The 4 Day Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu – Is It Worth It?
Peru’s Inca Trail is debatably the most popular hike in the world, leading to one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world: Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is on just about everyone’s bucket list and the Inca Trail is the most famous trail to arrive to the ancient city. Our question from the beginning was simple: is it really worth all of the hype?
Planning for the Inca Trail
The beginning of the journey wasn’t in September when we began the trek; it began in March, 6 months before we arrived to Peru. We had been planning our trek with friends since January but it felt way too early to book the trek 8 months in advance. However, we happened to check the availability in March and realised that the entire summer was booked up from June until September 26th.
To avoid crowding on the trail, the Peruvian government limits the number of permits they give out each day. All of the different tour companies are competing to fill those spots so they fill up very quickly; in our experience, 6 months in advance. Thankfully we were planning to book the trek for the end of September so we quickly organised our group and booked with Alpaca Expeditions, a Peruvian owned tour company.
When all is said and done, the 4-Day Inca Trail Trek cost us over $800 between the cost of the tour and the tips that we gave to the porters and the cook. This is a cost of $200 per day to hike to Machu Picchu. Granted, all of the food is included, you don’t have to carry anything except your daypack, and every night your tent is set up for you. However, the question still remains: is it worth it?
Our Experience on the Inca Trail
Our group consisted of 10 travellers but all together we had 2 tour guides, a chef, and 20 porters. The porters walked ahead of us and carried our tents, food, and our clothes that were not in our daypack. They were absolute superhumans and they offered an unparalleled level of service.
The first day of our trek we were picked up from our Airbnb at 4:15am by the Alpaca Expedition staff. After an hour and a half, we stopped to have breakfast, and then continued on another hour and a half to where we began the trek. We strapped on our day packs, grabbed our rented hiking poles and set off for Machu Picchu.
The first day is far from uneventful; a few hours into the hike we came upon the Inca ruins of Patallacta, a beautiful city with terraces and a separate elevated section of ruins that were used to store food to distribute through neighboring Inca cities. These ruins were absolutely beautiful, and when we arrived to the ruins, we were the only people there. We walked through the food storage area, which was as big as a small town, and were amazed by the architecture and how intact the ruins were 500 years later.
The day had challenging parts, but once we arrived at the camp our tents were set up for us and they soon had a tea and coffee “happy hour” where we could relax and snack on popcorn. The dinner they made for us was phenomenal; the chef might as well have been a 5 star chef at a top restaurant in Lima. All of the meals throughout the entire trek were exceptional.
The second day was the most challenging because we had to climb two peaks. The most famous is Dead Woman’s Pass which peaks at an elevation of 13,828 feet. I was sick on the second morning but was quickly revived back to health by herbal remedies given to me by my guide including this “special” tea (he wouldn’t tell me what the tea actually was). The guides really knew what they were doing; they had to go to school for 5 years to become a guide in the first place and the two guides travelling with us had been running tours for many years.
The day was definitely challenging, but at the end of a 10+ hour day of hiking, we came upon one of the most beautiful ruins of the entire trek; Sayacmarca. This small city is located on the edge of a cliff with the most stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Sayacmarca is one of the most inaccessible ruins and you can only access it by hiking the Inca Trail. We were exploring the ruins right at sunset and it was inexplicably spectacular.
From the second camp, you could see these ruins as well as gorgeous 360-degree views of mountains. The sunrise on the third day was one of the best I’ve seen; golden rays sliding by snow-capped mountains in the distance right outside of my tent. Not only that, but our chef baked us a cake that morning that was divine. We all wanted more, but cake isn’t exactly the best fuel before a full day of hiking.
The third day is known as the best because it’s not too difficult and you come across amazing Inca ruins. We spent time in many Inca ruins throughout the day, learning about their culture and belief system while sitting in solitude. We encountered 2 or 3 other tour groups on the trail, but most of the time we felt alone.
The best of these ruins was just a five minute walk from the third campsite. Wiñay Wayna was the greatest part of the trip; these concave, terraced ruins were an absolute wonder to behold. We explored the ruins at sunset and before we left, we were the only ones in the entire place. With the fading amber light of dusk behind us, we marvelled at the ruins until the park closed. It was my favourite experience on the trail and a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life.
Day Four: Macchu Picchu & the Sun Gate
The next day was just simply chaos. We woke up at 3am to go wait at the entry to Machu Picchu until 5:30am when the park opened. Once the park opened, it was a mad dash to the Sun Gate. A few hikers in other groups were incredibly rude and even shoved a friend in our group to the ground as they were running past. This competitive attitude took away from the experience and put us all in a bit of a bad mood.
Once we arrived at the Sun Gate, the views of Machu Picchu were amazing but there was one difference from the rest of the Inca Trail from here on out; the people. There were crowds of people constantly around us, and once we properly entered Machu Picchu (after waiting in a huge line with the tourists that come by the bus load) there were thousands of people covering the ruins. The group was deflated; after all the magic of the Inca Trail, the big event of Machu Picchu was kind of a let down.
It was still spectacular; the ruins are so well preserved and the city is incredibly charming. However, compared to the Inca Trail, the situation that finds you at Machu Picchu is jarring. You go from solitude, a sense of wonderment and maybe even a spiritual connection with the mountains to crowds of tourists milling about. It was a strange end to such an incredible experience, especially when Machu Picchu was the reason we had gone on the trek in the first place yet it was the most disappointing aspect of the Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu: Was It Really Worth It?
Hiking the Inca Trail was absolutely worth the $200 dollars per day we each had to spend. We made memories that will last a lifetime and that alone is worth the money. We saw so many ancient ruins along the way that rival Machu Picchu in beauty and preservation that you can only see on the trail. On top of that, the sense of accomplishment upon arriving at the Sun Gate after hiking for 4 days is gratifying.
However, to travel to Machu Picchu on a bus, skipping the hike when you’re physically able, would be a mistake. All of the magic of the experience would be lost. On the trail you truly feel connected to the local culture and the Inca history comes alive, which is the best part. If you happen to be in Peru and you aren’t physically able to do a trek to get to Machu Picchu, it’s still magnificent to see and it’s worth the visit. It’s a world wonder for a reason.
Are you travelling to multiple countries over the next few months? Looking to share your story and get a little extra pocket money? Apply to become a Travltalk contributor now!