Am I fit enough to hike the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail trekking route is more than a fantastic walk; itís a form of pilgrimage, culminating at one of the worldís most revered destinations, a mysterious citadel in the Andean mountains whose very construction seems miraculous. Youíll walk on stone footpaths the Incans would have used themselves, so there is an incredible sense of reaching back into history.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Aguas Calientes (the final stretch from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is completed by bus) normally takes four days, camping all the way. Porters carry everything, so youíll only need a daypack, and guides walk at the front and back of their groups, ensuring no-one falls too far behind and everyone can trek at their own pace.

Fitness for the Inca Trail is naturally a major consideration for anyone planning this walk, but as youíll read below, itís not a particularly daunting venture. The trick is to ensure youíre properly acclimatised before you hit the trail.

How hard is it to hike the Inca Trail?

This is the golden rule on the Inca Trail: it doesnít matter how fit you are Ė if you havenít left time to get used to the altitude, you will struggle.
The Inca Trail is not an especially challenging hike. What makes it difficult is the altitude involved, as for much of the route you will be hiking at between 3,000m and 4,000m above sea level.

If you want to complete the Inca Trail safely, you should aim to spend at least two days beforehand acclimatising Ė and ideally, even longer. Cuzco (3,300m) is the obvious place to do it, as this is where the Inca Trail begins.

Most people walk the Inca Trail as part of a small group, but you will always have a guide with you. They are responsible for your safety while on the trail. Theyíll provide advice and assistance if, for example, youíre struggling with the altitude, exhaustion or difficulty sleeping, and ensure that anyone unable to continue receives the support they need.

Having said that, the vast majority of people trekking the Inca Trail make it all the way, because our partners ensure they are well-prepared with advice on getting fit, and coping with the altitude.

How long is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail is approximately 43km long. A typical trek will cover the distance across four days, during which youíll hike about six hours a day, depending on your speed. Weíd recommend not rushing it Ė take it nice and slow to enjoy the views and the company of your fellow walkers and guides. The latter arenít there simply to lead the way and ensure your safety, but are also an incomparable source of knowledge about the trail, Machu Picchu and life in the wider Andean region.

Day two of the Inca Trail trek is considered the hardest, as this is the day you reach Dead Womanís Pass (4,215m), usually around lunchtime. This point is significantly higher than Machu Picchu itself.

Most groups finish in the town of Aguas Calientes on day four and use the pre-booked scheduled bus to travel up to Machu Picchu the following day, but there are trips that camp at neighbouring Inca ruin WiŮay Wayna on day three and reach Machu Picchu for sunrise on day four.

Are the other routes to Machu Picchu easier?

The Inca Trail is by far the best-known and most popular route up to Machu Picchu, as you follow in the footsteps of the people who built this incredible citadel among the clouds. But there are several other equally enjoyable routes. The Salkantay Trek takes up to five days, with porters (sometimes mules too) carrying camping equipment. It’s just as demanding as the Inca Trail and you’ll reach the Salkantay Pass (4,600m) on day two, where the air is very thin.

The Lares Trek is generally reckoned the most easy-going of the three main Machu Picchu routes, taking 3-4 days and with fewer steps involved, though it too has some high altitude to contend with.

As with the Inca Trail, both the Salkantay and Lares routes finish in Aguas Calientes, where buses take trekkers the rest of the way to Machu Picchu.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Inca Trail trek or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

How to prepare for the Inca Trail trek

If youíre a sporty person already, or you regularly walk for 4-6 hours at a time, you should have few problems with your Inca Trail fitness, provided youíve allowed sufficient time for acclimatisation beforehand. Pacing yourself is important, but there is lots of company on the trail so even if youíre falling a bit behind there will still be plenty of other hikers, along with your guides, encouraging you on.

Do I need to train for the Inca Trail?

A few full day walks in the weeks leading up will be useful, at the highest altitude you can find, and if you can throw in some hills too, all the better. If not, then put in some sessions on the cross-trainer at the gym. And if you smoke, consider packing them in, at least for a month. Your lungs will thank you.

As with any kind of holiday where you’ll be undertaking strenuous activity, it doesn’t hurt to consult your doctor before you go. And you should ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers this type of activity at high altitude. Our bespoke travel insurance gives you a discount and also donates money to charity.

What equipment do I need to hike the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail hike does not require any technical skills or equipment. The most important gear you need is appropriate clothing – boots with ankle support or proper walking shoes, broken in sufficiently beforehand, and layers that you can add or remove as necessary. Note that you will have strict weight limits on your luggage, so pack strategically and take just what you’ll really need for a few days on the trail.

A sun hat is a must, as are waterproofs just in case. June to September is peak season for walking the Inca Trail, and the sun can be intense, but this is the dry winter season, and temperatures drop significantly at night. Foldable walking poles can be a lifesaver… or at the very least a knee-saver.

Given the lack of recycling facilities in this region, do aim to bring a reusable water bottle, water purification tablets, or a filtering bottle such as a LifeStraw (the company donates profits to various safe and sustainable water projects around the world every time it sells a bottle).

Are porters necessary for the Inca Trail hike?

Only 500 trekking permits are allocated for the Inca Trail every day, and more than half of them are used by guides and porters. Guides are non-negotiable, but do you really need porters when walking the Inca Trail? Yes – they’re vital no matter how fit you are.

Porters carry almost everything, from your personal luggage to all of the camping equipment, including portable kitchens and toilets, food and water, and they do it all with a speed and agility that would make a mountain goat blush. By the time you arrive into camp, the tents will be up and the coffee will already be brewing. A team of porters is worth their weight in gold, which is why when you join any of our Inca Trail treks their work will always be included in the tour cost.

As you’ll appreciate by the end of day two on the trail, just walking up with a small daypack can be tiring. Keep in mind that your porters will be doing this several times every month during the trekking season, with far heavier loads on their backs, before carrying out the various camp tasks in the evenings while travellers relax.

We believe that porters, wherever they’re working – from Machu Picchu to Kathmandu – deserve respect for their efforts, which is why we work with responsible tour operators who make sure their porters are paid a fair wage and not exploited. Our guide to porters’ rights on the Inca Trail has more details.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Giacomo Buzzao] [Intro: Gregory Laurent] [Group of hikers taking a break: karlnorling] [Machu Picchu: Wendy Harman]