Tested Itinerary: Inca Trail and Machu Picchu – 12 days

Is hiking the Inca Trail (or just seeing Machu Picchu) on your bucket list? This tested Inca Trail itinerary will take you to Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and finally to Machu Picchu, the great city of the Incas, with minimal planning and maximum fun.

We did this trip with 3 kids from 9-14 years old. If you want to trek the Inca Trail, you’ll need two weeks to make this trip comfortable given the necessary acclimatization.

This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the tested itinerary section below into an e-mail to a local agency (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals.

The Tested Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Fly to Cusco. Relax for at least 24h, you are at 3400m/11,000ft above sea level. If you arrive in the morning, arrange early hotel check-in. Get a hotel in walking distance to the Plaza de Armas.
  • Day 2 – Hang out around the Plaza de Armas. Keep taking it easy. Maybe day trip to the Sacred Valley.
  • Day 3 – Head to Puno by Bus. Keep taking it easy.  Spend a few days at 3800m/12,500ft.
  • Day 4/5 – Uros Island, Homestay on Amantani, visit Taquile
  • Day 6 – Head back to Cusco by Train. You are now properly acclimatized to get ready to hike.
  • Day 7-10 Hike the Inca Trail.
    Alternatively, book a 2-day tour by train/bus.
  • Day 11 – Recover and shop in Cusco
  • Day 12 – Fly home
  • If you do this over Christmas plan around the following
    • 12/24 Santurantikuy – possibly the biggest crafts market in Latin America
    • 12/31 Christmas Eve – awesome new year party on the Plaza de Armas
  • If you have additional time (do this after the trek):
    • Spend a night at the Skylodge
    • Visit the Salt Mines
    • Spend a few days in the Peruvian Amazon

Getting There

From SFO and other US cities, it’s likely a red eye on United through Houston.


Unless you know that you acclimatize fast to elevations over 3500m, assume you will need a week to get comfortable. The Inca Trail is hard enough without high altitude symptoms (head ache, nausea, or worse…). You will climb a 4200m high pass. Spend a few days in Cusco or – as suggested above – in Puno, which is even higher.

Inca Trail Itineraries

Tl;DR; book the Inca Trail with Llama Path. They have a good itinerary, and are a responsible tour operator.

Different tour operators prefer different itineraries. If you do private tours, they may accommodate changes to it, but it will not be their regular way of doing, which may complicate things. Here are some options

  • 4 days/3 nights Llama Path: You will leave Cusco at ~4am. You will hike more than other groups on day 1 and 2, but less on day 3, which allows you more time in the ruins of the third day. On the 4th day, you will get up at 3am, wait 2 hours in the dark, and arrive at Machu Picchu around 7:30am. It’s hard core.
  • 5 days/4 nights APUs Peru: You will leave early on the first day, too, but then have slightly shorter hikes. On the 4th day, you will hike the last 2 hours to Machu Pichu and arrive in the afternoon. Then you spend a night in a Hotel at the bottom of Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) and go back to Machu Picchu the next day.
  • 2 days/1 night Llama Path. You hike the first day, visit one beautiful Inca city in the morning, and reach Machu Picchu in the afternoon. Then spend a night in Aguas Calientes and go back.
  • Skip the pain – take the train to Aguas Calientes. Stay in Aguas Calientes and take the first bus up to Machu Picchu.


You have two options:

  • Winter (June/July), when it’s colder, but the weather is a lot nicer. It probably won’t rain (but you are in the mountains, the weather is unpredictable…)
  • Summer (December, e.g. over norther hemisphere winter break), when it’s warmer, but it will rain. We hiked 2 days in the rain! It was awesome, although some might disagree.

Travel Agencies

Your desired itinerary will decide which travel agency you will be using for the Inca Trail. If you go with the recomended Llama Path, then you likely want a different agency for the rest. I recommend APUs Peru, especially if you are into cultural travel.


My wife – a textile artist – found APUS Peru because they organize textile tours. They have multiple cultural offerings, and everything we did with them was good. I kept changing our plans, but they were very easy to work with. Also, their pre-trip documentation on how to behave on treks was outstanding, and better than what we saw from Llama Path. They have their own Inca Trail offering, which is a bit less hard core than the Llama Path 4-day one, so it’s worth consideration if you are so inclined. We especially liked our guide Arturo. He was super competent, and had some interesting perspectives.

Llama Path

Llama Path is not only a responsible operator, it championed many of the improvements for porters and the environment. They introduced uniforms and working as a group and are the only one with a porter house. They also don’t make porters carry toilets (you have to use the campground restrooms). You can read about their commitment on their site.

With Llama Path, the food is amazing and plenty (click on that link!). Their food handling was safe enough that nobody got sick on the trip, and we ate pretty much everything (of course one never knows, you decide what to eat).

Our guide Rosalio, or Lio was super experienced and everything went smooth. He did the Inca Trail 800 times, and he run it once (as part of the Inca Trail marathon) in under 4h – the local porters are totally crushing the world elite in that event.


Get a local SIM card from Claro or Movistar. The message boards are full of people pointing out that global roaming is very limited in Peru. Local SIMs are cheap and you likely have much better coverage. It takes half an hour to get one in any Claro store in a big city. You can recharge it in small stores anywhere.


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