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Inca Trail Difficulty – Are You Up For The Challenge?

Alison Macallister

As one of the world’s most popular hikes, you may be wondering about the Inca Trail's difficulty level.

Millions of people of all ages and fitness levels have successfully made it to the trail’s end. You would be right to assume that it is not the most gruelling of hikes.

As a relatively fit person, I found the level of the Inca trail difficulty pretty straightforward.

There are only a few challenging sections and long stone stairways that you need to be careful with. With good health and a little preparation, you can feel pretty confident about completing this iconic trek to Machu Picchu.

Read on for the answers to all your questions about the Inca Trail difficulty. I will also compare some alternative Inca trail treks that may better suit your walking abilities.

inca trail difficulty

Inca Trail Hike Difficulty

In order to figure out how hard the Inca Trail is, it's a good idea to consider this famous trek in terms of several important factors like distance, geography and personal fitness. 

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How Hard Is The Inca Trail?

With around 25,000 hikers making the trek every year, the short answer is ‘not that hard’.

The majority of the hike can be classified as ‘easy’ to ‘moderate in difficulty. But don’t get the wrong impression - hiking this trail is not going to be a cakewalk.

The journey starts in the City of Cusco. This city sits at an impressive 3,399 feet above sea level. This means that altitude sickness on the Inca Trail is a real risk and any hiker’s biggest enemy.

Take time to acclimatize and follow the necessary precautions to avoid the symptoms.

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The city of Cusco

The most challenging part of the trail by far is ‘Pasa del Abra Warmiwañusca’ (Dead Woman’s Pass).

You will likely reach this section on day two of your trek. This is the second of three high-altitude passes on the Inca Trail. The climb brings you over 4,000m above sea level, which is the highest elevation on the Inca Trail.

Dead Woman's Pass may sound intimidating but don’t let the name put you off. The stone path and stairways make for a fairly quick, non-technical ascent. Be aware though that the climb is steep and the stairs are harsh on your knees. If you suffer from chronic knee issues or are overweight, you might want to reconsider this trek.

Children and folks in their ’70s regularly complete the hike. Even so, the Inca Trail is a lot more enjoyable if you are fairly active. It's a good idea to do some form of exercise and training in the months building up to your trek.

See our guide to training for the Inca trail and training for Machu Picchu.

train for the inca trail

Inca Trail Difficulty Compared to Alternative Trails

The Inca Trail is the most famous of several hiking routes to Machu Picchu. These routes vary in terms of distance and difficulty.

salkantay trek

Salkantay

The Salkantay trek is almost twice as long as the Inca Trail. The Inca trail covers 26 miles (about 42 kilometres) which are leisurely spread out over 4 days. Salkantay covers almost twice that distance - 46 miles (about 74 kilometres) in only 5 days. Those who prefer a longer hike will enjoy this trail.

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Ñustahispana

Vilcabamba

Vilcabamba trek is considered the most difficult trek to Machu Picchu. This trail is well off the beaten path and reaches altitudes above 4000m. Some days, you could be walking for more than 10 hours. Only consider this option if your fitness is up to scratch.

Lares Trek Vs Inca Trail

Lares

If you are looking for an easier route alternative to the Inca Trail, the Lares Trail may be the way to go. This route is just over 24 miles (39 kilometres) and can be completed in 2-3 days. When compared to the Inca Trail, the Lares has much fewer stairs to climb. This is a gentle route through picturesque farmland in the Lares valley.

See: Lares trail vs Inca trail or Inca quarry vs Inca trail

inca-jungle-trek-lush-vegetation

Lush tropical forest vegetation as seen on the Inca Jungle Trek

Inca Jungle

There is yet another option in the form of the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu - the adrenaline-filled alternative to the Inca Trail. It includes sections of ziplining, mountain biking and even some white water rafting for the adventurous at heart.

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An Easier Way To Hike The Inca Trail

Desperate to follow the footsteps of the Incas on the classic trail but not up to the full 4-day Inca trek? There are other options for hiking the classic Inca Trail.

If you feel like you won't be able to walk the full 26 miles through the passes, you might choose to do the 2-day option. This is also known as the Short Inca Trail.

For the shortened Inca Trail, you start your hike at a later point of the same route as hikers doing the full trail. This means you will still be able to complete your hike at the Sun Gate. Ending at this famous site is a highlight for any traveller and sets the Inca apart from the other routes.

Inca Trail Hike Difficulty FAQs

Can a beginner hike the Inca Trail?

Of course, beginners can hike the Inca Trail. The route follows stone pathways and stairs and is not technical. There is no need to be an expert mountaineer for this route.

How fit do I need to be to hike the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail is suitable for people of most fitness levels since it is an easy to moderate hike. As long as you are healthy and keep fairly active, you should manage with hiking this trail.

woman jogging

Is the Inca Trail safe?

It is generally considered safe to walk the Inca Trail. Most risks are associated with altitude sickness. These risks can be reduced with proper preparation. However, those with health issues and walking difficulties should not attempt this trail.

See: Dangers on the Inca trail and Inca trail deaths

How long do you walk each day on the Inca Trail?

The distance you walk each day on the Inca Trail depends on your guide and where you stop to camp. Generally, you can expect to cover just over 6 miles (about 10 kilometres) a day. That’s 6-8 hours, which is a very manageable pace.

mount-everest

Which is Harder - Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp or the Inca Trail?

Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp are both considerably more difficult than hiking the Inca Trail. Although these are all famous treks, the Inca trail is the most accessible of the three. Kilimanjaro and Everest are both multi-day hikes that require more intense training.

Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison works as a guide for a 5-star reserve. She enjoys sharing her passion for all things nature-related. She enjoys hiking, horseriding, 4x4 driving and kayaking.

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