How to Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, see Cusco and Lima in 8 days: A Photo Itinerary

We just got back from an unforgettable experience hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  We spent a few days in Cusco and Lima.  I've detailed our itinerary below to show what's possible for 8 days.  It was totally worth the experience.  If you've been, what are your thoughts?

 

Day 1

  • We arrived in Cusco early in the morning.  In fact, we were on the first flight from Lima to Cusco.  We hung out at the airport from 11PM until our flight at 5AM. The airport is connected to a mall with a food court so that allowed us some time to explore without stepping outside.  

  • When we arrived in Cusco, we spent some time in our hotel and ate breakfast around the Plaza de Armas.  I am a big fan of fresh squeezed orange juice and of course had some of that at the restaurant we went to.

  • The change in altitude is serious business so we took it slow and kept our sightseeing to a minimum.  For altitude sickness, I just drank lots of water, some coca tea and added chlorophyll drops to my water.  Others in the group took prescription Diamox.

  • We traveled as a group of 12 people and once everyone arrived in the afternoon, we had dinner together.

  • We ate at Granja Heidi.  The owner was very nice and accommodating. We told him we just arrived and he insisted that we keep our meals light in order to prevent more altitude sickness. Thankfully, we heeded his advice.  Most of us had soups or salads and lots of tea and water.  The restaurant offers a wide range of vegetarian options so a good place to have something small and light on the first day.

 
 

Day 2

  • We were all acclimating slowly.

  • My husband and I woke up early and we had breakfast at the Plaza Cafe.  We got lucky and were able to sit outside overlooking the square.  It was cloudy and slightly misting, but the clouds eventually disappeared and the sun came out.

  • We hustled back to our hotel for 10:30AM to get an overview of our Inca Trail hike.

  • For lunch, we got some empanadas at a cafe.  

  • We also toured the Choco Museo and had some samples of chocolate.  Can't go wrong there.

  • After lunch, we did some shopping for alpaca hats and hopped on the Cusco Tour Bus.  It gave us a chance to check out the high parts of Cusco that we probably would not have wanted to walk to.  The nighttime gets cold though so be prepared and wear those new alpaca hats or sweaters.

  • On the bus tour, we visited the San Cristobal Church which provides a nice view overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cristo Blanco, and participated in a native Quechua ceremony

  • For dinner, we checked out Moreno Peruvian Kitchen.  The food tasted excellent, but in hindsight, we should not have ordered too much as we felt the food and salt the next day, the first day of our hike

  • Altitude at this point was still tough to get used to. 

 
 

Breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice overlooking the Plaza de Armas.

Can't go wrong with free chocolate at the ChocoMuseo.

Ready to explore Cusco.

 
 

View of Cusco, Plaza de Armas from the San Cristobal Church.

A Quechuan Priest offering prayers to the spirits.  The Quechuan people revere Pachamama, Mother Earth.

Night view of Cristo Blanco that overlooks the town of Cusco.

 

Day 3 (Day 1 of the Inca Trail)

  • We got picked up from our hotel in Cusco at 5:30AM

  • We drove for 2 hours to Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast in the small town.

  • Ollantaytambo is the last main town you will see before the trail.  They recommend buying essentials items here.  Don't shop excessively though because you'll have to carry some of your pack. Water and snacks can be purchased on the trail for the first 2  days.  Get your soles here though so that you have change for smaller items and for tipping your porters and guides.  

  • We checked in at the Guide Station with our Passports and started the trail at around 10:30AM.

  • On the first day of the hike, we started at elevation 8,923 ft.  We hiked for around 6 hours and ended at elevation 9,842 ft.  The trail itself if not that hard, but you start feeling the elevation and the sun early on.  I had a hard time towards the end with breathing properly.  My legs were getting tired very quickly. 

View of the check-in station and bridge over Urubamba River. 

Start of the Inca Trail.  The group looking happy and excited.  Notice the train tracks.  Later, we would wonder why we didn't take the train instead.  

 

Day 4 (Day 2 of the Inca Trail)

  • We woke up around 6am

  • The crew provided us pancakes and porridge for breakfast.  The pancakes were a treat!

  • This second day was the hardest day of the hike.  The altitude change was crazy.  We started at elevation 9,842 ft., up to 13,779 ft. at Dead Woman's Pass and then back to 11,700 ft for a total hike of around 9 hours.  Dead Woman's Pass is tough.  You are basically ascending all morning.  I struggled a little bit and my husband had to carry my pack for a few meters. 

  • Once we, got to the top, it was a welcome sight.  The top is cold and we needed to put on our jackets and hats. 

  • After you reach Dead Woman's Pass, the rest of the trail is downhill via rocky stones.  I felt better going down. 

Pancakes for breakfast on our second day.  We were very impressed with the food they provided us. We wondered how they brought the ingredients on the trek and how they cooked it.  

One of the many bridges we had to cross on the trail.  

Enjoying the view at lunch before heading back on the Dead Woman's Pass (Warmiwanuska).

 
 

Finally made it to the top of Dead Woman's Pass (Warmiwanuska).  What a hike.  So happy to have made it. 

After climbing over 4,000 ft, we then had to climb down 2,000 ft of rocky, downhill terrain. We thankfully made it before it was dark, but other groups were still coming down 2 hours past our arrival time in the dark.  

The porter crew treated us to popcorn as a snack.  They also clapped for us when we made it to the campsite.

Food was prepared to ensure we had enough fuel for each portion of our hike.  Carbohydrates from rice, potatoes and vegetables were a staple of our meals. 

 
 

Day 5 (Day 3 of the Inca Trail)

  • We woke up at 6:30 AM.

  • Day 3 was somewhat the easiest. We started at elevation 11,700 ft, climbed to elevation 13,123 ft., then back at 11,800 ft for a total hike of 6 hours. We ended at Phuyupatamarca. We were very lucky as the skies were somewhat clear and we got to see a beautiful sunset over the mountains.

Morning light at camp.  Cold, but the view was unbeatable.

Breakfast omelette to fuel us for the hike. 

Posing at an Inca Ruin.

Posing at an Inca Ruin.

The uneven path of the Inca Trail.  70% is the original trail.

Lunch spot for Day 3 at Chaquicocha.  

Lunch of potatoes, rice, beets and trout.  

The weather was excellent during our hike.  Because it was so clear, we had a chance to see Mount Veronica.

We arrived at the campsite early and the crew prepared snacks for us.  

 
 

Our camping tents in the mountains.

We watched the sunset over the mountains on our last camping day.

Our chef Oscar baked a cake for us in the high altitude and without an oven.  We were impressed!

Our guide Manny who was not only our guide, but our historian, our linguist, our biologist, archaeologist, pharmacist, nutritionist, mediator, translator and everything else in between.

The cast and crew of the hike.  We could not have done this with the support of one another. Our porter and kitchen crew were on top of their game.  The porters carried not only our belongings up and down steep inclines without breaking a sweat, they set up our camps and made us feel comfortable in the Andes.

 
 

Day 6 (Day 4 of the Inca Trail)

  • We woke up at around 2:30am.

  • No breakfast.  Tea was provided as we got ready and and ready to go snacks were given.

  • We started our hike at 3:30AM in the dark.  Your head lights are essential for the hike down.  The descent can be treacherous especially since it's vertical and uneven, rocky, narrow steps.  We started at elevation 12,073 ft and traveled down to 7,873 ft. for around 5 hours.

  • We made it to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu at 8:30AM.  Woohoo! We walked another hour to get to the actual site.  This was a bit painful for me because I felt so tired due to the lack of breakfast and the heat.  Truthfully, I was in a bad mood after reaching the Sun Gate and I didn't want to walk down.  I walked anyways, but my toes were hurting so much.

  • If you are thinking, my God, this is a lot, the alternative is taking the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.  After our trek, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and had a good meal.  A few people from our group got massages and showered.  I was jealous, but I didn't have an extra set of clothes so had to wait to get to our hotel.  We boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo for 2 hours, then another 2 hour ride back to Cusco.  We arrived back at Cusco at around 10pm and took some very well deserved hot showers and got a good night's rest.

We made it to the Intipata Inca ruins at around 5:30AM.  Boy, was the sight of it needed.  

More steps at Intipata, but thankfully, it was getting light out.  

Llamas were blocking our way so we paused and took pics.  

After almost five hours of walking starting at 3:30AM, we made it to the Sun Gate entrance to Machu Picchu.  Like a boss,  I stood reveling in the view and the accomplishment.  

The money shot from One of the Seven Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu. What a sight!

The sign you will see if you opted to take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

Statue at Aguas Calientes depicting the 3 animals the Incas worshiped.

Statue at Aguas Calientes depicting the 3 animals the Incas worshiped.

 

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Day 7

  • We left Cusco in the morning for a flight to Lima.
  • We arrived in Miraflores, Lima at around 2PM bearing some traffic along the way.  Lima traffic is rough.
  • We had a well deserved dinner at Saqra and finally had some alcohol.
  • If you can prepare ahead of time, make a reservation at Central Restaurante in Lima.  It is the #4 rated restaurant in the world and the tasting menu is very reasonnable.  I wish we were able to go, but just didn't have time. 

Dessert at Saqra.

A little alcohol at sea level.

 

Day 8

  • Sea level air was definitely needed and we took time to enjoy Lima.  We took it slow.

  • We explored the coastline.  It was chilly, but nice.

  • My husband and I took the red eye back to New Jersey while the rest of the group continued on to Buenos Aires.

Breathing at sea level is definitely easier.  

 

Final Thoughts

The trip felt like it flew by. Perhaps we were having way too much fun. The experience hiking on the Inca Trail was one I will never forget and one that pushed me to my physical and mental limit. The altitude, the rough terrain, the cold nights and mornings, the narrow paths can make you question why you are doing this in the first place. At the end of each day, when we finally reached our camp site for the day, I was grateful and thankful I didn't fall off the cliff or gave up. The Inca Trail itself isn't that hard of a trek, but combined with the altitude, the trek can be exhausting. We were lucky enough to have good weather for the 4 days were were on the trail and were able to see some amazing scenery. When we did finally got to Machu Picchu, I just felt tired. Sometimes, it's really not about the destination, but the journey itself. Machu Picchu was a sight to behold, but after walking 5 hours in the dark without eating as much as a protein bar, my spirits were a little shot. I was thankful to have seen the great wonder of the world, but even more grateful to have taken this journey as it proved what I was capable of. Overall a once in a lifetime experience.

 

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