Inca Trail Altitude, Difficulty, and Weather

The Classic Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world. It is also one of the most difficult, with an average elevation gain of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) and a maximum elevation of 4,215 meters (13,828 feet). The trail is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are great. If you're thinking about hiking the Inca Trail, it's important to be prepared for the inca trail altitude, the difficulty, and the weather. 

The Inca Trail Altitude

The Inca Trail altitude can be a challenge for some people. The highest point on the trail is 4,215 meters (13,828 feet), almost twice the height of Cusco, the largest city in the region. The air is much thinner at this altitude, and some people may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, or even nausea.

Taking time and acclimatizing before starting the Inca Trail is essential if you are not used to high altitudes. There are a few ways to do this, such as spending a few days in Cusco (3,400 meters/11,200 feet) to get used to the altitude before starting the trek. You can also take it easy on the first day or two of the tour and go slowly to help your body adjust. If you start to feel any symptoms of altitude sickness, it is vital to descend immediately and seek medical attention. Most people experience mild symptoms that go away with time, but altitude sickness can cause complications in rare cases.

Campsites in the Inca Trail and altitude:

  • Km 82, the beginning of the Inca Trail at 2718 m/8924 ft
  • Wayllambamba, the first campsite located at 3000 m / 9842 ft
  • Ayapata preferred campsite on day 1, located at 3300 m/ 10826 ft
  • Lluluchapampa, the first rest stop on day 2, located at 3800 m/10829 ft
  • Pacaymayo Alto, Second campsite located at 3600 m/11811 ft
  • Chaquicocha, Preferred campsite on day 2, located at 3600 m/ 11811 ft
  • Phuyupatamarca, the 3rd campsite, located at 3650 m/11975 ft
  • Wiñaywayna, the preferred campsite on day 3, located at 2600 m/8530 ft
  • Puente Ruinas, the last campsite in 5-day tours, located at 2000 m/6561 ft

Mountains in the Inca Trail:

  • Dead Women's Pass, the highest point of the Inca Trail at 4215 m/13828 ft.
  • Runkurakay Pass, the second highest mountain of the Inca Trail at 4000 m/13123ft
  • Veronica Mountain is the highest mountain in the Vilcanota Mountain range, at 5,893 m/19,334 ft.
  • Salkantay Mountain is the highest mountain in the Vilcabamba mountain range at 6,271 m /20,574 ft.
  • Pumasillo Mountain, visible from Machu Picchu, at 5,991 m /19,656 ft.
  • Machu Picchu Mountain, the area's highest mountain in Machu Picchu, at 3082 m/10111 ft. 
  • Huayna Picchu Mountain, the most beautiful mountain, at 2693 m/8835 ft.

Archaeological sites in the Inca Trail

  • Salapunku, located at 2720 mt/8923 ft
  • Kanabamba, located at 2625 m/8615 ft
  • Wilkarakay, located at 2650 m/8694 ft
  • Patallacta, located at 2614 m/8576 ft
  • Wayllabamba, located at 3000 m / 9842 ft
  • Runkuracay, located at 3950 m/12959 ft
  • Sayacmarca, located at 3600 m/ 11811 ft
  • Concharmarca, located at 3550 m/ 11646 ft
  • Phuyupatamarca, located at 3650 m/11975 ft
  • Intipata, located 2840 m/9317ft
  • Wiñaywayna, located at 2600 m/8530 ft
  • Sungate, located at 2700 m/ 8858 ft
  • Machu Picchu, located at 2430 m/7972 ft
Inca Trail Altitude, Difficulty, and Weather

Inca Trail Difficulty

The Inca Trail is considered one of the most challenging hikes in the world. It is a 26-mile (42 km) hike that takes 4 days. The trail is located in the Andes Mountains of Peru and reaches an altitude of 13,828 feet (4,215 m). Several factors make the Inca Trail difficult.

The Altitude in the Inca Trail: The average altitude on the Inca Trail is 3000 m/98421 ft; hikers can experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to take it slow and acclimatize to the altitude by spending a few days at a lower elevation before starting the hike.

The Inca Trail is also very steep, with many sections reaching 30% or more grades. This can be challenging for hikers used to hiking at lower elevations. Hiking poles can be helpful in these sections. F

The weather on the Inca Trail can be unpredictable. Temperatures can range from freezing at night to hot during the day, and rain is expected. Be sure to pack appropriate clothing and gear for all conditions.

But many visitors don't realize that the Inca Trail can be challenging. It's high in altitude, with some parts reaching over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). It can also be challenging to navigate, with narrow paths and steep climbs. And finally, the weather on the Inca Trail can be unpredictable, with everything from searing sun to freezing cold possible in a single day.

So if you're considering embarking on the Inca Trail, it's essential to be prepared for all three potential challenges. Here are some tips on how to do just that:

  • The key to acclimatizing to altitude is a slow and steady ascent.
  • If you can, spend a few days in Cusco (3,399 meters/11,152 feet) before starting your hike. This will give your body time to adjust before you hit the trail.
  • Once on the trail, take things slowly and often rest if necessary.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat light meals to keep your energy up.
  • The Inca Trail can sometimes be challenging, but that's all part of the adventure!
  • Be sure to pack appropriate clothing and gear for the conditions, and

Inca Trail weather

The Inca Trail is located in the Andes Mountains, which generally have a temperate climate. However, the weather can be unpredictable because the trail is at a high altitude. When hiking the Inca Trail, it is essential to be prepared for all types of weather.

The sun can be intense in the daytime, so wearing sunscreen and a hat is essential. The temperature can also drop quickly in the evening, so it is advisable to bring a jacket.

Nights can be cold, so it is recommended to bring a sleeping bag. Rain is expected on the Inca Trail, so it is essential to pack rain gear. The trail can also be muddy, so waterproof boots are recommended. Snow is rare but possible, so hikers should be prepared for cold weather when hiking during winter.

Inca Trail during the Rainy Season

The rainy season in Cusco is from December to March; during February, the trail is closed due to Maintainance and heavy rains. Hiking the Inca Trail during the rainy season has its pros and cons.

  • On the plus side, you'll mostly have the trail since few people are crazy enough to hike it in the rain.
  • On the downside, the trail can be extremely slippery and dangerous, and you'll likely get wet and cold.

If you're considering an Inca trail hike during the rainy season, ensure you're prepared for wet weather. Bring plenty of rain gear, including raincoats, rain pants, and waterproof boots. It's also a good idea to bring a change of clothes in case you get soaked. 

Inca Trail during the Dry season

Hiking the Inca Trail during the dry season, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The dry season runs from May to September, and while the weather is generally milder during this time, there can still be some showers. Be sure to pack a rain jacket and waterproof shoes, just in case.

The dry season is also the busiest time of year for the Inca Trail, so booking your hike well in advance is important. The trail can only accommodate a limited number of hikers daily, and spots fill up quickly. If you're set on hiking during the dry season, plan to book your hike at least six months in advance.

Finally, be prepared for some crowds on the trail. The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the world, and during the dry season, it can be quite crowded. If you're looking for a more solitary experience, consider hiking one of the less crowded trails in Peru.

  • Pros, fewer chances of rain and a clear night sky
  • Cons, Machu Picchu and Inca sites are busy; long lines wait for buses and trains. Nights could be freezing.

Inca Trail during the shoulder seasons.

The shoulder season is the time to go. April-May and September-October are considered the Inca Trail's shoulder seasons. The weather is generally milder during these months, making for a more comfortable hike. And while you may still encounter some rain, it's typically not as heavy as during the wet season (December-March).

Remember that the Inca Trail is closed in February due to maintenance. If you're looking to save money, shoulder season is also an excellent time to book your trip. Prices are typically lower during these months, as demand is not as high. So if you're flexible with your travel dates, consider visiting the Inca Trail during the shoulder seasons. You may have a more enjoyable experience overall.

What to expect when hiking the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is notoriously challenging, with steep inclines and sudden changes in altitude. Trekkers should be prepared for challenging hiking, but the views are more than worth it.

Despite its challenges, the Inca Trail suits most moderate and experienced hikers. However, it is important to be well-prepared before embarking on the trek. Pack plenty of food and water, and be prepared for changes in weather conditions. The Inca Trail can be an unforgettable experience with proper preparation.

You can do a few things to have a wonderful experience on the Inca Trail

What to do before the IncaTrail Hike?

  • Get in shape: The Inca Trail is no joke. It's 26 miles long and includes 4,000+ steps. You'll be hiking for at least 4 days, so ensure you're in good physical condition.
  • Buy the right gear: You'll need comfortable hiking shoes, a rain jacket, a daypack, and other essentials. Don't wait until the last minute to buy these things—you want to ensure you have time to break them in before the hike.
  • Book your spot: The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the world, so spots fill up fast. If you want to hike the trail, you need to book your place well in advance.
  • Get your permits: You need a permit to hike the Inca Trail, and they can be challenging to get. Ensure you start the permitting process early so you won't be disappointed.
  • Learn some basic Spanish: You'll encounter many people on the Inca Trail who speak only Spanish. Learning some basic phrases will help you communicate with them and make your trip more enjoyable.

What to do during the Inca Trail?

  • Follow the tour guide's instructions at all times.
  • Pack light, but bring all the essentials, such as sunscreen, hats, water, snacks, etc.
  • Take it slowly. Make sure to take your time and enjoy the scenery.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day
  • Use the restrooms before you start hiking
  • Do not go off the route

At Machu Picchu, relax and enjoy your time at one of the most iconic archaeological sites in the world.

What to do after the IncaTrail Hike?

After the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, it is essential to take some time to rest and recover. Here are some tips on what to do after the walk:

  • Take a day or two to rest and relax. This will help your body recover from the strenuous hike.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to stay hydrated and help your body recover.
  • Eat healthy foods to help your body recover from the hike.
  • Stretch and do some light exercises to help your muscles recover from the hike.
  • If you have any soreness or pain, seek medical attention if needed.

After 1 or 2 days, you can explore other places like the Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley Tour.

Juan Coronel

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