How old is too old and how young is too young to hike the famous (and strenuous) 4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? If you look at the overall distance, it doesn't look that bad. The total distance is around 26 miles / 41 kilometers over the course of 4 days. Even beginner hikers can do that right?

Let's look more closely at the details and break down the components to help you decide if the Inca Trail hike is right for you.

Is there an official age limit for hikers?

No, the Peruvian government has not established any guidelines regarding age limits for hiking any of the Inca Trails that require permits. It's up to the tour operators to determine what their limits are. Operators who organize group trips can choose any age limits they want. Some have chosen 8 as the youngest and 67 as the oldest. Adios Adventure Travel organizes private and small group hikes. We have set up hikes for families with children as young as 6 and even toddlers carried in backpacks, as well as people in their 70s. Fitness is a factor and it's in the best interest of the tour operator to carefully assess groups with members younger than 15 and older than 50. All our staff have hiked all the trails and we have detailed descriptions, expertise and practical advice to help people make decisions.

How many Inca Trails are there?

There is technically one trail with 3 options for hiking. Permits are required for all options.

  • Classic 4-Day Inca Trail. This is the most popular and typically sells out months in advance. Operators cannot store or bank permits to use later. We can only buy permits for people who book a hike and send their passport and non-refundable deposit
  • 5-Day Inca Trail. This is the same as the 4 day Inca Trail hike but with 1 extra day in a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the purpose of exploring Machu Picchu in depth. The total hiking distance is the same although the distribution of hiking distances each day is different because hikers are likely to camp in Phuypatamarca on Day 4. The hiking distance to Machu Picchu is 12 KM. (guides actually like this camp better than Winya Wayna) Permits for this hike come from the same pool as the 4-Day hike so availability is the same.
  • 2-Day Inca Trail. Hikers begin with a train ride to KM 104 where they start the 12KM hike which joins up with the same trail as the 4 day hike. One overnight is in a hotel and the 2nd day includes a guided tour of Machu Picchu. Permits come from a separate pool and this hike rarely sells out, although it can.  

For kids we set up an Inca Trail hike parents checklist to help you determine if your child is ready to hike the Inca Trail. Why? Because once you start, there's no way for us to send a car or even a chopper if you decide it's too much and want to end the hike. We recommend private tours for families with children so your kids can hike at their pace. 

For older folks it's a little tricky. Some of you know that I am in my 60s and I've hiked these trails and many others in South America. I'm happy to report that it's becoming quite common for us older folks to push the limit for fitness and high-intensity training. I practice cross-fit in a gym that has taught me how to scale activities to prevent injury. I get the benefit of high-intensity training for my age, but with reduced risk of injury. Even with all the sea level training, I still struggle with altitude when I hike. I've heard from other seasoned hikers that the most surprising aspect of hiking at altitude is the affect it has on your stamina.

What's the highest altitude on the Inca Trail?

Day 2 of the 4 and 5-day Inca Trail hikes is the highest. The altitude of Dead Woman's Pass is close to 14,000 ft. The first day of the trip is a good warmup for hiking up to Dead Woman's Pass, but that's just the beginning of the suffering part of your trip. Honestly it's the long decents that seems to affect people the most. There are many, many stone steps of various sizes, which can cause pain in leg joints and feet. We provide trekking poles with advance notice. Using poles is a useful strategy to mitigate the effects of long descents. 

Note: Adios guides will let you know if they have any doubts about the hiking readiness of any members of your group. In spite of all the planning and preparing, it occasionally happens that someone shows up and is not fit enough to hike. Here is a list of the main reasons:

  • it's common for people to use their fitness and hiking readiness at lower altitude or sea level as a guage to determine their ability to hike at high-altitude in Peru.
  • people undertrain. Gardening, walking and toodling around on your bike are not to be confused with high-intensity training like weight lifting, marathon running, all day bike rides, and other sustained cardio activities. 
  • correct fitting backpacks and footwear determine your comfort on the trail. Hikers are expected to carry everything they need during the day, and for the 2 Day Inca Trail hike, they also need to carry everything needed for one overnight in a hotel. Backpacks should be designed to distribute the weight and fit comfortably all day. Footwear should cover the entire foot, have grippy soles and be water resistant or water proof. Backpacks and footwear should be worn on training hikes before arriving.  
  • hikers don't schedule enough time to acclimatize to high altitude before beginning their hike. A minimum of 2 days in Cusco is recommended. This is ideal time to explore the historical and cultural sites of the city and the Sacred Valley. 

Things to know:

  • kids under the age of 18 should be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian
  • Inca Trail is not a good "first" hike for anyone. Practice hiking at home before you come
  • we cannot get a permit without a passport. We can use an expired passport in case you are renewing. If that happens, you must travel with both the old and the new documents. The passport you send us is the same passport you must show to enter the hike. Please notify us if you plan to renew your passport at the time you book your hike
  • permits cannot be refunded, cancelled, transferred or changed in any way. If you buy a permit and you don't show up for your hike, your spot will go empty
  • we recommend that families with children under the age of 18 book a private hike. 
  • it's ideal to stay overnight in a hotel in Ollantaytambo the night before the 2 day Inca Trail hike so you can be close to the train station. 
  • there are alternative day hikes  with a driver and a vehicle available for pickup in case you get tired
  • altitude: Cusco/11,000 ft - Dead Woman's Pass/14,000 ft - Machu Picchu/8000 ft

Looking for info about high-intensity training for the "over-the-hill" gang?
Here's a link to a story from Outside Magazine

If you have $500 burning a hole in your pocket (but only after you have booked your hike) you could send your DNA in for analysis and find out how well you're aging.
Here's a link to the story and the company who's offering.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please consult your medical advisor before beginning any exercise program or if you have questions about your health.