Hiking Machu Picchu: 4 Days on the Inca Trail

A couple months back, Chris and I were asked to hike Machu Picchu in Peru. We immediately jumped at the chance to go. The next couple of months we spent trying to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the four day hike. After loads of research, buying out L.L.Bean and actually using that monthly gym membership, I felt relatively confident. But nothing could fully prepare me for the truly amazing experience of hiking Machu Picchu.

Day 1

Our alarm goes off unreasonably early at 4am. We stumble out of our bed and gather the last remaining items we hadn’t packed up the night before. I dressed in warm leggings, hiking socks, a grey workout t-shirt with a warm L.L. Bean fleece and a rain coat. Once packed, we lugged our suitcases down the hostel stairs and into the lobby to wait for our tour guide to pick us up.

The rest of the morning was spent driving to the base of the trail. We made a couple stops for food and supplies before reaching the base. The two things we decided to grab were walking sticks and cocoa leaves. The locals swear by them, and now so do I. I never stopped chewing on them and aside from a small headache, I barely felt the effects of altitude sickness.

Once we finally made it to the base of hike I was very ready to not be on a bus anymore. And even more so to start our 4 day adventure. After sorting out our backpacks with the porters, filling up water bottles and strapping on extra rain gear, we were off! After getting to the first serious up-hill, I realized what I was in for.

We hiked a total of 5 hours the first day with a couple stops in between. The first stop was lunch. We walked into the tent to find a huge three course feast laid out on the table. The food was one of best parts of the hike. Every meal turned out to be like this. We continued on with one more stop before reaching the campsite. It was nice to see the tents already set up with our belongings beside them waiting for us. After another huge feast for dinner, we settled in for our first night on the trail.

Day 2

Again, our alarms went off unreasonably early. We were up, packed, fed and on the trail again before 7am. The day had to start extra early because this was going to be the hardest day. We climbed almost 4,000 ft after already being over 9,000 ft up, making our total elevation 13,780 ft. This day was by far the most challenging part of the hike. We had several stops along the way and it seemed to become harder to get up after every time I sat down.

We reached the peak after what felt like an entire day. In reality, it only took us a couple of hours. Fog had been rolling in all morning and decided to settle just as we were reaching the peak. There wasn’t much to see, but we still took a moment to soak in that the worst of it was over.

It was another 2-3 hours of downhill until we reached the campsite. This was where the walking sticks really came in handy. The trail became steep rocks covered in rain. This section took a lot of concentration in order to avoid slipping. Around 4 or 5 in the afternoon we finally made it to the campsite! I was so sore. Even though my hiking boots were broken in, I still had major blisters on my toes. Thankfully, I brought a first aid kit. After tending to my blisters, I joined the rest of the campsite in taking a nap before dinner.

At dinner, we were told one of the other travelers in our group had gotten altitude sickness. They had said if we were going to experience it, it would happen on day 2. Mostly because of the drastic elevation changes we experienced going up and then coming back down. I didn’t feel amazing but I was thankful a sore hip was all I had to worry about. The second night was the coldest night along the trail. I wore extra socks, a warm hat and winter gloves which I had packed in my bag the porters carried.

Day 3

We woke up a little easier on the third day, knowing the worst of the hike was behind us. It was still very challenging, but it was mostly “Inca flat” as our tour guide called it, for most of the day. This was also where we got to start seeing some ruins and the hike became very scenic. The third day was one of the better days of the hike. The views were breathtaking. It was a little easier to ignore your sore spots when you had something amazing to look at.

Inca Trail Overlook
Stop along the Inca Trail overlooking old ruins

I even got to pose with a llama.

Llama seen hiking to Machu Picchu
Llama along the Inca Trail while hiking to Machu Picchu

The only thing I didn’t like about the third day was the time spent going downhill. The constant downhill took a toll on my joints. I practically sprinted down once I knew we were 30 minutes out from camp. I could not wait to ice my hip and lay down.

The routine for the third night was a little different as it was our final night on the trail. After dinner, we thanked our chefs and porters for making the entire hike possible. Our tour guide offered us one final story before sending us back to our tents.

Day 4

The final day was the earliest wake up call yet. The final portion of the trail opened at 5am. Almost every tour group was lined up, hoping they would make it to the sun gates for sunrise. Our tour guide held us back in the hopes the fog would lift by the time we got there. It was a short hour of hiking until we made it to the entrance of the sun gates. Sadly, it was still too foggy to get the view. But as we continued to hike down into Machu Picchu it slowly started lifting. For a while we were only catching glimpses in between patches of cloud. Just as we were getting to the entrance of Machu Picchu, the fog lifted and the sun came out in full force.¬†Looking down onto Machu Picchu was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Machu Picchu
View from the hiking entrance into Machu Picchu

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu. Our tour guide took us throughout Machu Picchu, giving us background on everything we were seeing. By the time we had taken all of our photos and gotten the full tour, it was time to catch our bus down to Aguas Calientes. We had survived the hike!

Destination of hike to Machu Picchu
Final destination: Machu Picchu
For a guide on what to pack, check out my post Inca Trail Packing List: 4 day Hike to Machu Picchu!