The Inca Trail is one of the world’s classic treks, and it is a fantastic experience for anyone willing to take the effort to make the trek. Entering Machu Picchu through the Gate of the Sun as Inca Royalty once did is an unforgettable experience. The traditional Inca Trail trek was usually done in 4 days, but we are huge fans of the 5 Day Inca Trail trek.
WHY THE 5 DAY INCA TRAIL TREK IS BETTER
- You avoid most of the other people on the Inca Trail. On the 5 Day Trek you begin the trek in the early afternoon. This is well after the hordes on the 4 Day Trek have departed early in the morning, sometimes waiting in line for up to an hour to start. Allowing them to clear out means you can hike and camp the whole trail in relative solitude away from the masses, as you’re always about half a day behind, and half a day in front of, the people on the 4 Day Trek.
- You have more time to acclimatize and settle into the trek. The first two days are much easier on the 5 Day Trek than the 4 Day Trek. On the 5 Day Trek, the hardest day is Day 3. On the 4 Day Trek, the hardest day is Day 2.
- You have more time to explore the interesting Inca ruins along the way.
- You have more time at Machu Picchu. You arrive at the Sun Gate leading to Machu Picchu in the afternoon on Day 4. You have time to admire the beautiful ruins before heading to the town of Aguas Calientes for a shower and night in a real bed. You wake up refreshed on Day 5 for your full tour of Machu Picchu Ruins.
- You get Machu Picchu (almost) all to yourself. There are fewer people late in the afternoon (Day 4), and early in the morning (Day 5).
INCA TRAIL DISTANCES, HIKING TIMES, AND ALTITUDE
Below is a breakdown of hiking distances and average trek times for both the 4 and 5 Day Treks, so you can decide for yourself which length is right for you.
4 Day Trek *Daily distances may vary from outfitter to outfitter, depending on where they camp.
Day 1: Relatively easy 7-8 miles (~13 km). On this day you begin at an elevation of 9000 ft (2750 m) and camp at about 9700 ft (~2950 m). Hiking time: 5 – 6 hours. Early start out of Cusco (~4:30am) or 7am out of Ollantaytambo.
Day 2: This 7 mile hike (~11 km) is the most difficult day for most. The highest point is Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,766 ft (4,200 m). Camp at 12,590 ft (3850 m). Hiking time: 6 – 7 hours.
Day 3: 9.9 miles (16 km) of moderately challenging trail. You climb two passes: Runkuracay at 12,470 ft (3,800 m) and Sayacmarca at 11,887 ft (3580 m). Camp at 8,692 ft (2,650 m). Hiking Time: 9 hours
Day 4: 2.5 miles (4 km) of mostly downhill trekking on ancient steps. This is an early morning start (around 4am) so you have maximum time at Machu Picchu. Arrive at the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu (7474 ft / 2400 m) around 6am or 7am, and have a full guided tour of the ruins. In the afternoon, you will catch the train back to Cusco. Hiking time: 2 hours on the trail; more possible at Machu Picchu if you want.
5 Day Trek
Day 1: You start this trek in the early afternoon so you can avoid the crowds that start in the morning. And you won’t see them at all during your trek! You will visit the fascinating Inca Ruins of Ollantaytambo this morning. Easy warm up of 3 miles (~5 km). On this day you begin at Km82, which has an elevation of 9000 ft (2750 m), and camp at about 8690 ft (~2650 m), at Llactapata Campsite. Hiking time: 2.5 – 5 hours.
Day 2: This 7.5 mile hike (~12 km) is where the trail starts to get challenging. After a mellow morning, you trek part way up the first pass, and overnight about a half mile from the top. Camp at 12,590 ft (3850 m), at Llulluchapampa Campsite. Hiking time: 5 – 6 hours.
Day 3: This 9.3 miles (15 km) stretch is the most challenging day on the Inca Trail. You climb two passes: Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) at 13,819 ft (4212 m), drop down to the Pacasmayo Valley at 11,650 ft (3550 m) for lunch, and then tackle Runcuracay Pass at 13,120 ft (4000 m). At the end of the day, you camp at 12,030 ft (3600 m) at Phuyupatamarca (“the place above the clouds”). Hiking Time: 8 hours
Day 4: 6.5 miles (11 km) of mostly downhill or flat trekking on ancient Inca steps. This is an early morning start so you have maximum time at Machu Picchu. You have lunch at Wiñay Wayna Ruins, and a bit of time to explore these amazing ruins. Arrive at the Sun Gate (9025 ft / 2750 m) in the afternoon for your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. You’ve made it! After soaking in the view, you’ll continue down through Machu Picchu Ruins (7875 ft / 2400 m) take a bus to nearby Aguas Calientes where you’ll overnight in a local hotel. Hiking time: 5 hours on the trail; more possible at Machu Picchu if you want.
Day 5: Return to Machu Picchu Ruins for a full guided tour. There’s time for hiking Huayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain, and wandering around the site. Afternoon bus to the Aguas Calientes train station to catch your train back to Cusco.
For our favorite Inca Trail trip, check out the Ultimate Inca Trail.