Lush and mountainous, Peru is one of the most beautiful places on earth to hike and trek. The region surrounding Machu Picchu is readymade for hikers of all kinds, with a great variety of trails that have been established over time–often by the Inca themselves many centuries ago.

No matter where your interests lie; nature, local culture, archaeology or all the above, you’ll find a hike that is right for you. What’s more, many of these are quite easy to combine with a trip to Machu Picchu, which makes for a picture-perfect hiking reward.

How to get there? Machu Picchu and the surrounding region is remote, yet easy to reach. Here are three areas that hikers will encounter on their trip:


Most travellers fly into Cusco, the gateway to all kinds of hiking, trekking, and outdoor adventures. Whichever trail you choose, you’ll certainly want to spend some time here. As the capital city of the Inca Empire, and later a stronghold of the Spanish conquistadors, the city is a fascinating blend of the two cultures. Beware of the altitude on arrival: Cusco sits at a lofty 3,400m (11,100 ft) above sea level!

The Sacred Valley

Between Cusco and Machu Picchu is a peaceful, rural region known as the Sacred Valley. This is where some of the most popular multi-day treks begin. It’s not a bad idea to overnight in the Sacred Valley before your trek if you are hiking the Classic 4 Day or the 2 Day Inca Trail, or the Lares Trek. Not only will you be at a lower altitude than Cusco, allowing for easier acclimatisation, you’ll also be closer to the trailhead, allowing you to sleep a bit later the morning you start out.

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes

It’s important to note that there is no car service to Aguas Calientes, the town just below Machu Picchu (also known as Machu Picchu Town). You can only reach it by train or on foot.

Once in Aguas Calientes, your choices to get up to the actual citadel include hiking up (note that this will take over an hour and is not recommended if you want to get there when it opens) or taking a shuttle bus.

Of all the multi-day treks, only the classic Inca Trail will lead you directly into the Machu Picchu citadel on foot, a dramatic experience that makes this one of the most coveted trekking routes in the world.

​Think ahead: hiking permits

The secret is out on Peru’s world-class hiking routes. For good reason, the classic Inca Trail and its alternatives attract more and more visitors every year. To handle increasing volumes, the local government has implemented a permit system for several of the most popular hikes. Best way to secure permits? Work with a reputable tour operator and plan ahead! For travel during the high season of April through September, permits are likely to sell out months in advance.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Everything you need to plan a hike to Machu Picchu

When to visit Machu Picchu

When timing your trip with the season you’ve got two main choices: dry season or rainy season. There are pros and cons to each, so if you’re flexible it’s worth trying to coincide your visit with the most appropriate time of year for your group.

That said, the weather in Cusco and the surrounding region can be unpredictable to say the least. Use the following information and weather forecasts to get a reasonable idea of how the weather should behave, but be prepared for surprises!

Dry season

The region’s dry(er) season runs from April through November. Skies are mostly clear and free from heavy cloud and mist, and the likelihood of intense rain is low–although still entirely possible!

The obvious advantage is that the trails are firmer underfoot, and views are less obscured by cloud. Another important but often overlooked advantage is increased reliability of transport connections and roads remaining open.

The downside to the more agreeable climate is that it brings heavy demand, particularly for the most popular months between June and August. Travelling during this period necessitates early bookings and advance reservations, particularly when securing the all-important Inca Trail permits.

Don’t be fooled by the name – dry season can still be very wet and, since temperatures are usually lower, this can mean snow at altitude. Come prepared.

Dry season average temperature/rainfall


Low: 3 C (37 F)

High: 19 C (66 F)

Precipitation (monthly)


Rainy season

Many travellers will write off the rainy season completely. With heavy average rainfall (after all, Machu Picchu is located at the edge of the world’s largest rainforest) adding wet gear and muddy trails to the hard slog of a high-altitude trek can seem like more pain than it’s worth.

But it’s not always that clear-cut. Yes, there will be more precipitation but the rainfall is rarely disruptive. There will be heavier cloud cover but it’s the wisps of fog over Machu Picchu that make the classic postcard shot. And then there’s the dramatically lower footfall during this period–incomparably quiet compared to peak season with lower prices and higher availability to match.

There are ways to mitigate the risks. Add a few days buffer in case your itinerary gets disrupted and give yourself two full days to visit Machu Picchu, just in case visibility is poor on the first go round. Use common sense with your packing list–you probably want to bring gaiters, waterproof boots, rain pants and hiking poles whatever the time of year, during the rainy season they’re essential items.

Most importantly, travel with comprehensive insurance to cover delays or disruptions to your travel plan. It’s rare but not unheard of for roads to be blocked and transport links to be cut during the heaviest downpours.

Rainy season average temperature/rainfall


Low: 7 C (44 F)

High: 19 C (66 F)

Precipitation (monthly)



Daytime temperatures don’t fluctuate enormously throughout the year. The dry season is the southern hemisphere's winter but if the sun is out it can feel much warmer than a wet day in the rainy season’s “summer.”

Nighttime is another matter entirely. Dry season/winter nights can get very cold, easily dropping to freezing point, especially at altitude.

For many, the ideal zones are around early May and late September when nights are a bit warmer but you’ll still have a good chance of staying dry. These are also outside of the peak season so the trails and Machu Picchu itself will be that bit quieter.

Can you trek to Machu Picchu with kids?

There’s no reason the vast majority of younger travellers can’t enjoy a trekking trip in Peru, provided you follow some common sense preparation. All responsible operators have a minimum age policy which will depend on the hike or trek, usually between 8 and 12 years old.


These are not short strolls and they require a good amount of stamina to complete. In most cases, you will be hiking in remote areas of the country without car service. Once committed, it will not be easy to turn around, nor will you be able to cut a day of hiking short if the kids are tired. Plenty of time to acclimatise before heading out is key.

Emergency horses

Aside from the Inca Trail, there will usually be the possibility of using a horse for at least part of the way. Keep in mind the horse is an “emergency” horse in case of serious injury or accident, and shouldn’t be relied upon for completing the trek. It may be a good idea to request an additional horse when trekking with kids.

Food and snacks

With a good trekking outfitter, your porters and chefs will work miracles to provide three delicious meals per day–the food is often a highlight of the trip! You’ll also get plenty of snacks throughout the day. These aren’t provided as a luxury, they’re essential for maintaining energy levels. If you’ve got picky eaters you might want to bring your own snacks, and make any special food requests when you book (not just before your group sets off!)

Private vs group tours

You have the option of booking a private trek for your group, or trekking with other people in a larger group. Aside from the cost implications, there are pros and cons to both, especially when factoring in younger travellers.

There’s immense pleasure to be found in meeting and trekking with new people–after several days supporting and coaxing each other along the way, you’ll feel like lifelong friends.

On the other hand, a private group means more flexibility and fewer worries about holding anyone else up. It’s a decision you’ll need to make for your own group and preferences.

Machu Picchu packing list

Any adventure activity in an unpredictable climate demands careful preparation and sensible packing. Use the climate advice above as a guide but be prepared for rapid changes in weather and hiking conditions.

Check what camping equipment is provided by your operator. Tents and foam mats are usually provided, but you’ll probably need to bring your own sleeping bag–a three-season rating is recommended. Some operators will rent these, check when you book.

  • Backpack to carry all your gear: Depending on the trek this may be carried by porter or horse. There may be weight restrictions. You can leave excess baggage with your operator HQ in Cusco.

  • Waterproof backpack cover: Essential during the rainy season.

  • Daypack: This is what you’ll carry yourself while hiking–layers, snacks, water, camera, etc.

  • 1-litre water bottle.

  • Hiking boots: Quality boots for uneven, rocky and sometimes slippery surfaces. Be sure to wear them in before you start hiking.

  • Hiking socks: Four pairs of synthetic or wool hiking socks.

  • Waterproof, breathable rain jacket (Gore-Tex or similar). Waterproof rain pants for rainy season.

  • Synthetic or wool (no cotton), long-sleeve top.

  • Synthetic trekking pants.

  • Warm hat: Beanie or similar.

Around camp
  • Sleeping Bag: Synthetic or down sleeping bag.

  • Two waterproof compression sacks, one for your sleeping bag, the other to fit your extra layers.

  • Sleeping pad: Closed-cell foam pad or inflatable air mattress.

  • Headlamp.

  • Heavyweight synthetic top: For staying warm around camp.

  • Thick fleece or wool gloves.

  • Sandals: For around camp and crossing streams and rivers.

  • Sacred socks: Heavy, warm pair of socks to put on at night. Keep dry at all costs!

Personal items
  • Sunglasses with case

  • Toiletries

  • Personal medications

  • Sunscreen/lip protection

  • Pack towel

  • Book/Kindle

  • Camera

  • Binoculars

  • Insect repellent

Optional items
  • Hiking poles: Important–metal tipped poles are not allowed on the Inca Trail.

  • Bandana

  • Accessory carabiners

  • Synthetic liner socks

  • Gore-Tex or Lightweight Neoprene Socks

  • Waterproof gaiters (for rainy season)

Machu Picchu trekking safety

Whatever trail you choose, hiking or trekking to Machu Picchu is a vigorous endeavour that should be treated with the respect it deserves. That said, thousands of people – of all ages and ability – complete these treks each year. There are no special skills required, just determination and thorough preparation.

You don’t need to be exceptionally fit and strong to complete a trek – moderate fitness is fine, although it won’t hurt to prepare with some cardio exercise in the weeks and months before you travel.


By far the most important factor to keep in mind is the altitude. Machu Picchu is situated at 2,430m above sea level and Cusco at an incredible 3,400m. Arriving here from Lima or elsewhere you’ll immediately notice the thin air, with reactions ranging from mild breathlessness to headaches and nausea. Severity varies by person and is usually more pronounced for younger and older travellers.

It’s essential that you acclimatise before beginning your trek – a minimum of 3 days is ideal. During that time drink plenty of coca tea (the Inca’s secret remedy for altitude sickness), stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and heavy meals, and generally just go easy on yourself.

Medical conditions

Be sure to disclose any pre-existing conditions to your trekking operator at the time of booking so that they can be forewarned and prepared. If you have any heart or respiratory conditions it’s particularly important to get your doctor’s clearance before travelling at altitude.

Managing stomach issues

Foreign travel always carries a slight risk of picking up new stomach bugs. What’s usually a mild inconvenience in the comfort of a hotel can easily derail your trekking experience when you’re halfway up a mountain. Nausea and diarrhoea make it difficult for your body to stay hydrated and absorb sufficient nutrients from your food, which can make you feel weaker and less steady on your feet.

Bring whatever medication works best for you, and in the days prior to beginning your trek follow common-sense eating and drinking rules: avoid tap water, raw foods washed in untreated water and anything else that might risk a stomach upset.

Trail safety

Book with a credible, well-established operator for the reassurance of a professional, safety-conscious guide who will anticipate any problems before they arise.

Aside from the Inca Trail, many trekking routes follow faint or even non-existent trails, sometimes alongside sheer drops with no guardrails. It’s safe provided you heed your guide’s advice and pay attention to where you’re walking. It’s a good idea to use hiking poles here, even if you are typically sure-footed.


All food and drink will be provided, including three square meals and plenty of water and energy-dense fruit and snacks to keep you going through the day. Follow your guide’s advice and eat and drink plenty–it’s essential you remain well hydrated.

Travel insurance

This should go without saying but it’s astonishing how many people travel without proper insurance. The vast majority of claims are for transport delays but still double check that your policy covers trekking and full medical evacuation. Buy your policy in your country of residence before you travel. Don’t assume that your credit card provides comprehensive travel cover–it probably doesn’t!

Honesty is the best policy

While trekking, be honest with yourself and your guide. Don’t suffer in silence. Tell your guide if you’re experiencing extreme shortness of breath or feeling disoriented so action can be taken to relieve your symptoms in good time.

Emergency procedures

Ask about your operator’s emergency procedures and first-aid equipment and training before you book. Horses and mules are not allowed on the Inca Trail but on other routes, there should be an “emergency horse” for exhausted or sick trekkers.

Trekking tip

Upon arrival to Cusco, it’s worth immediately heading to the lower altitudes of the Sacred Valley to acclimatise for a few days before heading back to explore Cusco. After this your body should be well adjusted to begin trekking.

Responsible trekking

Part of the joy of travel is discovering the social context of your destination. It’s important to understand the background of the place you’re visiting, and the impact your presence will inevitably have. This is especially important in a largely indigenous area such as the Cusco region, where a long and often turbulent political and cultural history has reverberations that still echo today.

Peru’s problematic industry

Like much of the Andes, Cusco is a relatively poor region with significant poverty in its rural areas. Livelihoods, food security and basic healthcare and education are all in short supply. In this context, a booming tourism industry can have a pronounced impact, both for the good and the bad. On the plus side, it means new employment opportunities: more trekking means more demand for porters and guides, as well as hotels, restaurants and other services in the city.

The downside is that much of this new employment is low-level service work for international companies, with little wealth remaining in the surrounding area. It can also mean disruption for traditional livelihoods and farming, as people leave rural areas for more lucrative tourism work – causing a further knock-on effect on agricultural production, traditional livelihoods and the fragile economic balance within families and villages.

By asking the right questions you can understand – and mitigate – your role in this complex picture.

Find out how many locals are employed by your operator, and whether it has any employee-ownership structures. The best tourism businesses are ones that give local people a stake in their success.

Ask about responsible recruitment practices; trekking outfitters should have longstanding relationships with the villages they recruit from and should be aware of the impact that their recruitment has on rural communities.

Ask to see your operator’s porter welfare policy. There should be a strictly enforced maximum load and they should receive adequate accommodation, food and equipment (especially hiking boots) while on the trail. They should receive fair wages, be paid on time and have full life/accident insurance.

Ask about their wildlife and environmental practices. There should be a zero litter policy–all litter should be packed off the trail and toilet waste should be properly buried.

The best operators all proactively support community welfare, education and employment projects in the Cusco region. Ask your operator if and how they support and give back to their local community.

Tipping guides and porters

There’s no doubt that portering is an arduous occupation but, with a good employer and proper welfare policies, it can also be an enjoyable and financially rewarding job. Andean people are tough and purpose-built to thrive in a harsh environment–you’ll be amazed by their physical strength and stamina!

One of the many highlights of your trek will be getting to know your guide, cook and porters. You’ll be astonished by the minor miracles they work each day to get your gear, equipment and provisions up and down those mountain passes, with camp and a hot meal always ready and waiting for your arrival.

Showing your gratitude for their superhuman efforts is an important element to the overall experience. Towards the end of the journey, your guide will probably organise a group gathering to give you an opportunity to say thanks and present the support staff with a tip.

The suggested range is $8-12 per guide/porter per day. You can pool your tips as a group and they’ll split it out between them.

The tip isn’t considered mandatory, especially if service has been below expectations, but it is highly expected and makes a huge impact on the take-home pay for a group of extremely dedicated workers.

Be a respectful visitor

If your trekking operator is involved with community or education projects in the Cusco region they may appreciate gifts or donations to help support their work.

Some trekking routes wind their way through Andean communities and you may even spend a night in a local village. They’ll be well accustomed to gringos passing through and you’re bound to catch a friendly smile or two. Many trekkers enjoy bringing gifts to hand out to the local kids–try to think about what would be most beneficial. Avoid teeth-rotting sweets and opt for educational toys, pens, paper, colouring books, etc. Less tasty but much more useful in the long run!

Keep in mind that you’re visiting a socially conservative and reserved part of the world. Be mindful of your attire and how much skin you’re revealing (although you’ll usually be too wrapped up to worry about that!). Ask for permission before taking photos of people or their children, show courtesy and respect for your hosts, and generally aim to behave in a way that you’d expect from visitors to your own turf.

Day hikes to Machu Picchu

Easier-going routes to (and nearby) Machu Picchu

A bucket-list trip to Peru often culminates with a visit to Machu Picchu. The ruins complex itself merits several hours of guided meanderings on foot. Take time to stroll along the stone pathways and terraces. You’ll learn about the ancient city’s various sectors, pass through the Main Gate, marvel at the Temple of the Sun and wonder at the Sacred Rock.

A day at Machu Picchu is itself an outdoor adventure with plenty of walking built in, especially if you roam up to Inti Punku (the “Sun Gate”) from below or mosey over to the Incan Drawbridge.

Active hikers, however, will often level up their trip with one of the following day hikes to Machu Picchu. This chart compares the three main Machu Picchu day hikes, followed by a more detailed description of each one.

Machu Picchu day hikes at a glance





Permits needed?

Huayna Picchu

Moderate to difficult

Short, but with over 1,000 feet of altitude gain.
1-2 hours (4-5 hours to do the full loop with Temple of the Moon).

Reach a lofty bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Complete the full loop on the uncrowded trail to the Temple of the Moon.

Entrance tickets are limited to just 400 per day; 200 people may enter between 7 and 8 am, and 200 more between 10 and 11am.
For purchase with Machu Picchu entrance ticket.

Machu Picchu Mountain

Moderate to difficult

Longer and more gradual ascent, with over 2,000 feet of altitude gain.

1.5-2 hours to summit, 3 hours with descent.

Lighter traffic than Huayna Picchu.

Dramatic bird’s eye views from the top.

Entrance tickets are limited to 800 per day; 400 people may enter between 7 and 8 am, and 400 more between 9 and 10 am.

For purchase with Machu Picchu entrance ticket.

KM 104
(aka the 2-Day Inca Trail)

Easy to moderate

8 miles, around 6 to 7 hours (depending on pace).

Arrive to Machu Picchu on foot.

Pass through the terraces of Wiñay Wayna.

Formerly regulated as part of the Inca Trail, which is limited to 500 per day.

New in 2016: This route now has a separate permit system, capped at 150 per day.

Day hike To Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu is best known as the sharp tooth-like peak that towers behind Machu Picchu in all the classic photos. If you don’t have the time or energy to commit to two days of Machu Picchu hiking and exploration, rest assured that there is plenty of walking you can do during a one-day visit–especially if you get an early start. One such option is to hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu. Many of the breathtaking photos you’ve seen that are taken from a vantage point far above the ruins were shot from this peak.

Also an "Inca Trail"

“The” Inca Trail is far more than just one official hiking route to Machu Picchu. The Inca created a huge network of roads and footpaths that extended throughout their vast empire. The network spans thousands of miles, not just in Peru but through parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina as well.

Before committing to this hike, it’s important to know that it is definitely not for people who have a fear of heights. While this can be an issue anywhere in the Andes, climbing Huayna Picchu involves plenty of narrow paths with exposure to sheer drop-offs. There are handrails in the worst spots, but these are few and far between.

What you’ll see

Although there are some ruins toward the top, the main reason people do this hike is for the great perspective it gives you, looking down on Machu Picchu. If you are more adventurous, in good shape, and choose the early entry onto the mountain, you can also go over the top and around the other side. This will allow you to visit the Temple of the Moon and the Great Cavern.

Length of the hike

As with so many hikes in Peru, the hard part isn’t the distance as such, it’s the vertical gain over a very short distance that makes the route so challenging. Be prepared for over 300m (1,000 ft) of ascent, with steep rock stairways all the way up. It takes most people between one and two hours, if not more. If you choose to do the hike around to the back as well, you should give yourself a good five hours to complete the circuit.

How to book

Entrance tickets to Huayna Picchu are limited to just 400 per day; 200 people may enter between 7 and 8am, and 200 more between 10 and 11am. All are expected to exit by 2pm. The entrance tickets must be purchased at the same time as the ticket for Machu Picchu itself; availability will generally sell out a couple of months ahead of time.

Day hike To Machu Picchu mountain

A great alternative to Huayna Picchu, and one which does not sell out so quickly, is Machu Picchu Mountain. Higher than Huayna Picchu but a more up-and-down sort of climb, the hike to the top is longer and more gradual, although it will take longer. While Huayna Picchu is the one most known for its photo opportunities of Machu Picchu, many feel that Machu Picchu Mountain actually offers some more impressive vistas.

What's in a name?

The ancient city of Machu Picchu took its name from the highest mountain that guards it. The phrase translates to “old mountain” or “old peak” in the Quechua language. Why name a grand city after an old mountain? Because mountains are godly, of course. According to the local mythology, “apus” were mountain spirits that protected the people.

Between Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain, it’s hard to say which is more difficult. Some feel that the up-and-down nature of Machu Picchu Mountain, combined with the longer distance, makes it more difficult. Machu Picchu Mountain also reaches a higher altitude–3,000m (10,100 ft) vs. Huayna Picchu’s 2,720m (8,924 ft). Others prefer Machu Picchu Mountain for its lighter traffic, wider path with less crumbling stairs, and less exposure to sheer dropoffs than Huayna Picchu–although there are a few dicey spots.

What you’ll see

There are no ruins on this mountain. The climb is purely for the adventure of it, plus the fantastic views that you will get of Machu Picchu below. Another plus is that it is not as popular as Huayna Picchu so the path tends to be less crowded.

Length of the hike

To reach the top of the mountain, you will gain a little over 610m (2,000 ft) in altitude. You’ll need between one and two hours to reach the top, and about an hour to return to the bottom. From there, it’ll take you some time to make your way back to the front gate, so be sure to allow for that when considering your return train.

How to book

Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu Mountain are limited to 800 per day; 400 people may enter between 7 and 8am, and 400 more between 9 and 10am. Although this is twice the number as are permitted on Huayna Picchu, given the longer trail, it doesn’t tend to get as bunched up. In addition, many people who purchase the entrance tickets don’t end up doing the hike. The entrance tickets must be purchased at the same time as the ticket for Machu Picchu itself; even in high season, tickets often don’t sell out until the last minute.

KM 104 (two day Inca Trail)

Although tour operators typically refer to this as the Two Day Inca Trail, it actually only involves one day of hiking. The second is a full day at Machu Picchu after spending the night in a hotel Aguas Calientes.

By foot to Machu Picchu, Inca-style

The KM 104 hike overlaps with the last stretch of the Four Day Classic Inca Trail, which brings you directly into Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate (Inti Punku). There’s no doubt that it is an amazing feeling as you walk in through the same entrance that the Incas did more than 500 years ago, with the ancient city cresting into view.

The tour you book will include a night’s lodging in Aguas Calientes to rest and relax after a full day of hiking. It’s a good idea to inquire about the class of hotel that is included, as you may want to upgrade it. The following morning you will go up to Machu Picchu to have your citadel tour, beginning with the first morning light just the main entrance opens if you’re an early riser. A return train to Cusco will also be included.

Besides arrival through the Sun Gate, another advantage to this trail is that it is relatively easy, so it’s a nice way to get the feel of hiking to Machu Picchu without needing to be in tip-top physical shape. Think of it as a bite-sized sample of the more rigorous Inca Trail experience. You start out at a lower altitude than other hikes and treks, and there is no huge change in elevation.

The trail begins near the KM 104 train station, hence the alternative name for this hike. You will take the train towards Aguas Calientes and but alight before the town to reach the trailhead. The walk takes you into the high jungle which surrounds Machu Picchu, replete with a wide variety of flora and fauna. In particular, you’re likely to see different types of orchids along the way.

What you’ll see

In addition to the beautiful scenery, you’ll also get the opportunity to visit a couple of Inca sites, Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna, before getting to Machu Picchu itself.

Length of the hike

The distance covered is a little over 8 miles and will take 6 to 7 hours. You will stop for lunch along the way. The hike is considered to be of easy to moderate difficulty, as it’s an uphill route and involves some stretches of climbing steep steps.

How to book the Two Day Inca Trail

Note that, as with the longer Inca Trail, this hike is permit-based and can only be booked through a travel agency and with a licensed guide. New this year, there is a separate booking system for the Two Day/Km 104 hike, with just 150 permits available per day. Although that does help with availability (as they are no longer part of the Classic Inca Trail permit system), it will still sell out months ahead of time.

Unlike the multi-day Classic Inca Trail trek, there’s no way to view permit availability online, so you’ll need to check with your tour provider. In order to secure your permit, your passport information will be necessary. Permits are taken in your name and with your passport number, and it is not possible to transfer the permit to someone else once purchased.

Multi-day treks to Machu Picchu

How to trek to the world's most famous ruins

For the adventure-minded, there’s nothing quite like traversing a long trail over several days on foot, arriving to a new place by muscle power just like the journeymen of old. Peru’s treks satisfy this human instinct to travel by foot for days, to earn a destination after a hearty physical challenge.

The classic Inca Trail is so famously popular because its final destination is the most spectacular of all: Machu Picchu. Only on this classic route can you actually arrive at the Lost City of the Incas on foot at the end of the journey. For any of the alternative treks, the route will finish at a different point, and you’ll arrive in Machu Picchu via train to Aguas Calientes.

Yet, the advantages of choosing an alternative to the Inca Trail are many. The Inca Trail’s fame gives it a populated feel, even with the strict implementation of a permit system that caps traffic at 500 people per day and sells out months in advance. If you’re willing to give up the Machu-Picchu-on-foot finale, then you can bypass the permit system. You can delve deeper into traditional Andean villages and more extreme mountain wilderness areas. And with enough budget, you can even skip the tent-camping altogether and pamper yourself in the surprisingly refined mountain lodges to be found en route.

This chapter provides a side-by-side comparison of the Inca Trail to its best-known alternatives, followed by a more in-depth description of each trek.

Machu Picchu treks at a glance






Permits needed?

Classic Inca Trail

Moderately difficult (mainly due to altitude).

4 days, 3 nights,

approx. 28 miles.

3 nights camping, in designated campsites only.

World-renowned “bucket list” trek

Incan ruins and rewarding mountain passes.

Permits limit traffic to 500 people per day, including guides and support staff.

Lares Trek

“The Cultural Trek”

Moderately difficult, with options to increase the length and intensity.

3 days, 2 nights,
approx. 20 miles.

2 nights camping
2 to 4 nights in luxury Andean lodges.

Meet Andean villagers and traditional weavers
Stop at a hot springs to bathe.

No permits necessary, but book through a outfitter for quality and safety.

Salkantay Trek

“The Nature Trek”

Difficult (mainly due to altitude).

4 days, 3 nights, approx. 37 miles.

Variations possible.

3 nights camping

5 nights in luxury Andean lodges.

Dramatic, varied landscapes and ecosystems.
Move from glaciers to pastures to jungle.

No permits necessary, but book through a outfitter for quality and safety.

Ausangate Trek

“The Highest Trek”

Very difficult (due to altitude, exertion, and cold nights).

6 days, 5 nights, approx. 60 miles.

Variations possible.

5 nights camping at altitude
2-5 nights in luxury Andean lodges.

The surreal, striped “painted mountains”.

Vast wilderness areas with blue lagoons and rare wildlife.

No permits necessary, but extremely important to book through a outfitter for quality and safety.

Choquequirao Trek

“Machu Picchu’s sister ruins”

Difficult (mainly due to extreme ascents/descents).

4 days, 3 nights, approx. 40 miles.

3 nights camping.

Stunning, variable scenery.

Explore stunning ruins all to yourself.

No permits needed, fee to enter Choquequirao.

The classic Inca Trail trek

The Inca Trail is easily the most famous of all the Machu Picchu treks. Since it first opened, it’s been included in every roundup of the world’s best trekking routes, and for good reason. There’s something profoundly magical about making this pilgrimage, as the Inca once did from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

Meet your porters

Some hikers may be disconcerted to see local porters doing all the heavy lifting. Indeed, porter welfare on the Inca Trail has a thorny past, and there is still room for improvement. Many porters come from rural areas, supplementing agricultural income with tourism work. Here are a few tips for good porter treatment:

  • Book responsibly with an outfitter that respects the weight-carrying limit and pays at least the minimum required wage.
  • Get to know them. Despite language barriers, you can share photos and cocoa leaves, and ask your guide to help communicate.
  • Say thanks. Extend a message of gratitude directly to the porters, and be sure to bring cash for a tip at the end.
What you’ll see

Although you’ll certainly see your share of stunning landscapes as you head from the mountains to the high jungle, this trek is particularly known for its stop-offs at numerous Inca sites along the way. While you’ll be sharing the path with a great number of other tourists, porters, cooks, and guides, you can still snatch some private moments to take in the scenery, not to mention the history, of the trail.

How long is the Inca Trail?

It takes four days to reach Machu Picchu, covering a distance of around 28 miles. The first day starts out fairly gradually. The second morning is the hike’s toughest, as you climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, which peaks at an altitude of 4,200m (13,800 ft). On the fourth morning, depending on where you camped on the third night, you’ll have a hike of between two and five hours to reach Machu Picchu, as there are two possible campsites allocated on a first come, first served basis when the permits are purchased. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to get the preferred final campsite which, in addition to being closer to Machu Picchu, has showers and a bar/restaurant.

How difficult is the Inca Trail?

The hike is considered moderately challenging, primarily due to its altitude. Even the fittest hikers struggle with this route if they are sensitive to high elevations. It’s good to find out how your body responds to the altitude before departure and to spend several days acclimatising in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before the trek begins.

Much of the trail is along stone paths which can be slippery during the rainy season. That being said, it’s probably the best of the multi-day treks during that time of year, as the other trails can be too muddy or you may even have snow at the highest points.

Camping on the Inca Trail

There are no lodges available on this trek, so you will be camping for three nights. Camping is in designated camping areas with minimal facilities (think squat toilets and cold showers). The quality of food and camping equipment will depend on your outfitter–at the highest end, a “glamping” option provides spacious tents with cots, pop-up toilets, and even a pop-up hot shower.

How to book Inca Trail permits
  • The Inca Trail must be booked through a travel agency, and permits must be purchased ahead of time.

  • Just 500 people per day are allowed on the trail, including support staff such as cooks, porters, and guides. Therefore, the actual number of permits available for tourists is limited to around 200.

  • Most operators will require a non-refundable deposit to secure your booking and permits. This is usually deducted from your final payment.

  • The Inca Trail trail sells out several months ahead of time, so it’s important to book well in advance–especially if you’ve got limited flexibility in your schedule or want to travel over the peak months of July or August.

  • Note that the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance and cleaning during the entire month of February. If you’re travelling over this period you’ll need to consider one of the many excellent alternatives.

  • Permits are associated with your passport number and cannot be transferred.

  • The typical package includes a return to Cusco on the 4th day. If you want to spend a night in Aguas Calientes, you should let the agency know this at the time of booking.

Support staff

You will be supported on your trek by a licensed guide, porters to carry the equipment, a cook, and at least one assistant cook. You may also hire a personal porter to carry your belongings so that you only need a daypack for essentials such as water. Porters must be booked at the same time as you book your permits.

Key considerations
  • After many years of substandard porter welfare, porter loads are now strictly regulated for their safety. You can typically hire either “half” a porter to carry 7kg (15.4 lb) or a “full” porter to carry 14kg (30.8 lb). Included in this weight will be your sleeping bag.

  • Most operators do not include a sleeping bag, although they can be rented.

  • Only rubber tipped hiking poles are allowed on the trail to prevent excessive damage and erosion to the ancient stonework.

  • You’ll want to bring some extra cash with you to tip the support staff on your last night of camping.

The Lares Trek

This trek is known as the “cultural trek” to Machu Picchu, as it offers plenty of opportunities to interact with local communities along the way. It’s one of the shorter treks, so can be a good option for those who are short on time.

Stories woven in

Traditional weaving is as important a tradition in the high Andes as alpaca herding and the Quechua language. Since Quechua was an oral language long before it was ever a written one, weaving was the main medium for communication, telling stories, and keeping records. By purchasing traditional weavings, travellers can help keep the tradition alive.

What you’ll see

Hiking through the gorgeous Sacred Valley and up to high mountain passes, you’ll be treated to some stunning vistas on this route. However, the real treat here is meeting the local inhabitants of Andean villages along the way, learning about ancestral weaving techniques directly from the descendants who are still practising them today. An added (and welcome) bonus is finishing at the hot springs in Lares.

How long is the Lares Trek?

There are several different routes for this hike, but the typical one will have you hiking about three days, covering just over 20 miles. On the third day, you will take a train to Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu the following day. The lodge-to-lodge Lares trek has two versions including the train and tour of Machu Picchu: a 5-day version and a 7-day version. Both offer some options in the number of hours you wish to spend hiking each day.

How difficult is the Lares Trek?

The trek is generally rated moderately challenging, although, on the lodge-to-lodge trek, you will be offered opportunities along the way to increase the difficulty of the trek, depending on your preferences and fitness. Either way, the challenging aspect is principally due to the altitude, which on the lodge-to-lodge trek can reach up to 4,420m (14,500 ft).

Camping on the Lares Trek

The traditional route has you camping two nights and spending the third night in a hotel. With the lodge-to-lodge versions, you’ll have two to four nights in a luxury lodge, featuring jacuzzi tubs and gourmet food. These lodge stays are usually followed by one night in a hotel in Ollantaytambo and one in Aguas Calientes.

How to book

No permits are necessary for hiking the Lares trail, but you will still want to book with an operator. They will have the right connections with local horsemen and employ qualified guides who know the area well and speak Quechua. This is key for interacting with the communities along the route, as well as for ensuring your safety in the mountains.

Support staff

With a good trekking operator, you’ll have a guide who is knowledgeable in the history, flora, and fauna of the region, enhancing your experience along the trail and within the communities. You will also have horsemen who will care for the mules and horses that carry your gear, and a cook and assistant cook to prepare your meals.

Key considerations
  • Although there will be at least one emergency horse, if you suspect you may have difficulties, it’s a good idea to request an additional emergency horse for your use (at an extra charge).

  • Most tours do not include a sleeping bag, although they can be rented.

  • You’ll want to bring some extra cash with you to tip the support staff on your last night of trekking, as well as to purchase weavings in the communities.

  • Bring small gifts to pass on to local children in the communities you visit. See Responsible Trekking for more advice.

The Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is the number one alternative to the Inca Trail, described by National Geographic as one of the best treks in the world. While there are no ruins along the way unless you do the lodge-to-lodge version, the opportunity for gorgeous landscapes is even greater than on the Inca Trail, leading it to be known as the “Nature Trek.”

Savage mountain

Looming large in the background of this trek is the glacier-clad Mt. Salkantay. It forms part of the fierce Cordillera Vilcabamba range, with a peak that reaches a staggering 6,270 m (20,574 ft) of altitude. Worshipped for thousands of years by the local highlanders, Mt. Salkantay takes its name from a Quechua phrase meaning "savage mountain".

What you’ll see

From snow-capped mountains down to high jungle, this trek is known for its varied ecosystems and landscapes. You’ll pass high mountain glaciers, walk along rolling fields and pastures, and end up in the high jungle that surrounds Machu Picchu.

How long is the Salkantay trek?

The length of this hike can vary, both in mileage as well as in the number of days. The traditional version is 4 days of hiking, covering a distance of about 37 miles. If you choose the much more comfort-oriented lodge-to-lodge version of the trek, you will hike for 6 days, covering a bit more distance but with less hiking time per day.

How difficult is the Salkantay trek?

The trek is challenging, primarily because of the altitude. The highest point is the Salkantay Pass, at 4,630 m (15,213 ft) above sea level. Even after crossing the pass, although you will continue descending, there are some ups and downs that will feel very long if you’re not in great shape or not properly acclimatized.

Camping on the Salkantay trek

If you do the traditional version, you’ll be camping for three nights and spend the fourth night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. Your tour of Machu Picchu will be on the fifth morning.

Salkantay lodge trekking

A popular alternative to the original camping route is the Salkantay lodge-to-lodge trek. This is a very different experience, which combines the sense of accomplishment with the added bonus of spending each night in a series of luxury mountain lodges, each with it’s own distinct character. Replete with goose-down bedding, gourmet food, on-site masseuse and the sublime pleasure of an outdoor jacuzzi, these luxury lodges are just the remedy after a hard day’s hike!

How to book

There are no permits necessary to hike the Salkantay Trek, although this is subject to change. Solo trekking is possible but even experienced trekkers are encouraged to use a trekking outfitter for the added benefit of experienced guides and horseman to ensure your safety and enjoyment of the experience.

Key considerations
  • Even for experienced trekkers and the very fit, Salkantay will be a challenge. Prepare yourself with plenty of cardio exercise in the weeks and months before travel, and ensure you’re properly acclimatised in Cusco before setting out.

  • Most tours do not include a sleeping bag, although they can be rented. Quality varies, and temperature drops to very cold at night. It’s recommended to bring your own four-season sleeping bag or a silk liner for extra warmth.

  • Bring some extra cash with you to tip the support staff on your last night of camping. You’ll also pass huts selling drinks, chips, and chocolate, small change needed!

The Ausangate Trek

Because Ausangate Mountain is in the opposite direction to Machu Picchu, this trek is not typically offered as an alternative to the Inca Trail. This can be to your benefit, however, as it also gives you the opportunity to explore the Andes on a trail that is far less travelled.

The classic Ausangate route is a beast of a trek, although -- as with Salkantay -- there is a lodge version that brings some very welcome creature comforts to the overall experience.

The colourful mountain

As a climax of this route, trekkers arrive on the fourth day to a sight they’ve seen in all the photos: the “colourful mountain”. This ridge has also been nicknamed the “painted mountain” and the “rainbow mountain” by those trying to express the surreal layers of pastel purples, greens, yellows and reds that stripe it. Describe the scene how you will, and have your cameras ready, but you really do have to see it to believe it!

What you’ll see

The landscape here is rugged, wild, and pristine. You’ll be surrounded by awe-inspiring glacier mountains, turquoise lagoons of various sizes, and wildlife such as an abundance of waterfowl, raptors, and vizcachas, a chinchilla-like animal. There are also some high mountain communities in this area who shepherd their animals in the region and offer some of the most beautiful weavings you’ll see in Peru. You’ll also get to sooth your aching feet in hot springs along the way.

How long is the Ausangate trek?

The traditional Ausangate trek spans six days and takes you over about 60 miles or so of terrain and up to a maximum altitude of around 4,800m (16,000 ft) above sea level. The lodge-to-lodge hikes are offered in variations from just two days up to seven, so you can find a route that meets your interest and fitness level.

How difficult is the Ausangate trek?

The classic Ausangate trek is extremely challenging, in particular, because of the altitude, not to mention the cold nights. The lodge routes (see below) are a very different experience, although the extra comforts won’t negate the altitude, weather and gruelling ascents.

Camping on the Ausangate trek

On the classic camping trek, which loops around Mt. Ausangate, you’ll be wild camping in unmarked campsites for five nights.

Ausangate trek lodges

The lodge route takes you from lodge-to-lodge, each one as beautiful as the last and all constructed from local materials. Part-owned and operated by members of the nearby Chillca community, the lodges are a great example of inclusive tourism. Although there is no electricity, the lodges are comfortable and cosy, especially in the evenings around the fire. The fresh meals prepared each day are delicious and you can even have a hot shower!

How to book

This is another trek that needs no permit and can, theoretically, be done solo. Yet it is highly advisable to book with a credible trekking operator. With the higher altitude and more remote conditions, you will need a guide and support staff who are well-versed in the requirements of trekking in this area.

Key considerations
  • Aim to reach the “rainbow mountain” before 9:30am, when the tour buses of day hikers start to arrive.

  • Even the very fit will find this a challenging route. An emergency horse will be available for exhausted trekkers but should not be relied upon for completing the trek. Make sure you’re fit, healthy, fully acclimatized and not suffering from any stomach troubles before you set off.

  • Be prepared for long nights at low temperatures (below freezing at night). If you are tent-camping, layers and proper equipment are vital. Most tours do not include a sleeping bag, but they can be rented. It’s advisable to bring an additional sleeping bag liner for extra warmth.

  • You’ll be able to purchase weavings in the communities you pass through--it’s much welcome support for a traditional (and waning) livelihood. Bring small change if you’d like to stock up on souvenirs.

The Choquequirao Trek

Largely unknown and vastly overshadowed by the “sister ruins” of Machu Picchu, the Choquequirao complex is a true hidden gem that receives just a handful of visitors each year.

This splendid isolation is down to the ruins’ absolute lack of access–no train and bus connections here, just a gruelling three-to-four day trek over challenging, but hugely rewarding, terrain.

The cradle of gold

Although Choquequirao (“Cradle of Gold” in Quechua) is known as Machu Picchu’s “sister ruins,” the only partially excavated site is thought to be significantly larger, more complex and more historically significant than the better-known ruins. Choquequirao’s remoteness and difficulty of access mean that only a few thousand people visit each year–compared to Machu Picchu’s two million annual arrivals!

What you’ll see

The Choquequirao trek is known for its stunning views, utter isolation and sudden changes to the surrounding climate and ecosystem. You’ll depart from the high Andean altiplano and gradually descend into the semitropical forest, winding your way through steep valleys along the way. You’ll spot condors overhead, tarantulas scuttling below and, if you’re very lucky, a spectacled bear (of Paddington fame) in the distance.

Although the ruins themselves are only partially excavated, numerous discoveries have been made. Choquequirao is famed for its uniquely llama decorated terraces, and impressive stonework reaching down steep valley walls. The site is much larger than Machu Picchu and takes at least a day to fully explore.

How long is the Choquequirao trek?

There are a variety of routes to Choquequirao, depending on the start and finish point. A typical route (approximately 40 miles) begins at the small village of San Pedro de Cachora, starting with rolling farmland, before entering the Apurimac Valley and following a long descent to the first campsite at Santa Rosa on the banks of the mighty Apurimac River. The second day is a gruelling climb back up the other side of the valley which eventually culminates at the gates of Choquequirao. Day three is devoted to exploring Choquequirao, and you’ll hike back out on day four–either the way you came or via a different route. Most tours include a connection to either Ollantaytambo or Aguas Calientes for a visit to Machu Picchu.

How difficult is the Choquequirao trek?

Choquequirao is generally considered to be a challenging trek. Mules and horses are allowed on the trail which makes carrying your equipment easier, but there are several long, steep descents and climbs that even the fittest trekkers will find demanding.

Camping on the Choquequirao trek

In an effort to improve the route’s popularity (and profitability) the government has invested in camping grounds, some including toilets and running water, along the route. As with all treks, the quality of your service depends entirely on your outfitter and how much you decide to pay.

How to book
  • It’s possible to hike the Choquequirao trek solo; be sure to arrive with an adequate map, provisions and season-appropriate gear.

  • Otherwise, the route is served by most trekking operators, which will include all transfers, equipment, food, guide and porters.

  • Permits are not required but there is a fee to enter Choquequirao which will usually be included in the trip price.

Key considerations
  • For some fascinating background reading on this region, try The White Rock by Hugh Thomson, the thrilling story of the area’s discovery and exploration.

  • Like the other Inca Trail alternatives, this isn’t technically a Machu Picchu trek, as you’ll need to take a connection from the endpoint to Aguas Calientes.

  • There has long been talk of constructing a cable car to improve access to Choquequirao. If this ever happens its days as a secluded backwater will be truly over – get there quick!

Hiking Machu Picchu

Everything you need to visit Peru's crown jewels

Welcome To Machu Picchu

An iconic enigma

Peru’s best-known archeological site is shrouded in mystique. We’ve all seen postcard photos of the astounding ancient citadel, sprawled out on a dazzling green hilltop. It stirs imaginations and raises questions that even the expert tour guides can’t fully answer. Why did the Incas build such a lofty perch? Why was it abandoned? How did the Spanish miss such an important site during their colonisation of Peru? How was it finally discovered by the outside world?

While certain mysteries of Machu Picchu may never be solved, the veil has been lifted on travel to this super-site. What used to be an arduous several-day hiking journey can now be simplified to a several-hour train ride. No longer a privilege of seasoned adventurers, a visit to Machu Picchu has been democratized and put within reach. For kids, seniors, those with decreased mobility, and even first-time overseas travelers, the journey is more accommodating than ever. All are welcome!

Peru_Machu Picchu
Fast facts about Machu Picchu
  • The Incas began construction of Machu Picchu in the height of their empire, around 1430 AD.

  • Machu Picchu means “old mountain,” taking its name from a peak that hovers above it.

  • The citadel is linked not just to one “Inca Trail” but to a vast network of ancient Incan roads and canals.

  • Machu Picchu’s average altitude is 8,047 feet above sea level.

  • In the high season, from June until early September, up to 2500 people arrive daily to admire Machu Picchu from within.

Other archeological sites

Machu Picchu sits at the apex of an ancient empire, with dozens of other sites scattered around it. It’s worth visiting a few of the neighbouring ruins for a bigger picture of the Inca people’s former grandeur.

  • Moray. These enormous concentric circular terraces were used for farming. Each layer creates a slightly different microclimate as they descend deeper into the ground.

  • Maras salt mines. The salt mines of Maras have ancient roots but are anything but ruins — they’re still in use today! Salt is harvested here the same way it has been for centuries.

  • Ollantaytambo. The royal estate of an Incan emperor is now a halfway point between Cusco and Machu Picchu, in the Sacred Valley.

  • Pisac. Pair this near-to-Cusco ruins site with a local market on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday of each week.

  • The “Four Ruins” tour: This popular day trip from Cusco includes the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the aqueducts of Tambo Machay, the military stronghold of Puka Pucarka, the religious site Q’inqu, and finally Coricancha in Cusco — an impressive Inca temple-turned-Catholic-cathedral, once plated in gold.

Other activities

Balance your ancient history immersion with outdoor adventures or encounters with local communities. Here are a few favorite activities to complement a Machu Picchu visit:

  • Mountain biking. The dirt roads and terrain are right for exciting exploration around Cusco on the two wheels of a mountain bike. A popular route is to the ruins of Moray and through neighboring villages. Tracks are gentle; first-timers welcome.

  • Meet an Andean community. Get a taste of today’s Andean culture with a traditional weaving demonstration, a visit to a community-run “potato park” or a ceramics workshop with a local artist.

  • Horseback riding. Reach the ruins of Moray and the Maras salt flats by horseback. Several ranches in the Sacred Valley can arrange this for any level of horseback riding experience.

  • Rafting the Urubamba River. Take a full day to get drenched as you barrel down the Urubamba river near Cusco. Depending on season and section of the river, the level ranges from calm to Class III rapids. Note this is a dangerous activity; check your travel insurance covers rafting and be sure to check safety codes.

Machu Picchu tip

Unless archaeology is your thing, pick and choose additional ruins sites. “Ruins fatigue” is a real condition for travellers in Peru.

How a Typical Machu Picchu Trip Works

Getting to Machu Picchu
  • Arrival to Lima. Most international flights from the USA arrive in Lima late in the evening. The Costa del Sol airport hotel is a hassle-free choice to spend the night before an onward morning flight. Your travel agent will advise you on their recommended hotels.

  • Flight to Cusco. Numerous flights on Peru’s major airlines (Avianca, LAN, and Star Peru) offer the one-hour flight from Lima to Cusco anytime from early morning through late afternoon.

  • Acclimation in the Sacred Valley. Cusco is the highest-altitude point of the Machu Picchu circuit, so it’s best to head directly into the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu Pueblo (Machu Picchu Town, formerly called Aguas Calientes), rather than spending your first day and night in Cusco on arrival.

  • Train to Machu Picchu Town. The easiest and by far the most popular way of reaching Machu Picchu Town is by train. Choose from PeruRail’s mid-range Vistadome or luxury Hiram Bingham, departing either from Cusco (3.5 hours) or Ollantaytambo (2 hours). Book your train tickets in advance, as they tend to sell out during the high season.

  • Bus to the Citadel. The train will arrive to Machu Picchu Town, five miles below the Machu Picchu entrance. Shuttle buses run every 30 minutes up and down the hairpin-curved road.

Where to stay
  • Sacred Valley. Spend a night halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley, for acclimation and a sample of rural Andean culture. Hotels are springing up in and around the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. You’ll find everything from five star luxury resorts to simple lodges and guest houses.

  • Machu Picchu Town. Decidedly lacking in character of its own, Machu Picchu Town serves as a base for the closest lodging to Machu Picchu itself (except for the expensive Sanctuary Lodge, adjacent to the citadel entrance). Here, hotel options abound. It’s recommended to stay a night at Machu Picchu Town — single day trips to Machu Picchu tend to feel too rushed.

  • Cusco. A gem of a colonial city set at the staggering altitude of over 11,000 feet. Worth exploring for at least a day and a night, although save this for after Machu Picchu to help with acclimation. Cusco hosts a huge variety of lodging. It’s good to book ahead during the high season’s Inti Raymi festival, when the entire city books up in advance.

Visitor regulations

As Machu Picchu grows in its renown as a destination, a permit system has been enforced in order to keep the sheer volume of travellers in check. Permits to the following sites are required, and can be found at (Note, however, that the site’s language options are limited and the online payment portal is notoriously spotty). You can also pay directly at the office at Machu Picchu Town, or have permits arranged through a reputable tour operator.

  • Inca Trail permits. The classic four-day Inca Trail route is strictly regulated by a permit system. The limit is 500 people per day, including guides and porters, and permits sell out months in advance. Any variation of this route (even the one-day “Km 104 hike”, which overlaps with the last stretch of the Inca Trail), requires a permit. The Inca Trail is closed for conservation work every February.

  • Machu Picchu permits. Entrance to the citadel itself is capped at 2,500 per day. While this limit is rarely reached, it’s better to reserve in advance — especially during the peak season and festivals.

  • Huayna Picchu permits. For a short but steep hike to the top of the peak hovering behind Machu Picchu (called Huayna Picchu), reserve in advance. This permit is added to the entrance ticket, and is capped at two waves of 200 people per wave. Less popular is the hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, which is also permit-regulated and can also be added to the entrance ticket.

  • Rules for visiting. As a protected area, certain rules apply to Machu Picchu visits. It is prohibited to bring food, sound systems, or pets into the citadel. Hiking poles must have rubber covering metal tips, in order to protect the stonework. The gates open at 6am and close at 5pm each day.

“Sunrise” at Machu Picchu?

Catching the sunrise at Machu Picchu sounds like a mystical moment in the making. Indeed, travellers rise at wee hours in order to catch the first shuttles to Machu Picchu and be inside the gates as daylight breaks. The reality can sometimes be less than mind-blowing:

  • If you are taking a shuttle from Machu Picchu Town, be prepared to rise early and wait in line for one of the first shuttles.
  • Heavy fog and clouds often obscure the sun’s first rays.
  • Because the landscape is mountainous, the sun’s light appears long before the sun itself. This makes for less photogenic sunrises.
  • On the other hand a big advantage is simply being on-site before the daytime crowds arrive, giving you a blissful hour or two to enjoy the ruins in all their majestic serenity.

Hiking And Trekking To Machu Picchu

Peru’s trails and trekking options put it on the map for hikers from all over the globe. In and around Machu Picchu, possibilities abound for first-time or hesitant hikers all the way to confident and experienced trekkers. Stretch your legs with one of these scenic strolls:

Easy: hike to the Sun Gate from inside Machu Picchu

The Sun Gate, also known as “Inti Punku” is a high point where the Inca Trail reaches the entrance to the Machu Picchu citadel. Even if you are not hiking the Inca Trail and don’t have a permit, you can walk to this dramatic juncture from inside Machu Picchu.

From the Caretaker’s Hut, follow the “Inti Punku” signage. Expect to spend 30-45 minutes on the gradual incline along a stone pathway, and half that time to walk back down. This is a popular spot to try to catch the “sunrise”.

Easy: hike to the Inca Drawbridge

Another short and free option from within the Machu Picchu citadel, also doable for any age group or fitness level. Follow the well-marked path from the Caretaker’s Hut, where you sign in with your passport number. From there, the 20-30 minute walk on a dirt and stone pathway leads to an ancient drawbridge (no longer in use).

Moderate: ascent to Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu is the peak that towers above Machu Picchu in the classic photos. Hiking to the top of it is steep but rewarding — you’ll reach a panoramic bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu. This hike is so in-demand that a permit system limits volume to 400 hikers split between two waves each day (7-8am and 10-11am). Reach a lofty 8,835 feet of altitude at the summit.

Steep switchback-style stairs lead to a new level of terraces, tunnels, and altars. Due to the steepness, this hike is demanding. It requires a good level of fitness and possibly the use of both hands and feet at some points. Allow at least two hours for the full hike to the top and back.

Moderate: ascent of Machu Picchu Mountain

This hike gets overshadowed by the more popular Huayna Picchu ascent, but offers similar challenges and rewards. The ascent to Machu Picchu Mountain is around twice that of Huayna Picchu, reaching a staggering altitude of 10,111 feet. The trail covers more distance than Huayna Picchu and the grade starts out gently but becomes similarly steep toward the end.

Like Huayna Picchu, this trail’s growing popularity has mandated a permit system that limits volume to 400 hikers per day. However, this under-the-radar hike is less likely to be sold out than its rival. Well worth the additional time and effort to reach the top!

Moderate: full-day Km 104 Hike to Machu Picchu (Royal Inca Trail)

For those who are up for a challenge, but prefer day hikes over multi-day trekking, the Km 104 hike is a great one-day sample of the Inca Trail. For this hike, you’ll take the train stop called “Km 104”, then proceed on foot to Machu Picchu. This 10 km uphill walk usually takes hikers between five and eight hours to complete.

Highlights of the hike are a visit to the steeply terraced ruins of Winay Wayna, and arrival to the Sun Gate, where you’ll see the ruins of Machu Picchu cresting below you. After Winay Wayna, the trail merges with the last 3km of the classic four-day Inca Trail, so you will need to secure Inca Trail permits for this hike. Plan early — Inca Trail permits tend to sell out months in advance! Beginning 2016, permits for this trail are scheduled to become separate from the Inca Trail, making permits easier to come by.

Difficult: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

For diehard hiking enthusiasts, a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu is the ultimate way to reach the famous ruins site. The classic Inca Trail involves four days of trekking and three nights of tent camping, supported by a team of guides and porters. Not for the faint of heart, this trail covers three high-mountain passes reaching altitudes of nearly 14,000 feet.

As permits sell out far in advance, a number of worthy alternative trekking routes have been developed. Although they may not lead directly to Machu Picchu’s doorstep as only the Inca Trail does, the treks are satisfying and likely to be less crowded. Operators organize alternates like the Salkantay and Lares trek with tent camping, and there are also lodge-to-lodge trekking options.

Family-Friendly Machu Picchu

Foreign visits to Peru exceeded four million in 2015. Peruvians are happy to note a growing diversity in the tourism their country attracts, including the arrival of families with kids. In fact, about 10% of visitors are traveling with families – a number that continues to grow. But looking at the typical photos of Machu Picchu, perched on a high rugged peak, travelers with children may be concerned about whether it is really a good destination for families.

Says Victoria Westmacott, a family travel blogger, “The wonderful thing with Incan sites is that they are all fun for children to explore.”

With Peru’s many mysterious chambers and short tunnels, there is no shortage of fuel for young imaginations. “It’s so hard to choose the best part or even best parts, as every sight, every meal and every experience was a highlight for us,” gushes Westmacott. “The circular terraces at Moray had my son spellbound and both children loved hugging the alpacas and llamas!”

Nowadays, it is possible to visit this world wonder and enjoy whatever level of comfort you prefer. And, with the right planning, children can enjoy this enigmatic site just as much as their parents. If you’ve been holding off visiting this ancient citadel of the Incas, concerned that it’s not child-friendly, now is the time to go. Although it is easier than ever to travel to Machu Picchu these days, there are some considerations that families should keep in mind.

What to keep in mind …

What to do about it …

Altitude Sickness

Cusco is the highest point of the journey, located at 11,152 feet above sea level. Even residents of mile-high Denver, CO can feel the effects. It’s impossible to predict how a person will react to altitude, no matter their age or health. Even if you go directly to Machu Picchu, at 7,292 feet above sea level, that too can cause illness. Typical symptoms include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea.

Take it slow

The most important thing is to give yourself time to adjust. It’s best not to plan any outings on the first day. Stay hydrated and drink the coca tea that will surely be offered in your hotel. Eat light meals and stay away from alcoholic beverages at first. There is medication that you can get prescribed before traveling to Peru, but be aware that it can make some people feel worse.

Eating Issues

There is a large variety of restaurants to choose from in Cusco, and the list is growing all the time. That said, as you get into smaller areas, and even at Machu Picchu, there aren’t as many options. Water is also a concern as, although much of the water in Cusco is chlorinated, elsewhere there can be bacteria and parasites present.

Play it safe

If you eat in the better tourist-oriented restaurants, you will usually be okay. Only drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and keep your mouth closed when showering. Most people do not need to follow these last two suggestions but it’s best to play it safe, especially with little stomachs. As children can be very picky about food, it’s recommended to bring their favorite snack items from home, which will help keep them happy and make them feel more comfortable.


Even in Cusco, and definitely everywhere else, strollers are more of a hindrance than a help. Sidewalks and roads are often made of stones. Within the archaeological sites, there are few smooth pathways. Instead, there are typically many (many!) stone steps, some of which can be a bit precarious.

Pace yourselves

It’s best to have backpack-style carriers for children who are too young to be able to handle the terrain on their own. You may also want to plan only half-day tours so that when the kids get tired, little legs can get a rest.

Attention Spans

The reality is that small children don’t typically get as excited about historical venues as adults. Most Inca sites (and Machu Picchu is no exception) feature a lot of stone walls and buildings. While adults can marvel at the architectural engineering, kids may just see a bunch of rocks after a while. Impatience and “ruins fatigue” will set in.

Mix it up each day

Spend more than a day at the main site so that you don’t have to see it all at once. Take advantage of the many grassy areas to let the kids run around and play. Be sure to let any tour guides you are using know what is of interest to your family. It can be confusing and tricky when they have people of varying ages to speak to at the same time. If you let them know what your expectations are, you can help them direct their explanations better.

Where to stay

In Machu Picchu Town, Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel is hands-down the best choice for families. This beautiful five-star accommodation feels more like a jungle retreat than a hotel, and features a large expanse of nature trails that everyone will enjoy. Some are specifically geared toward children. However, as a luxury hotel, it is not in everyone’s budget. Another good choice is Casa Andina, which is one of the few that offers the option of adjoining rooms.

Seek out larger lodges in the Sacred Valley, which will be better equipped and have more distractions for the young ones.

When to go

Rainy season showers can put a dampener on outdoor time. Try to plan your trip for between May and September to have the least chance of getting wet. On the other hand, rainy season means fewer crowds, lower prices and easier availability — you’ll need to balance your own preferences and requirements.

Kids’ choices

The chocolate museum

As you will probably be spending some time in Cusco, you’ll want to visit the Choco Museo, where kids can learn how to make their own candy. This doubles as a fun lesson on the roots of of the cacao plant and how it gets transformed into the world’s favourite confection.

The alpaca farm

On the way to Pisac from Cusco, stop off at Awanacancha. For adults, there is a store with high quality alpaca items. But the real reason to go is the exhibit that explains how to tell the difference between the four camelids native to Peru. Kids always love being able to feed the llamas and alpacas.

Machu Picchu For Older Travellers

While it’s true that Machu Picchu isn’t the easiest destination in the world for senior travellers, plenty of visitors with as many as 80 years on the planet successfully tour this ancient Inca site each year. Even well into retirement, lifelong travellers are making their Machu Picchu dream trip happen.

As Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, now over 70 years old, said: “I don’t think I shall ever stop traveling. It keeps me up to the mark both mentally and physically and the interaction with the rest of the world and the people I meet makes me feel that there is much more that unites us all, than divides us.”

Lifestyle writer Suzanne Gerber describes her visit to Machu Picchu as a 60-something. “Four decades I had dreamed of this day. Eleven-year-old me, 32-year-old me, 45-year-old me, as well as my present self stood together on the citadel and surveyed the magnificence of this ghostly place. It was more beautiful, more evocative, more humbling than I could have imagined. For maybe the third time in my life, I was speechless.”

Although older travelers need not fear visiting Machu Picchu, there are some considerations should be kept in mind to ensure that you have the best experience possible.

What to keep in mind …

What to do about it …

Altitude Sickness

It’s important to realize that altitude sickness can affect anyone, no matter what their age or health. Cusco, the Inca empire’s capital city, is located at 11,152 feet above sea level, and you will have to pass through this city to get to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is actually lower than Cusco but still 7,292 feet high, so you can get sick even if you go straight there. Typical symptoms include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea.

Take your time

Most importantly, take your time and don’t try to do this trip in just a couple of days. Before spending a night in Cusco, either go straight to Machu Picchu or stop off in the Sacred Valley and spend a night or two there on your way. At 9,524 feet and with an inviting climate, the Sacred Valley’s Urubamba is a great place to acclimate and catch your breath. Also, help yourself to plenty of the local coca tea, served everywhere. Eat small, light meals, and take the first day easy.

Medical issues

While older travelers are taking advantage of their relatively good health in order to travel, those who have already been affected by lung or heart disease should be especially careful.

Find support

Travelers age 60+ should get a doctor’s approval before visiting the Andes region. Also, be sure that your travel agency is aware of any health conditions so that your guide can be on the lookout.

Tummy troubles

Although Cusco has been attracting more and more fine dining establishments, the rest of the surrounding area has not yet been so fortunate. Water is also generally untreated outside of Cusco, meaning that there can be bacteria or parasites present in it.

Play it safe

If you eat in the higher-class tourist oriented restaurants, or at your hotel, you are less likely to become ill. To be safe, it’s best not only to drink bottled water but also to use it to brush your teeth. Also, try not to open your mouth as you’re showering.


This is one area where even Machu Picchu (in addition to the greater Cusco region falls) a bit short of the mark. In most cases, the areas within the site are only accessible by ancient stone steps, some of which are quite steep and uneven. Guardrails, by and large, do not exist.

Don’t rush

Build in plenty of time into your schedule so that you never have the feeling that you need to rush. Crowds are thinner in the mornings and afternoons. Consider spending two days at the site so you aren’t trying to do it all in one day. Bring walking sticks, making sure that they are rubber tipped.

Where to stay

In Aguas Calientes, two luxury hotels offer unparalleled service and will ensure that your every need is met: Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel and Sumaq. If they are outside your budget, a good option to consider is Casa Andina. Although it has a bit more of a business feel than a vacation accommodation, it is relatively new and quite comfortable.

When to go

As most of the walkways are stone, it’s best to avoid the rainy season when they can become more slippery. The months between May and September are generally dry. In particular, May and September are ideal as there is little chance of rain but the climate is not yet too cold. June, July, and August, while dry, are also the coldest (and busiest!) months of the year.

Insurance Tip

It’s particularly wise for seniors to purchase travel insurance before making their trip. Illness or accidents can happen to anyone, but having to worry about the financial impact of them will further mar your vacation. Also, be sure that your travel agency has any necessary emergency contact information.

Restaurant Tip

In Aguas Calientes, in addition to the hotel restaurants such as those in Inkaterra and Sumaq, consider dining in Indio Feliz, El Incontri de Pueblo Viejo, and Treehouse as places that have high quality food and are unlikely to cause digestive issues.

Staying Healthy At Machu Picchu

Peru has taken great strides in ensuring a safe and secure experience for its travelers. But, as with any international travel, it’s important to exercise caution in an unknown environment.

Tips for staying safe and healthy in Peru:

  • Be aware of the dangers and annoyances specific to Peru (altitude, food poisoning, rocky terrains).

  • Organize your travels through a reputable operator that works with the best guides.

  • Keep the following resources directory on hand, just in case.

If you’re traveling on an organized tour, your travel agent will assist you with any of the following.

Insurance essentials

A comprehensive travel insurance policy is a no-brainer whatever your destination of choice. There’s nothing intrinsically risky to Machu Picchu (or the Galapagos) but disruption, delays and cancellations do happen and insurance prevents minor inconvenience turning into a ruined vacation. Don’t assume your credit card or healthcare policies covers travel - double check before you leave and don’t leave home without comprehensive cover. You’ve been warned!

Medical Doctor - Dr. Eduardo Luna

+51 984 761 277

A great resource in Cusco is Dr. Luna who speaks fluent English and is actually the doctor recommended by the American Embassy. He has a top of the line private office and is happy to go to your hotel if necessary. He’s a good person to start with and ask for recommendations if a clinic or hospital is necessary.

Private Clinic in Aguas Calientes - Clinica Medical Cusco

Calle Wiracocha 100


+51 084 621 039

+51 967 90 90 94; +51 987 57 70 80 (Emergencies)

Private Clinic in Cusco - Clinica Pardo

Av. de la Cultura 710

Plaza Tupac Amaru


+51 084 256 976

+51 974 213 645; +51 989 431 050 (24 hours)

Hospital - Hospital Regional de Cusco

Av. de la Cultura s/n

Wanchaq, Cusco


+51 084 226 511

+51 084 231 131 (24 hours)

National Police - Policia Nacional

Plaza Tupac Amaru

+51 084 246 088

Tourist Police - POLTUR

Plaza Tupac Amaru

+51 084 235 123

American Consulate - Cusco

Avenida Pardo 845, Cusco, Peru

Monday - Friday, 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM

Phone: +51 084 231 474

+51 984 621 369 (Emergencies ONLY)

American Consulate - Lima (Main Office)

Avenida La Encalada Cuadra 17 s/n

Surco, Lima 33, Peru

Monday - Friday, 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM

Telephone: +51 016 182 000

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