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The first day of the trek is relatively easy and serves as training for the days to follow. Travellers are collected early from their hotels (5:30 - 6:00am) and travel by bus, past the picturesque villages of Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, for the 2.5 hour scenic trip to kilometre 82 (the start of the trail). Buses normally stop at the town of Urubamba or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley for about an hour to give people the opportunity to have breakfast.
The start of the Inca Trail at km82Having arrived at km 82 hikers cross the Vilcanota River and follow the trail to the right as it climbs steeply up from the river. After passing through a small village, the ruins of the Inca hillfort of Huillca Raccay come into view high above the mouth of the river Cusichaca ('happy bridge'). The Incas, when they conquered the area, built a fort here since the site commanded an excellent view up and down the Urubamba valley and controlled the entrance to the Cusichaca valley. It is a simple descent down to the Cusichaca river. From parts of this trail there are great views of the Cordillera Urubamba (Urubamba mountain range) and the snow capped peak of Veronica 5860m.
You'll also get a good view over the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata (also known as Patallacta on some maps). Llactapata means 'upper town' in Quechua and was first discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and was primarily an agricultural station used to supply Machu Picchu with maize, the staple crop of the Incas. The settlement comprised over one hundred buildings, houses for the workers and soldiers, including five baths.
For a further 7 km the path follows the left bank of the river up to the small village of Wayllabamba (3,000m). The name in Quechua means 'grassy plain'. We will probably spend the night here depending on the speed of the group. This is the last place along the trek that you can buy snacks and drinks.
The steep climb up to the first pass (4200m)Climbing up from Wayllabamba following the left bank of the Llulluchayoc river for about 1 hour brings you to 'Tres Piedres' (three stones) and a small bridge over the Huayruro river. There is a small campsite here toilet facilities. The stream is named after the Huayruro which is an ornamental tree. It's seeds are red and black. Many of the porters from the Ollantaytambo district are also known as Huayruros because of their traditional red and black ponchos! A little further on you'll enter a beautiful cloud forest passing a waterfall.
A further three hours trek through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain brings you to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (3,680m). It is another 1.5 hours climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or 'Dead Woman's Pass) at 4,200m. During this part of the trail hikers are exposed to the Andean elements: first scorching sun and then, closer to the pass, freezing winds. Once at the top hikers can celebrate having completed the most difficult section of the trail.
The decent from the pass is steep although not difficult, following the trail on the left side of the valley to the valley floor and to the 2nd night's campsite at Pacamayo (3,600m). There are toilet facilities here.
From Pacamayo it takes about an hour to climb up to the ruins of Runkuracay. These small circular ruins occupy a commanding position overlooking the Pacamayo valley below.
SayacmarcaAnother 45 minute hike will bring you to the top of the second pass: Abra de Runkuracay (4,000m). At last you'll feel that you are walking along the trail of the Incas with paving, for the most part, being original. The descent down the steps from the pass is steep so take care. This section of the trail, up until the 3rd pass, is particularly beautiful as the path crosses high stone embankments and skirts deep precipices. After about 1 hour from the 2nd pass you'll arrive at Sayacmarca by way of a superbly designed stone staircase. The name Sayacmarca means 'Inaccessible Town' and describes the position of the ruins perfectly, protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. No one knows the exact purpose of these ruins.
You have to backtrack a little to rejoin the trail as it passes Conchamarca, a small Inca dwelling situated in the shadows of Sayacmarca, which was probably a tambo for weary travellers on their way to Machu Picchu. From then on the path descends into magnificent cloud-forest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, passing through an impressive Inca tunnel, carved into the rock, on the way.
The trail then climbs up to the 3rd pass (3,700m). The view from the pass offers excellent views of several snow-capped peaks including Salkantay (6,180m) and Veronica (5,750m). A few minutes after the pass is Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means 'Town in the Clouds'. Access to the ruins is down a steep flight of stairs passing six 'Inca Baths' probably used for the ritual worship of water.
Leaving the site via an impressive Inca staircase leading from the west side of the ruins (the far end from the baths) you descend a thousand or so steps. Be careful with your knees which will feel the strain by the end of the day.
After about an hour of walking through cloud-forest you may just be able to see the tin roof of the Trekkers Hostal at Wiñay Wayna (no longer used), although it probably won't be for another 2 hours until you arrive.
Wiñay Wayna is the last official campsite before Machu Picchu.
A short trail leaves from the southern end of the hostal to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna. The name in Quechua means 'forever young' and is named after a variety of pink orchid which grows here. The ruins comprise magnificent agricultural terraces set in an impressive location. There are also many buildings of good quality stonework and a sequence of 10 baths, suggesting that the site was probably a religious centre associated with the worship of water. Ritual cleansing may have taken place here for pilgrims on the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu.
The trail from the Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu is clearly marked and takes about 1.5 hours. We'll wake early at 4.30am, have breakfast and set off on the trail again by 5.30am to get to Machu Picchu before sunrise. The sky starts getting light by 5:30am and the first rays of the sun reach Machu Picchu at about 7am. The trail contours a mountainside and drops into cloud forest before coming to an almost vertical flight of 50 steps leading up to the final pass at Intipunku (Sun Gate). Suddenly the whole of Machu Picchu is spread out before you in all its glory - a fantastic sight for all.
When you arrive at the ruins you'll have plenty of time to take photos of Machu Picchu from the classic view point'. When the group is back together again we descend to the main entrance where you can safely leave your large backpacks. You can also go to the toilet and have a quick coffee in the restaurant just outside the entrance. The group will re-enter the ruins with the same guide for a complete tour of the major sectors. The tour takes about 1.5 hours so after 11:00 you'll have free time to explore the ruins alone. For information about climbing Huayna Picchu (optional) please see our frequently asked questions page.
The group will then take the bus down to Aguas Calientes town for lunch (at the ruins there is only one restaurant and it's very expensive). The bus journey takes about 20 minutes. There are several small restaurants in Aguas Calientes to satisfy all budgets. You may also wish to pay a visit to the town's famous thermal springs which feel great after having completed the trail. Entrance to the springs costs US$7, allow 2 hours to really enjoy them.
The train departs from Aguas Calientes at approximately 18:20pm (time can vary subject to ticket availability) and you'll arrive back in Cusco for about 22:15pm. Included in our standard service is the tourist bus from Machu Picchu down to Aguas Calientes, return on the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo where you will be collected and taken by bus back to Cusco.
Important note: The above trek itinerary is typical of 98% majority of our Inca trail 4 day groups. However campsites used during the trek may be subject to change depending on availability of spaces as issued by the UGM (the government authorities that control access to the Inca Trail). The UGM are responsible for allocating the campsites to the various trekking companies. Although we try to make Wiñay Wayna our last campsite (since it is only a 2 hour trek to Machu Picchu) we cannot guarantee this to be the case and on occasions we have been allocated space at Phuyupatamarca (nearly 5 hours from Machu Picchu). These matters are the same for all trekking companies and are outside of our direct control.
Peru Treks & Adventure Tour Operator
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Specialists, working to help the community
Office Address: Avenida Pardo 540 (in the corner of the small park), Cusco, Peru