The Classic Inca Trail is a beautiful, challenging journey to the well-preserved ruins of Machu Picchu, called the Lost City of the Incas. Located in the Urubamba Valley in Peru, the Inca Trail passes through the Andes Mountains and rainforests for 20 miles to the ancient ruins.
Machu Picchu isn't the only sight on the Inca Trail, as many other archeological sites and stunning vistas are seen along the trail. It is important to note that all hikers on the Inca Trail must travel with a licensed tour operator.
The first day of the Inca Trail is relatively easy with no significant altitude change. Right before making camp on the first night, you will pass the minor ruin of Llactapata or Terrace Town. Situated at around 2,600 meters, Llactapata is thought to be an Inca agricultural complex that once acted as the center of food production for Machu Picchu.
Dead Woman's Pass
To most, the second day on the trail is the most difficult. Hikers ascend up to 4,200 feet, the highest point on the Inca trail, to Warmiwanusca or Dead Woman's Pass. It is called this because of the risk of altitude sickness this high above sea level. With far-reaching views of the Andean highlands and tropical Amazon basin, Dead Woman's Pass is the first pass of three passes before reaching Machu Picchu.
The third day of hiking could be the hardest day for some because of the difficult climb the day before. Just below the second pass, you reach a small archeological site called Runkuracay. With its incredible views of the Pacamayo Valley and back to Dead Woman's Pass, Runkuracay was thought to be a lookout point for the Inca as well as for traveler lodging.
After traveling through cloud forests and jungle, you reach the top of the third pass and the ruins of Phuyupatamarca, meaning Town in the Clouds. Terraces and complex ceremonial baths linked by trenches make up the ancient town. From here you can start to see the backside of Machu Picchu Mountain, but nothing of Machu Picchu itself yet.
On the fourth and final day on the Inca Trail, hikers rise early to make it to Intipunku for sunrise. Intipunku or the Sun Gate is where hikers get their first unforgettable view of Machu Picchu. From here you watch the ancient city of Machu Picchu awaken with the first rays of sunlight before descending into the city itself.