The Classic Inca Trail is a popular bucket list item for millions of people worldwide. But for those who want to visit Machu Picchu without the commitment of having to hike for four days to get there, there are many excellent alternatives to the Inca Trail. One of these is the Short Inca Trail, which follows the same network of trails as the Classic, and the final part of the two walks is the same. The difference is that you only have one full day of walking, you get to stay in a comfortable hotel rather than camping, and you still have a full day to explore the Machu Picchu ruins.
Why take the Short Inca Trail?
The Short Inca Trail is a great option for those who are short on time, money or don’t have the fitness/stamina levels to hike the full Inca Trail. You still get to enjoy all the best bits of the classic Inca Trail: catching your first glimpse of Machu Picchu from the sun gate, spectacular Andean scenery, Inca ruins and a feeling of accomplishment when you arrive at Machu Picchu for the first time. But you don’t have to hike for four days or spend the night camping.
What does the Short Inca Trail involve?
The Inca Trail involves an early bus and train ride from Cusco, followed by a three-four hour uphill hike to the spectacular Inca ruins of Wiñay Wayna. From there, you have a packed lunch before continuing for around two hours to reach the Intipunku (Sun Gate) where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. The trail then descends for about an hour and a half to reach the ruins. Rather than visiting Machu Picchu straight away, you take a bus to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes where you spend the night in a hotel, then return to the ruins the following morning for a guided tour. In the afternoon of the second day, take the train and coach back to Cusco, arriving in the evening.
Short Inca Trail Map
What sights do you see?
As well as admiring beautiful Andean scenery throughout the day, there are several interesting sights on the Short Inca Trail. Along the way, your guide will point out flora and fauna as well as Inca ruins including Chachabamba, Choquesuysuy and the Inca terracing of Inti Pata. After the most difficult part of the trek, which involves three hours of walking uphill, you reach Wiñay Wayna. These are some of the most beautiful Inca ruins in Peru, set on a steep slope with different examples of terracing as well as baths and waterfalls.
How difficult is the Short Inca Trail?
It’s a lot of walking to cover in a day, and at high altitude, but it is achievable if you have a good level of fitness. There will always be slower and faster walkers in your group but your guide will adjust his or her walking pace to make sure that everyone in your group is happy. The toughest part of the day is the three-hour walk uphill at the start, climbing rapidly from the Urubamba River to the Wiñay Wayna ruins. The Short Inca Trail may not be suitable for those who suffer from vertigo.
What altitude does it reach?
The Short Inca Trail starts at 2,000 metres and ascends to 2,700 metres at the Sun Gate, before descending to Machu Picchu which sits at an altitude of 2,400 metres. The guides carry basic medical supplies, but as you will be in remote mountain areas, more advanced medical facilities are not available.
How long is the Short Inca Trail?
The Short Inca Trail stretches from Chachabamba at km 104 on the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu, over a distance of nine miles. The total walking time on the first day is around seven hours, split up into three main sections with lots of rest breaks. On the second day, you have most of the day to explore the ruins, before catching a train and coach back to Cusco in the afternoon.
What is included on the Short Inca Trail?
Entrance fees to the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary and the Short Inca Trail are included, as are the transfers. The transfer to the start point of the trail is by bus and train. The bus trip down from Machu Picchu to the train station and the journey back to Cusco in the Expeditioner train is included. In Cusco you will be transferred to your hotel. A packed lunch is provided for the hike. If you want other snacks during the trail, these can be bought in Cusco. Lunch on the second day is not included and you can buy this in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes.
When is the best time to go?
From April to October, it is usually warm and humid during the day (around 20-25ºC) and night time temperatures are around 15ºC. The dry season lasts from March to November, when the weather is more changeable. During the wet season, from December to February, it can rain heavily, although it can also rain year round. For more information, check out our page "When is the best time to visit Peru?"
What should I pack for the Short Inca Trail?
Please ensure you have suitable medical insurance for the Short Inca Trail in place. The majority of your luggage is left in your hotel in Cusco, and you will just need a day pack for the trail, to carry your packed lunch, water bottle and anything else you require. You should pack a change of clothes in case it rains on the hike.
- Passport (this should be the same passport with which you originally booked, otherwise you will not be allowed on the trail)
- Walking boots
- Shorts, t-shirt, sun hat and sunglasses
- Long-sleeved tops and trousers
- Sunblock, insect repellent, lip balm, blister treatment and any medication you require
- Toilet paper
- Water bottle and plenty of water
- Walking poles
- Money for tips and emergencies
Inca Trail Short vs Classic: Which is best?
If you like the idea of arriving at Machu Picchu on foot but do not want to walk for four days to get there, our Short Inca Trail is a great option for you. Alternatively, if you want the full experience of camping and hiking through jaw dropping scenery for four days, opt for the bucket list Classic Inca Trail.
Of course, there are other ways of getting to Machu Picchu too. Take the train through the Andes, with stunning views of the snowy peaks as you descend the beautiful Urubamba Valley, or upgrade to the luxurious Sacred Valley train, a charming period train with an observation car, outdoor deck area and elegant dining carriage where three-course meals are served. Less well-trodden than the Inca Trail, the five-day Salkantay Trail is a fantastic option for those seeking a more ‘off the beaten track’ experience, with mountain passes and high altitude jungles taking you to the backdoor of Machu Picchu.
The Short Inca trail can be added onto any of our Peru holidays as an optional excursion. Call us on 020 7263 3000 for some help organising your trip.