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Things I Wish I Had Known About Hiking The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

by Meg · 53 comments

Check out the bottom of this post for my complete PACKING LIST for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4 day / 3 night hike!


Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was hands down the highlight of our three months in South America.  Going into our RTW trip, we knew that joining a classic four day trek to Machu Picchu would be the one excursion that we would splurge on while abroad.

We booked our hike out a couple months in advance and eagerly counted down the days to our March 28th trek as we travelled through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

There will be more articles on our Machu Picchu adventures to come… but for now, I would like to share with you the five discoveries that we stumbled across while on our legendary trek.

For anyone looking to hike to Machu Picchu in the future, I advise you to read closely!

Hiking The Inca Trail Is Harder Than We Thought

I am not sure what we expected going into our trek, but it sure was a harder four days than we initially imagined.  When talking with other backpackers who already hiked the Inca Trail, everybody talked about how great the sights were, but NOBODY talked about the hike itself.

Like a woman having just given birth to a child, previous hikers were too overwhelmed by the beauty of Machu Picchu that they seemed to forget about the labor itself to get to the end.

Well people, I am here to tell you that the four day hike to get to Machu Picchu is HARD.  Be sure to hit the gym and get in shape before starting your trek…

The girls finishing off the climb strong

… And when your freakishly fit tour guide tells you that the next portion of your hike is “Inca flat”, prepare to die.

Every Difficult Part Of The Trail Is WORTH IT

Yes, the hike was hard and I often wanted to shoot myself when hiking up a mountain by using those steep Inca stairs. But ending at Machu Picchu, exploring ancient ruins, and continually stumbling across stunning landscapes made every treacherous twist and turn along the way worth it.

At the top of the Day 2 hike feeling badass

When It Comes To The Weather, Expect The Unexpected 

I know some backpackers that hiked the entire four days in a torrential downpour… So I like to think that our group lucked out by having three days of great weather.  But the fourth day (the day we would finally be arriving to Machu Picchu) was foggy, rainy, cold, and just plain miserable.

Cold and miserable… But it was all worth it!

In addition, the nights are cold and the jungle is damp. My recommendation for you future MP hikers would be to bring a poncho (or two), have a proper rain cover for your backpack, pack a variety of clothing so you have layers to work with, and cross your fingers for sunshine!

Make Sure You Choose A Good Trekking Company

We did our classic Inca Trail hike with the company Peru Treks.  Let me just say that they ROCKED.

The most amazing men on the planet… Love the porters!

Peru Treks rocked so much that I have decided to write an entirely separate article on how awesome they were on our hike… But for now, let me just say that you often get what you pay for.  Do your research, read reviews, and talk with previous trekkers on the best companies out there.  Hiking the Inca Trail with the right crew can mean the difference between a magnificent four days and an absolute nightmare.

Get Comfortable With The Concept Of “Inca Toilets”

Forget the luxuries of toilet paper. Forget the luxuries of a toilet seat. Forget the luxury of… a toilet. On the hike, the best bathroom you will find is a rickety hut with a small hole in the ground to do your biz…

And that’s it. 

So bring a couple rolls of TP to have on hand, keep hand sanitizer on you at all times, and be sure to roll your pant legs up when approaching these poop-ridden palaces… And remember, the good ol’ outdoors also makes for a great bano.

My Inca Trail Packing List

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Noah & Anne April 26, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thanks Meg – good info to know as we get ready to head to Cusco in July. Especially the tips about the Inca toilets – that’s going to be a good one to socialize with the kids! :)

Meg April 27, 2012 at 7:20 am

Glad you two found it helpful! We had an amazing time… Just be sure to bring lots of TP for the “toilets”. Are you booked through a group yet? I would HIGHLY recommend Peru Treks. They were amazing!

Linda April 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Glad you guys had fun! I thought the classic Inca Trail was totally worth it.

P.S. Like the site redesign.

Meg April 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

Thanks Linda for following! By the way I just checked out your blog – It’s amazing! Oh and thanks for the Peru Treks recommendation. They were such a great company to trek with…. and yes, totally worth it!

Katie May 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Meg –

Thanks for the advice! We are going in July and I am as equally excited as I am terrified. Any packing recommendations? I want to pack as light as possible, but want to avoid having a “I forgot to bring any pants” moment.


Meg May 6, 2012 at 4:01 am

Great news Katie! Are you hiring a Porter? They can carry a bag for you if you decide to go down that route. It will allow you to pack more and not have to carry much during the days. We actually carried all our stuff (along with the sleeping bags and mats) and were fine. It all managed to fit in a 32L bag and wasn’t that heavy. Here was my packing list:

3 pairs undies, 1 sports bra, 2 quick-dry/no stink shirts,1 pair leggings,1 pair hiking pans, 1 pair heavy socks, 1 pair regular socks, 1 zip up hoodie, 1 fleece, 1 alpaca sweater, 1 rain coat, 1 alpaca hat, 1 alpaca gloves.

We didn’t really have access to any warm showers on the hike so you can forget bringing too many toiletries besides toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant but baby wipes proved very helpful during our hike… and lots of hand sani!

I hope this helps. What company are you going with?

Hazel February 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm

Having just completed the four day classis Inca Trail I agree on how challenging it is at times not so much the trail itself 45 kms in 4 days but add 14,000 feet into the mix it’s was the altitude for me that was the killer. I was saved along the way by a guide who rolled up coca leaves and had me chew them with a gin gin chew (ginger)check these out on line and buy some). I have just ordered some and I live at sea level but this concoction totally saved me on Dead Womens Pass when I was head down about to clear out my lunch !!!!!!! Take some with you they are marvellous for any upset stomache . PS I am 63 best of luck Hazel

Meg February 19, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Thank you Hazel for commenting and for the helpful info – I am glad to hear the coca leaves helped you!

Larissa July 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Thanks for the tips Meg. My husband and I are planning on going in October and looking for a tour company to take us – what made you pick Peru Treks over other tour groups?

Meg July 10, 2012 at 4:59 am

We had so many recommendations from other backpackers to try them out and after doing some research, we found that they were amongst the best tour companies – with incredibly reasonable prices for the trek. We had such a great experience with them. Excellent equipment, guides, food and customer care…. They even brought you hot coffee and hot chocolate to your tents for your morning wake up call…. How can you top that?!

Lana July 16, 2012 at 8:14 pm

This was so helpful! We’re using PeruTreks for our trek in November, and I’m so glad to hear about how much you liked them. Also–thanks for your comments on what you brought on the hike. And the toilets! No one seems to talk about the toilets at all, I’ve found, in my research on trek reports. Thanks again!

Meg July 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

You’re welcome Lana! I am glad you found the article helpful and I am so excited you are going with PeruTreks. They are a great company! Are you hiring a Porter? With my packing list, I was able to carry my own stuff and it was pretty manageable. It’s definitely do-able if you are on a tight budget! Gahhh the toilets. Just bring a lot of TP, hand sanitizer, and roll up your pant legs upon entering!

Lana July 17, 2012 at 9:12 am

We are going to use a porter. While we could probably carry everything ourselves, we realized that less weight means we’ll probably be less grumpy and enjoy it more. The pant legs tip is a great one too. :)

Lorraine September 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I will be doing the trek in a few weeks. We are a group of 4, age range 58 to 63. We are all healthy and physically fit. I don’t see too many people in the trek photos who look to be our age, and that makes me a bit nervous. Our group hired 2 porters and we will be carrying day packs (50 l). Can you give me any further advice (I have heard that day two is the worst) Your tips have been the best I have read so far. Thanks, Meg!!

Meg September 29, 2012 at 6:17 am

Hi Lorraine… I am glad to hear that my tips have been helpful in your planning process. Hiring a porter is definitely helpful, so you made a great decision there. There were 4 people on our trip that were in their 50’s and 60’s and they completed all 4 days just fine. People are advised to go at their own speed, so even if it means getting to the campsite later than most of the group, just go at your own pace and take it slow… The hiking guides will always hang back with people too, so do not worry about losing your way if you fall back from the main crowd. Yes, day two is the hardest – but a gorgeous hike! It is a pretty steep climb, but if you switchback up the mountain/steps, you will have a much easier time with it. Also, plan on arriving in Cusco at least several days before your hike… The altitude on the Inca Trail takes getting used to, so acclimating beforehand is a MUST! Anyways, I hope this helps! What company are you working with?

Lorraine October 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for your helpful response, Meg. We are hiking with SAS tours(recommended by a family member). We plan on being in Cusco for 3 days before the trek commences. Did you find the coca tea/leaves to be helpful in alleviating altitude symptoms? I have heard that ibuprofen helps as well. On another subject, what did you wear at night to stay warm? My husband and I invested in merino wool under garments and figured they would suffice as sleepwear. What was the evening routine like? I’m envisioning dinner and then dropping off to sleep b/c of exhaustion. I appreciate your info @ toilets. Do you think one roll of TP per person is enough? that’s the only part of this trek that I am really dreading. You are the only one to address this issue. Thanks again for all your help!!

Cheryl Lewis July 9, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I know it has been awhile, but I would love to know the answers to Lorraine’s questions, too. We’re going in 2 weeks for my 50th birthday! Not sure whether to characterize myself as fit… I’m in good shape, and am active, but would never profess to be an athlete. Feeling pretty nervous about slugging my way through!

Beverly January 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Thank you, I have recently been looking for info approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the
greatest I’ve came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you positive about the supply?

Maria May 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Hi Meg,
Did you pack or did you buy extra warm clothes over there? I wasn’t sure if you took those with you for SE Asia.

Meg May 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Hi Maria,

We brought warm gear for Peru but traveled to Europe the month following where we met up with family who brought back our heavy clothes to Boston on their flight home and in exchange brought us summer clothes for Europe at SE Asia. In Peru they also have REALLY cheap alpaca gear (hats, mittens, sweaters, etc.) that are great for the Inca Trail, so you can buy a lot there if space in your luggage is an issue.

Daphne July 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

HI Meg !
Thank you so much for this article, I can’t express enough gratitude for all this info ! I’m planning to travel to Cusco in a couple of months, and I wanted to ask you, when booking your hike with Peru Treks, do you have to do that many months ahead..? Pay online ? and then contact their office once you’re in Cusco ? Please let me know, my email is: pastora1027@yahoo.com and I would be excitedly waiting for your informative response & advise. Thank you much !!

Meg July 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Hi Daphne,

Please see my most recent article on hiking the Inca Trail with the answer to your question – http://www.landingstanding.com/best-time-to-visit-machu-picchu/

Picker July 30, 2013 at 3:47 am

Heya, thanks for all the tips on the Inca Trail! i would like to know, were there other backpackers who brought everything with them? assuming they didnt go back to the same hotel/hostel and were journeying on to a different location and had to bring all they had with them. in this case did they just hire porters or carried it all themselves?
Any feedback is appreciated!

Meg July 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

For people that weren’t returning to Cusco after the hike (these folks stored their extra belongings at their hotel/hostels in Cusco during the hike), people brought all their gear/travel items with them and if it was too much to carry, they hired a Porter. My husband’s and my bags were 10 kilos each and manageable to hike with, but I wouldn’t push it too much beyond that – save your back and hire a Porter! Hope this helps!

Emily | emilymeetsworld.com August 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I just stumbled onto this and thanks so much – I am doing the trek in 2 weeks with Peru treks coincidentally so that’s exciting! Didn’t get fit – too late now ha! I’m not in terrible shape though so hopefully I’ll make it :-\ I also didn’t hire a porter – oh the regrets! Do you think leggings an shorts would be OK? I know its a different time of year but I’m not a fan of walking in trousers. That said my top does feel the cold so I’ll be packing my warm jumper I’m sure. Also do you think it would be OK to take my big backpack? Its 65l (yes I over pack, I know I do and I always probably will. To be fair I’ve bought the warmest ever sleeping bag which takes up a fair bit) but I wasn’t planning on filling it for the trek – my friend would take a small daypack for water an I’ll have the sleeping bags an clothes then we alternate was the plan – do you reckon that would work? Sorry to bombard you! Hope you can help! Great blog :-)


Meg August 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Thanks for commenting Emily and for sharing your blog with us! Good luck on the hike – You should be fine. Tony and I hadn’t been to a gym in several months prior to our Inca Trail hike and managed just fine. I’m not sure what the weather is like there this time of year but you should be fine with shorts and leggings. 65L does seem like a hefty bag for the hike (ours were 32l) but you can always hire a Porter right before (or even during) the hike if it gets to be too much weight on your back. It should be manageable though if you and your friend are taking turns carrying the pack. Let us know if you still have any questions and best of luck!

Emily | emilymeetsworld.com August 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Great thanks that makes me feel better! Is actually 60 (not much better) but it won’t be full we just don’t have a smaller bag that is still big enough for our sleeping bags – ah well at least we can hire a porter last minute that’s good! :-)

Karen Donaghy November 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

All your info is helpful.
Was the alpaca wool items eg hat and sweater the itchy type of wool. I know I bought a sweater when in Chile and it wasn’t itchy at all. Did you use a walking stick? I drink a lot of water, a bit concerned about how much to carry. I will probably go with GAP adventures.

Meg November 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Hi Karen – All great questions! The alpaca shirts/sweaters may be itchy but I usually wore a layer underneath the sweater – like long underware. The gloves and hats weren’t itchy at all. The tour you are with should provide water along the hike, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe just pack some water for the first day. I didn’t use a walking stick but you totally could!

Karen Donaghy November 30, 2013 at 11:22 am

Hi again,
Did you arrive early to aclimatize ? Do you know if Lima and Cuzco have the same elevation, as I was thinking of going at least 3 days early not sure which city would be better to help with the altitude for the Inca Trail hike?
Also I will be 58 when I go, so going to make sure I do some stair walking which I already do normally but I will increase my exercise to get in shape. I may bring my own sweater, not sure if I want itchy ones.

Meg November 30, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I would recommend arriving in several days beforehand to Cusco, which is the launching city for many of the treks and the altitude is fairly comparable. I also think it is great you are staying active and exercising leading up to your hike. If you are in good physical shape, you will do great on the hike!

Mia Gordon May 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I enjoyed reading this fun and helpful thanks :-) We run tours in Peru and our local guide leader asks anyone who visits Peru that if you have spare clothes or blankets, anything warm to donate them to the villagers in high altitudes please do. Lots of these local people don’t have the means to buy blankets or clothes (or even get to a city to do so) and there are lots of hypothermia cases every year in the colder regions. Vanessa (she’s a local from Cuzco) asked us to spread the word if you are heading to Peru, and see a second hand blanket – or have any old warm clothes that won’t fit in for your trip home, please donate them – you’ll leave Peru knowing you’ve contributed immensely to the local people :-)

Carrie October 1, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Wow this sounds like a good trip I am not sure if it’s this hike or going around Belize this is for my spring break trip with my 56&61(?) Yr old parents (adopted I’m 12) so I’ll tell them about your recommendation .

Tony October 2, 2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks, Carrie! We had people that were 60 on our hike and they were able to finish the trail. Maybe a bit slower, but you all will do great!

Dawn January 16, 2015 at 6:00 pm

My husband and I have booked through Peru Treks. I was wondering does the group stay together throughout the hike. I am worried about holding up the group if I can’t hike as fast, making the trip not very enjoyable for me as well as the group.

Meg January 18, 2015 at 10:21 pm

We love Peru Treks! Everyone meets up at the designated camp site at the end of the day, so you can take your time on the hike, without worrying about holding up the group. I hope this helps!

Darleen March 23, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Hello Meg: Thank you for all your candid and very helpful information. My husband and I are doing MP at the end of May. We are booked with Llama Path. They too get amazing reviews and quickly respond to my questions. I would appreciate your thoughts on how narrow the trails are. I have looked at many on line photos and some look a bit unnerving with no barriers to stop you from falling down the side of the mountain. I am not afraid of heights just a little apprehensive about loosing my footing. I do have great hiking boots well broken in from doing The Camino de Santiago last June but a few comforting words about the trails would be most appreciated.

Meg March 23, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Hi Darleen,

I haven’t heard of Llama Path, but it’s great to hear that you are having a good experience with them. The trails are not too narrow and at most parts are wide enough for two people (or more) to walk side by side. The first day of the hike is simple. Day #2 is the hardest day, but it all uphill. Day #3 is a lot of downhill hiking and the trails can get slippery, especially if it’s wet. However, on the narrower parts there are ropes along the side for stability if I can remember correctly. Day #4 is hiking down to Machu Picchu and felt very safe along the way. It was rainy on day #4 and the trails were wet, but luckily our group didn’t have any issues hiking that final day. With a good pair of hiking boots, you should be safe & fine. I would just recommend getting a few hikes under your belt before the Inca Trail trek just to prepare yourself and get in hiking shape.

Darleen March 24, 2015 at 8:41 am

Hi Meg: Thank you for your response. My husband and I have been training since last November. I do some form of cardio every day, do the stairmaster and walk 15-25 kms a week with my backpack. However, any trek we’ve done has had its surprises no matter how hard we’ve trained. We anticipate MP to have many new challenges with the high altitude and the climb on Day2. We are excited about this new adventure and looking forward to achieving our goal with only good memories when we arrive on Day4. Thanks again for all your helpful comments. I feel a little less nervous about MP’s narrow trails.

Darleen March 25, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Hi Meg: I have a few more questions. In my search for on line photos of the trail to MP, I came across a few unnerving photos of the bridges on the trail one in particular that looks like a narrow plank with no ropes where you have to walk sideways to get across. Is this accurate? What were your experiences on the bridges? Also, we are four days in Cusco prior to our trek. Are there areas around Cusco where we can do day hikes to somewhat prepare for the challenges of MP?

Meg March 28, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Hi Darleen,

Hmm I honestly don’t remember any parts of the trail where I was on a narrow plank or felt unsafe. I wish I could provide more insight, but I think the trail is overall safe (from my experience). We did the Cristo Blanco hike in Cusco before our trek, which is accessible & walking distance from the downtown. Here’s a good resource: http://isaiahbrookshire.com/short-solo-trips-and-day-hikes-near-cusco/

Darleen March 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Hi Meg: Thank you for your respponse. I think I am suffering from pre-trek jitters so I appreciate the comforting words. Since my question about bridges and narrow planks, I have discovered that the narrow plank is called the Inka Drawbridge – there are two – one in Ollantaytambo and one in Machu Picchu – and neither on our route :) Thanks also for the recommending the Cristo Blanco hike in Cusco. We will definitely do that. It’s time I stopped looking at on line photos of the trail and start thinking positive and be thankful that I will have the opportunity to be challenged by this amazing adventure. Thanks again for your very helpful responses.

Lola May 19, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Hi! I’m going on the Macchu Picchu 4 day hike soon and wanted to ask – how many bottles of the mini hand sanitizer did you need for the trip?

Meg May 20, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Hi Lola – A travel size one (4 oz max) is probably all you need on the trail. Bring a pack of baby wipes too! Hope this helps

www.slovenija-danes.com June 5, 2016 at 8:40 am

Valuable info. Lucky me I found your website unintentionally, and I am shocked why this accident did not took place in advance!
I bookmarked it.

Alwoodlands August 26, 2016 at 4:09 am

Nice article I would like to say something If you are going to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, your travel agent will provide the equipment.

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