The Classic Inca Trail is definitely the busiest and most talked about trail to Machu Picchu. It was created and used more than 500 years ago by the Incas as a route to the same sacred and culturally significant places we have the opportunity to enjoy today. The Inca Trail is much more well travelled than the Lares Trail, also a very popular trail leading to the famous site of Machu Picchu.
If you are wondering what a journey on the Inca Trail entails, here is a sample itinerary, and glimpse into what you might expect from your Inca Trail trip.
Cuzco is the place to start your journey. Not only is it a good idea to stay here for a day or two to acclimatise to the altitude, it's also a great place to absorb to the culture - a refreshing start to your break away from the norm back home.
A little about Cuzco
Cuzco is a city that rests in the heart of the Inca Empire. When you take a walk around this ancient city, keep your eyes peeled and you'll see walls built with huge carved stones, perfectly fitted together and laid out in the shape of animals that were significant to the Inca. Look out for Jaguars, Condors and other Peruvian animals embedded in fascinating detail in the walls lining the streets and alleyways. You'll also find seemingly tiny museums and shops that upon entering, you may just discover, hold a huge cache of gold Inca or even Egyptian artefacts collected over many years, or even centuries.
Give yourself time to have a good wander around, maybe have a bite to eat (Peru is known for its top class and very yummy cuisine), in the many eateries and restaurants located around Cuzco's vibrant center.
Just on the outskirts of Cuzco is the Sacsayhuaman Fortress overlooking the Plaza and city. Sacsayhuaman is a magnificent example of an ancient Inca site. Its layout was planned and constructed by skilled Inca stonemasons to represent a giant set of Jaguar's teeth, perhaps as a menacing reminder to invading enemies of the formidable force behind the walls not to be trifled with. Notably, the site was also the place where the Inca took their final and fateful stand against the Spanish Conquistadores.
The actual purpose of Sacsayhuaman is still debated. No one knows if it was a granary, a sanctuary or maybe a temple of the sun. Another more gruesome theory is that is was a place where the old King used to play "football" with the heads of his enemies. Whatever the truth, today Sacsayhuaman offers a pleasurable walk up to its ruins, for a grand view of the city and plaza below.
Tomorrow, after an evening of delicious Peruvian dining and a nice sleep, you'll be departing on day one of your Inca Trail experience.
Classic Inca Trail Itinerary
It's time to say goodbye to Cuzco, and head into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Here you will start your hike at Piscacucho, or 'kilometre 82' as it's known by locals. The rest of the day's hike involves following the Rio Cusichaca, a river flanked by Andean peaks and adorned with Inca ruins as well as pockets of semi-arid forest. You'll have a chance to stop at a few villages along this leg of the journey, and grab a bite to eat.
Your day ends at Pisonay, which sits at 2,896 meters (9,500 feet), for a well deserved rest and cup of Coca tea, a traditional Andean beverage that helps your body adjust to the altitude.
Hike to Pacomayo. Awaken this morning to a hot cup of Coca tea and get ready for another amazing day of adventure! Today is full of breathtaking views as you navigate along Inca pathways and hike up 914 meters (3,000 feet) to Warmiwanusqa - or Dead Woman's Pass which sits at an impressive 4,000 meters (14,435 feet) above sea level. There are many legends around how the pass got its name. If you're traveling with local guides, you'll no doubt hear fascinating legends and stories passed down through generations.
As I'm sure you can imagine, this part of the trail offers a heart-pumping hike through beautiful scenery. You'll be rewarded at the top with stunning panoramic views of the alpine wonderland you've just ascended through. The 360 degree views will make you feel alive, and you'll forget how many steps you've taken to get there!
After celebrating your arrival to this point in the trail, you'll make your way down cobbled walkways laid down by Inca builders five hundred or more years ago, down into the Pacomayo Valley. Here you can have a much earned rest, and look forward to the delights of the next day ahead.
Winay Wayna. Today you're in for yet another special treat as far as scenery goes. You'll also have the opportunity to explore several Inca fortresses to whet your appetite. As you make your way down through cloud forests, you will notice the air getting warmer and denser, and the foliage becoming much more lush. As you descend, you may notice the ruins and greenery around you feel like they have an etheric quality, as you get closer to Winay Wayna, the next stop before Machu Picchu, for another night's rest.
Machu Picchu. After an early breakfast, you'll want to make your way, via a brisk walk up to IntiPunku - or the Sun Gate. The reason for this early morning departure and dawn arrival, is to enjoy the mystical, almost magical experience of watching the sunrise as the fog lifts over the Sun Gate. It's certainly a beautiful way to start the day! Here you will catch your first glimpse of the majestic citadel of Machu Picchu in the background.
You can spend the day exploring all of the buildings around the site, investigating their fascinating history and cultural significance to the Inca and Inca descendants who look after it today. It's physical construction is well documented as having been completed around 1450. It remained well hidden from marauding tribes and the conquistadores for five hundred years, to be discovered by the first european; Hiram Bingham in 1911. While you are there, you'll no doubt feel the enigmatic energy that resonates in this floating citadel hovering above the clouds.
We hope we have offered you an interesting snippet of what you can experience on the Inca Trail.
If you want to learn more about other options for getting to Machu Picchu, check out the Lares Trail Itinerary. Or, click here for more about guided tours to Machu Picchu.