Machu Picchu Hike: All You Need To Know To Be Perfectly Prepared

Written By: Mark Whitman

The Machu Picchu hike along the Inca Trail of Peru draws millions of travelers every year. It’s one of the most iconic treks on our planet.

For myself, my Machu Picchu hike was the highlight of my South American journey.

Yes it’s busy, and yes, it feels like a tourist trap, but there is still no escaping the magic that one feels when standing among the ancient stones.

This feeling is only enhanced by trekking up the original pilgrimage route to reach the site.

The route we now call the Inca Trail.  

Hiking to Machu Picchu

 All You Need to Know Before You Go

To help you prepare for your perfect Inca Trail experience, I have written my top 8 tips to help you on your Machu Picchu hike.

1. Best time to hike Machu Picchu

hking machu picchu trail

In the Peruvian Andes, you generally get two seasons.

  • April till October is considered the dry season.
  • November through to March is considered the wet season (although warmer).
  • May to September is considered the best time to trek because of the dry days. But I disagree.

April to Oct: Tourists literally flock to Machu Picchu during the dry season and this can be somewhat off-putting.

Nov – March: Yes, the wet season is wet, but if you can get past that, then you’ll have a far more tranquil experience hiking to Machu Picchu than you would during the peak season.

The Best Time: My favorite time is late March when the days are getting drier and the place isn’t swarming with tourists.

Unless you enjoy getting soaked avoid trekking in December and January.

The Inca Trail is closed in February.

2. Book your Machu Picchu hike early

machu picchu inca trail

Book early. I really can’t stress this enough.

While Machu Picchu allows thousands in a day, the Inca Trail does not.

Only a strict amount of tourists are allowed on the trail to Machu Picchu each day.

Book 6 Months in Advance

To make sure you get your ticket, you’re going to want to book 6 months in advance if you’re planning on trekking during the peak season.

Even if you plan on going during the wet season you’ll need to book at least 3 months in advance.

The last time I trekked the trail I witnessed a Dutch couple in floods of tears because they hadn’t booked in advance.

Alternate Hikes to Machu Picchu

If worst comes to worst, you can always trek another route to Machu Picchu such as the Inca Jungle Trek or the Lares Trail.

Only the Inca Trail requires you to book early.

3. Train before your trek

hiking machu picchu Mark and his wife with their Inca Trail support crew
Mark and his wife with their Inca Trail support crew

The classic Machu Picchu trek takes only 3 days. H

But you’ll be trekking for nearly 7 hours each day which does take it out of you.

On top of this, you need to cross Dead Woman’s Pass standing at 4,215m (13,828 ft).

I’m a fairly fit young chap, but that pass had me breathing so hard I had to stop several times.

No, you don’t need to be superman to complete the trek, but having a decent fitness level will increase your enjoyment that much more.

I would advise doing as many day treks as you can in the months leading up to your trek to build up your cardio level.

4. Acclimatize properly to the elevation

hiking Machu Picchu - window of the ruins
Mark looking through a window in the Machu Picchu ruins after his 3 day hike

Landing in Cusco I felt absolutely nothing. I took a taxi to my hostel, I had a nice dinner and I went to sleep.

But the next morning was another story.

Altitude Sickness on the Inca Trail

I awoke with a splitting headache and stayed in bed for most of the day.

The kind lady who ran the hostel made me some nice coco leaf tea, which apparently wards away altitude sickness.

Although it didn’t cure me, I did feel a little better.

Tips to acclimate to altitude

If I was to go back I would have taken a bus down into the Sacred Valley, stayed in the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo, and acclimatized properly over a few days before tackling the Inca Trail.

5. Get the right gear

inca trail peru machu picchu

The temperature actually stays fairly level throughout the year, hanging around the 20-degree mark during the day and 4/5 degrees at night.

If you’re trekking during the dry season I would still bring a lightweight waterproof breathable jacket, and if you’re trekking during the wet season then it’s a must.

On top of this you need to avoid cotton clothing and bring trekking clothes that are made from a high-wicking material.

I remember feeling constantly damp in the muggy atmosphere and was super relieved not to be wearing jeans or cotton shirts.

Make sure you bring a good fleece, a warm jacket and base layer for the cold nights and mornings.

6. Bring insect repellent

I made the serious mistake of not bringing insect repellent on my trek to Machu Picchu.

The flies on the trek are big, bad and annoying.

The bites I obtained on the trek became itchy and quite painful and did not disappear for a few months!

Make sure to get a reliable repellent brand that has a high Deet content – greater than 90% is ideal.

Chuck a fresh coating on twice a day and stay vigilant.

7. Get comfy at night

hiking to Machu Picchu - camping on the Inca Trail
Come prepared for your trek to Machu Picchu

A good night’s sleep on the Inca Trail is a must.

Walking for 7 hours a day requires all your strength and you seriously don’t want a sleepless or uncomfortable night during the trail.

What to pack:

  • Warm lightweight sleeping bag
  • Thermarest
  • Fleece jacket or lightweight down jacket
  • a breathable waterproof outer shell
  • This socks – for sleeping
  • Merino Wool base layer
  • Good hiking boots that are broken in in advance

I chose to bring my own warm sleeping bag, blow up pillow and Thermarest mat.

Having my own sleeping bag was a great feeling and the others in my group looked longingly at my Thermarest mat, which kept me nicely comfortable on the hard ground.

I can’t stress how important it is to choose the right sleeping gear to keep you comfortable. w

Whether it’s an inflatable pad or foam mattress choose one that’s small and light enough not to be too much of a burden on the trail.

Warning – you may get jealous onlookers.

8. Enjoy the Machu Picchu trail

trekking Machu Picchu - View from the viewing point on Huayna Picchu
Mark at the Huayna Picchu viewing point

It may sound obvious, but I saw so many people huffing and puffing and generally looking down at their feet as they walked.

Remember where you are, remember to stop and take in the views, and remember to enjoy the Machu Picchu hike.

Yes, you may get tired, yes, you may get wet and uncomfortable, but you will probably only do this amazing experience once – so make the most of it.

machu picchu hike tips
Tips to Hiking the Inca Trail

The ancient ruins, deep rainforest and perfectly sculptured stone continue to amaze and delight visitors from all over the world.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About Mark Whitman

Mark Whitman is a high altitude adventure junkie. He has extensive knowledge of the famous trekking trails in Nepal - Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit - and spent two months in Peru trekking all the Inca trails to Machu Picchu. Through his adventures, Mark has written some of the most popular online guides to all these destinations Machu Picchu Trek Guide. He also writes at Sleep Studies. Follow Mark at MachuPicchuTrek

Leave a Comment

8 thoughts on “Machu Picchu Hike: All You Need To Know To Be Perfectly Prepared”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this. lots of info, that I’m sure is going to be useful. looking forward to this excursion. Are their any trekking company you recommend a solo guy booking through?

    Reply
  2. Machu Picchu is both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the site of an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes of Peru. Since its discovery in 1911, growing numbers of tourists have visited the site each year. As Peru’s most visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator, it is continually exposed to economic and commercial forces. Discover the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu with expert private Photographer Guide Photo Tours Peru, who’ll make the ruins come alive with history, and enjoy the scenery of the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Ausangate Hike, Salkantay trek, Lares trek. You’ll get up close to ancient cultures and awe-inspiring natural wonders in the company of local Guides whose passion for their country is contagious. Your luxury trip to Peru can include as much or as little as you like. I have planned to go for a trip to Peru with the help of a premier adventure company, an accomplished with the Photo Tours Peru guide.

    Thanks & regards
    Fadahunsi

    Reply
  3. Wonderful post. I loved to travel to Machu Picchu. It is an awesome place. You guys are lucky to travel to this admirable destination.

    Appreciate it for sharing this incredible post.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, full of great insight and tips! The photos and your experiences are awesome! Continue to be an “Unstoppable Traveler” and sharing with the rest of us!
    Cheers,
    Rhonda,

    Reply
  5. Great tips. I have done MP and HP. I would add that the best time to tour MP is at sunrise or just before closing. Otherwise, the ruins are like an anthill of tour group stumbling upon another tour group all speaking different languages and tour guides with their flags. You may be interested in checking out my blog and books: http://heidisiefkas.com/blog/ I’m all about inspiring others to think outside of the cubicle, travel more, and live a life full of adventure.

    Reply
  6. Great post! I wouldn’t have thought about the insect repellant. And the booking 6 months in advance. I’ll definitely have to add this one to the bucket list, thanks for the tips! love the blog by the way! ~ Darren @ everydayharts.com

    Reply