Hiking into Machu Picchu is an iconic pilgrimage that many adventurers wish to take on as they visit Peru. There are essentially two ways to do this; hiking the final section of the Inca Trail (also known as KM104) into the ruins, or hiking the stairs from Aguas Calientes to the entrance.
Naturally, hiking the KM104 Inca Trail through the sun gate and into Machu Picchu holds a certain amount of historical and cultural significance, while being a breathtaking sight that passes through various Inca ruins.
In contrast to this, hiking the stairs to Machu Picchu is a low-cost (free) way to get to the citadel in the sky. It is a much tougher hike, but the stairs will lead you up through the cloud forest and you will undoubtedly fall in love with the striking mountainous surroundings.
Read on to compare these two different hikes into Machu Picchu, and decide which is the best choice for you.
KM104 Inca Trail into Machu Picchu Hike Stats
Start of the hike: The KM104 hike starts on the banks of the Urubamba River, close to the pueblito of Cachabamba. There is a train station close to the start of the hike that your company may use to access the beginning of the hike. Alternatively, you may arrive via bus or it may be included in your longer hike to Machu Picchu.
Typically, travelers may walk to Machu Picchu using the KM104, but then spend the night in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) and return the following morning so as to ensure they are rested enough to really enjoy the Machu Picchu experience, and to ensure that they have enough time in the citadel to comfortably return to Cusco in the afternoon or early evening.
- Distance: 12.4km (7.7 miles)
- Difficulty: If you are properly acclimatized to the altitude the hike is moderate. However, if you are not as well acclimatized the hike will be more challenging. It can be more difficult during the rainy season as well (November to March). The route is closed during the month of February due to heavy rains.
- Elevation Change: 1,101m elevation gain.
- Is it busy?: It’s the final part of the Inca Trail, so yes. This section of the trail is trodden by those who have taken on the first 3 days of the hike- around 500 people. It is also walked by those who have purchased the KM104 pass. This ticket exclusively covers the final day of the hike.
- Do I need a ticket?: Yes. There are 500 tickets available per day for the KM104 Inca Trail into Machu Picchu (not including those who have the full Inca Trail permit).
Hiking the Stairs into Machu Picchu
- Start of the hike: The hike to Machu Picchu using the stairs starts from Aguas Calientes. You will follow the road that the buses take, but as you reach the climb, you will take the stairs (instead of the road that zig zags up the mountainside) until you reach the entrance of Machu Picchu. This will be obvious as it is where the stairs end.
- Distance: 9.4km (5.8 miles)
- Difficulty: Hard. The majority of the trek is up a steep set of stairs.
- Elevation: 496m elevation gain
- Is it busy?: Rarely, but you may encounter traffic in the form of the buses that take travelers up to the entrance.
- Do I need a ticket?: No, and in fact, you will save yourself the $12 (at the time of publication) bus ticket up.
Can I add the KM104 Inca Trail onto my Machu Picchu Trek?
Yes. The KM104 Inca Trail is possible to add onto all treks to Machu Picchu. It is automatically included in the price of your Inca Trail permit, but can also be added onto treks such as the Lares, the Salkantay, and Inca Jungle, on the condition that there are still permits available on your day of travel.
If you are interested in adding the KM104 Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu onto your hike be sure to discuss this with your tour operator. Some may include it as standard, but others will not. Be sure to confirm before booking.
It’s important to remember that these permits do sell out, so booking your trip last minute may mean that you miss out on the opportunity to experience this incredible and historic hike. If you are sure that you want to hike into Machu Picchu with the KM104 hike, be sure to book it in advance and be sure to choose a good tour company so as to guarantee an incredible experience for yourself.
Can I add KM104 onto my Lares Trek?
Yes, depending on the company that you travel with it may already be included. The Lares Trek specializes in ensuring that travelers get a true taste of Peruvian culture, as it explores small towns and offers the opportunity to interact with local people on your travel.
By adding the KM104 onto your Lares Trek, you can cultivate a trek that incorporates both culture and history in a way that can only be experienced in Peru.
Can I add KM104 onto my Salkantay Trek?
Yes, after you finish the traditional Salkantay Route, you can drive to the beginning of the KM104 trek for the final day of hiking. It’s important to remember that the Salkantay Trek traditionally involves driving between certain points.
Can I add KM104 onto my Inca Trail Trek?
The KM104 route is included by default for all Inca Trail treks, so there is no need to add it on.
Can I add KM104 to my Inca Jungle Trek?
Yes, but as with the other treks, you will need to check with your tour operator if they include this. The Inca Jungle Trek is the least traditional of all the treks to Machu Picchu, so it is less likely to be included.
Please remember that with all the above treks (excluding the Inca Trail), adding the KM104 onto the package is likely to incur an additional cost. Be sure to check with your tour operator that KM104 is included in your trekking package.
Can I add the Stairs Hike onto my trek?
Yes and no, you can do this trek without the need to book in advance, so having it as an additional feature is unnecessary. Some of the cheaper tour operators may not include the bus ticket up to Machu Picchu in their prices, so check with them in advance whether your bus ticket to (and from) Machu Picchu is included in the price they are offering you.
Can I add the Stairs Hike onto my Lares Trek?
Yes, but you won’t have to book this activity, just communicate with your guide the day before so that they are aware you don’t plan on taking the bus. You can express beforehand that you wish to climb the stairs, but we advise waiting to see how you feel on the day as a multi-day hike at altitude can be more taxing than you may originally think- regardless of how physically fit you are.
Can I add the Stairs Hike onto my Salkantay Trek?
Yes, you can. It is however advisable for you to choose an operator who includes the bus tickets. The Salkantay Trek is long and in some parts difficult, so it’s highly likely that by the time you arrive in Aguas Calientes, you won’t want to do the hike anymore.
Can I add the Stairs Hike onto my Inca Trail Trek?
No, as the Inca Trail trek leads you directly into Machu Picchu. If you plan on spending two days in Machu Picchu, then you may want to hike the stairs on your second day, but your first day will see you entering the citadel through the Sun Gate.
Can I add the Stairs Hike onto my Inca Jungle Trek?
Yes. As with the other treks that don’t lead you directly into the citadel, it is possible to complete the stairs hike on your hike to Machu Picchu. The Inca Jungle Trek involves less hiking than other choices, so it is more likely that you will want to take on the stairs trek.
However, we do still recommend you leave yourself the option to get the bus ($12 each way) in case you are feeling tired and want to conserve your energy for a day in the citadel.
Can I do Both the KM104 and the Stairs Hike?
Only if you wish to spend two days exploring Machu Picchu. The KM104 hike includes the entrance to Machu Picchu, but be sure to purchase an entrance ticket for the following day as well.
Is it Better to do the KM104 or the Stairs Hike?
It probably won’t surprise many, but it is definitely recommended to try and do the KM104 trek into Machu Picchu, whereas the stairs hike follows the route of the bus, so is only really recommended for those on a very tight budget, or those who truly love hiking up very steep staircases.
Whichever way you choose to arrive in Machu Picchu, it’s almost guaranteed that you will have an unforgettable experience while exploring the hidden citadel that the world has fallen in love with. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so be sure to treat it as such.0