What is the Inca Trail?

what is inca trail to machu picchu

The Inca Traill is a 43-kilometer (26 mile) trekking route in Peru that follows an ancient path built by the Inca civilization more than 500 years ago. The trail starts in the Sacred Valley, near Cusco, and winds its way through the Andean mountains, lush forests, and ancient Inca ruins before culminating at the famous archaeological site of Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail is considered one of the most famous and popular hikes in the world, attracting tens of thousands of tourists every year. The trail is a challenging and rewarding experience, offering breathtaking views of the Andean landscape, including snow-capped mountains, cloud forests, and diverse flora and fauna.

The trek usually takes between 4 to 5 days to complete and requires a moderate to high level of fitness. The trail is physically demanding, with steep climbs, descents, and uneven terrain. Hikers must also adjust to the high altitude, which can cause altitude sickness.

In addition to its natural beauty, the Inca Trail is renowned for its historical and cultural significance. The trail was originally used by the Inca people as a pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu, a sacred site for their civilization. Along the way, hikers can explore numerous Inca ruins, including the impressive site of Wiñay Wayna, which features terraces, fountains, and baths.

The trail culminates at the iconic Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, a stone gateway that offers a stunning view of Machu Picchu. The final descent leads to the Lost City of the Incas, where hikers can explore the remarkable archaeological site and marvel at the impressive engineering and architectural feats of the Inca civilization.

Due to its popularity, the Inca Trail is regulated by the Peruvian government to preserve its fragile ecosystem and cultural heritage. Visitors must obtain a permit to hike the trail, and the number of permits is limited to reduce the impact of tourism on the area. Hiking with a licensed guide is also mandatory to ensure the safety of hikers and to protect the trail and its surroundings.

What attractions does the Inca Trail have?

The Inca Trail is a trek that offers a variety of attractions for hikers, including stunning natural landscapes, ancient Inca ruins, and cultural immersion. Here are some of the main attractions along the trail:

Scenic views

The Inca Trail offers spectacular views of the Andean mountains, valleys, and cloud forests. The scenery changes dramatically throughout the trek, from high mountain passes to lush green valleys and rushing rivers.

Inca ruins

The trail is dotted with ancient Inca ruins that provide a glimpse into the rich cultural history of the region. Some of the most notable ruins include Runkurakay, an Inca watchtower; Sayacmarca, a well-preserved Inca fortress; and Phuyupatamarca, an impressive Inca site with a large temple and intricate water system.

inca ruins

Wiñay Wayna

The Wiñay Wayna ruins are considered one of the highlights of the Inca Trail. These ruins feature terraces, fountains, and baths, and are believed to have been used as a religious and administrative center by the Inca.

Wiñay Wayna I

Inti Punku (Sun Gate)

The Sun Gate is the final stretch of the trail and marks the entrance to Machu Picchu. It is a stone gateway that offers a stunning panoramic view of the Lost City of the Incas.

sung gate machu picchu

Machu Picchu:

The Inca Trail culminates at Machu Picchu, one of the most iconic and important archaeological sites in the world. This ancient Inca city was built in the 15th century and is known for its impressive engineering and architectural feats, including its terraces, water systems, and stonework. Visitors can explore the ruins and learn about the fascinating history and culture of the Inca civilization.

Machu Picchu Inca trail

Flora and Fauna on the inca trail


Since the Inca Trail extends through transforming forests, the flora is as equally varied and abundant as the fauna. You can see different species of trees, such as cedar, romerillo, laurel and basul (pisonay). The variety of orquids is also impressive. Among the main species are: the Choclo Choclo (Elleanthus capitatus), Waqanki (Masdevallia veitchiana), Wiñaywayna (Epidendrum secundum), Sobralia virginalis, Trichopilia frayans and Odontoglossum, as well as many others. You’ll also find other plant species, such as the molle (Anacardiaceae), angel’s trumpets (Solanaceae), mountain yahuarchonka (Lytraceae), carnation of the air (Tillandsia fendleri) and begonias (Begonia veytchii begoniaceae), among others

the flora on inca trail
Birds on the Inca Trail


The fauna within the Inca Trail is abundant and varied. The Peruvian Government declared it a Conservation Zone due to the existence of diverse species in danger of extinction, such as the spectacled bear, cock-of-the-rock and dwarf brocket deer.

There, pumas, Andean foxes, river otters, tarukas (Andean deer), mountain lions, ferrets, hummingbirds, ducks, parrots, turkeys, yellow-billed pintails, snakes, lizards, frogs and many other animal species coexist.

This huge diversity of fauna makes the Inca Trail ideal for visitors who are interested in seeing or studying animals.

Which is the best season to visit the Inca Trail?

The best season to visit the Inca Trail in Peru is during the dry season, which runs from May to September. During this time, the weather is usually clear and dry, with temperatures ranging from around 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 degrees Celsius) during the day and dropping to around freezing at night. This makes for comfortable hiking conditions and clear views of the stunning mountain scenery.

However, it’s important to note that the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance every year during the month of February, so if you’re planning a trip during that time, you won’t be able to hike the trail.

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Join the thousands of satisfied customers who rate us #1 on TripAdvisor

Bernie s 2023/03/02

Had a great trip with our guide Ray Herrera and driver Alfredo. Lots of good experiences in a short period of time 4 days. Learnt a lot not just about the main tourist destinations but Peru in general by Ray. Ray has a passion for Inca history and local produce. Ray knows all the good photo spots and we managed the sun out every day .. Good culture and if you want to get on a tour ask for Ray at Sams Travel = amazing

Tanya H 2023/03/02

Ray was our Tour Guide and Alfredo was our driver for a 4 day tour we did with SAM Travel Peru. Ray's knowledge of the history of Cusco and Machu Picchu was outstanding. Ray was very accommodating with all our needs. He stayed alongside us when trekking and helped where he could. His sense of humour was pleasant to be around. Ray spoke very good English. He is such a nice guy. I would strongly recommend Ray to be your tour guide to visit Machu Picchu. Ray explained everyday what the plans were for the next day, which was reassuring what we needed to take etc

Captanjack 2023/01/012

Our 1 day tour thru the Sacred Vally with Danny was wonderful. He was very knowledgeable and able to answer all our questions in detail. I would recommend asking for him personally if you are able.

Sherry 2022/12/26

We booked the Classic Cusco to Machu Picchu tour with SAM travel which we really had a good experience. SAM travel is very responsive during the communication and cater to our changes needed. Our guide is Ray who is also an very awesome guide. He is knowledgeable, patient, humorous as well reliable, he help us take many good photos and also go extra mile to help with our request. Thanks Ray! Thanks SAM travel that gave us good memories in Peru! Highly recommend if you consider booking any tour in Cusco.

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C Clark 2023/01/20

Wow. We had such an incredible experience in Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Our guide, Dayvit, is the most knowledgeable guide we have ever had. He has such an extensive knowledge of the history and is very friendly and helpful. If you are planning a trip to Peru, I highly recommend SAM travel and be sure to request Dayvit!

Emma Dinzebach Clark 2023/01/10

2 day tour sacred valley / Machu Picchu highly recommend! David was the best tour guide. He knows an incredible amount about Incan culture and is personable and funny. He also kept us up to date on a political situation happening when we were there and was informative. Overall, this tour checks all the boxes. Thank you!

Nupur Joshi 2023/01/02

We used SAM Travel for a 2D/1N trip from Cusco to Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu on Dec 25-26, 2022. The team was good with communication from the start - both Saul and Junior were very helpful and professional with answering any questions and clearing up any misunderstandings. Our guide, Miguel, was prompt, pleasant, and quite knowledgeable. We enjoyed his company and insight over the 2 day trip and recommend him to anyone booking with SAM Travel.

Xueying Chen 2022/12/20

We booked the Classic Cusco to Machu Picchu tour with SAM travel which we really had a good experience. SAM travel is very responsive during the communication and cater to our changes needed. Our guide is Ray who is also an very awesome guide. He is knowledgeable, patient, humorous as well reliable, he help us take many good photos and also go extra mile to help with our request. Thanks Ray! Thanks SAM travel that gave us good memories in Peru! Highly recommend if you consider booking any tour in Cusco.

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Brandon Slater 2022/09/30

My wife and I just completed two excursions with SAM Travel Peru and we absolutely loved them. We did the 4 Day Salkantay Wilderness + Machu Picchu and then the 2-Day Rainbow Mountain + 7 Lakes trek with guide Carlos Estrada, chefs Nerio & Lucio, and horseman Unarato. Over the last 6 days we have learned so much about the Inca culture, discovered some of the most incredible sights, and ate delicious food every step of the way. We would definitely recommend SAM Travel (especially with Carlos!) to anyone that wants an incredible Peruvian adventure. The Wilderness trek is a much quieter trail than the standard Salkantay and goes a bit higher elevation, but camping at the base of Salkantay was incredible. Carlos's guided tour through Machu Picchu was so informative. We would have missed so much without him taking the time to share his knowledge.

Kellie Taylor 2022/04/06

Big thanks to David he was an amazing tour guide who really cared for our group. He allowed us to go at our own pace and was a brilliant photographer He was really funny and is full of interesting information & his passion for his inca ancestors is very obvious and warming. He also brought us to great restaurants! This company are very good and from what I can recall were cheaper than most. Thank you!

Mike Geelhoed 2021/06/10

They took care of everything! Saul the owner is very responsive and helpful. Johnny our guide was fantastic, as were our chef, assistant chef and horsemen. I can’t recommend them highly enough and will definitely use them again if we return to Peru!

Janice-Kaneki Chen 2020/01/28

Three of us decided to choose Sam Travel Peru, reason being is it is a local travel company that help indegenious communities. We picked Lares Trek 4D3N to have cultural experience while hiking. Good foods provided by talented Mario Chef! Johnny is our tour guide, very helpful tour guide. He even helped me to carry my daypack as I was too exhausted to carry it on day 1 hiking. Strongly recommend to those like to have local experience while hiking.

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