You know when you sign up for the craziest thing, and then you just have to deal with it? This is precisely what I did when I was approached for a trip to Peru with Intrepid travel on their women-only expedition.
Visiting Machu Picchu was one of my bucket list experiences; hiking the Inca trail was not on that list when I envisioned seeing this beautiful site.
However, hiking the one-day Inca trail from 104 Chachabanba to Sun Gate and down to Machu Picchu was the highlight of my year, and the whole trip was one of the best in my life so far.
Before I tell you what you should pack, I want to cover some other aspects of the trek which I didn’t find available when I was googling to prepare myself.
Is the 1 Day Inca Trail Difficult- Do I need to be Fit?
Let me start by saying I am not the fittest person in the world. I do moderate exercise like tennis once a week, a Zumba class and maybe some pilates thrown in as well.
Also, I didn’t even prepare for this trek as I was meant to do, and people told me to.
Would it have helped? Yes, but I did it even without spending two months on the step machine at my local gym. Can you do it? Yes, I believe you can, and I will explain why.
A week before my trip, I didn’t even own a pair of hiking boots, so if you own one, you are way ahead of the game.
The day Inca Trail is a shorter version of the classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It is a little more difficult than the 4-day option, but still doable for most people with a good fitness level.
The main difference is that you hike up to the highest point on the trail (Dead Woman’s Pass) and back down again in one day instead of staying overnight. This means you are hiking for around 6 hours, with many uphill sections. However, it is an amazing experience and well worth the effort!
There is no denying that the 1 Day Inca Trail is a tough hike. You get dropped off by the train at 104km Chachabanba, and you then go over the river and to the starting point. You will have your guides with you so you will not be alone; they will guide you through the process and encourage you along the way.
The trail takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in all of Peru, and you’ll get to see first-hand the incredible engineering feats of the Incas. Half the time during my hike, I was just stopping to catch my breath and admire the amazing views. It’s a difficult hike, but it’s definitely worth taking.
There were a lot of steps during the first half of the hike, but I saw people over the age of 50 and under the age of 10 on the day trail, and I kept telling myself if they could do it, so can I.
What Is The Inca Trail Hike Distance?
The 1-day trail is over 13km long and starts from 104 Chachabanba and goes all the way to Machu Picchu, otherwise known as the short Inca trail to Machu Picchu. It takes you approximately 6 to 7 hours to hike it, and there are small chalet resting points and the lunch meet-up point where typically people on the longer treks camp.
Overall you can stop as many times as you need, and you can take it easy.
Also, to hike, you need a permit for the 1 day Inca trail plus your passport with you to show at the checkpoint and the Inca trail Machu Picchu Permit you need.
Because we went part of the Intrepid tour group, they had taken care of all the permits and requirements, which was much easier and stress-free. I just had to take my passport and show it at the checkpoint prior to starting our journey.
We started our trek around 9 am, and we arrived in Machu Picchu around 5 pm. But we did take our time, and we also had to wait for some people from our group.
Why Choose the One Day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu?
As I mentioned above, I am not a person who hikes; this was literally my first hike ever!
I know, go big or go home was my motto.
The classic Inca trail is 4 days long, but I am not very comfortable sleeping in campsites and tents. So the one Day Inca trail for me was the perfect way to experience part of the thrill without having to sacrifice my comfort and bed at night.
Also, as a hiker, you have some privileges that other people visiting the site don’t get to experience.
Firstly, it is a fantastic way to see the stunning scenery of the Andes Mountains. It is a great way to experience the Inca culture and history. Our Intrepid guides spent time with us and explained the rituals of the Incan people when they lived there, and we got to see the stunning beauty and human ability because these people were terrific to build terraces and live on the edge of the mountain.
You get to visit the Sun Gate and get a first glimpse of Machu Picchu from higher up. This is only possible if you do one of the trails and not as a day visitor.
Also, when you are on the Machu Picchu site, you have access to a special viewing platform reserved for hikers. This means you pretty much get an unobstructed view of the best that it has to offer.
Lastly for me was the fact that, I pushed myself; I can safely say I trekked the Inca trail. I achieved this when I had never hiked before, and honestly, this is priceless for me and my confidence. I would also definitely do it again, and the fact I would like to do more treks in the future is just a bonus.
Best Time of the Year to Hike the Inca Trail
There is no definitive answer as to when the best time of year to hike the Inca Trail is. However, most experts agree that the dry season (May to September) is usually the best time to attempt the hike. This is because the trail is less likely to be muddy and slippery, and there is less chance of rain or snow disrupting your journey. The trade-off is that the Inca Trail is usually much busier during the dry season, so you may have to contend with large groups of other hikers.
We made the Inca trail in mid-October. We were lucky to have no rain, just sunshine and blue skies. We thought we would have rain and we just hoped that the site wouldn’t be foggy, but in reality, we had great weather.
This is the thing with nature; you never know. I loved that we went out of the normal season because the trail was not busy, and we could take our time. I would say try and go just after the peak season as you will enjoy it more even if you get some rain.
Taking the train to the Inca Trail or Agua Caliente
Depending on the trip you are taking, whether you are going solo or with a group, it will depend on where you start from.
We started early in the morning from the city of Ollantaytambo, where we spent the night. The train station from our hotel was only a 5 min walk which was easier since we took the early 7 am dome train. Although expensive I highly suggest you consider booking the train, because you do get stunning views of the Andes mountains.
The train journey to Agua Caliente, the final stop and the gateway to the Machu Picchu site, takes approximately 1hr 40min. If you are doing the Day Inca trail, then the train will stop in the middle of nowhere, at 104km Chachabanba, and you will get off there. There are announcements so you won’t miss them.
If not, and your final destination is Agua Caliente, you can spend the day exploring the town. It is a small town with thermal baths and is pretty much a tourist destination. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels in the area. You can spend a couple of days there if you wish.
I would say you can take a bus around 9 am to arrive at Machu Picchu at 10 am, and hopefully, there won’t be any fog. Know that the way to the site is through some very windy roads, so sit at the front of the coach if you get dizzy like me. Coaches leave every few minutes, so you won’t miss them, but you do need a day ticket for them. You are better off booking your site tickets as well as the train and coach tickets months in advance.
I really enjoyed that I was on a group tour, which was also a first for me because the Intrepid team had taken care of everything for us.
What to Pack while in the Andes Mountains
While you are visiting the Andes mountains for your trek to Machu Picchu, whether you hike the Inca trail or not it is essential to keep a few things in mind. You need to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions.
During the day, it can be pretty warm, so pack light clothing that will keep you cool. A hat and sunscreen are also essential.
However, the temperature can drop significantly at night, so ensure you have a jacket and some warm clothes.
Layering is the best option, as the nights can be pretty cold. Our hotel had an extra heater, so it was not cold during the night while I slept, but I did also have my long sleeve pj’s.
1-Day Inca Trail Packing List
Pack as light as possible since you probably won’t need most of the things you take with you.
1. Comfy hiking boots:
These were my first trekking boots, so I asked for recommendations, and the vote was for Merell. I didn’t even have to break them in, but they were super comfortable to wear and kept my feet well-protected. I bought a bigger size to wear with thicker socks, but for this hike, I just used regular socks.
We had people in our group use hiking shoes and regular trainers. They all did well. I would recommend buying hiking boots with ankle protection because it is rocky, and there are a few times I did twist my ankle slightly, and it would have been worse if I did that without proper ankle support.
At minimum, you need 50SPF and make sure you re-apply a few times. The sun is very hot on the trail as you are so high up.
As a Muslim woman, I do cover, so my top protected me as well. However, my wrists (?!) did get a tan line. The girls with me who wore T-shirts got tanned as well.
I would recommend a breathable long top to keep you protected from the sun. I didn’t get sunburned and I am happy about that. Also, I even bought lipstick with 30spf, which definitely helped too.
Generally on a trail, you will have a couple of porters to carry water and lunch. We ended up only with one porter due to a family emergency, and since this was a women-only trip, we didn’t want her to carry water. Just after the checkpoint, there was a lady that was selling water, and we bought some extra to have with us.
I had with me 3 litres of water which lasted me all day. Definitely make sure you have enough as it gets hot, and you lose a lot of liquids through sweating.
I bought a small backpack from Amazon, that was foldable, light and easy to carry. Since I was travelling with only a carry-on to Peru, I wanted things that were easy to take with me. This backpack was excellent and for $6 definitely worth it.
It was sturdy enough to hold 3 litres of water, my camera gear as well as my abaya, snacks and sunscreen and more.
5. Battery pack
Make sure you have enough battery for photos, especially if you use your phone. I didn’t want to carry my heavy camera. Hence I took only my phone with me. I shot at 4K and UHD so it took a lot of space and battery. Make sure you have both before you start your journey. You don’t want to miss the memories of a lifetime. Personally, I had two battery packs; this is the one I bought, and it worked well.
I think electrolytes made all the difference. I bought chewing electrolytes from Holland and Barett, and I had about 3 of them. They kept me going; even the next day, I had no muscle pain.
I also took vitamin C while on the trail in a bottle and drank that for half of the trek.
Once we went to the hotel, I also had some paracetamol for aches, and honestly, the next day, I was perfectly fine. So I guess one of all these things must have worked.
Our porter on the trail carried our lunch. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the lunch was delicious and filling.
I bought snacks, like protein bars, snickers, Oreos and nuts, but I didn’t eat anything during the hike. I think I was so concentrated on actually visiting up that I was meant to pace later in the day, but I forgot.
If you like snacking, then definitely get some snacks.
Also, just keep in mind there is no toilet on the trail, and you pee on the trail. So I tried not to overeat and get a tummy ache.
As a Hijabi, I do cover my hair, the issue is that I had my hijab and a hat, and I overheated. I was so glad it was a women-only trip since I could remove my hijab, open my zipper, and be comfortable.
You definitely need a light hat for sun protection; it is actually hot during the day. Make sure the hat is light, as well as the one I had, was a little thick and was not very comfortable.
9. Comfy clothing
What should I wear to hike to Machu Picchu is the question I typed, and I got so overwhelmed. It would be best if you definitely had comfy trousers while you are on the trail, as you have a lot of movement and bending. I don’t like wearing and having leggings, so I opted for the Puma modest trousers and loved them. They are super light. Also they have an inner half tight so they protected me from any mosquito or bug bites!
Recommend something like this, Muslim or not.
My top was a gym top from Matalan in the UK, and it was great as it is easy to dry, long sleeve but also breathable.
10. Bug spray
Talking about bugs and mosquitos, you MUST take a spray for protection as you might get bitten. Re-apply several times, especially as you are walking through the Inca jungle. Part of the trail is under heavy forest, so it is more likely to have mosquitoes or insects, especially if it rains.
I also bought a mosquito bracelet, and I think it helped and it was just easy to wear. I didn’t get bitten on the trail, but I did in the hotel on the last night. Ugh!
It doesn’t matter when you are going, weather in the Andes is unpredictable, so you need to have a raincoat with you. I also bought a rain poncho in case it was raining, and I had to protect my backpack and equipment. I didn’t need it, but I bought a long raincoat which I will also use in the rainy UK.
12. Positive vibes
Honestly, if this is your first trek or 100th, you know positive vibes and good company make it so much better.
My tour team of women was terrific; we kept encouraging each other during the hike, and I think it made all the difference.
I have a full Youtube video I did with what I packed for the day trek and the trip to Peru. I went with a carry-on, and I had enough clothes.
If you want to learn more about the Intrepid Women’s Expedition to Peru and find your own fantastic tribe check them out.
The trips are designed for women, with all the guides, porters and interactions highlighting the amazing females of Peru and the Andes.
What If I can’t continue the 1-day Inca Trail Trek?
We had a girl in our group who sadly couldn’t cope with the trek and had to return a few miles after we started. I initially thought you could take the train, but apparently, this is not possible. You still have to walk to Aguas Caliente, but you do it through the train track route rather than the Inca trail and Machu Picchu way.
There is no escape from the walk during the day, but it is flat, and although apparently bushy, it is less strenuous. However, make sure you have a lot of bug repellent.
I did want to give up halfway, but that was not worth it. It is not very nice to trek down, especially for your knees and also the fact it is scarier, in my opinion.
Halal food on the Inca trail
Let’s be honest; finding halal food on an Inca trail or in the area is hard, if not impossible. So don’t be disappointed if you are not able to enjoy some halal meat. Our team had dietary requirements, and they met them, but if you don’t have anything that is not Zabiha, then you will have to go veggie. This is totally OK for me as I like quinoa, and they do a lot of their food with it.
Honestly, some of the veggie food I had over this trip was simply some of the best I ever had, and I didn’t miss not eating meat.
Also, you are out on an adventure, don’t let the scarcity of halal food in Machi Picchu to distract you from this experience.
What should I Pack for a day trip to Machu Picchu?
If you are not doing the Inca trail trek and you are just doing a day Machu Picchu tour, then you are just going to need the basics for the day. It is pretty much the same as exploring another tourist attraction.
The coach drops you off from Agua Caliente at the front of the site. I wouldn’t arrive to Machu Picchu very early in the morning, and there might be fog, and you won’t be able to see the site. There is a coffee shop and restaurant as well as toilets if you need them. You have to pay two soles to use them so keep some change with you.
After Covid, they have changed how things work, and now you have four routes to explore. Each route is corded off, and you cannot enter them all; you need to buy tickets for each one.
If you want to go to the iconic photo of Machu Picchu viewpoint, then you will need to hike some steps as well, so keep this in mind and don’t wear heels. There are very steep steps, and people have to pass each other, so it is slow.
Comfy trainers or your hiking boots will do. The Inca site is stunning, and it is just amazing how they built it. I definitely suggest you buy tickets for routes 1 and 2, which take you to the top.
We had to do the steps twice since after our trek from Sun Gate since we arrived late and missed the time and the site was closed. Our guides were excellent and we managed to use our Inca trail permit the next day actually to see the top viewpoint again. We were fortunate.
As for packing, I had my small backpack, and I kept my water, cameras, money and the abaya I wanted to change into.
Please note that you cannot undress and change closed in Machu Picchu. It is against the rules. So if you want to take photos with a specific dress, you will have to wear it before entering the site.
Peru and an adventure to Machu Picchu were on my dream destination bucket list for almost ten years. For some reason, I didn’t want to go without a group. I felt overwhelmed and unprepared, and I never imagined I would be trekking all the way to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. However, I can not express in words the awe I felt once I climbed those Inca Monkey steps and I got a first view of Machu Picchu in the distance.
I cried! I felt so proud and amazed by the whole experience.
I know it was partially because I went with an amazing tour group like Intrepid and their women-only Expedition to Peru. We got not only to travel safely but meet female tour guides, female porters and business owners. If you are a solo woman and want to experience Machu Picchu and trek then I would highly recommend this tour.
This article is not sponsored by Intrepid but I was invited on the press trip. All opinions are my own.