machu picchu inca trail

5 Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The famous Classic 5 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu arriving at the Sun Gate on fourth day in the afternoon.

This trek follows the same course as the 4-day trek, but goes a bit slower, spending more time at each ruin along the way. Normally done in smaller groups, this is a great alternative for those concerned about their hiking capability and speed or for families with younger hikers. The last night will be spent at a hotel.

Known as one of the world’s ten best hikes, this is the original pilgrimage route for the Inca to their most sacred temple and is a highly popular route, being trekked by hundreds of visitors each day.

Our Classic 5 Day Inca Trail hike takes you all the way to Machu Picchu with an overnight stop in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, before returning to the site the next day for a full tour. There are a number of reasons why we think this is a better option than staying at the final campsite: Firstly, the checkpoint gate on the path from the last campsite is locked until 5:30 a.m. by which time everybody is waiting in a long queue to start walking the next two hours to Machu Picchu.

When the gate opens there is a huge rush with lots of pushing and shoving along a wet and narrow trail which can be dangerous. The reason for this rush is that everyone wants to be first to get to Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate to take the best photos of Machu Picchu uncrowded. However, even if you are the first person to get there via the Inca Trail, it will already be crowded because Machu Picchu opens at 6 a.m.! And the irony is that most days there is heavy morning mist over the site so nothing can be seen at all.

Therefore, this 5 day inca trail alternative itinerary that we propose has the advantage of avoiding the crazy early morning stampede. You can walk to the Sun Gate in the early afternoon, almost invariably by yourself, and take time to enjoy the last section of the Inca Trail. The weather is generally better later in the day and there will be far less people photo-bombing your pictures. We then go down to a hotel in Aguas Calientes where you can enjoy a shower and a good night’s sleep, before returning the next day, fully refreshed, to tour the Machu Picchu site.

But please book early, because permits for the Classic Inca Trail 5 Days 4 Nights sells out months in advance!

Day 1: Cusco – Ollantaytambo – KM 82 – Wayllabamba

We will depart for your Inca Trail Trek from Cusco at 5 a.m. in a private transport to arrive in the Inca’s Sacred Valley. We’ll stop in Ollantaymabo for breakfast (not included), then drive to Km 82, the starting point of the Inca Trail. We start our trek walking along the left shore of the Sacred Valley River, following the trail along flat terrain to the village of Miskay (2800m /9184ft). The first 2 hours of the trek are relatively easy as we make our way to the first Incan site, Patallacta. This was an Incan check point for the approach to Machu Picchu. After we arrive at Patallacta, we will make our way down into the valley to enjoy our first lunch and the views of Patallacta. From there, we will continue the hike at an easy pace, while enjoying the scenery and hearing stories from your guide. It’s about a 2 hour walk until we reach our campsite at the community of Wayllabamba (3,100 meters).

Total Distance: 12 km (7,800 miles)

Estimated Walking Time: 5 hours

Maximum Altitude Point: 3,100 m

Campsite Altitude: 3,100 m (10,168 ft)

Day 2: Hatunchaca – Dead Woman’s Pass – Pacaymayo

We wake up early to begin our ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass. The views of the snow-capped mountains and the cloud forest are fantastic. This first stretch is the most difficult part of the trek. It consists of a steep ascent that stretches for nine kilometers, which will bring us to the first mountain summit on the Inca Trail, Abra Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass). We’ll stop halfway for an early lunch at Llulluchapampa to relax and to buy any last energy drinks or snacks. We may be able to see deer and falcons in this area. From Llulluchapampa, the landscape changes from cloud forest to dry and arid with less vegetation. We’ll have the chance to spot domesticated llamas and alpacas, who graze on ichu (one of the few plants that grow at that altitude). Following lunch, it’s a 2 hour walk up to the summit, where we can enjoy the beautiful panorama. After we’ve made it, its downhill for the rest of the day! 2 hours later we’ll reach our campsite and have a free afternoon in the Pacaymayo valley.

Total Distance: 10 km (7,376 miles)

Estimated Walking Time: 6 hours

Maximum Altitude Point: 4,215 m (13,821 ft)

Campsite Altitude: 3,600 m (11,811 ft)

Day 3: Pacaymayo – Runcu Raccay Pass – Phuyupatamarca

After breakfast, we will continue our hike up the opposite side of the valley, as we make our way towards the second pass of the trek. Along the way, we will see fantastic views of waterfalls and flora and fauna. Halfway up, we will stop and visit the Inca site of Runcu Raccay (an Inca watchtower), catching our breath before we continue our climb to the pass (4,000m). From the pass, we’ll once again begin our descent back into the cloud forest vegetation. After about an hour, we reach Sayacmarca, one of the most beautiful Inka ruins on the Inca Trail, which we’ll explore and have a guided tour of. From Sayacmarca, we’ll continue hiking to our lunch stop at Chaquicocha (known as ‘dry lake’), where you will see some of the fantastic flora and fauna the Inca Trail has to offer. From Chaquicocha onwards, we will hike along ‘Inca flats’ (gradual inclines) for about another two hours, as we make our way towards our final camp site at Phuyupatamarca (3,680m). This part of the Inca Trail has stunning views of the snow capped Vilcabamba mountain range, as well as abundant flora and fauna.

At our campsite, we’ll get our first view of Machu Picchu Mountain and the Urubamba Sacred Valley river. After settling in, we’ll have the chance to explore the Incan site of Phuyupatamarca. As the sun goes down, we can enjoy the beautiful sunset over the snow-capped peaks.

Total Distance: 13 km (8,136 miles)

Estimated Walking Time: 9 hours

Maximum Altitude Point: 4,000 (13,123 ft)

Campsite Altitude: 3,680 m (12,033 ft)

Day 4: Phuyupatamarca – Wiñay Wayna – Sun Gate – Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes

Today, we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunrises on the Inca Trail hike, weather permitting. After breakfast you´ll have a guided tour of Phuyupatamarca site, and then we will start our hike down the long descending stone steps. As we near the bottom of the steps, we’ll take a side path off the main route to visit the site of Intipata (Terraces of the Sun). This site has beautiful views of the Sacred Valley. It was an important agricultural site for Machu Picchu. We’ll spend some time at Intipata, and then continue on to Wiñay Wayna (2,650m/8,692 ft), the biggest archaeological site on the Inca Trail, besides Machu Picchu. It consists of an impressive complex made up of an Inca farming center, with numerous terraces, a religious area and an urban sector, offering spectacular views over the already narrower Urubamba River valley. After our visit, we will stop close by to have our last lunch with the porters. It is a tradition at this point on the Inca Trail to have an appreciation ceremony for all the hard work the porters and cooks have provided. If you wish, you may leave a tip for them at this time.

After we’ve said goodbye to our team, we will carry on to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku), where we’ll get our first views of Machu Picchu itself. It takes about 1 hour of hiking along a trail of flat stones in the highland jungle to arrive at the Sun Gate. After this, it’s about another hour down to the site itself. Upon arrival, we’ll have a chance to enjoy the sunset and to see Machu Picchu without any crowds, before taking the bus to your hotel in Aguas Calientes.

Hotel: Wiraccocha Inn (or similar)

Total Distance: 11 km (614 miles)

Estimated Walking Time: 5 hours

Maximum Altitude Point: 3,680 m (12,033 ft)

Day 5: The Most Important Day (The Lost City of The Incas) – Cusco

We will wake up early and board one of the first buses to Machu Picchu, to enjoy the sunrise at the citadel (weather permitting). You’ll have a two hour tour of the Inca citadel, and then free time to keep exploring by your own. If you have purchased permits for Huayna Picchu, your guide will show you where this climb starts. It will take you 45 minutes to the highest point and another 45 minutes back down. This needs to be booked in advance, and costs $75 per person. When you have finished touring the citadel, you will take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, and meet for our last lunch in town. This last lunch with your group is optional and is not included in the tour cost. After lunch, you will take the afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo, where our private bus will be waiting to take you back to Cusco and drop you off at your hotel.

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