Trekking the Two-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Chris VR / TripSavvy 

If you’re short on time or short on stamina, the two-day Inca Trail trek might be a good option for you. It gives you a taste of the classic Inca Trail hike but takes half the time and requires less than half the physical exertion -- but don’t expect the price to be half that of the classic four-day/three-night hike. The two-day Inca Trail trek typically runs according to the following itinerary:

Day One

  • your tour operator picks you up from your hotel in the early morning
  • take the train to KM 104 (kilometer 104 of the train track from Cusco), where you begin your trek
  • walk for three to four hours to the Inca site of Wiñay Wayna, located at about 8,858 feet (2,700 m) above sea level
  • you’ll then climb a steep flight of steps to reach Intipunku (the Sun Gate), from where you’ll experience your first panoramic view of Machu Picchu
  • descending to Machu Picchu itself, you’ll pass through the citadel for a brief taster of the main attraction
  • your group will then head down to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) for dinner
  • spend the night in Aguas Calientes (there’s no camping on the two-day Inca Trail)

(total of 6 to 7 hours walking time)

Day Two

  • have an early breakfast in Aguas Calientes
  • take the bus to Machu Picchu (ideally an early bus leaving at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. -- the site opens at 6:00 a.m.)
  • your guide will give you an extensive tour of the site, after which you should have at least a couple of hours to explore Machu Picchu on your own
  • you can climb to the top of Huayna Picchu, but only if the Huayna Picchu ticket is included in your trek -- always ask your tour operator about Huayna Picchu access before purchasing your two-day Inca Trail trek
  • head back to Aguas Calientes, either by bus or on foot, where your tour operator will likely provide lunch and give you your train tickets back to Cusco
  • you might also have time to visit the hot springs in Aguas Calientes (S/. 10.00 nuevos soles)

Some Tips 

As mentioned above, there is no camping during the standard two-day Inca Trail trek. Your accommodation in Aguas Calientes could range from a basic budget hostel to a comparatively luxurious hotel. A more expensive trek should come with better accommodation; it’s a good idea to do a little research into the proposed hotel before buying your two-day Inca Trail trek.  

Book your trek well in advance to ensure your place on the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail has a limit of 500 people per day, which includes trekkers on the two-day hike. To be safe, consider booking at least three months in advance, especially during high season.

Sacred Valley
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Is the Short Inca Trail Right for You?

For certain trekkers, the two day/one night Inca Trail offers a useful alternative to the classic four-day Inca Trail and alternative treks.

If you’re short on time, the two-day option gives you a good taste of the Inca Trail -- and a good amount of time at Machu Picchu -- without putting a four-day dent in your Peru itinerary. You can use those extra two days for other excursions, such as a trip south to Puno and Lake Titicaca, a Nazca Lines flight or a visit to Arequipa and Colca Canyon. You might also want more time to explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

A two-day trek is also a good option in cases where the physicality of the longer trail might become a problem. The shorter route can be a far more viable or manageable trek for families with young kids, the elderly and non-trekkers in general.

The shorter route also scores points among the camping-averse. With no camping on the route, you’ll spend one night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, so no roughing it in the cold night air.

Two-Day Inca Trail Tour Operators

Most -- if not all -- of the best Inca Trail tour operators in Peru offer a two-day Inca Trail trek (2 day/1 night), be it private (just you and your family/friends with a guide) or a scheduled group departure, also known as a shared service (you and a mixed group of fellow trekkers). Private treks are often a lot more expensive than regular group departures.

Prices vary greatly depending on a variety of other factors, including the quality of the hotel in Aguas Calientes, services along the trail and the type of train taken to KM 104 (standard or luxury). Always check the finer details of any trek before booking your place with a tour operator. 

Sample prices for the two-day Inca Trail (October 2013):

  • Llama Path -- private service for 5+ people at US$350 per person
  • SAS Travel -- shared group service at $420 per person
  • Enigma Adventure -- shared group service at $557 per person
  • Amazonas Explorer -- private service for two people from $802 per person (fixed departures)