The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (also known as Camino Inca or Camino Inka) consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day. Located in the Andes mountain range, it is one of the most famous hikes in South America, a potentially life altering trek through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trails before ending the terminus at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu Mountain. While awe inspiring, it can also be quite difficult to hike the Inca trail. It takes roughly four days to traverse and the cold and exhaustion can take a toll on the body. However, once the mist lifts and the backdrop exposed, peaks and ruins dappled across an ancient city you’ll be sure that you made the right decision.
The best time to visit is during the dry season, May through September. It should be noted that the Inca Trail is closed in February due to the heavy rains of the rainy season.
The first trail, Mollepata, is the longest of the three routes. It’s the highest mountain pass and intersects with the Classic route before crossing Warmiwañusqa (“dead woman”). The two longer routes require an ascent to beyond 4,200 meters (13,800 ft.) above sea level through varying landscapes.
So, what is there to see and do on the trails? Well first of all there are the Inca ruins of Patallaqta (sometimes called Llaqtapata). This site was used for both religious and ceremonial functions as well as crop production and housing for soldiers from nearby Willkaraqay, an ancient pre-Inca site first inhabited more than 1,500 years ago. The trail eventually ascends along the Kusichaka River and passes through several small permanent settlements, it passing through differing habitats, one of which is a cloud forest containing Polylepis trees. This is a sturdy tree that has specializations that help them withstand the harsh conditions, thusly creating a veritable forest entirely made up of Polylepis trees.
Eventually, one kilometer along the trail, at an altitude of 3,750 meters (12,300 ft.) is the Incan Tampu Runkuraqay which was heavily restored in the 1990s. This ancient city overlooks the valley and is an astounding sight to see, with views of mountains and drop-offs. Later on you will pass the Phuyupatamarka ruins, an archaeological site along the Inca Trail in the Urubamba Valley of Peru discovered by Hiram Bingham III. Due to its altitude of roughly 3200 meters, it is known as “La Ciudad entre la Niebla” (“The City Above the Clouds”)
Afterwards, you’ll be going down a staircase that is 1,500 steps long, mostly carved out of granite. Eventually you’ll begin to notice how everything changes, from rocky outcrops and short grass to lush environments full of jungle like features, filled with birds and butterflies. It is truly a sight to behold. A small spur of the trail leads directly to Wiñay Wayna, while the main route continues to Intipata. From Wiñay Wayna the trail goes under the crest of the eastern slope of the mountain named Machu Picchu. After around 3 km you will reach the Inti Punku (“sun gate”) at which point you will be able to marvel at the incredible vistas that the Machu Picchu ruins have to offer. Don’t hesitate, this will be a life altering trek that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Sightseeing at its finest.