Our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with Cusco small group trek follows the original pilgrimage route from Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire, to the Inca’s most sacred temple. Explore Cusco, discover the traditions and culture of the Sacred Valley, walk the Inca Trail passing ancient ruins, soaring peaks, cloud forests and rambling rivers, and reach the spectacular temple at Machu Picchu, accompanied by a local expert guide and in the company of a small group of fellow walkers. Your trip starts with two days of acclimatising in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, where you will explore colourful markets and impressive ruins. Your four-day Inca Trail hike will then lead you to the sacred site of Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco for a final night.
Аfter the two initial acclimatisation days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, the trek begins on Day 3 at Km 82, the marker that signifies the start of the Inca Trail. Our highly trained guides, who are deeply familiar with these ancient Inca footpaths, will expertly lead us through the magnificent Andean terrain. Constructed by the Incas over 500 years ago, the Classic Inca Trail is one of the most famous stretches of the Inca road system. Along the way, we’ll traverse breathtaking high alpine passes, lush valleys, dense cloud forests, and rushing rivers. We’ll pass through ancient Inca remains of Andean settlements, ultimately arriving at Machu Picchu via Intipunku (the Sun Gate).
Each night, our team of porters and skilled cooks will have a delicious hot meal and a comfortable camp already set up for your convenience. We will also take steps to enjoy a tranquil hike, avoiding crowds of fellow trekkers. On the final day, a guided tour of the citadel will bring Machu Picchu to life as we explore and immerse ourselves in the magic and beauty of this ancient, mystical site. This trek is truly an unforgettable experience you’ll reminisce about for years to come.
Many customers ask us why we take one more day to complete the Inca Trail. If you can do it in three walking days, as many other tour operators do, why take four? Our route has been meticulously designed as we are always looking to offer the best possible experience for our travellers. This means staying away from the crowds wherever possible, both during the trek and on overnights, ensuring more intimate settings and enjoying the connection with our natural environment and local communities.
Please note that being the most popular trek in South America, the Classic Inca Trail can become quite crowded in peak season, despite the permit system. Another issue might be the limited availability as permits tend to run out very quickly. The permit system restricts the number of trekkers starting the Inca trail to 500 each day. All the crew need permits, so there are only about 200 permits left for trekkers. For the following year, permits go on sale in October and sell out quickly for the high season, so you must book early. Also, there are no permits required for Machu Picchu itself, and much more visitors arrive directly by train. This means that the site itself is jam-packed in the high season. That is why we have developed a few other routes which are highly recommended alternatives to the Inca Trail, all of them taking in the spectacular temple at Machu Picchu:
- Ancascocha Trail to Machu Picchu (easier than the Inca Trail, taking an alternative route in the beginning and then joining the Inca Trail)
- Salkantay Hidden Valleys Trail to Machu Picchu (more demanding than the Inca Trail, taking an alternative route)
- Choquequirao Trail to Machu Picchu (more demanding than the classic Inca Trail, taking an alternative route)
And, if you want to do the classic Inca Trail as described herein but would prefer to save a little money on the extras, you are on a tight schedule, or you have planned other activities before or after the trek, we can recommend our 5 Days / 4 Nights Inca Trail trek; you will get the same itinerary (days 1-5 correspond to days 3-7 below), guides and service; the only things you do not get are the overnights and excursions in Cusco and the Sacred Valley before and after the trek which you can arrange yourselves.
- Spend two days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley to explore Inca culture and acclimatise to the altitude
- Trek the famous Inca Trail
- Visit incredible Machu Picchu, the lost city and Incan citadel in the Andean Mountains, with plenty of time for sightseeing
- Take an unforgettable journey on the train from Machu Picchu back to the Sacred Valley, an adventure in its own right
- A small group, environmentally and socially responsible tour with expert local guides and porters
- Guaranteed departures every Friday and Monday
- Optional private departures every day
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Day 1: Arrive Cusco
Arrive in Cusco and transfer to your 3-star hotel. We recommend that you take the rest of the day to relax and slowly acclimatize as Cusco is at 3350 m above sea level. Cusco is famed for its colonial monuments as well as its Inca relics, and this afternoon you may wish to take a gentle stroll around the fascinating market or even take an optional tour to the nearby ruins at Sacsayhuaman. There will be a briefing with your Lead Guide in the evening to prepare you for the challenge ahead.
Day 2: The Sacred Valley
Today we will take a guided excursion to the Sacred Valley. First, we will visit the Pisac ruins and market, then we continue down the Urubamba Valley. Following a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we will reach the picturesque small town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is located at the western end of the Sacred Valley built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of urban Incan planning. Learn all about the history of this amazing area from your local expert guide. Overnight Ollantaytambo.
Day 3: Inca Trail Day 1: Km 82 (Piscacucho) – Llaqtapata | 11 km | 5-6 h
We rise with the sun and take a short drive to the trailhead to begin our scenic 5-hour trek on a section of the Inca Trail few are visiting. While many start at Km 88, we’ll start at Km 82, creating some space between us and other groups. We’ll take our lunch break at the ruins of Q’oriwayrachina at Km 88, consisting of nearly 200 ancient stone structures. After a delightful picnic lunch, we’ll cross the Urubamba River at Q’ente. Here, we’ll have the option to visit the archaeological sites of Wayna Q’ente and Llaqtapata. We’ll set up camp for the night at our private campsite, known as Chamana, a small village that’s part of the Llaqtapata Community. We are delighted to be able to offer you a hot shower after today’s trek.
Day 4: Inca Trail Day 2: Llaqtapata – Llulluchapampa | 11 km | 7-8 h
We continue our trek up the narrow Cusichaca Valley, passing houses inhabited by farmers and herdsmen until we finally reach the Andean community of Huayllabamba. From here, the cobble-stoned Inca Trail ascends steeply through an ancient native forest bursting with melodic birdsong. The trail begins to level out at our campsite at Llulluchapampa, situated just below the first pass. Here, we’ll experience breathtaking views of Mt Huayanay and a first glimpse of the rare Andean cloud forest of Quenua trees.
Day 5: Inca Trail Day 3: Llulluchapampa – Phuyupatamarca | 12 km | 7-8 h
Today is the longest day but also the most impressive and interesting as we reach the trail’s highest point. The day begins with a steady ascent up to Warmiwanusqa Pass (4228 m, 1800 m above Machu Picchu itself), where we’ll enjoy panoramic views of the terrain we’ve just conquered. Then, a much-welcomed descent to the Pacaymayo River follows. After a hearty lunch in Pacaymayo, we ascend again to the ruins of Runkuraqay and our second pass for the day (3968 m). From here, we walk down to the site of Sayacmarca and the first signs of the mist-filled Andean cloud forest. The walk along the ridge offers a leisurely respite from the day’s challenging ascents and long descents, as well as incredible views of the beautiful Aobamba Valley below. Continuing along the ridgeline with views to the western side of Mt Salkantay and Mt Pumasillo brings us to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or ‘the village on the edge of the clouds’.
Day 6: Inca Trail Day 4: Phuyupatamarca – Machu Picchu | 11 km | 6-7 h
An early – but not too early! – wake-up will enable us to enjoy a glorious sunrise view, just a short hike up the hill from our campsite, where our porters await us with steaming cups of tea. This site is known to offer some of the best sunrise views in the entire Machu Picchu Sanctuary. After breakfast, we continue our trek along a buttress, passing the ruins at Phuyupatamarca. Then, the flag-stoned trail begins to wind sharply downwards, taking us into the cloud forest to the well-conserved ruins of Wiñay Wayna located just below the ridge. Walking in the Inca’s footsteps along the very same trail they once used, we now trek for two more hours through dense, misty cloud forest until we reach Machu Picchu via Inti Punku (the Gate of the Sun).
We have intentionally planned our route on the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu close to sunset. Doing it this way ensures that our trekkers arrive at the site once the crowds have left and can enjoy the golden late afternoon light over the citadel, which makes for perfect photos. And tomorrow you will have plenty of time for Machu Picchu sightseeing before the morning train crowds arrive. After some time soaking up the glorious view, we’ll take a bus (30 min) down to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Village), where we’ll stay overnight at a local hotel.
Day 7: Explore Machu Picchu / Return to Cusco
A half-hour bus ride brings us up the road back to the gates of Machu Picchu where we’ll enjoy a guided three-hour tour of this ancient hilltop citadel. Your guide will take you through the different sectors, bringing alive the history and stories of these ancient and iconic ruins. In the early afternoon, we depart from Machu Picchu for the picturesque train ride back to Cusco and overnight.
Day 8: Departure
Optional private transfer to Cusco Airport or optional extension.
What to Expect
On this classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with Cusco trek, you will spend 4 nights in a standard hotel (Days 1 and 7 in Cusco, Day 2 in Ollantaytambo and Day 6 in Aguas Calientes) and 3 nights camping. The campsites we use are not frequented by many other trekking companies and are therefore quieter, more private, and cleaner than most ‘mainstream’ sites. Additionally, we carry our own ecological toilet, which can be used during lunch breaks and while we are at camp; this means you are able to avoid the use of the public bathrooms that many other trekkers frequent.
Breakfasts are included when staying at hotels so that we do not limit your choice of where, when and what to eat for lunch or dinner; while camping, all meals (breakfast, packed or hot lunch and dinner) are included. Lunches on Days 2 and 7 are also included.
Besides providing pack animals and serving as porters on our treks, it’s the local communities from which we directly purchase all of the food for our treks. This is our way of supporting the local economy and ensuring that the farmers receive a fair price for their products, as well as reducing our carbon footprint. This also means that the food we use to prepare every meal on a trek is guaranteed organic and pesticide-free. Many of our cooks have more than 10 years of experience providing wholesome meals for our travellers. They are prepared to supply different menus for different dietary restrictions, including vegetarian and gluten-free menus. Please do not forget to let us know if you have any food allergies so that we can advise our kitchen crew in advance and make sure that you’re well-fed throughout your trek with us.
Difficulty & terrain
Although you are not expected to hike more than 5-8 hours per day, this holiday is graded moderate to strenuous due to the time spent trekking at high altitudes and because of several demanding ascents and descents. The trails are not technical, they are generally well maintained and are a good walking surface. You should be in good physical shape and have experience in multi-day trekking before undertaking this trek (read more about difficulty grades).
Acute mountain sickness
AMS is a concern when trekking above 3500 m. Although this itinerary is designed to minimise the chances of you suffering from AMS by providing enough acclimatisation days and ensuring a gradual increase in altitude, each individual is affected differently by height. If you have any pre-existing health conditions that you think may make you more susceptible to AMS, we recommend that you consult your doctor before booking this trip.
When to go
The Inca Trail is open 11 months per year and is closed in February for improvement and maintenance. The most popular periods for Machu Picchu trekking are May to September due to the lack of rain. From October to January and in March and April, it is most likely to be rainy. However, better conditions mean bigger crowds, so for the Classic Inca Trail, the shoulder months could also be a good option (and the only one if permits have run out). For the following year, permits go on sale in October and sell out quickly for the high season, so you must book early. Please note that all bookings are on request only!
Click to view travel options
- Arrival briefing with the lead guide on Day 1
- 4 nights standard hotel on a twin share basis (Days 1 and 7 in Cusco, Day 2 in Ollantaytambo and Day 6 in Aguas Calientes), breakfast included
- 3 nights twin share tents on Days 3-5 (including complimentary Thermarest pads), all meals included (breakfast, packed or hot lunch, dinner, as well as water, tea and non-alcoholic beverages)
- Local transportation as described in the itinerary
- Professional bilingual guide
- Inca Trail Trekking Permit
- Train ticket from Machu Picchu village to Cusco on Day 7
- Return bus ticket Machu Picchu to Machu Picchu Village (Aguas Calientes) on Days 6/7
- Guided tour of Machu Picchu on Day 7
- Lunch in the Sacred Valley on Day 2
- Lunch in Machu Picchu village on Day 7
- Kitchen and dining tents
- Cook and field staff
- Solar energy lamps
- Eco toilets
- Adequate garbage disposal (we separate organic from non-organic waste and bring it back to Cusco)
- First aid kit and oxygen tank in case of AMS
- International and local flights
- Extra expenses due to unforeseen events such as natural disaster, roadblocks or health conditions of a fellow traveller
- Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
- Entrance fees to attractions
- Personal expenses and tips
- Any items not specifically mentioned as included in the programme
Options, extras & supplements
- Cusco Airport transfers
- Single room in hotels and/or single tent (note that if you are a solo traveller and we are not able to match you with another group member to share a hotel room/tent, the single supplement becomes mandatory)
- Cusco upgrade to a superior 4-star hotel
- Extra nights in Cusco
- Sleeping bag rental
It was a truly amazing trip. Brilliantly organized, very well supported. Our guide Claudia was authoritative, motivating, kind and knowledgeable. We would absolutely recommend.