on my “maybe” list.

          Thiis definitely isn’t a gentle stroll in the mountains! But Machu Picchu is definitely worth seeing once in your life if you can make it to Peru! (And I love Intrepid; I’ve traveled with them a lot!)

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