The following is typical of the group-organized 4-days/ 3 nights shedule along the Inca Trail
Day 1 .- Trekkers arrive from Cusco, either by train, getting off at the midway stop. Ollantaytambo, or Km 88, the preferred method of transport for many groups. (Starting at Km 82 doesn't add appreciable distance to the trail). After crossing the Rio Urubamba (Vilcanota), the first gentle ascent of the trail looms to inca ruins at Llaqtapata (also called Patallaqta where Bingham and his team first camped on the way to Machu Picchu). The path then ccrosses the Rio Cusicacha, tracing the line of the river until it begins to climb, until it reaches the small village (the only one still inhabited along the Trail) of Huayllabamba -a 2 - 3-hour climb. Most groups spend their first night at campsites here. Total distance: 10 to 11km (6-7 miles).
Day 2 .- Day 2 is the hardest of the Inca trail trek. The next ruins are at Llullucharoc (3,800m/12,540 ft.) about and hour's steep climb from Huayllabamba. Llulluchapampa an isolated village that lies in a a flat meadow, is a strenuous 90 minutes to 2 hour climb through cloud forest. There are extraordinary valley views from here. Next up is the dreaded Abra de Huarmihuañusqa, or Dead Woman's Pass, the highest point on the trail and infamous among veterans of the Inca Trail. (The Origin of the Name-or who the poor victim was-is anybody's guess) The air is thin, and the 4,200 (13,700-ft). pass is a killer for most; a punishing 2 1/2 hour climbin the hot sun, wihch is replaced by cold winds at the top. It's not uncommon for freezing rain or even snow to meet trekkers stop the pass. After a deserved rest at the summit, the path descends sharply on complicated stone steps to Pacaymayo (3.600m/11,900ft), where groups camp for the night. Total Distance 11 km (7 miles).
Day 3 .- By the third day, most of the remaining footpath is the original work of the Incas. (In previous sections, the government has "restored" the stonework with a heavy hand.) En route to next mountain pass (1 hr), trekkers encounter the ruins of Runkuracay. The circular structure (the name means "basket-shaped") is unique among those found along the trail. From here, steep 45-minute to 1 hour climb leads to the second pass, Abra de Runkuracay (3.900/12,700 ft), and the location of an official campsite just over the submit. There are great views of the Vilcabamba mountain range. After passing through a naturally formed tunnel, the path leads past a lake and a stunning staircase to Sayacmarca (3,500m/11,550 ft), named fo its nearly inaccessible setting surrounded by dizzying cliffs. Among the ruins are ritual baths and a stunning staircase to Sayacmarca (3,500m/11,550ft). named for its nearly inaccessible setting surrounded by dizzying cliffs. Among the ruins are ritual baths and a terrace view point overlookig the Aobamba Valley, suggesting that the site was not inhabited but instead served as a resting point for travelers and as a control station.
The Trail backtracks a bit on the way to Conchamarca, another rest stop. Here, the well preserved Inca footpath drops into jungle thick with exotic vegetation, such as lichens, hanging moss, bromeliads, and orchids, and some of the zone's unique bird species. After passing through another Inca tunnel, the path climbs gently for 2 hours along a stone road, toward the trail's third major pass, Phuyupatamarca (3,800m/12,540ft.); the final climb is considerably easier than the two that came before it. This is spectacular section of the trail, with great views of the Urubamba Valley. Some of the region's highest snowcapped peaks (all over 5,500m/18,150 ft), including Salkantay are clearly visible and the end of the trail is in sight. The tourist town of Aguas Calientes lies below, and trekkers can see the backside of Machu Picchu (the peak, not the ruins).
From the peak, trekkers reach beautiful, restored Inca Ruins of Phuyupatarmarca. The ancient village is another one aptly named: It translates as "Town above the Clouds". The remains of six ceremonial baths are clearly visible, as are retaining-wall terraces. A stone staircase of 2,250 steps plummets into the cloud forest, taking about 90 minutes to descend. The path forks, with the footpath on the left leading to the fan-shaped Intipata Terraces. On the right the trail pushes on to the extraordinary ruins of Huiñay Huayna, which are actually about a 10-minute walk from the trail. Back at the main footpath there's campsite and ramchackle trekker's hotel offering hot showers, food and drink. The grounds are major gathering place for trekkers before the final push to Machu Picchu and for some, they're are a bit too boisterous and unkempt an unpleasant intrusion after all the pristine beauty up to this point on the trail. Though closest to Machu Picchu, the Wiñay Huayna ruins, nearly the equal of Machu Picchu, were only discovered in 1941. Its name, wich means "Forever Young" refers not to its relatively recent discovery, but to the perpetually flowering orchid of the same name which is found in abundance nearby. The stop was evidently an important one along the trail, on the slopes around the site are dozens of stone agricultural terraces, and 10 ritual baths which still have running water, awaited travelers. Total Distance 15 km (9 miles)
The new restrictions on the numbers permitted on the Inca Trail in 2002 have limited most tour Operators in Cusco to a single group of trekkers per day. Some dates sell out as much as a year in advance (specially end of May and weekend and holidays June - Aug). It's never too early to book your organized tour, if you know the dates you'll be in Cusco.
Day 4 .- From Wiñay Wayna trekkers have but one goal remaining: reaching Inti punku (the Sun Gate) and descending to Machu Picchu, preferably in time to witness the dramatic sunrise over the ruins. Most groups depart camp at 4am or earlier to reach the pass at Machu Picchu and arrive in time for daybreak, around 6:30 am. Awaiting them first. though, is a good hour to 90 minute trek along narrow Inca stone paths, and then a final killer; a 50-step nearly vertical climb. The descent from Intipunku to Machu Picchu takes about 45 minutes. Having reached the ruins, trekkers have to exit the site and deposit their entrace passes to Machu Picchu stamped the pass is good for 1 day only Total distance 7km (4 miles).
For a truly spectacular experience on the Inca Trail, plan tour trip to depart 1 or 3 days before a full moon. Locals say the weather's best then, and having your nights illuminated by a full or near full moon, especially for the early rise and push in to Machu Picchu on the last day is unforgettable.