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Hiking the Inca Trail 2012
Hiking the Inca Trail 2012


Road system of Inca Empire:

The Inca road system was based on two north-south roads with numerous branches. Much of the system had been constructed centuries earlier mostly by the Wari Empire.  After the Incas conquered a region, they claimed exclusive right over numerous traditional routes. Many new sections were built or upgraded substantially. The Incas developed techniques to overcome the difficult territory of the Andes. On steep slopes they built stone steps resembling giant flights of stairs. In desert areas near the coast they built low walls to keep the sand from drifting over the road.

The trails connected the regions of the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system linked together about 40,000 kilometers (25,000 mi) of roadway and provided access to over 3,000,000 square kilometers (1,200,000 sq. mi) of territory. This road connected populated areas, administrative centers, agricultural and mining zones as well as ceremonial centers and sacred spaces.

These roads provided easy, reliable and quick routes for the Empire's civilian and military communications, personnel movement, and logistical support. The prime users were imperial soldiers, porters and llama caravans, along with the nobility and individuals on official duty. Permission was required before others could walk along the roads, and tolls were charged at some bridges. Although the Inca roads varied greatly in scale, construction, and appearance, for the most part they varied between about 1 to 4 meters (3.3 to 13 ft) in width. It allowed the Inca to control his Empire and to send troops as needed from the capital, Cusco.

The most important Inca road, with a length of 5,200 kilometers (3,200 mi), began in Quito, Ecuador, passed through Cusco, and ended in what is now Tucumán, Argentina. It traversed the mountain ranges of the Andes, with peak altitudes of more than 5,000 m (16,000 ft). The coastal trail, with a length of 4,000 kilometers (2,500 mi), ran parallel to the sea.  The two trails were linked by many smaller routes.

There are many sections of the Inca Trail that one can hike to many interesting places and to meet many interesting people.  One can spend months and even years hiking the Inca Trail. The best known portion of the road system is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  This is the portion of the road that I and my daughter hiked from July 26 to July 29, 2012.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (also known as Camino Inca or Camino Inka):


About 70% of the trail is of original Incan construction. This trail has the highest mountain pass Warmiwañusca ("Dead Woman's Pass"), at 4200 m (13,782 ft) above sea level, which can result in altitude sickness. Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending the terminus at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu Mountain.

Concern about overuse leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government to place a limit on the number of people who may hike this trail per season, and to sharply limit the companies that can provide guides. As a result, advance booking is mandatory. A maximum of 400 people, including guides and porters, are permitted to begin the trail every day. As a result, the high season books out very quickly.

The trail is closed every February for cleaning.


People hike the Inca Trail for many different reasons.  We decided to hike the trail because we like hiking and because this trail is historical with beautiful mountains and people of ancient cultures.


The trail consists mainly of stone steps, stone paved roads and dirt trails.  The stone steps and roads can be very slippery and dangerous while the dirt trails can get very muddy and unpleasant during the rainy season.  It is advised to go there during the dry season unless you enjoy the challenges. The dry season is from May to September.

How many days:

If you look what the tour companies have to offer you will be confused.  There are:

a) 1 night / 2 day

b) 2 night / 3 day

c) 3 night / 4 day

d) 4 night /5 day

Be aware of the following:

1) Usually one of those days (the last day) you will get a guided tour of Machu Picchu for about 2 hours and then you will be left alone to “explore” Machu Picchu on your own and make your way down to join the tour operator to take you back to Cusco or spend additional time in Agua Caliente. Agua Caliente is not a very big town.  I do not know if you want to spend additional time there unless you want to do additional hiking in the area, such as hike up to the new mountain “Waynapicchu” for an eagle eye view of Machu Picchu.

2) If you book a trip with 2 nights or more you will normally offered to spend the last night in a hotel in Agua Caliente with all the comfort of a hotel, instead of camping, at additional cost of course.  You want to find out if that is really an option or an unpleasant requirement.  You might find out during your briefing before leaving for the hike our operator we used informed us that if we camp during the last night we have to get up at 2:00 am to have our breakfast.  After breakfast the porters will package up and carry away everything.  We would be left at the camp site waiting without a tent or any covering until about 5:00 am.  At that time we would walk to the bus station to take the first bus up to Machu Picchu to start our guided tour, and to watch the sun rise.  We did not think that was an option so  we booked a hotel.

3) The toilet facility in all the camp sites is quite smelly and some are quite dirty by USA standard.  Be aware that the toilets are all oriental style toilet.  You cannot sit down to do your things.  You need to get used to squat.  That might be hard for somebody.  However, it is cleaner this way since only your feet touch any part of the toilet if you are careful.  In general I did not find the camping facility to be too bad. You might want to ask your operator to provide your own toilet facility at additional cost.  Some people might argue that is not good for the environment so you have to decide for your own.  

4) Unless you are really in a hurry, I suggest that you should do the 4 night / 5 day tour. This allows you to hike and enjoy the trail, take pictures, see the ruins and have a good conversation with you guide.  Too bad there is more day tour  permitted.  

5) Yes, tipping – tipping is not really optional; at least you should tip the porters well.  If you see how hard they work so that you do not have to carry the load and enjoy your hike, they deserve to have a good tip. My tour company suggested that we should tip the porter at least S/80 for a 4 night / 5 day tour, double that for the cook and not saying anything about the guide.  

6) If you go in the dry season as I recommended then you need to book early because the limit can be filled up quickly.  Do it at least 6 month before your desired tour days.  If you cannot get the allocation to go, there are many other options in different parts of the Inca Trail that do not have any limit or regulations that you can enjoy.  If possible I plan to go back and explore other trails.

Who should not hike the Inca Trail:

a) If you want to have your honeymoon in the Inca Trail and your spouse and or you had never hiked a trail and camped before then you should forget the idea and spend the honeymoon at a beach instead, or take a cruise or even better go to Las Vegas.  If you want only a really short marriage then go ahead and hike the Inca Trail but before you go hire a good lawyer .

b) It is not a piece of cake for this trail.  It is kind of difficult for the first two days, particularly day 2 in the 4 night / 5 day tour and worse for a 3 day / 4 night tour.  You gain 1200 m and hike 13 Km. However, if you are in good health and have the desire to do it, you will be OK.  It is a good work out. If you have a heart condition tell your tour operator and consult your doctor before signing up. Our guide told us that he had at least one person died during one of the tours. So what is new, I know somebody in his twenties, exercise all the time and he died  doing his favorite,  riding his bicycle in Monterey.  When he says you have to go then you go and hopefully doing what you like to do the best.

C) It is obvious that if you do not want to hike then you should not go there.  There is no rickshaw or helicopter to take you out.