I recently hiked the 4-day version of the Inca Trail. I had wanted to do the 5-day version, but my available dates didn’t coincide with a 5-day hike.
So, what is the difference between the two?
First, the similarities:
1) Both hikes start and end at the same points. The trailhead for the Inca Trail is KM 82. The trail finishes at Machu Picchu.
2) Both hikes take exactly the same route through the Peruvian Andes. You’ll summit Dead Woman’s Pass regardless of which version you take.
3) Both hikes involve four days of hiking.
4) Both hikes involve three nights of camping. You’ll spend the fourth night of the 5-day version at a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
Now for the differences:
1) You hike different distances each of the four days depending on which version you choose. For example, the first day of the 5-day version is much shorter than the first day of the 4-day version. (For more information about daily hiking distances of each version, see The Inca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go.
2) Because you hike different distances each day, you end up stopping for lunch and camping at different, but equally beautiful, points along the trail.
3) If you do the 5-day version, you miss the “hot” showers at the Winaywayna campground. Actually, you might miss one hot shower. The rest of the “hot” showers at the campground were cold when I sampled them.
4) You arrive at Machu Picchu at dawn if you do the 4-day version of the hike. You arrive at Machu Picchu after lunch if you do the 5-day version of the hike.
5) You tour Machu Picchu directly after your hike if you do the 4-day version. You tour Machu Picchu the next day if you do the 5-day version.
This last difference is what I like most about the 5-day version. Rather than dragging behind your guide bleary-eyed during the tour of Machu Picchu, you can actually enjoy the newest seventh wonder. This is because on the 5-day version you’ve had a chance to get a decent night’s sleep at a hotel in Aguas Calientes and maybe even a soak in the famed thermal baths the night before the tour.