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Everything You Need To Know About Hiking The Short Inca Trail in Peru

Written by Orange Cares | Noviembre 10, 2023
Everything You Need To Know About Hiking The Short Inca Trail in Peru

Getting to Machu Picchu is a journey in itself. Taking the trains, with panoramic views is a great option but there are more challenging routes to Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail is a well known hike that takes 4 or 5 days to complete BUT if you do not have much time, THEN the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 2 days is the perfect option to hike, it involves 5 to 6 hours of hiking, passing the Inca sight of Wiñay Wayna and ending at the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu. It’s followed by a night in a hotel and a day exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu with the option of climbing Huayna Picchu Mountain.

In this travel guide we will go over local experience and provide all the details and tips required for this hike. we’ve also included contributions from fellow travel bloggers who have conquered the traditional four-day Inca Trail pilgrimage and the Salkantay Trek.


Day 1; The hike To Machu Picchu

Getting ready for the hike

The 2 day hike involves one day of hiking to meet the last part of the classic Inca Trail followed by a late afternoon arrival at Machu Picchu. It’s a lot of walking but achievable with an average fitness level.

Before you even got started, there will be a briefing the night before the hike. Your Sam Travel Peru guide, will provide all the information about the hike.

Pick Up time!

You will wake up early for your adventure of a lifetime! Your guide will pick you up at your Cusco hotel at 4am. Rest or even sleep a bit more in our comfortable, private transportation on the way to Ollantaytambo. When you arrive at the train station, your guide will give you your lunch to add to your daypack. Your train departs Ollantaytambo at 6:10 and you will have just over an hour on the train to enjoy the scenery and have breakfast (not included). Your hotel can provide you a picnic breakfast to take with you or you can pack your own breakfast.

You get off the train at the famous Km104, where your trek begins! (2,000m/6,560 ft. above sea level). After crossing the Urubamba River on a picturesque foot bridge, you will show your passport at the checkpoint and visit your first Inca site nearby. The first hour and a half are a gentle upward climb. Along the way, you will stop at several outlooks where you have an expansive view of the Urubamba River. You also pass through several microclimates, including cloud forest, so be ready for damp or even rain at any season of the year. The next hour and a half are a slightly steeper uphill with a beautiful waterfall as your reward at the end of the hike!

When you cross the bridge below the waterfall, be sure to take some time for photos and as you do you will find yourself gazing up at the spectacular Wiñay Wayna! (2,600m/8,500ft above sea level) These amazing Inca ruins have a fascinating history and some parts are still hidden by the dense jungle. This close to Machu Picchu, you are hiking through lush sub-tropical jungle. Your guide will tell you all about the ruins, plus the incredible flora and fauna of this microclimate and answer any questions you have before the short 5-minute walk to your lunch spot.

You have lunch at a covered shelter at the Wiñay Wayna campground, which is the last campground for those hiking the Classic Inca Trail. Nearby are outdoor sinks to wash your hands and also restrooms. Take your time enjoying your hearty, gourmet lunch and admiring the tropical flowers around the campground. Be sure to notify us of any food allergies or dietary restrictions when you book!

After lunch, you have a mostly flat walk to the Sun Gate, from which you have your first view of Machu Picchu! Though the hour-long walk is a gentle rolling up and down, it does end with a set of steep stairs carved directly into the bedrock by the Inca. Once you reach the stairs you will know that you’re almost at the Sun Gate! As you turn the corner from the Sun Gate, you will enjoy your first breathtaking view of Machu Picchu. So, take some time to savor the moment and take photos. The last 60 minutes down from the Sun Gate provide many opportunities to take more photos of Machu Picchu from this unique vantage point. There are also a couple more important Inca sites between the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu, so make sure to go slowly, enjoy your time walking in the footsteps of the Inca on the Inca Trail and ask your guide questions about these historical places on the last bit of your hike to Machu Picchu.

Once you reach Machu Picchu, you will have time to take more photos from the viewing platforms above the site (Guard House), where you can take the famous postcard pictures of Machu Picchu. You will arrive in the afternoon, as the archeological area starts to empty of tourists, which gives you the opportunity to take beautiful photos in the afternoon light with fewer people in your shots. Take your time to enjoy this magical experience before you take the bus down to Aguas Calientes to check into your hotel. Your will have a delicious dinner, then have time to walk around this picturesque little town, visit the hot springs or just go to your hotel to rest after such an exciting day.

Day 2: Exploring Machu Picchu and hiking Huayna Picchu

The second day of the short Inca trail involves getting a tour of the ruins for about 2 hours and, if purchased in advance, a climb up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.

Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu MAP

How to acclimatize for the Short Inca Trail

One does not simply land in Cusco and hike to Machu Picchu.


Because at an elevation of close to 2,430 meters (7,972ft) there’s less oxygen in the air than at sea-level cities, making altitude sickness is a very real and common problem.

It’s often advised to spend at least 2 days acclimatizing before attempting any hiking in the region. The Sacred Valley is a great place to do this.

Everyone’s body will react differently, so consult a doctor before travelling. I developed a cheatsheet listing all the things I did that helped me avoid getting sick. As a subscriber, you can download it for free.

Travel Tips for the Short Inca Trail

Three main pieces of advice for this hike are:

  1. Keep your pack as lite as possible
  2. Bring lots of water (1.5 litres, the tour provides about half of that)
  3. Ensure half your pack is empty because the lunch is heavy and bulky

What to pack

  • passport
  • hiking boots
  • waterproof jacket or poncho – rain can happen unexpectedly
  • breathable and comfortable pants and shirts (long ones will help against mosquitos)
  • sunscreen (min SPF35) and sunglasses
  • insect repellent
  • toilet paper (any toilet paper used on the trail needs to go with you and be properly disposed of at the end of the hike)

How difficult is the Short Inca Trail?

The Short Inca trail 2 days difficulty is moderate and is recommended for travellers who are in good physical shape. If you consider yourself fairly fit, you exercise regularly, and do not have any issues with your weight, knees, or ankles, then this version of the ancient Inca trail is perfect for you!

Some of our hikers have initially had concerns about the hike, but soon realized that it wasn’t as tough as they had feared. In fact, for most visitors, the experience exceeded all expectations, becoming a highlight of their journey. So, if you are up for an adventure, don’t hesitate to lace up your hiking boots and embark on this unforgettable expedition!

Tickets and regulations

The Peruvian government has strict control over the Inca Trail.


Years ago the Inca Trail was a free for all and a lot of waste was left behind at the campsites (this is why we can’t have nice things). In order to keep the sites in good condition, passes are now limited to 250 permits for travellers every day.

If you’re planning on visiting during peak time (April – October) then tickets should be booked around six twelve months in advance.

Please note that not all tour companies are sustainable. Much of what is found online are foreign-owned companies, which pay very little to their porters. It’s important to make sure that whatever company you book through, they are a sustainable one, that treats their porters well and gives back to the Peruvian economy. For that reason we ended up booking with Sam Travel Peru.

This is a good list to reference for other top-rated, sustainable tour companies.

The 2023 cost to book with Sam Travel Peru Tours was:

  • $477 per person all included

Additional costs were for:

  • Climb Machu Picchu Mountain: $75USD
  • Climb Huayna Picchu Mountain: $75USD
  • Walking Pole: $10USD (unless you really need it, I was fine without)

The Inca Trail photography tips

The Inca Trail, short or long, involves a lot of walking and at a steady pace. This means there wasn’t much time to pause and shoot. Here are a few things that are good to keep in mind.

  • One of the most important things to remember is that insect repellent and cameras do not mix. Repellents, like Deet, have chemicals in them that dissolve plastic. It’s really important to avoid spraying repellent around your camera, and make sure your hands are carefully wiped after application.
  • The hikes are long and tiring, carrying unnecessary gear will only add to your already heavy, day packs. Consider bringing one lens. Since there’s lots of landscape views, a wide-angle lens is a good option.
  • Two accessories that will come in handy:
    • For longer treks there won’t be anywhere to charge batteries. Consider getting a portable solar panel charger. Charge it fully before the hike and hang it from your bag to charge throughout the day.
    • Peak Design Clip is my favourite accessory when hiking. It clips onto my backpack strap and allows me to secure and release my camera while I’m hiking. This means I’m hands free!

Read before your hike

You may also appreciate the book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu, which recounts a man’s journey to retrace Hiram Bingham’s steps to find Machu Picchu. It’s filled with history and comedy, as he makes his way through the mountains and jungles.



The four-day Inca Trail Hike IS a truly iconic experience. Day two is the most challenging, with a six-hour uphill climb to reach the highest point on the trail named Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4,215m above sea level, this is very physically challenging as your body battles the effects of altitude.

Day three takes you into the Cloud Forest, High Jungle. For most of the people, it is a mystical experience as we explored an Inca settlement at the top of a hill while watching the cloud roll in beneath us.

Completing the walk through Inca tunnels and past llamas with the valley below blanketed by cloud is an atmospheric and magical moment to be savoured.

The crowning glory, hiking into Machu Pichu was a majestic end to an unforgettable experience.

The 5-day Salkantay Trek

The Classic Salkantay Trek is a 5 day trek from Soraypampa to Machu Picchu and is one of the most amazing ways to get there, but certainly not the easiest. This trail takes you through a variety of landscapes, from snowy mountains to tropical forests. You will experience a change of altitudes, from 1,600m to 4,630m, and plenty of walking. On your way you will also encounter extraordinary flora and fauna, archaeological sites and of course, the legendary Machu Picchu.

Whenever we get asked if we’d recommend doing the Salkantay Trek, our answer is always “yes, definitely”! It’s an incredible experience full of nature, culture and learning more about yourself and your travel companions. While it might be a bit challenging for those with a low physical activity level, the Salkantay trail is a memory that will last a lifetime. For me the trek itself was even more unforgettable than seeing Machu Picchu.

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