My wife and I took 5 days to backpack this route, a leisurely pace to better enjoy the beauty along the way. An outstanding hike and one of the best ways to arrive at Machu Picchu, a place like Angkor Wat, that surpasses expectations..
We did it on our own just by getting off the train at KM 88. Not sure what the rules about this are today. Martin (see below) says you must go with a guided company. If so that's too bad, but on the other hand idiots were using the ruins as latrines.
Certainly the most hiked trek in south america, but deservedly so? Debatable.
I would suggest the 2 day trek in order to capture the fantastic and unlauded ruin near the 'hostal' and Macchu picchu in the morning light (valor la pain), but the only fun of the 4 day tour is its social aspect. There are certainly more interesting hikes elsewhere in Peru for less money.
Even running up Huayna Picchu doesn't give a chance to escape the thousands of tourists. But it is worth the grind. I believe 20 mins is the 'young, dumb, and full of cum' standard if you can make use of the 'passing lane'.
It is a must do, but hopefully not the only glimpse of Peru to take home.
After spending several days around Cuzco to adjust to the 11,400 foot air, we hiked the Inca Trail from KM88. My favorite ruin on day 1 was Ollantaytambo. We spent that night at Wayllabamba. The terrain on day 2 was incredible and we spent that night at Pacamayo. The ruins of Runkuracay and Sayacmarca on day 3 were memorable. We went to bed early at Wiñay Wayna and got up well before sunrise. The weather was clear that morning and the sunrise and view of Machu Pichu from the Sun Gate were absolutely spectacular.
After spending most of the day in the city, we scrambled up to the summit of Huayna Picchu. The view from the top with the city below is beautiful.
Unfortunately, costly guided trips are now the only way to hike the Inca Trail anymore.
What a great trip with my brother Norm. After we explored the city, it got cloudy and sprinkled a bit but we headed up Huayna Picchu anyway. When we got to the summit the clouds had came in and blocked our view but then opened up briefly for some grand views of the city. What a gorgeous treat! Although we couldn't stay in the city at night anymore, we were able to hike the short trail without a guide. These days you can't even do that anymore.
We spent the prior night camping by the Trekkers' Hotel and cooked dinner on my DragonFly stove instead of buying at their "restaurant & bar." Of course this was the end of October so it rained. It was pretty amusing to watch the other trekkers who used local guides trying to stay dry in their provided non-waterproof / taped tents as they tried vainly to keep the water out through the night by throwing ponchos on top of their tents. Not amusing for them to be sure!
We only spent 1 week in Peru and although we had wanted to do the standard KM88 Inca Trail, flying directly to 9000 feet from sea level gave my brother some altitude sickness so we opted for the shorter KM104 trail. Of course, we could have had more time to acclimate in Peru but my brother insisted on running the Chicago Marathon before the trip!
Edit: Came back and hiked again on November 28, 2015.