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Inca Trail Elevation – The Ups And Downs To Machu Picchu

Alison Macallister

The Inca Trail follows a route through Peru’s Andean mountains. This means you can expect to reach some significant heights. Inca Trail elevation continually changes as you hike over spectacular passes and down into lush valleys.

Check out the daily elevation increases and be better prepared for your trek. The altitudes on the trail are much higher than what most travellers are used to.

In this article, you can find everything you need to know about altitudes on the Inca Trail.

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Inca Trail Elevation - What To Expect

How High Is The Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail has an elevation range between 2,200m (7,218ft) and 4,200m (13,780ft) above sea level. The lowest point on the trail at Llactapata ruins is roughly 2250m (7,382ft). The highest point on the Inca Trail is Dead Woman’s Pass. This steep ascent reaches 4,215m (13,829ft) above sea level.

If you are hiking the Inca Trail, you will most likely be spending some time in Cusco. This is one of Peru’s highest major cities with an altitude of 3400m (11,152ft). Cusco is actually higher than most points on the Inca Trail.

Cusco’s high altitude makes it a convenient place to acclimatize. It is recommended to spend a few days getting used to the elevation before you hike the Inca Trail.

inca trail elevation

Elevation On The Inca Trail - Day By Day

Day 1 Inca Trail Altitudes

On your first day of hiking the Inca Trail, you will typically embark from the KM82 route. The Inca Trail starting point is at an elevation of 2,600m (8,500ft). On the first day, you will also pass the lowest elevation on the Inca Trail known as the Llactapata/Patallacta Ruins at an elevation of 2,250m (7,382 ft).

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Llactapata / Patallacta Ruins

Height (Metres)

Height (Feet)

Elevation gain

500

1640

Approximate Total Descent

50

164

Highest point (Wayllabamba Camp)

3,100

10,170

Camp altitude

3,100

10,170

Day 2 Inca Trail Altitudes

Day 2 is the biggest elevation gain on your hike. You will start the day with a steep ascent up Dead Woman’s Pass. This pass has the highest elevation on the Inca Trail at 4,215m (13,829ft).

From the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, you will descend about 2.5km (1.6 miles) down a steep gradient into the Pacaymayo Valley. This is where your campsite is located.

Dead Woman's Pass

Height (Metres)

Height (Feet)

Elevation gain

1,100

3,610

Approximate Total Descent

600

1,970

Highest point (Warmiwanusca Pass / Dead Woman’s Pass)

4,215

13,829

Camp altitude

3,600

11,170

Day 3 Inca Trail Altitudes

From Pacaymayo camp, the trail ascends steeply up the valley’s opposite side. This is the second highest pass on the Inca Trail known as the Runquraqay Pass.

Within the first hour of your day, you will reach the Runquraqay ruins. These ruins are at an altitude of 3750m (12,300ft). After the ruins, the trail continues its ascent to the top of the pass at 3975m (13,035ft).

From the top of the Runquraqay pass, it is a short descent of 300m (980ft) to the Phuyupatamarca ruins at 3650m (11,975 ft) above sea level.

The last part of your day is a descent to Winay Wayna. This is approximately 1000m (3281ft) down more than 1200 stone steps.

Runquraqay Pass

Height (Metres)

Height (Feet)

Elevation gain

160

1,476

Approximate Total Descent

1,000

3,280

Highest point (Runquraqay Pass)

3,750

12,335

Camp altitude

2,550

8,366

Day 4 Inca Trail Altitudes

The final day of the Inca Trail is an easy and gentle slope towards the Sun gate at an elevation of 2700m (8850ft). After the Sun gate, it is a short and scenic downhill walk to Machu Picchu.

Sun Gate

Height (Metres)

Height (Feet)

Elevation gain

160

1,476

Approximate Total Descent

150

492

Highest point (Sun Gate / Intipata)

2,700

8,850

Machu Picchu altitude

2,400

7,874

To have a better understanding of the varying levels of the Inca Trail elevation during pivotal sections of the route, see the chart below: 

Inca Trail Elevation Profile

Hopefully, the chart above gives you a better idea of why it’s important for you to train as much as possible before your trek. And during the trek, it's also vital that you ascend towards Machu Picchu as slowly as possible. After all, it’s not a race and all about the incredible journey through Peru.

Dealing With Altitude Sickness On The Inca Trail

The biggest problem that comes with increasing elevations is altitude sickness.

On the highest points of the Inca Trail, some hikers experience unpleasant symptoms. Common symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea, and fatigue. At the very least, you will find it difficult to breathe as the air becomes thinner higher up.

Altitude sickness on the Inca Trail is rarely severe. Even so, you should ascend slowly and drink lots of water. Let your guide know if you are struggling and especially if your symptoms get worse. Guides are required to carry oxygen tanks in case of emergencies.

Peru’s Top 5 Highest Cities

As you can see Cusco is one of Peru's highest cites. As is Puno and Juliaca if you're planning to visit Lake Titicaca.

City Rank (By Altitude)

Height (metres)

Height (feet)

1. La Rinconada

5,100

16,732

2. Cerro de Pasco

4,330

14,206

3. Puno

3,827

12,555

4. Juliaca

3,824

12,545

5. Huancavelica

3,676

12,060

6. Chivay

3,635

11,925

7. Sicuani

3,549

11,643

8. Cusco

3,400

11,152

9. Huancayo

3,259

10,692

10. Huaraz and Tarma

3,053

10,016

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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