inca trail difficulty

How Difficult is the Inca Trail Hike?

The Classic Inca Trail is Peru’s most popular multi-day trek and one of the most well known trails in the world. Consisting of 4 days of hiking, along original Inca stone pathways, through a variety of fascinating Inca sites and ending at Machu Picchu, it is considered somewhat difficult for most people.

Inca Trail Distance

While the total trail distance, 26 miles, and daily hiking distances are not extreme, with porters available to carry your gear and chef-prepared food in abundance, this adventure can still be trying for many people.

Elevations Changes on Inca Trail

In addition to the multiple days on the trail, there are many lengthy elevation changes along the way. Days 1 and 4 on the classic Inca Trail are easy trekking days with manageable distances and minimal elevation changes, however trekkers quickly notice on day 2 that the trail becomes more difficult during the morning’s uphill stretch, with an ascent of over 4,000 feet. While 50% of trekkers consider day 2 the most difficult of the trek, the other 50% consider day 3 more challenging, as the trail descends 3,650 feet before reaching the Winay Wayna campsite and the next morning’s rewarding entry through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu. The total ascent and descent, much of it on over 3,000 hard stone stairs, laid down irregularly by the Incas, can be very trying, especially for those with knee or lower back problems.

Highest Elevation of the Inca Trail

Lastly, but not to be minimized, is the high altitude of the Andes. This is the factor that most travelers find the most difficult aspect of the Inca trail. At the height of the trail, “Dead Woman’s Pass”, is at an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet. Most everyone who hikes the Inca Trail experiences the effects of the altitude, in terms of shortness of breath, with many showing additional symptoms, such as headache or nausea, while a few may even experience true “altitude sickness”. This may be accompanied with serious symptoms that could require medical attention and evacuation to a lower altitude.

Trail Difficulty Rating

The following is a chart used by many Hiking Clubs to rate the degree of difficulty of trail systems. The Classic Inca Trail rating is listed below as a guide for the degree of difficulty each day on the trail.

Use this chart to rate the difficulty of hiking trails.

Use this chart to rate the difficulty of hiking trails.


Inca Trail Difficulty Rankings?

Over 4 days the Inca Trail breaks down in this manner:

  • Day 1 – 2B
  • Day 2 – 1E
  • Day 3 – 3B
  • Day 4 – 1A

Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is difficult but here are Guiding Peru’s tips on what you can do to assist in your preparation.

  • Prior to your arrival in Peru, gradually increase your hiking distances; to where you can comfortably hike 6 miles in one outing while carrying a backpack weighing 10lbs.
  • Exercise to strengthen leg muscles, with daily squats and lunges.
  • Acclimate to the high altitude of the Andes Region of Peru prior to the start of your trek. Spending a minimum of 2 days in Cusco or the Sacred Valley will help your body properly prepare for the challenges of the Inca Trail.
  • Consider taking Diamox. This medication has been proven to reduce the symptoms associated with altitude sickness. You should see your doctor or a travel clinic prior to departing for Peru. Note that there are side effects to Diamox, including night terrors and tingling sensations in your extremities.
  • Minimize your alcohol consumption on arrival into Peru and insure your water intake is adequate.
  • Consider using extendable hiking poles on the Inca Trail. These greatly assist your knees and lower body during downhill descents.
  • Most importantly PACE yourself on the trek. Listen to your guides and go SLOW if needed for a successful and enjoyable trek

Final Word

The Classic Inca Trail trek is one of the most amazing and mystical trekking experiences worldwide. Be safe and have a great time!