Incal Trail is one of the top 5 most beautiful hikes in the world. While the Classic Inca Trail is the most popular hiking trail to Machu Picchu, not everyone is ready to spend 4 days hiking and 3 nights camping in the woods. The Short Inca Trail is an easier 2-day hike and is ideal for people wanting a taste of the Inca Trail without sleeping in tents or spending 4 days hiking.
While I love hiking and have done multi-day hiking from hut to hut before, the idea of sleeping in a tent in the middle of the jungle with all the mosquitoes didn’t appeal to me. So I have decided to try out the short version of the famous Inca trail. Technically the hike itself is only 1 day but you will have a walking tour inside Machu Picchu the next day. On the first day of the hike, you’ll reach the best viewpoint of Machu Picchu. The next day you will have the opportunity to go to the lower levels of Machu Picchu which is accessible only for Inca Trail hikers (because you paid for it a lot extra already). Only Inca Trail hikers are allowed to enter Macchu Picchu Citadel via the Sun Gate, which offers the best view over one of the new seven wonders of the world.
Short Inca Trail Length and Difficulty
Starting Point – KM 104
Ending Point – Machu Picchu Visitor Center
Maximum altitude – 2750 m
Minimum altitude – 2040 m
Length – 12 kilometers, (7.45 miles).
Duration – about 6 hours including picnic lunch
Difficulty – medium ( hard when it is very hot or humid)
Trail Type – one way
Meals– boxed lunches
Accommodation type – a hotel or lodge depending on your tour provider
Toilets available – yes
Please note that you are not allowed to do the Inca Trail on your own and local regulations require you to book a guided tour for the Inca Trail in advance and get an Inca Trail permit. You will usually get an English/Spanish-speaking guide and boxed lunches (very yummy and healthy). Most tours will include accommodation in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes for one night. I booked my tour with G Adventures and was very lucky with our lovely tour guide Henry. He was just amazing. Henry was very knowledgeable about Inca culture and archeological sites. On top of that, he had a great sense of humor and was a very talented photographer. Respect for his patience with me. I can get very annoying when I need a great picture with a perfect angle.
Pro Tip: When booking your Inca Trail tour make sure that the group size is small ( max.7-10 people).
Short Inca Trail Permit and Costs
Inca Trail is one of the most popular trails in the world. But you can’t just decide spontaneously that you are going to hike the trail any time you want. It requires a special permit which you need to obtain upfront in order to be allowed to do the hike. Only 500 permits per day are issued for the Inca Trail annually. During the dry season between May and September, those permits are gone very quickly so you should apply for the permit a few months in advance. I booked mine more than 2 months in advance. But if you want a guarantee to get the permit you should apply for it even earlier.
Unlike the Machu Picchu entrance tickets you can’t buy the Inca Trail permits yourself. Usually, authorized tour agencies are allowed to purchase the permits. They sell them as a tour package which usually includes the permit itself, a licensed tour guide, entrance tickets to the Machu Picchu archeological site, accommodation, and transportation. The price and duration vary depending on the services offered and the time of the year. Usually 2-day Inca Trail tour starts at around 500-600 USD on the lower end and goes up during the peak season.
Pro Tip: Inca Trail and Macchu PIccu tickets are very costly but there are a few tricks to lower the cost. 1. Pick a tour starting from Ollantaytambo instead of Cusco and get there by public transportation. 2. Avoid the high season (June-August), and book your tour during the shoulder months (May, September). During low season it will be even cheaper but the weather won’t be so great.
Day 1: The Route Description
Most of the Inca Trail tours start either in Cusco or in Ollantaytambo. If the tour starts in Cusco, then you will get a private transfer to Ollantaytambo train station( about 2 2-hour drive) to catch the train to the trailhead (KM 104). I highly recommend staying in Ollantaytambo overnight because it is an absolutely lovely town with its own charm right in the middle of Sacred Valley.
The Short Inca Trail starts at Km 104 of the Inca Trail on the railway (2,200 m / 7,218 ft). The most convenient way to get there is by taking a train. The panoramic train ride from Ollantaytambo to KM 104 was about 1 hour. I must say that it was one of the most beautiful panoramic train rides I have ever done in my life. We saw rocky rivers and cliffs on the way and a breathtaking Andian landscape.
When we got off the train, after a short walk reached the entrance point to the trek where they checked your passports and permits ( our tour guide handled all the formalities for us). Here we had the first possibility to quickly visit the bathroom before the hike.
Inca ruins and landscape on the way
The first Inca ruin on the trek was the archaeological sites of Chachabamba hidden in the cloud forest. We had a short stop here where Henry, our tour guide, explained to us about this place and we took a few group photos.
Then we continued the trek with beautiful views of the Urubamba river. Since it was September, the Andian spring, we saw a lot of purple orchids everywhere on the way. There were several cute little “trekkers lodges” on the way where we had some snacks and relaxed a bit.
After 4 hours of hiking, we passed by beautiful waterfalls where we refreshed a bit and refilled our water bottles. Shortly after, we arrived at the archeological site of Wiñay Wayna (2,650 m). Here we had a longer break and enjoyed our delicious Peruvian boxed lunch.
Reaching the highest point of the trek
In the second part of the tour in the late afternoon, after hiking very steep stairs called “the monkey steps” we finally arrived at the highest point of the trail – the famous Sun Gate (Inti Punku, 2730 m).
Here we got our first views of Machu Picchu spread out on the mountain below. I can’t describe the feeling when you first see the lost city of the Incas. You must simply see it with your own eyes. I got confused a few times about the location of the Sun Gate, despite our lovely tour guide Henry telling it like 10 times before. The whole group was laughing at me about it. But I was just too busy trying to take great photos (hopefully you like them) and simply enjoy the breathtaking views.
Right before we got to the best viewpoint of Machu Picchu it started to rain. It was very sunny and warm the entire day, but suddenly the rain came out of nowhere. Henry told us that it’s normal that it rains a lot in Machu Picchu. Luckily the rain eventually stopped and the Inca Gods allowed us to take a few nice photos. Maybe because Henry made some sacrifice to Pachamama ( Inca’s Goddess literally meaning “Mother Earth”) by pouring freshly opened Coca-Cola over ancient Inca stones. Who knows 🙂
Finally, we started to descend for approximately 30 minutes down to the Visitor Center of Machu Picchu where we took a bus to Aquas Calientes where we booked our accommodation. The bus ride from Machu Picchu to Aquas Calientes was about 30 minutes with very beautiful views.
Day 2: Visiting Machu Picchu Citadel
The next day, early in the morning, just after having our breakfast, we took the same bus to Machu Picchu. The weather was great again and the sun was shining. We spent about 3-4 hours inside the Lost City of Incas with Henry before heading back to Cusco. Henry shared with us all his knowledge about Inca Culture and Machu Picchu Citadel, but we were a little bit distracted by the breathtaking views.
Note: The entrance ticket to Machu Picchu is already included in your Inca Trail permit so you don’t have to pay extra. But it’s always appreciated and kinda expected to show gratitude and tip your tour guide at the end of the tour.
Best Time to Hike Short Inca Trail
The best time to visit Machu Picchu and do the 2-Day Inca Trail is during the Peruvian dry season between May and September. July and August are the driest months but also the coldest and most crowded ones. In my opinion, and according to several locals that I have asked around, September is the best time of the year to do the Inca Trail. It is between the dry and wet seasons, the weather is warmer, and you can see beautiful wild orchis all the way to the Lost City of Incas. Additionally, Machu Picchu will be less crowded which is a big plus.
What to Pack for 2-Day Short Inca Trail
The weather in the cloud forest where the Inca Trail is located can be unpredictable. The sun can shine the entire morning, then a heavy shower will catch you by surprise, and later sun might come out again. That’s why it is very important to pack property for this hike. I highly recommend bringing the following items:
- Passport ( if you forget it you will not be allowed to get inside)
- Day Pack
- Light poncho in case it rains ( you can buy one for 6 Soles in nearby towns)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Hiking socks (take an extra pair in case it rains)
- Hiking boots (waterproof)
- Insect repellent (there are a lot of mosquitoes on the trail)
- Trekking pants
- Breathable long-sleeved top
- Cold-weather jacket (depends on the weather)
- A cap, sombrero or anything else to cover your head
- Photo/video cameras and chargers
- At least 1.5 liters of water
- Refillable water bottle (hydration bags are recommended)
Conclusion: Is it Worth Doing 2-Day Inca Trail?
Absolutely! I never regretted doing the Short Inca Trail for any single minute. The views were spectacular, our guide was fun, and the group was lovely. The only things that bothered me were the mosquitos which were pretty annoying and the fact that we were not allowed to see the higher levels of Machu Picchu Citadel on the 2nd day (despite paying so much money for the entrance and permit). But this shouldn’t be a problem if you are lucky with the weather on the first day and can enjoy the views from the highest viewpoint which is supposed to be the best one anyway.
Short Inca trail requires hiking only one full day which might be the best option for people who are not very fit or those who don’t want to commit to longer treks and sleep in tents. The greatest advantage of doing the Short Inca Trail is that you will be allowed to approach Maccu Pichu via the Sun Gate and have the best viewpoint of the Lost City of Incas.
Is 2-Day Short Inca Trail Suitable for Beginners?
Absolutely! Short Inca Trail is technically not difficult and you don’t need any special equipment or be very fit for it. Average fitness is enough to finish this trek successfully. However, humidity, direct sunlight, and steep stairs make it a bit tough for people with certain health issues.
There are some parts of the trail with very steep stairs which might be a problem if you have any issues with your knees. Other than that, the trail is very nice and walkable.
How to Acclimatize for Short Inca Trail?
People usually don’t develop altitude sickness on the short 2-Day Inca Trail and Macchu Picchu. After arriving in Cusco there are no certain amount of days that you need to stay there to acclimatize for Macchu Picchu. However, I recommend staying at least 2 days in Cusco for your body to adjust to the local climate and altitude of Cusco (3400 m) itself which is much higher than the highest point (2700 m) of the Short Inca Trail. It’s completely a different story if you decide to do the 4-Day Classic Inca Trail. Then you would definitely need a few days for acclimatization because the highest point of Classic Inca Trail is over 4200 m.
Are there Toilets on the Short Inca Trail?
Yes, there are. There will be at least 3 bathrooms on the way: one at the beginning of the hike, another one at the Wiñay Wayna checkpoint, and the last one at the Machu Picchu Visitor Center at the end of the hike.
Difference Between 2-Day and 4-Day Inca Trail
- Classic Inca Trail: 4 days and 3 nights (43 kilometers of walking). Sleeping in a tent.
- Short Inca Trail: 2 days and 1 night (12-kilometer walk). Sleeping in a hotel or lodge.