What is Hiking the Inca Trail Like?

So you’ve dreamed of going to Machu Picchu… and you’ve thought about hiking the Inca Trail… and you’re curious what it’s like?

The Inca Trail is one of the world’s classic treks, and it is a fantastic experience for anyone willing to take the effort to make the trek. The traditional Inca Trail trek was usually done in 4 days, but we are huge fans of the 5 Day Inca Trail trek. You’ll cover 27 miles, pass numerous Inca ruins, climb two mountain passes and finally reach Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate.

Here is my day by day ‘Diary’ of the Inca Trail, to help you understand what hiking the Inca Trail is like.

Camp 1 at the base of Inca ruins

Day 1: Ollantaytambo
5am: We hear the other (4 day trekkers) leaving the hotel to start their trek. Yuck.
7am: Wake up. See tour buses and hustle and bustle of people leaving for the trek. Yuck, again.
8am: Breakfast
9am: Leave to explore Ollantaytambo ruins. Which I am so glad we didn’t miss!
Noon: Meet Inca Trail staff and have a picnic. (Sushi, pork tenderloin and veggies! The food is lovely, healthy and delicious – and locally sourced when possible)
1:30pm: Start the Inca Trail! About 4 miles of easy up and down.
4:30pm: Arrive at Camp 1 at the base of an Inca ruin.
5pm: Tea and snack time
6:30pm: Dinner (Pumpkin soup, steamed trout, mango flambé for dessert)
8pm: Bedtime. (A nice spacious tent big enough for 2 of us and our bags. Our private toilet tent is nearby and always clean.)
Total miles walked: 5.9
We saw no other trekkers today, which was surprising after all the activity we saw this morning leaving the hotel.

Going up Inca steps

Day 2:
6am: Wake up to hot coffee and tea delivery to our tent door. Pans of hot water and soap to wash your face and hands. Lovely on a chilly morning.
7am: Breakfast
8am: Start walking
10am: Snack and bathroom break
Noon: Wonderful hot lunch
3:30pm: Arrive at camp 2 at 12,000+ft overlooking the valley. Did a little yoga and stretching in the field beside camp.
5pm: Tea time (and wine if you brought it in your pack 😉 )
6pm: Dinner
8pm: Bedtime
Total miles walked: 6. Going up! Lots of Inca steps.
Saw no other trekkers today, but camped by another group that arrived several hours after we did (a 4 day group that walked the entire 12 miles on Day 1.)

Day 3:

6am: Wake up and breakfast
7:30am: Start hiking. Today is a big day!
1.5 hours up steps to Dead Woman’s Pass.
1.5 hours down to a soup stop for snack.
1 hour up!
1 hour down and arrive at some beautiful ruins
2pm: Lunch stop
4:30pm: Arrive at Camp 3 ‘above the Clouds’ at 12,000ft. The most beautiful place I have ever camped. This camp is bustling with other groups, trekkers and activity, but it’s exciting. I imagine it to be like a mini Everest base camp.
6:00pm: Tea and wine time and watch the other groups still coming in.
7:00 Dinner and bedtime
Total miles walked: 10

We survived ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’!
Camp 3 on the Inca Trail. Phuyupatamarca, “the place above the clouds” (3,650 meters/11,975 feet)

Day 4:
5:30am: Up early to watch the sunrise and catch all the excitement and activity of the other trekkers
12pm: Final lunch with our porters and said good bye
3:30pm: Arrived to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate! We made it! Pictures, tears and awe.
5:00pm: First shower in a few days!
6:00pm: Massage at a local place our guide recommended and dinner (Lomo Saltado!)
10:00pm: Bedtime (in a real bed!)
Total miles walked: 10. Descended over 6,000ft in 8 miles.

Day 5:
7:00am Depart hotel to return to Machu Picchu for a tour. (Thankfully we have the option to visit twice, since today it was very rainy and cold)
4:30pm: Catch the train back to Ollantaytambo
6:30pm: Picked up by van in Ollantaytambo and driven back to Cusco
9:00pm: Back in Cusco at our hotel
Total miles walked: 6.2


For our favorite Inca Trail trip, check out the Ultimate Inca Trail.