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How long does it take to trek to Machu Picchu?
When most people think about a hike to Machu Picchu, they immediately think of the famous Inca Trail, however there are actually numerous routes that lead to the site.
- The Inca Trail is the most famous route, taking 4 days / 3 nights to trek 45 kilometres to the ancient site of Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is the only trek to Machu Picchu that actually arrives directly at the famous Inca ruin, via the impressive Inti Punku (Sun Gate).
- The Salkantay Trek is 5 days / 4 nights. This is one of the toughest treks on offer, stretching 72 kilometres with some steep ascents.
- The Lares Trek is 4 days / 3 nights, covering 33 kilometres. This easy trail involves meeting and interacting with authentic Peruvian communities.
- The Choquequirao Trek is the longest option at 9 days / 8 nights and 64 kilometres. The bonus of opting for this route is that you get to see two classic Inca sites in one trek.
- The Vilcabamba Trek takes 5 days / 4 nights to cover 45 kilometres. This is the most difficult trail, but hikers are rewarded with incredibly diverse and beautiful landscape en route.
All of the above treks finish at or nearby to Machu Picchu.
After exploring the ruins you can get a bus or train back down to wherever you are staying, usually Cusco. Huayna Picchu, should you choose to do this, can be completed from the Machu Picchu site on your fourth day and takes a couple of hours to ascend and descend – depending on how quickly people are moving through the steep slopes and stair areas.
Do I need a permit to trek Machu Picchu?
Of all the routes mentioned above, the Inca Trail is the only path to Machu Picchu that requires a permit.
This is because it the most well-known and sought after of the routes and is also a protected trail. There is a limit of 500 daily trekking permits to ensure that the route doesn’t get too crowded or get damaged and worn down.
Unfortunately it is not just a case of turning up a few days before and snapping up a permit, with permits for the trail selling out months in advance.
It is therefore advisable to book at least six months prior to your preferred trekking date.
Dates are non-flexible, so you’ll need to lock yourself in and make sure that you’re in Cusco a few days ahead of your trek to provide a copy of your passport and received a pre-trek briefing.
The trek can not be completed without using a registered trekking agency.
The Salkantay, Lares, Choquequirao and Vilcabamba treks do not require you to purchase a permit or pay any route conservation fees. Some companies offer packages that combine one of these treks with the Inca Trail, in which case you may be required to pay for a permit but this will be flagged at point of booking.
If you are getting a bus or train directly to Machu Picchu you do not need a permit but an entrance ticket to the site will cost you $45 USD (around £35).
What is the best month to trek to Machu Picchu?
May and October are the best times to trek the Inca Trail as permits sell out less fast than peak months, plus warmer than June, July and August.
The Inca Trail closes every year from the end of January and throughout February to allow for trail maintenance. The trail reopens in March but the highlands can be wet until early April.
Other routes have more flexibility around when you go as no permits are required and crowds are more evenly distributed.
The wet season in Peru falls during the window from November until March, during which time you are almost guaranteed to get rained on and the conditions on the trail can be slippery and precarious.
In the dry season – Peru’s winter – temperatures drop close to freezing at night, which may not be suitable for families or those not used to camping out in variable conditions.
This is another reason to go with a reputable tour company that will provide high-quality tents and sleeping bags. However, days can still be gloriously sunny and there are often fewer clouds or fog to interrupt your views over the Andean valleys below.
You may even find that tour packages come down in price during this window due to lower demand.
The Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi) happens at the end of June and Peru’s national holiday falls at the end of July – both of which make the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu itself much busier than usual.
August and September offer dry conditions and good temperatures for trekking. November starts to get wet again but most routes are open and permits for the Inca Trail are easier to come by.