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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