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Truly one of the great journeys of the World, even the words "Inca Trail" are evocative and inspiring to any hiker.
There are actually several variants on the hike but the "real" one is the 43 kilometre trip from Km82 (so called because it is located 82 kilometres along the railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu) to Machu Picchu itself.
The trip begins in the fascinating and bustling city of Cusco (which was the colonial capital of the Inca and Spanish empires) and from there it is a 3 hour vehicle journey up to Km82 and the beginning of the hike.
Cusco itself is at 3400 metre above sea level but Km82 is "only" 2600 metres, so most hikers don't struggle with the altitude initially having got some acclimatisation in the bag in Cusco.
From Km82, the hike averages around 10 kilometres per day so it is not overly strenuous for a moderately fit and experienced hiker but it does reach an altitude of 4200 metres at Warmiwanusca Pass so spending a couple of days is Cusco before setting off is a good idea to increase the red blood cell count! The trail is very clear throughout and much of it is the originally constructed Inca trail, albeit with some renovations in places.
The accommodation during the trek is in tents and a permit is required to do the hike (this policy was introduced in 2001 in response to erosion and unsustainable visitor numbers) as is a guide.
It is no longer possible to hike the trail un-guided and "only" 200 hikers (plus 300 porters) are permitted to start the hike every day.
Organising a guide in advance is vital because demand is so high.
Despite the crowds, the trip remains an extraordinary experience and culminates with arriving at Intipunku (Sun gate) for sunrise over Machu Picchu.
If you still have the energy, hiking up Huayna Picchu (a peak behind Machu Picchu) is well worth it after you've explored the fascinating ruins of the settlements itself.
From Machu Picchu, all that remains is a short hike down to the village of Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly known as Aguas Calientes).