Julie Peru 24 Comments

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu.  For people short on time or for those with no desire to hike their way to the Sun Gate there is the option of arriving in Aguas Calientes by train and then taking a bus up to the main gate of Machu Picchu.  But for those who desire a little more adventure there is the option to hike the Inca trail to the Sun Gate. This is the original main gate of Machu Picchu when it was used by the Incans.

The Inca Trail

The standard four day trek involves hiking for three days and then descending down into Machu Picchu on the fourth day. This is all arranged by tour companies as solo trekkers are not allowed to hike without a guide.

The shorter option is a full day hike from kilometer 104 of the Inca trail, ending at the Sun Gate in the afternoon. After spending the night in Aguas Calientes, you take a bus up the Machu Picchu and spend the day exploring this magical place. Tim and I chose the second, shorter option. There were several other places we wanted to see in Peru and our time was limited.

Reviews of the one day tour are mixed.  Some people said the hike was mediocre and not worth the time. Apparently the scenery during the first two days of the four day trek are phenomenal and we would be missing this. Tim and I took our chances, scheduled the one day hike, and hoped for the best.

We made a great decision. Hiking the Inca trail, even the little we did, was awesome and remains one of our favorite travel memories.

Hiking the One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Our first day started in Ollantaytambo.  Here we met the other couple we would be hiking with, Lies and Mauro.  Lies was Italian, Mauro was Brazilian, but they both were living in Washington DC at the time.  They could speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.  Wow!  Tim and I really enjoyed hiking with them.

The train to Machu Picchu

We took a one and a half hour train ride to km 104 to start our hike to Machu Picchu.  This hike would take us from the Urabamba River Valley 15 kilometers up and over several mountains to our final destination of Machu Picchu.

Getting Off Train

Camino Sagrado Inca Trail

Tim and I each had a backpack filled with our bare essentials:  camera, rain jackets, some toiletries, umbrella, clean clothes, and lots of water.  Whatever we needed for the next two days we had to carry on our backs, so we brought the bare minimum.

Inca Trail

For almost three hours we hiked up Winay Wayna, an Incan site high above the valley floor.  The sun was out and it was very hot.  It was also all uphill.  The hike was a lot of fun but a little more strenuous than we were expecting.

Tim on Inca Trail

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Winay Wayna

Finally, we reached Winay Wayna. This was a rest point for us. We all found a comfy rock and ate the lunch provided by Pie Experiences (our tour company). The food, surprisingly, was very good (chicken, quinoa, fruit, and chocolate covered coca leaves). Clouds were rolling in which cooled things off a lot. From here the hike got easier and by now we were only two hours from Machu Picchu.

Winay Wayna

Tim and Julie

After lunch at Winay Wayna the hike continued.  Now we were hiking though a rainforest, we occasionally were sprinkled on by a rain shower, and we were even lucky enough to see a rainbow.

Now we were really getting close.  These are called the Monkey Steps, because you have to use your hands to climb them…unless you are Tim.

Monkey Steps

Intipunku sign

After a long ascent up yet another stone staircase and hiking along these trails the Incans make hundreds of years ago, we arrived at Intipunku (Sun Gate in Quechua).  This was the moment we had been waiting for…our first view of Machu Picchu.

First View of Machu Picchu

And there it was, off in the distance, more beautiful and more awesome than any photo or video could ever show it.  And to have hiked all day through these amazing mountains to this viewpoint made it even more rewarding.  Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu from Sun Gate

Tim and Julie at Machu Picchu

We took a break here (and a lot of photos) to just chill out and enjoy one of world’s most awesome sights. Tim and I called home to the kids (who knew that we would have excellent phone service at the Incan Sun Gate) and it was so nice to hear their voices. Tyler, always very polite, wanted to know how our hike was. I knew this trip would have been a little too much for them at their ages but I still really wished Tyler and Kara were here to see this.

Julie Rivenbark at Machu Picchu

It was a forty minute walk from Intipunku down into Machu Picchu. Here we took the “postcard photo” of  Machu Picchu and then it was time to go. By now it was 4:30, almost closing time. We would have all day tomorrow to explore.

Machu Picchu flower

Guardhouse Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Orchid

Read all of our articles about Peru in our Peru Travel Guide.

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One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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Comments 24

  1. Hi Julie,

    We are planning to visit Peru next May or June 2021 and planning to do the 2 day hike (1 night overnight) – Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Please can you advise on how to book them. I have read plenty of site including your blog but bit confused. Thank you.

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      That’s very exciting! I recommend that you reach out to several tour companies to get prices and availability for your dates. We used Pie Peru and were happy with them but it has been almost 10 years since our visit. To find reputable tour companies, you can look on Trip Advisor and then reach out to the top reviewed companies. Cheers, Julie

      1. Good day Julie, I enjoyed reading your story. I did the classic inca 4 day trail.
        Just a question. I am curious to know why you took 8 to 10 years to share this brilliant experience.? Better late then never. Keep up the great work

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          This article has been published for 6 years. 😊 I frequently update our posts to keep them current…the date of the post is the most recent update. Congrats on hiking the 4 day Inca Trail…we’d love to so that someday! Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi! Really enjoyed reading your post! I am considering doing this same hike (1-day Inca trail) and staying the night in Aguas Calientes and then exploring Machu Picchu the next day. Did you have to bring your spare clothes for the rest of the 2 day trip or do they transport your luggage to the hotel?

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      We had to carry anything we wanted on day 2: change of clothes, toiletries, etc. Tim and I each carried a small hiking-sized backpack and carried our things in this. We left our luggage in Ollantaytambo at the hotel we stayed in before and after the visit to Machu Picchu.

  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures. We are thinking of doing the one day hike with kids ages 11 and 14 – do you think it wise to take them or should we just take the train up?

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      I think that it would be great to take your kids on this hike. It’s not too strenuous and it is a great experience to hike to Machu Picchu and have your first view from the Sun Gate. Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi Julie, awesome trek! Do you know something about Moonstone Trek to Machu Picchu? Planning an June trek and seeing Machu Picchu before heading to the Amazon. .It looks like it passes along a road and through a lot of villages, and look like it might several passes (a good thing), and be the best of this trek. But i cant find more information of the trek.
    Our alternatives:

    Suggestions are welcome!

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      No, I haven’t heard of the Moonstone Trek. It sounds like it is an alternative to the 4 day Inca trail trek, since that tends to sell out quickly. So far, we only have the experience of doing the one day trek, but we’d like to come back and do a multi-day trek in the future. There are a lot of different options but right now I have no concrete advice on how to pick the best one. Good luck on your search. Cheers, Julie

  5. Hello there,
    I enjoy reading your blogs. Thanks for sharing your experience in a concise manner with lot of good photos.
    I am going to do the 1 day short Inca trial on Oct 3rd, 2019.
    One question I have is, did you face any altitude syndrome? I am a decent hiker ( recent one I did is old rag mountain) in a decent shape but altitude is a different beast I guess.


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      We spent two days in Cusco before doing this hike. Cusco is at a higher elevation, so once I got on the Inca Trail, where the elevation was lower, I felt better. If you can, I recommend spending a few days in Cusco to get you acclimated to the high elevation. We did not experience altitude sickness in Cusco, but we could feel the effects of the altitude (fatigue, a slight headache, etc). It’s important to take things slow, drink lots of water, and avoid alcohol. Diamox can help with the symptoms and for most people it will fade on its own in a few days. And yes, altitude sickness can happen to anyone, and being in peak fitness does not prevent it. Some people are just more prone to it. I hope you have a great hike…it’s an extraordinary experience. Cheers, Julie

  6. “Excellent article and pics Julie!
    The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most famous treks in Peru. There are several tours from 1 to 5 days, however the most requested trek is the traditional 4-day trek. Each year the government of Peru has 500 spaces that normally run out for May, June and July. If you want to do the Inca Trail for those dates you must anticipate the reservation with at least 6 months.
    The tour of 2 or one day is also almost always available.
    Greetings from Peru!


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    2. My sister and I are looking for a guide from the 104Km to Sun Gate on April 22, 2019. We are staying in Ollyantambo and have purchased our train tickets already. We have reserved a hotel in Aguas Caliente. Is it possible to hire a guide for 1 day?
      Peggy Lamb

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  7. Great website. I have enjoyed looking over your material…..How are the insects on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu?

    Also, any information on Switzerland?

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      We did this hike at the end of April and we had zero issues with insects. I don’t know what it would be like during other times of the year.

      No info on Switzerland yet. So many people have asked us about Switzerland in the past month! Guess we will have to go there soon. 🙂

      Cheers, Julie

  8. Hi there! I enjoyed reading your post! I am considering doing this same hike (1-day Inca trail) and I have a few questions regarding it that I was hoping you might could answer, since you’ve done it. 1 – What month did you do this hike? 2 – How much did it cost? (if you don’t mind (curious). 3 – What all was included for the price? 4 – You stated your kids didn’t go because it would have been a bit much for them at the time. How old were they then? – I’m asking because we have 3 children who would be coming with us and I’m trying to find out if they could do the hike or not. Thanks so much!

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      We did the hike at the end of April. This is a great time to go…just before peak season when the trail and Machu Picchu get really crowded. There is a chance that it could rain. Maybe we got lucky but we never saw a raindrop the one week we were in Cusco/Machu Picchu. Tyler and Kara were 7 and 9. However, they really could have done this hike but it would have taken Kara awhile. I talked to our guide and he said the youngest person he took was 7 years old. It’s going to be a challenging day for kids, but if they are active and adventurous and have some hiking experience, it is possible. If you are considering this, you could book a private guide for your group, then you don’t have the pressure of keeping up with faster hikers in a group.

      I don’t recall what we paid. We did this back in 2012. We booked a group tour, 2 days 1 night with Pie Experiences. Right now, prices start at $659 per person on their website. This includes your transportation, accommodation, food, guide, and entrance fee into Machu Picchu.

      Cheers, Julie

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