Machu Picchu Hike Difficulty: Adventurer 101 Hacks

Is the Machu Picchu hike difficulty holding you back from ticking off this bucket-list destination? Is hiking the Inca trail worth it?
Fear not, adventurous traveller! We at Skyhook Adventure are here to provide a comprehensive guide and share our best travel Machu Picchu tips that unveil the real challenges and helps you prepare for the trek of a lifetime.

Machu Picchu Trek Difficulty: The Different Routes and Their Challenges

Are you embarking on a Machu Picchu hike? The route you choose can make all the difference. Let’s dive into the various trails and what they mean for your adventure’s difficulty level.
hiking in dry season on salkantay trek

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is often considered the most challenging route to Machu Picchu, earning it the nickname “The Savage Trek.”
This Machu Picchu circuit is a challenging adventure that demands both physical, mental stamina and a specialized Salkantay trek packing list
With an average group size of 12 people, you’ll navigate various terrains, from steep inclines to rocky paths. The minimum age requirement for this trek is 18 or 16 if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
inca jungle trek hiking

Inca Jungle Trail

Unlike the more strenuous Salkantay Trek, the Inca Jungle Trail is generally considered moderate in difficulty. The Inca Jungle Trail is a favourite among adrenaline junkies because it’s not just a hike; it’s a multi-activity adventure. 
The Inca Jungle Trail offers a unique blend of adventure and culture, making it a versatile choice for those who crave variety. It combines hiking with other activities like mountain biking and zip-lining, offering a more dynamic experience. 
While it may not be as physically demanding as other routes, the trail still requires good fitness and agility to navigate its diverse terrains.
machu picchu steps

Cusco Inca Trail

The Cusco Inca Trail is designed for beginners with a good fitness level. You’ll be hiking an average of 10 miles daily, so stamina is essential. The trek includes a challenging ascent to ‘Dead Woman’s Pass,’ the trail’s highest point at 4,198m (13,769 ft). 
‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ got its name not because of any grim history but because the profile of the mountain pass resembles a woman lying down.
While the trek is aimed at beginners, the altitude and daily hiking distance make it a moderately challenging experience. The minimum age for this trek is 18 or 16 if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
salkantay trek group trek
A local guide ensures a full experience.

Classic Inca Trail

The Classic Inca Trail is a moderately challenging trek that requires reasonable fitness. You’ll be hiking an average of 10 miles per day, with the trail featuring a difficult ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point at 4,198m (13,769 ft). 
The trek is a multi-day hike through rough mountain terrain, so stamina and endurance are essential. 
Pro tip: The Classic Inca Trail is so popular that Machu Picchu permits often sell out months in advance. Early booking is not just recommended if you’re planning this trek—it’s essential! 
horse on salkantay trek

Lares Trek

The Lares Trek is a moderately difficult trail that blends cultural immersion and natural beauty. The trek starts at the small village of Pumahuanca. It ascends gently up a valley towards Puyoc, reaching an altitude of 4,100m (13,451 ft). 
The Lares Trek is known for its cultural richness. You’ll have the chance to meet traditional Quechua communities of farmers and weavers along the way. 
The trek includes a variety of terrains and altitudes, making it essential to have good physical conditioning. Like most Machu Picchu treks, the minimum age for this trek is 18 or 16 if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Short Inca Trail

The Short Inca Trail is a fantastic option for those looking for a less challenging trek to Machu Picchu. This two-day tour includes only one day of trekking, covering about 12km (7.5 miles) to reach the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. 
The Sun Gate Machu Picchu is a vantage point that offers breathtaking views of Machu Picchu. It’s perfect for those short on time but big on adventure! 
The trek is relatively mild, requiring only a basic level of fitness. The maximum altitude reached is 2,730m (8,956 ft), making it less demanding in terms of altitude sickness. While a lot easier, the minimum age for this trek is still 18 or 16 if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
salkantay trek difficulty

How to Overcome the Machu Picchu Hike Difficulty: Our Expert Tips & Insights

Are you feeling daunted by the Machu Picchu hike difficulty? Don’t sweat it! Our expert Machu Picchu hiking tips and insights are here to help you conquer the trail like a pro.
hiking in the wet season through the salkantay

Physical Preparation: What It Takes

When it comes to conquering the Machu Picchu trails, physical preparation is half the battle. Your fitness level will significantly impact your trekking experience, so let’s get you trail-ready!

Importance of Fitness Level

Being in good shape is crucial for any Machu Picchu trek. The trails often involve steep inclines, rocky paths, and high altitudes. A solid cardiovascular foundation will help you tackle these challenges with ease.
If you’re not a regular exerciser, start incorporating aerobic activities like jogging, cycling, or swimming into your routine at least three months before your trek. Here are some of our favourite Machu Picchu training plan tips:
  1. Strength Training: Focus on leg strength as you’ll be doing a lot of uphill walking. Squats and lunges are your best friends here.

  2. Cardio: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This will help build your stamina.

  3. Flexibility: Don’t underestimate the power of a good stretch. Incorporate stretching and perhaps some yoga to improve your flexibility and balance.

  4. Practice Hikes: If possible, do a few practice hikes in terrains similar to what you’ll encounter. This will test your fitness and give you a feel of what to expect.

7-day inca trail hike

The Role of Altitude

Altitude plays a significant role in the difficulty of any Machu Picchu trek. The higher you go, the thinner the air, making it harder for your body to get the oxygen it needs. Let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of Machu Picchu altitude sickness and how to tackle it.

Altitude Sickness and Its Symptoms

Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), can occur when you ascend too quickly to high elevations. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Loss of appetite

Tips on How to Acclimatise and Prevent Altitude Sickness

  1. Gradual Ascent: Try to ascend gradually, allowing your body time to adapt to the changing oxygen levels.

  2. Hydration: Staying hydrated can help alleviate some symptoms of altitude sickness.

  3. Rest: Get adequate sleep and take rest days if needed.

  4. Diamox: This medication can help prevent and treat symptoms but consult a healthcare provider before taking it.

  5. Descend: If symptoms become severe, the best action is to descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.

machu picchu on a sunny day

What to Expect on the Trail

So, you’ve trained and acclimatised, but what will you face on the trail? Knowing what to expect can help you mentally and physically prepare for the trek ahead.

Steep Stairs

Many of the trails feature steep, narrow staircases carved into the mountainside. These can be particularly challenging on the legs and require good balance. Trekking poles can be a lifesaver here.

Uneven Terrain

From rocky paths to muddy slopes, the terrain can be pretty uneven. Proper hiking boots with good ankle support are essential to navigate these sections safely.

Weather Conditions

The weather in Machu Picchu can be unpredictable, especially in the mountains. You might start your day in bright sunshine and end it in a downpour. Including layers and waterproof gear is crucial.
machu picchu hiking gear

Gear Up: What to Bring Along

You wouldn’t go into battle without armour, right? Similarly, you shouldn’t embark on a Machu Picchu trek without the proper gear. 
Let’s discuss what you must include in your Inca trail packing list to make this adventure easier.

Importance of Proper Footwear and Clothing

Your feet will do most of the work, so invest in good hiking boots with solid ankle support. As for clothing, opt for moisture-wicking fabrics and layers that can be easily added or removed. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket for those unexpected downpours!

Hydration and Food

  1. Water: Dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude sickness and fatigue. Carry at least 2 litres of water daily and consider a hydration bladder for easy access.

  2. Snacks: High-energy snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and fruit can keep you fueled. Some treks provide meals, but it’s always good to have backup.

  3. Electrolytes: Pack some electrolyte tablets or powder to add to your water. This can help replenish lost salts and minerals during the trek.

hiking during inca jungle trek


Embarking on a trek to Machu Picchu is more than just a hike; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime Peru adventure.
With the proper preparation, the best travel insurance for Machu Picchu from World Nomads and insider tips from us at Skyhook, you can conquer the Machu Picchu hike difficulty and make the most of this awe-inspiring journey.

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