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by on August 11, 2020

Inca Trail Hiking Guide 2020

If you’re a hiking and outdoor enthusiast, trekking to the legendary lost city of the Incas better be on your bucket list. The multiple Inca trails leading to Machu Picchu without a doubt take place at the top hikes of the world. Each trail is gratifying from start to end, with routes and distances for every skill level. Within this Inca trail guide, you’ll discover the intricate details of each trail, find COVID-19 updates, learn high altitude tips, find out what to expect, what to pack, and the best camera to get the best shot.

Impact of Coronavirus on the Inca trail and Machu Pichu 

The Peruvian tourism department has declared that international flights will resume operation in August or September of 2020. An exact date has not been provided. Once the international flights reopen, Machu Picchu tours and treks will follow suit. The regional governor of Cusco, Jean-Paul Benavente García, stated the citadel of Machu Picchu would reopen at the end of July, with a maximum of 2,244 visitors per day. However, this date has passed without news and there is no official date for the reopening of Machu Picchu. Some of the safety protocols for tours and trains include mandatory masks, social distancing, temperature checks before boarding trains, hand washing, and shoe disinfection areas.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, the majority of international airlines are permitting guests to rebook their flights without extra fees. Additionally, tourism companies are enabling guests to postpone trips to later dates.

According to a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is weakened by altitude. We hope this will continue to shield the Cusco region, as the region has had low numbers of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. In the future, vacations in the mountains will likely be safer than beach vacations! You can read the study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7175867/

Background Information and History of Inca trail

The commonly trekked Inca routes span just a fraction of the historical system of roads that traversed over 23,000 kilometers. These trails were part of a network that comprised the Tahuantinsuyo Empire which spread into Colombia, western Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

The trails most famously hiked today are those that lead trekkers through mountainous passes and end in one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. Our trails take trekkers through the historic route of pilgrimage used by the Inca in the 15th century.

Historically, these paths were not for commercial use, but rather a religious and ceremonial journey paying homage to the mountains and peaks throughout the route, such as Veronica and Wakaywilka.

Elevation Tips for the Inca trail

The elevation of the Inca trail is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors regarding the success of your journey. Your first experience of the high altitude starts in Cusco, where the elevation is at a whopping 11,152 feet. This is great because it gives trekkers some time to acclimatize to this new air. We highly recommend at minimum two days in Cusco, although three days is even better.

Stars on the Inca trail

The Cosmos and campfire on the Inca trail

Don’t worry, there is plenty of activities for three days in Cusco! If this is your first time at altitude, you may experience heavy breathing, dizziness, headache, and even some nausea. It’s best to stay hydrated, enjoy the sites, buy a warm beanie for the trip, avoid alcohol, and keep your eye on the prize. The Inca trail commences at approximately 9,000 feet of elevation, and during the second or third day (Depending on which hike you take) climbs up to 13,780 feet.

Are you considering Diamox for the Inca trail? The main ingredient, Acetazolamide, is commonly used for high altitude climbs to prevent the symptoms of altitude sickness. If you decide to take this medicine, always speak with your doctor first. Secondly, you’ll want to run a trial with it to see how it makes you feel well before your trip begins. When I summited the Cotopaxi mountain in Ecuador, I began taking the pill two days before my trip.

It had the unfortunate side effect that I had to urinate every 30-45 minutes the first day! It abated on the second day, but it was still more than usual. You have to keep in mind it is a potent diuretic, and you will have to make up for that loss of water. As for the climb, I didn’t even feel the slightest headache when climbing to the top of the 19,300-foot volcano!

How long is the Inca trail?

Classic Inca Trek
The classic Inca trail runs 26 miles (42km) and is usually hiked over 4 days and three nights.

The Salkantay trek
The Salkantay trek runs 45 miles. It was named in the 25 best Treks in the World by National Geographic. A 4-5 day trek.

Lares Route Trek
The easiest and shortest at 21 miles. It’s still no walk in the park, but it is shorter than the classic and Salkantay.

When is the best time to hike the Inca trail?

The best time to hike is generally in the dry season which runs from April to November. The most favorable conditions to hike are typically in it is generally May and October.

Hiking spot on Inca trail

Sleeping comes easy after a long hike and delicious meal

 

The difficulty of the Inca trail?

If you are interested in a short day trip on the Inca trail, having a moderate level of fitness is the only requirement. If you choose to do 4 to 6-day hikes of the Inca trail, you’ll want to make sure you are fairly fit, doing aerobic workouts and long hikes for a few months beforehand, ideally six months in advance.

The Salkantay pass of the Salkantay trek.

The Salkantay pass of the Salkantay trek.

There is no age limit, with 60+ climbers making it through the hike. However, the most important factor in the climb is altitude adjustment. The highest point on the classic Inca trail is 13,828, and 15,090 feet on the Salkantay. You need to be adjusted to high altitude for at least two days in Cusco before starting your journey.

How many hours will I be hiking every day?

The classic four-day Inca trail is typically dispersed over four days. The first day is 6-7 hours of hiking, the second and hardest day is 8-9 hours, the third 5-6 hours, and the 4th 2-3 hours.

What to wear on the Inca trail?

Layering is one of the most crucial aspects of hiking the Inca trail. During the day you may expect very hot temperatures, following by a rainy afternoon and potentially very cold night temperature. This makes it essential that you pack the following:

  • Lightweight Day Backpack
  • Hat and sunglasses for sun protection
  • Beanie or other thermal headwearQuick-dry shirts and long sleeve shirt
  • Thermal long sleeves
  • Hiking Pants and/or Leggings
  • Thick warm jacket
  • Light fleece
  • Good quality rain jacket
  • 4+ pairs of Merino Wool Socks
  • Moisture-wicking underwear
  • Scarf or neck gaiter for sun protection and warmth
  • Gloves – Insulated, lightweight, breathable, waterproof and wind-resistant
  • Inca trail footwear: Medium weight and waterproof boots, with ankle support. Additionally, wear these for a few weeks beforehand to break them in so they fit perfectly for your trek.
  • Lightweight sandals for relaxing in after your daily trek

Trekkers aren’t the only ones occupying the Inca Trail

What to pack for the Inca trail?

  • Wet Wipes and toilet paper
  • Anti Chafe Balm
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • 2nd Skin Blister Kit  and Rocktape Blister Kit
  • Headlamp
  • Trekking poles
  • 1-liter water container
  • DSLR/Mirrorless Camera + GoPro. Bring extra batteries and memory cards!
  • Snacks: Energy bars, chocolate, raw fruits.
  • Sunblock
  • Aloe
  • Powerbank
  • Cell phone
Hiker on the Inca trail

A little sample of the Inca trail path

How much do Bag Porters on the trek?

Bag porters on the Inca trail can carry up to 7kg of personal belongings. Keep in mind, this weight includes sleeping pads and sleeping bags. With that in mind, you’ll want the porters to carry the items that you don’t need until you reach camp. You’ll carry a lightweight backpack with the essentials for your hike, and have the porter carry the rest!

Best Camera/Lens for Inca trail

To get the best shots on the Inca trail, we recommend carrying a DSLR with a 24-105mm lens. Rather than carrying multiple lenses, we recommend clients that a quality lightweight, lens with a decent range is your best bet.  If you have the extra money, we recommend a mirrorless camera like the Sony a6100 as it is even small enough to fit in a coat pocket. When you are climbing the steep portions of the Inca trail, you won’t want anything weighing down your neck! Additionally, if you have a GoPro, it is definitely worth carrying to get footage of your journey. Remember, bring extra memory cards and batteries, there aren’t any charging stations on the way home.

Humantay lagoon of the Salkantay trek

Humantay lagoon of the Salkantay trek

Inca trail permit for Machu Picchu

All tours include the permit for the Inca trail along with the entrance to Machu Picchu. If you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, you will need to purchase an additional Machu Picchu entrance ticket, which costs $75 per person.


About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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