The Inka Trail, is it right for you?

The Inka trail is the most popular trekking route here in the Cusco region and from comments I have seen on the Trip advisor forums, I think some people may choose to hike it for the wrong reasons. Because of this I thought that even though I have discussed treks in previous blogs, I would do something that is more detailed. One important piece of information that I must share from the beginning is that I have not done any of these treks myself and the information I am sharing is what I have learned from our many guests that have taken these treks, as well as from a variety of tour agencies.

To start things off let me address what I believe is the main apparent misconception with the Inka Trail, and that is that the Inka Trail is the only place you will be hiking on actual Inka trails. Now I say apparent misconception as I have only seen a few specific comments that indicated the person thought this, but have seen many general comments and answers to other questions that would lead me to believe that a fair number of people think this way. Now I think this is an honest misconception as this is really the only place you will see the wording “Inca Trail” used, whether for treks or tours around the sites. Yes some trek or tour description may have mention of Inka Trail section in their itineraries, but the Inka Trail treks are the only places where it is predominantly placed. So for the record, all of the Incan sites around the Cusco Region, and even Peru for that fact, were at one time connected with Inca Trails, most of these are long gone but here in the Cusco region there are many sections that are still intact and while touring some of the sites you are likely to be walking on them.

So the following is the base information for each of the more common treks that are offered to Machu Picchu, this is not a complete list as there are a lot of alternate routes, but is a list of the most common treks chosen. Some of the treks listed below will also have options that are greater or less than four days, but considering the Inka Trail is four day, I wanted to be sure to compare apples to apples so to speak, and as such will only be discussing the 4 day options of any trek. While most of the information I will use below is set and will vary little or not at all, the pricing can vary greatly depending on the tour agency chosen, so the pricing that I am using below is what each trek would cost if booked through us at double occupancy.

4 – Day Inka Trail

Let’s start with the Inka Trail as it is the most popular and basically the main topic of this post. This trek starts close to Ollantaytambo and climbs through high Andean terrain before descending into cloud forest and ultimately ending in Machu Picchu, entering the site by way of the Sun Gate.
The Good – Follows an original Inka Trail, Passes several archeological sites, Enters Machu Picchu Directly
The Bad – High cost, Limited availability, Need to book well in advance, Closed during Feb, There are 500 people a day on the trail, Bad bathroom facilities, No included personal gear allowance
Base Price $481.25
Distance 43 km
Max Altitude: 4,200 m
Number of estimated hiking hours: 22
Nights in a tent: 3
Nights in a lodge: 0

4 – Day Salkantay

This trek is probably the closest in overall profile to the Inka trail and starts to the West of Cusco, This trek also climbs through high Andean terrain before descending into cloud forest, then ending in Aguas Calientes.
The Good – A less expensive option, Not as popular so far fewer people, Can be booked at the last minute most of the year, Available all year, 5 kg of personal gear transport included
The Bad – Does not follow an Inka Trail, Does not pass ruins, Does not enter Machu Picchu directly
Base Price: $288.75
Distance: 60 km
Max altitude: 4,580 m
Number of estimated hiking hours: 20.5
Nights in a tent: 2
Nights in a lodge: 1

4 – Day Lares to Huaran

This trek is mainly a high altitude trek with almost the entire route being at high altitude. This trek also has a few routes and directions, but the route that I will be referencing is the Lares – Huaran route. This route starts in the Town of Lares and mainly traverses high Andean terrain before descending to a point close to Calca, from there you take a bus to Ollantaytambo then a train to Aguas Calientes where you spend the night and visit Machu Picchu on the following day.
The Good – Not as popular so far fewer people, Can be booked at the last minute most of the year, Available all year, 9 kg of personal gear transport included, Lares Hot Springs included, Passes typical high Andean villages
The Bad – Does not follow an Inka Trail, Does not pass ruins, Does not enter Machu Picchu directly, Costs about the same as Inka Trail due to amount of required transportation.
Base Price: $470.80
Distance: 39 km
Max altitude: 4,550 m
Number of estimated hiking hours: 19
Nights in a tent: 2
Nights in a lodge: 1

4 – Day Inka Jungle Trek

This is more of an adventure trek as it includes bike riding and there are options for river rafting as well as Zip lining, although I will just be referring to the base option which does not include the optional activities. This trek actually starts with a bike ride down the mountain, the starting point for the bike ride is about 3,200 m and from there you descend on the bikes to the town of Santa Maria (about 1,800), the next two days are spent hiking through Jungle and cloud forest to Aguas Calientes and the final day is spent at Machu Picchu.
The Good – Not as popular so far fewer people, Can be booked at the last minute most of the year, Least strenuous, A less expensive option, Downhill bike ride, Optional rafting and Zip line, There is a short section of Inca Trail
The Bad – Does not pass ruins, Does not enter Machu Picchu directly, Not recommended during the rainy season.
Base Price: $292.25
Distance: 92 km
Max altitude: 4,350 m by car (2,050 m hiking)
Number of estimated hiking hours: 13.5
Number of estimated biking hours: 3.5
Nights in a tent: 0
Nights in a lodge: 3
Now I had really hoped to finish this blog with a graph comparing the trail profiles of all 4 treks, but unfortunately I have been unable to find trail profiles for the Lares Trek or Inka Jungle Trek, so the above descriptions will have to do for now. Maybe one of these days we will have some guests that do these treks with a GPS and I will be able to put something together, until then I hope the above information ifs helpful to those of you that may be trying to choose a trek.

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About Lyle

I love travel and currently own and operate a Bed and Breakfast called GringoWasi with my beautiful Peruvian wife, the property is located in the small town of Huarocondo, and about 30 minutes West of Cusco Peru.
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