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How hard is the Inca Trail?

How hard is the Inca Trail?

There was one question on my mind before I began the 7-day tour from Cusco: Exactly how hard is the Inca Trail going to be?

With no idea what to expect and little experience in such long treks, I’ll admit I was nervous.

Would I collapse on the ground half-way, and have to crawl the remainder of the trail? Would I need to order the $7000 USD helicopter to collect me when I decided I couldn’t make it any further? Would I decide I was too weak to go on, and just wait at the campsite for days before some knight in shining armour came to carry me the rest of the way?

Well, luckily none of these things happened (except maybe the collapsing part). After 4 days of intense hiking, I proudly set my eyes on the postcard view of Machu Picchu.

If you’re also wondering whether you’ll survive the Inca Trail, here’s a video summary of my experience, and below you’ll find some tips for attempting the hike!


So, how hard is the Inca trail?

As I mentioned in the video, the hardest part was the mental challenge. During the climb to Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2, you constantly question whether you’ll make it. But once you pass that point, it’s all (metaphorically) downhill, as that is the point where it becomes easier to go forward than back.

The steep climbs up and down combined with the high altitude can make even the most experienced of hikers feel inadequate. There were two people in our group who had previously hiked Kilimanjaro, and they both admitted that the 4-day Inca Trail was harder.

During the trek, our guide told us stories of other people he’d had on the trip before, who’d had hissy fits, complained the entire way, or even been so slow that they’d arrived at camp in the middle of the night. Hearing these stories made us feel a lot better about our efforts.

So to answer the question, is the Inca Trail hard? Yes. Yes it is.

But if it wasn’t hard, there’d be no point in doing it. On Day 3 when you’re surrounded by a bunch of scenery that could be straight from a desktop wallpaper, and on Day 4 when you all make it to the Sun Gate and are finally rewarded with your first view of Machu Picchu, a fantastic sense of achievement washes over you.

The Inca Trail, while far from easy, makes the visit to Machu Picchu unbelievably special.

How hard is the inca trail?

Some tips for the inca trail:

Book well in advance (around 6 months prior). There are only 500 permits per day available for the Inca Trail, of which only 200-ish are for hikers. We met a number of people on our travels through Latin America who had not been able to book the hike as they’d enquired too late.

Travel in the dry season. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather the entire way, but apparently it’s quite common to get rain. Our guide told us that he’d been on treks where it was wet the entire 4 days, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. May to September are the best months to travel.

The altitude will affect you. Even the most experienced hikers can be affected by the altitude. At 4200 metres above sea level at the trail’s highest point (Dead Woman’s Pass), it’s much more difficult to breathe in enough oxygen. Expect that this to be a part of the hike.

Be prepared. There are certain items that you’re bound to need, including insect repellant, bandaids, and a very warm coat. A flashlight and toilet paper would also come in handy, and bring some shoes that are easy to slip on for wearing around the campsites.

How hard is the inca trail?


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Ashlea Wheeler

This post was written by Ashlea, a colourfully clothed and excitable vegetarian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

25 Responses to “How hard is the Inca Trail?”

  1. Katie

    If you get altitude sickness it will definitely be hard. I was really sick – nausea, not sleeping, couldn’t eat but still had to keep walking. I visably lost weight from just doing the 4 day Inca Trail. It was the hardest physical thing I have ever done. It also rained for most of the trek as we did it in March. But when I finally got to Machu Picchu everything was OK. We were lower in altitude so I felt better and the clouds and rain finally cleared so we saw it in the sun.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      The altitude sickness sure is a pain! I took some acclimatisation pills that I got from doctor before I left, so Robert and I both didn’t have too much trouble with the altitude (only a few minor headaches and shortness of breath) but we saw a fair few people suffer from it badly. I think giving yourself a good 4 days to acclimatise before the trek is a good idea!

      I’m glad the trek ended well for you Katie, it makes the whole thing worth it 🙂

      Reply
  2. Carolin

    Thank you for the sweet little video! I have been to Machu Picchu two years ago but only took the short 1 day walk as I thought I wouldn’t make the 4 day Inca Trail and I was quite from the altitude. Maybe when I go back one day I will consider walking the Inca trail, I do believe it is very rewarding and well, the scenery is stunning, even though I have only seen the final part of it!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video, Carolin! The scenery is just as spectacular the whole way, so it’s worth doing the Inca Trail just to see more of it!

      Reply
  3. Art

    That looks like a great time, and thanks for the tips! I have always wanted to see Machu Picchu, and now I know which way I’d like to take to get there.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Machu Picchu is amazing in itself, but taking the Inca Trail makes the whole thing so much more amazing! I’d highly recommend the trek, Art!

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I found the first day hard as well, though others in our group didn’t mind it so much. I think it was because the sun was beating down hard on us that day that made it hard for me! I’m glad you enjoyed the trek though, Jennifer!

      Reply
  4. Holly

    Wow – it does look like a tough one! Totally worth it though and I would totally do it!

    Reply
  5. jim

    hi ashlea and Robert , I did the trail with you back in the uk now . enjoyed the video . don’t forget 8 steps 6 breaths , good luck .

    Reply
  6. Marie

    Thank you for this lovely post!
    I’ve always heard of the Inca Trail but nobody has really mentioned the trail, only the destination. So I’ve never really thought of it as someplace special. Your video has made me want to go there, despite it looking like a very challenging trip. Need to get fit first! 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You’re welcome, Marie! I think it’s something that many people do for the end result (Machu Picchu) but don’t really concentrate on what the trek will actually involve. If you’re planning on attempting it, doing some training first is definitely a good idea!

      Reply
  7. Gwen

    Fabulous article and video! Exactly what I wanted to see and read! Thanks You

    Reply
  8. Tara

    Woowww this is on the top of my list! Would love do to this trail one day, thanks for the excellent tips!

    I’ve hiked the Cotopaxi volcano up to 5000 m, it’s such an amazing experience hiking this high up!

    Xo, Tara

    http://www.orinocoblue.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Wow! It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you’re hiking at such an altitude. It’s great that you’ve been able to experience this first hand, now the inca trail won’t seem as hard 😛

      Reply
  9. Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine

    This is such a cool post/video! The Inca Trail has always been on my list, since I was a little girl. Someday it’s going to happen. I can’t imagine how mentally tough it is. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Amanda! The walk was tough, but keeping sane was definitely tougher! I hope you get the chance to do the trek someday 🙂

      Reply
  10. Katrina Adams

    Thanks for sharing the video, it looks amazing!! My husband and I are hiking the trail in Mid September and we are feeling a bit nervous about some of the steepness of the hills and stairs we’ve seen pictures of! It appears that it was pretty cold because of the heavy coat you wore in the video, was it very cold? I was hoping (from reading other posts) that I could buy a heavy sweater instead of having to bring a winter coat because of the bulkiest with traveling, did you see any sweaters for sale? Looking forward to our trip, very excited now, thanks for documenting for all to see! =)

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You’re welcome Katrina! So glad you two are making the trek 😀 Yes, it was rather cold in some parts (especially at night and atop Dead Woman’s Pass) but then if you get a sunny day it can get fairly hot so it’s best to dress in layers. The winter coat did come in really handy – I’d suggest taking that over a sweater, but if you’d prefer the sweater then there are some for sale at Ollantaytambo, or you can grab one in Cusco 🙂

      Reply

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