the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, nestling high in the Andean Mountains, is known as the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ and for centuries it was hidden from the outside world. It is now the most famous city of the Incan Empire and has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. This sacred site is the most visited in Peru and a must for anyone travelling around South America on one of our trips. The Inca Trail usually refers to the ancient pathway used by the Incas leading to Machu Picchu but in fact there are a number of Inca Trails running through the Urubamba Valley. On all Dragoman trips that travel via Cuzco (except the Trans Amazon Rio to Cuzco ZJC) we include the choice to either trek the Classic Inca Trail or the Community Inca Trail, which is exclusive to Dragoman.
More info on the Classic and Community Inca Trails
Which Inca Trail?
When you book this trip, you will have a choice of either the Community Inca Trail or the Classic Inca Trail. The costs for each are included in the kitty, but you must tell us when you book, if you want to book the Classic Inca Trail. If you do not tell us this you will automatically be booked onto the Community Inca Trail. In order to secure Inca Trail permits, it is vital that you provide the correct and most up to date passport information at the time of booking (DOB, passport number, expiry date and name spelling exactly as it appears in the passport that you will be travel with) Any inconsistency between the information provided and the passport you travel with may result in you not being granted access to the Inca Trail.
There is also a non trekking option. If you do not want to trek at all but want to take part in the Sacred Valley Tour and guided tour of Machu Picchu, this can be organised. You will receive a refund from kitty for the unused part of the excursion. However if this is your preferred option, in order to obtain a refund you MUST inform the Dragoman Overland office at the time of booking.
The Inca Trail usually refers to the ancient pathway used by the Incas leading to Machu Picchu, but in fact there are a number of Inca Trails running through the Urubamba Valley. On all Dragoman trips that travel via Cuzco we include the choice to either trek the Classic Inca Trail or to trek our Community Inca Trek, which is exclusive to Dragoman (and by the way, it's unique to Dragoman and not the Lares trail that other operators use!)
The trek is included in your trip kitty price, so if you prefer not to trek at all you must advise Dragoman at time of booking so that we can arrange a non-trekking package for you. Full details of all three options are below.
Option 1: The Community Inca Trek
This unique and pioneering trekking route is automatically included in all of our trips that visit this area of Peru. The trek travels through spectacular scenery, passing through Inca ruins and staying in remote villages. You'll be hiking unspoiled trails used only by local villagers and Dragoman passengers, avoiding the crowds of the Classic route. You will be camping as guests of the local communities we pass through and may have the opportunity to help out with some hands-on projects, for example at the local schools. This is the real Andes, trekking pristine trails with spectacular mountain scenery at every turn. After a comfortable overnight stay in Ollantaytambo we head to the ancient citadel Machu Picchu. Although we do not enter the site through the Sun Gate as on the Classic Inca Trail there is plenty of time to hike to either the Sun Gate or even Huayna Picchu, which towers above Machu Picchu.
This Option is automatically included as part of your trip unless you advise us otherwise. So if you want to take the Community Inca Trek no further action is required. If you would prefer to trek the classic Inca Trail, or choose not to trek at all, you must contact us.
Option 2: Classic Inca Trail
If you want to do this option, you MUST inform Dragoman at the time of booking your trip. Dragoman will then apply for your permit but please note that these can never be guaranteed and if unavailable we will automatically book you onto the Community Inca Trail.
If you do inform us of any other request you WILL AUTOMATICALLY be booked onto the Community Inca Trail.
This original Kings route still remains popular and it is a 4 day trek, which passes through cloud forest and dramatic mountain scenery. It ends at sunrise on the last day as you trek to the Sun Gate for your first views of magnificent Machu Picchu. If you would prefer to trek the Classic Inca Trail then you must advise Dragoman at the time of booking.
Option 3: Non Trekking Package
If walking is not your thing we will organise it so that you can take the train to and from Aguas Caliente and join the trekking groups on their tour of Machu Picchu.
If you prefer not to trek at all you must advise Dragoman at time of booking so that we can arrange the non-trekking package for you.
Still Unsure of Which Trail?
Community Inca Trek or the Classic Inca Trail?
Dragoman's Community Inca Trek is a unique trekking route that not only involves trekking through pristine unspoiled mountains along ancient Inca Trails, but also allows the trekkers to stay within local communities and get involved with our pioneering community-based tourism project, Tarpuy Yachay. This trek is all about getting away from the overcrowded thoroughfares of the Classic Inca Trail, instead getting out into the real Andes. Not to mention being part of a project with provides a genuine, direct benefit to the host communities we travel through, by supporting education, income generation and environmental sustainability projects.
The "classic" Inca Trail is the now infamous trek which you will see in every tour operators brochure and website that features Peru as a destination. It is the most common trekking route taken to get to Machu Picchu.
Benefits of The Inca Trail & Quechua Community Project over the Classic Trail
- Unspoiled and absolutely spectacular mountain scenery.
- Hands on involvement with local communities, including a variety of projects to provide infrastructure for the community.
- A proportion of the costs are going back into the local community and the guides, pack animals and trekking staff are all from the local community. The community really benefits from your trekking. We will stay for 2 nights in local communities.
- Virtually deserted routes, used only by locals and Dragoman Overland, most groups see no other westerners while trekking.
- Llamas, mules and horses are used instead of porters to carry equipment. The local communities we stay in provide these. This is Responsible Tourism in action. Horses and mules provide a much needed safety valve if people suffer from altitude or exhaustion... you can always swallow your pride and hitch a ride.
- Altitude Sickness, although we will trek higher than the Classic Inca Trail (4800m), we can always get you down to a lower altitude and into a local community if necessary. This is not possible on the Classic Trail.
Points against The Inca Trail & Quechua Community Project
- The Sungate & Machu Picchu, yes, we certainly will visit Machu Picchu after the trek, but we will not trek through to the Sun Gate as you will on the Classic Inca Trail. However, many group members in the past six months have trekked back up from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate to see the famous view. This is always possible and we do allow time during your visit to Machu Picchu to do this. Alternatively why not trek up Huayna Picchu, the huge peak towering above Machu Picchu....why not.... because its hard!
- The Inca Roads that the Classic Trail takes are the King's roads and therefore are better preserved that the Inca trails across the valley.
- The ruins along the way on the Classic Inca Trail are more numerous, however you will see Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisac and other remote Inca sites on the Community Trail.
The Classic Inca Trail
- This "original" route is still the most popular route because of its history.
- The Classic Trail is not quite as challenging as the Inca Community Trail and and the passes are not quite as high. That said, it is still a pretty tough and you will need to be reasonably fit.
- The Classic Inca Trail finishes at the "Sungate" to Machu Picchu on the final morning of the trek, and you arrive at Machu Picchu by foot. On the Community Trek you will finish your trek the day before visiting Machu Picchu - and whilst we still arrive very early in the morning before the crowds, this is not a trekking day.
- The crowds, unfortunately often as many as 500 people a day start the Classic Trail and it has become very overcrowded, especially during the peak months. Rubbish, dirt, sanitation and over crowding are a real issue now. The hordes of people trekking this route is unsustainable and the Peruvian Government are being forced to limit numbers. This has now meant that at certain times of the year, not only is the trail overcrowded but also it is hard to even get permits to trek.
- The Classic Trail gives you no community involvement and you will be a trekking tourist in a national park.
However this is still the "Classic Inca Trail" and for some no other route will do. Hence we offer it as an alternative. The Community Trek is included in our trips, but if you would prefer to take the Classic then we will refund you the moneys for the Community Inca Trek and you can book and pay for the Classic Trail when you book your trip. The current cost of the Classic Trail is approximately US$500 and so the cost difference is now very little.
What we think
If you were to ask Dragoman which one we prefer, there is no contest, our unique Inca Trail & Quechua Community Project is a much better experience.
Why trek with Dragoman?
Guide and porter welfare
We follow Tourism Concern's policies on the way that guides, porters and animals are looked after. Our Cuzco based trekking company have an excellent trekking record and good, knowledgeable guides. They have been at the cutting edge of developing codes of responsible tourism practice and involving the local Quechuan communities in the development of their various treks. All our guides and porters are paid at or above the union rate.
We are committed to support the small farming communities that we stay in during our treks. Whilst in the mountains we visit schools, help with construction of community buildings, plant trees to aid reforestation and have Quechua lessons with local children. Our passengers tell us that it is this local interaction that makes the trek so special.
Our route isn’t the Lares trek that many other operators use. The community trek is exclusive to Dragoman, taking you into the heart of the Andean communities and well away from other groups of travellers. Being in a small group allows us more time to enjoy the stunning, peaceful scenery.
Equipment and food
As all hikers know – good, plentiful food is key to enjoying and completing multi-day hikes. Each trekking group will have their own chef, preparing locally sourced food each day. Our equipment is carried for us, it includes high quality tents, sleeping mattresses, oxygen bottles, cooking equipment and stoves to provide hot washing water. All of this will increase your comfort allowing you to enjoy the trek. Full details of all the trekking itineraries can be found in the trip notes of any trip running through Cuzco.
Full daily itinerary for the Community Inca Trail
Cuzco/Pisac/Quisharani - We leave Cuzco first thing in the morning and drive to Sacsayhuaman ruins about 15 mins from our hotel. These ruins are best remembered for the gigantic blocks that make up the zig-zag frontal of this fort like construction. There are many theories as to why Sacsayhuaman was originally built and what it was used for but the most likely is as a temple complex for offerings to appease the Gods. It is an amazing place and the early morning light makes the view of Cuzco rooftops even more beautiful and helps to define the stonework detail of these great blocks. From here we head on for about an hour over the dividing ridge and into the Sacred or Urubamba Valley. Pisac ruins are our destination and we stop high on the mountainside to begin our exploration of these ruins. We walk down hill along small pathways, through ancient arches, storage buildings and houses. When we are ready we head down to Pisac where we have lunch in this lovely market town and maybe some time to shop in the extensive handicrafts market that the town is famous for. We then drive up into the highlands of the Cordillera Urubamba. The drive itself is amazing with stunning views as we wind up to the trail head. This first day is for discovering more about the architecture of the Incas and their thinking behind building in this way. Many of the design features that we have been introduced to today we will see repeated in the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu on our last day. At the trail head we meet our team, we get all the equipment sorted out and head off on foot. It is about an hours walking today along a gentle track, perfect after a busy day looking at the ruins. We head away from the trail head through the valley to the community of Quishuarani, our first campsite.Meals provided: Lunch, Dinner, Snacks. Approximate walking time: 1 hour
Quishuarani - Cuncani - After breakfast and a visit to the local school, we begin our hike upward through the high puna to the first pass at Uchuycasa (4400m). From the
pass, we enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the dramatic Urubamba mountain chain that includes several sacred snow-capped peaks. Then down the pass, feeling muscles you didn't know you had and into the pampa and a cluster of turquoise lagoons. Grazing alpaca, llama and Andean geese provide a good excuse for a picturesque photo stop. After lunch we head further down past thundering waterfalls, through fields of potatoes to the picturesque village of Cuncani (3700m.), where we'll have dinner, participate in village activities, set up camp for the night and maybe even have time and energy for a game of football! Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks. Approximate walking time: 5-6 hours
Cuncani to Paccha - Another early morning start but the advantage of this is the peace and tranquility that you get at this time and the chance to see the local people getting on with their everyday lives. We walk through green pastures and as we ascend and leave the valley behind us, fantastic views open up of the valley way below us. As we trek higher into the mountains on original Inca trails we reach an area of high mountain lagoons. This is a section of the trail to take slowly, as the way becomes more rugged, make sure you take time to enjoy the stunning views of some of the highest snow-capped peaks in the Urubamba range and to acclimatise as you climb. The climb gets steeper as we head through the clouds to the Pumahuacasa Pass (4800m.). Time to congratulate yourself on reaching the top of the pass! After our amazing climb, we head down the rocky trail into amazing high forest of Quenua trees and green stepped valleys. Our campsite is in a stunning location near the waterfall at Paccha (4100m.)Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks. Approximate walking time: 8 hours
Paccha/Urubamba/Ollantaytambo - From Paccha, we walk through more beautiful woodlands and as we descend so we begin to see the vegetation and climate gradually change, becoming greener and warmer as we head further down to the valley below. Following the glacial river, we descend slowly into the gorge above Urubamba, taking in the altering flora and agricultural zones as we walk. At the end of our journey we have lunch and a welcome rest before we drive from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo. In the afternoon we have a guided tour of the amazing ruins of Ollantaytambo. With its incredible temple areas and finely crafted water channels and fountains, Ollantaytambo really does deserve this extra time for exploration. The evening allows us time to celebrate our trek as we stay overnight in a comfortable hostel in the lovely town of Ollantaytambo. Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks Approximate walking time: 4 hours.
Ollantaytambo/Machu Picchu/Cuzco - After a great nights sleep in our beds we have another early start but this time to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the early train allows us to get to Machu Picchu before the trains from Cuzco arrive. The train passes through the Sacred Valley with stunning views of the high mountains, river valley, Inca ruins and local villages. At Aguas Calientes we jump straight on the bus and up to the citadel itself... nothing can quite prepare you for the first glimpses of Machu Picchu, as you see the first terraces peeking out behind the trees. This is what we have been waiting for, the culmination of our journey. Our guide will show us the most important constructions as well as explain the history and the mythology of this magnificent place. The sacred city is intact apart from the straw roofs which have rotted away, it is a maze of plazas and palaces, long staircases carved out of the solid rock and terraces that go right to the edge of the sheer cliffs. All the knowledge that we have gathered over the past few days comes together as we see how the Inca architects used their knowledge of the rock and environment to sculpt this amazing place high up on the mountainside protected by the river valley. There is some free time to explore the ruins further at your own pace or maybe if you haven't experienced enough steps and trekking, why not climb Huayna Picchu Mountain or visit the Inca Bridge. Or you can just chill out and watch the hummingbirds or vizcachua. Late afternoon we head back down to Aguas Calientes and take the train back to Ollantaytambo and return to Cuzco for a well-deserved rest.Meals provided: Breakfast.
Community Trail Inclusions:
- Guide for Sacred Valley tour
- All transport to and from Cuzco including trains and transfers in Cuzco
- Lunch in Pisac
- Overnight in Ollantaytambo hostel
- Entrance fees including Machu Picchu
- High quality double-occupancy tents and camping equipment
- Sleeping mattress
- Hot water in the morning for washing
- Drinking water throughout the trek
- Dining tent, kitchen tent, and latrine tent
- Oxygen bottle and first aid kit
- Professional, English-speaking guide and camp staff
- Llamas and mules to carry camping equipment and passenger bags
- Emergency mule/ mules in case of illness
- All camping meals. Plentiful food (Vegetarian option available) 4B, 4L, 3D
- Bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes
Communities Supported on the Trail
The communities that we visit are remote Andean farming communities with traditions dating back to the Incas. They are primarily Quechua speaking, with some Spanish, and little contact with the general population. Their daily lives consist of potato cultivation, weaving, and the herding of llamas, alpacas, and sheep. Considered by the Peruvian government to be living in extreme poverty, they often face malnutrition, severely cold weather, poor hygienic conditions, and little medical or health assistance. These communities typically have small schools that often need support with construction, furniture, materials and teachers. Villagers live in thatched-roof stone huts and cook with firewood. Because of the disproportionate supply and demand of native trees and brush, there is a great need for an effective reforestation project in the area and thanks to the support from Dragoman, our passengers and Ecoam (who helps us with our reforestation project) the area of Quishuarani, Cuncani and part of the mountain range of Lares we visit has been declared a Private Landscape Reserve.
The fairly recent introduction of tourism to the region has brought some needed assistance and economic development to the communities, but there is still much more to do. Our local trekking operator working within the guidelines of sustainable tourism has met with the communities and discussed the pros and cons of tourism in the area. Together they have established still unofficial guidelines for trekking and tourism through the Cordillera such as: established campsites to avoid contamination of community areas, use of community animals and personnel on treks, training of community members through workshops on camp maintenance, hygiene, client service to enhance their economic viability, maintenance of camp trails, camp sites, and environmental conservation. Many agencies respect these guidelines, but because making things official often brings on unwanted government intervention, they are now a pact between the communities, agencies, and tourists.
At Dragoman, we believe strongly that we should try to give something back to the people and communities in the countries we travel through. We are involved in a wide range of community-based tourism projects around the world, and we're really proud of what they manage to achieve in what are often very challenging circumstances. There's always more that can be done, but through our involvement in these projects, we try to ensure that local people directly benefit from our groups' visits.
Full daily itinerary for the Classic Inca Trail
The ever popular King's Route is the classic Inca Trail that has is trekked by 1000s of tourists each year.
We join the community trekkers for a tour of the sacred valley and enjoy lunch at Pisac. We then head to Ollantaytambo to view more Inca ruins and camp the night. Meals provided:Lunch, Dinner, Snacks
The following morning after breakfast at the campsite, we catch a bus to the 82 km marker and are joined by a crew of local porters, cook, etc. As we hike from high plateau to dense forest, you will see some remains of ancient villages and temples, the first of which is Llactapata. The starting point of the trek (the 82 km marker) is located at 2,850m above sea level. The trek includes some uphill trekking to the campsite (over 3,000m above sea level). Take advantage during the 4 days of the trek to get to know your porters. You will realize they work the hardest on the team and are gentle people willing to share with you their culture, language and trek experiences. Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks.
This is the most challenging of the trek as we ascend a long steep path (Approx 4 hrs) to reach the highest point of our trek, Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman's Pass, at a height of 4,200 m (13,779 ft), before descending to the Pacaymayo Valley (3650m above sea level. This is 2 hrs downhill). Depending upon on local conditions, you might camp here today, or may need to continue further up and down. We might cross the first and second passes on this day. From the second pass, Runkuracay (3,980m above sea level - 90min uphill) we can enjoy views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba before descending to the ruins of Sayacmarca (2 hours downhill). From here it is only a few more minutes to the Chaquicocha campsite (3,620m above sea level). Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks.
On day 3 of the trek, we continue over the third pass and soon reach the beautiful ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the 'Town above the Clouds' (3,850m above sea level/90min uphill). Start descending real Inca Steps (2 hrs) to reach our final night's camp by the Wiñay Wayna, or 'Forever Young' ruins (2,750m above sea level), with panoramic views of the valley below. Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks.
Machu Picchu – Cuzco. Today is only a short final hike (90 min) to Machu Picchu and we climb the steps to the Sun Gate to watch the ruins emerge from the mist below. As with the community trek our guide will show us the most important constructions as well as explain the history and the mythology of this magnificent place. There is some free time to explore the ruins further at your own pace or maybe if you haven't experienced enough steps and trekking, why not climb Huayna Picchu Mountain or visit the Inca Bridge. Or you can just chill out and watch the hummingbirds or vizcachua. Late afternoon we head back down to Aguas Calientes and take the train back to Ollantaytambo and return to Cuzco for a well-deserved rest. Meals provided: Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks.
Trail fitness for either trek
Trekking should not be undertaken lightly. You need to be in good health with good physical fitness to enjoy both these trek. It is not about speed, trekking slowly is far better at altitude but you do need to have the stamina to keep going. The Community Inca Trail does go slightly higher and reaches 4,800m in altitude when we cross one of the passes. The trail can be steep and rocky but has few steps. The highest pass on the Classic Inca Trail is Dead Women's Pass at 4200m. If you are in any doubt about your suitability to trek please consult your local doctor.
What to bring Trekking
Your personal gear will be carried by pack animals in duffle packs which will be provided.
Daypack for personal gear: roll mat, sleeping bag, 1 set of walking clothes, 1 warm set for night (include hat/gloves), raincoat/waterproofs, swimming gear, sunhat, comfortable hiking boots, sandals, 4 pairs hiking socks, toiletries, torch with spare batteries, puritabs, 2 litre water bottle, sun cream, mossie repellent, sunglasses, lip balm, camera, $100 in local currency (for shopping, souvenirs, snacks, drinks etc), $30 tip money for trekking staff per trekker. We recommend a tip of US$10 for your guide and perhaps US$20 for all the rest of the staff. On the Community Inca Trail, you may wish to bring financial or actual donations for the schools/ communities. Photos of your home area and family are great things to share with the children and families we meet in the communities
Trekking and the local community
Our Tarpuy Yachay Community Inca Trek continues to go from strength to strength and the benefits are clear for all to see. There's still a lot more we hope to achieve with this project, but there is no doubt that with the right attitude, an adventure travel company, like Dragoman can work with their local partners and travellers to help make a real difference. It is so important that the local community gains from your and our visits. They must be involved.