How To Hike The Two-Day Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: the abbreviated version.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu. PHOTO Cameron Howell

In the summer of 2019, my father and I went to Peru to hike the Inca Trail for Machu Picchu. Instead of the 51 or 55-mile trail, we opted for the shorter 10-mile hike that allowed us to have a sense of the Inca Trail but didn’t require backpacks full of gear, weighing us down.

inca trail
Waving over. PHOTO Cameron Howell

This trail, also known as “Camino Real de los Incas,” or “the Sacred Inca Trail to Machu Picchu” began at Km 104 (104 kilometers along the train tracks from Cusco.) A permit was required in order to go on the trail, along with a guide for our group. A permit could only be obtained through government registered tour operators, such as: Salkantay Trek. There were checkpoints throughout the hike to monitor the trail’s usage.

inca trail
The steps Machu Picchu. PHOTO Cameron Howell

The group that I used was Backroads, a travel company blending activities, culture, and destinations to create a fun experience for those looking for an active vacation. The company handled the logistics, so all we needed to do was to show up with our luggage and a positive attitude. We went to Machu Picchu towards the end of our trip, beginning in Cusco and moving through Peru over the course of ten days to end up at one of the world’s most visited destinations. The night before our hike, we were advised to get a good night’s sleep, since we had to wake up at 5 a.m. to board a train that stopped halfway to its destination to let off the people who wanted to hike the Inca Trail. As the train approached Km 104, the group got up and moved towards the end of the train, with all of our gear in hand. The train slowed to a stop and we had less than five minutes to get off the train and move away from the tracks before it would continue moving. We waved goodbye and began hiking across a bridge then into the jungle. Roughly 20 minutes went by before we arrived at our first control point. Many other groups were milling about as they waited for their guides to lead them on the path towards one of the New Wonders of the world. Our permits were checked, along with our passports, and we began the five-hour hike.

Machu Picchu
Winay Wayna. PHOTO Cameron Howell

There were three different sub-groups within our main group, depending on the speed and athletic ability of each person. My father and I were in the first group, meaning that we were going at a faster pace than everyone else. The hike began with a slight upward trek with plenty of places to rest or step out of the element, along with some scenic views to look over the Urubamba River. As we moved on, the trail became steeper, we moved through microclimates and ended up at a waterfall. Shortly after, we reached Wiñay Wayna, meaning “forever young” in Quechua. These were Inca ruins along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu that consist of housing complexes with large staircases. After a short walk, there was a campground which had bathrooms and sinks, as it was a spot for the four-day hikers to camp for the night. We had lunch here before finishing the last leg of our trek.

inca trail
Sun Gate. PHOTO Cameron Howell

This last bit of the hike was relatively flat at first, with views over the valley. We were moving fast, excited to reach Machu Picchu. We admired the jungle while our guide told us about the history, wildlife, and culture of Peru. Suddenly, we came to some man-made, carved out steps going straight up. Our guide referred to these steps as the “Gringo Killers.” We were tired, but we knew we were almost at the end, so we simply had to push through. I decided to run up the stairs, while the other four people chose the less insane option of a slow walk/climb. As I neared the top of the stairs, one of the guides, who had taken a different route, jumped out and scared me before ushering me quickly through a crowd of people to see the view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate, also known as Intipunku in Quechua, was once a guardhouse and a main entrance to Machu Picchu. The view was spectacular, and the sight of Machu Picchu invoked a range of emotions from everyone. Some people cried while almost everyone was taking pictures. Everyone, that is, except one man from our group who looked at Machu Picchu, sighed, and said, “Eh. It’s not for me.” For everyone else, it was something we would carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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Hike down. PHOTO Cameron Howell

Hiking the Inca Trail, any part of it, is something that if you have the means to do it, I highly recommend. It’s a life-altering experience which can expand your worldview and expose you to people, places, and things that you otherwise wouldn’t interact with. Machu Picchu is reopening to tourists on Mar. 1, 2021.

llama. PHOTO Cameron Howell

Cameron visited Peru for 10 days.

Cameron Howell

Content Associate

Cameron is an avid traveler and has lived on three continents. He enjoys learning about different cultures and languages. Cameron loves exploring cities and going on long hikes anywhere in the world.

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