A once in a lifetime trip, walking the original Inca pathways to the 550 year old citadel of Machu Picchu. There are hundreds of companies offering Inca Trail treks and it’s difficult to know which one to choose.
Update: We did this trip in 2016, but most of this information still applies!
For conservation reasons, only 200 tourists per day are allowed on the trail. The most popular months to trek are May – July and permits for this time of year sell out months in advance. Usually, the permits are all released around October for the next year so you need to get in there fast.
These are the things to watch out for when researching your trek:
What is the duration?
The most popular trek and the one we did is the 4D/3N classic Inca Trail, which starts at KM82. You can opt to do just 2 days, joining at KM104 or 5 days which includes extra ruins. For a longer trek there is the 7 night Salkantay trek, which passes beneath the sacred snowy peaked Salkantay mountain and joins up with the classic inca trail for the last 4 days.
Which campsites will you stay in?
The company you choose will determine the amount of trekking you do each day. Day two sees the climb and descent of Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek – camping overnight at Pacaymayo on the other side. Day three climbs and descends the second high pass, camping at Wiñayhuayna, with an early start on day four to reach the sun gate at Machu Picchu.
Our trek actually tackled both mountain passes on day two, just stopping for lunch at Pacaymayo and camping further along the trail at Chaquicocha. It was a tough day (especially with being unwell) but it made day three much easier with a lunchtime finish and time in the afternoon for the group to visit the ruins of Wiñayhuayna.
How are the porters treated?
The inca trail porters are the superstars of the trek, carrying not only all of your bags, but also the camping and cooking equipment. They run on ahead every day to get the camp set up for your arrival, welcome you in with a round of applause and a hot cup of coca tea.
Our porters each had comfortable walking shoes and back supports, clean uniforms and we were informed they were paid a fair and legal wage. Other companies don’t take their porter welfare as seriously and we saw some doing the trek in worn sandals. Sometimes they pay them less than the legal minimum wage, reducing the cost of the trek for the tourist. It’s always good to try and find out as much about porter welfare as possible.
Are sleeping bags included?
If you don’t want to lug around your own 4 season sleeping bag (and that’s the minimum we’d recommend, it gets freezing up there!) then you need to check if your tour includes sleeping bag hire in the cost, or you could be paying an extra $30-$40. It’s also worth hiring trekking poles for all those downhill steps on day two!
What is the cost of the tour and any extras?
The price you pay will pretty much determine the quality of equipment and level of service. Tours cost anywhere from $500 to over $1000. An average tour would be around $650 (2023 update, prices are now around $750), for knowledgeable guides with a good level of English, plentiful food and equipment of a good standard.
You can hire a porter to carry your sleeping bag, mattress and all of the clothes you don’t need in your day bags. They have a weight limit and we found we could share one porter between us. The extra cost is usually around $150 so remember to budget for that. It’s also good to tip the porters and the guides at the end of the tour for all their hard work, your operator will usually have a list of suggested amounts.
How and what time will you get back to Cusco?
Each tour usually includes your return transport to Cusco. The early arrival at the Sun Gate and walk down to the ruins means you will be starting a tour of Machu Picchu around 9am. Lunch will be arranged (at your own expense) in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and then you will take a train back to Ollantaytambo, followed by a 2 hour bus to Cusco. Our train wasn’t until around 6:30pm so it was a long day, not arriving in Cusco until around 11pm.
Hopefully these tips can help when planning your trip! Any comments or questions, let us know below.
Enjoy your trek of a lifetime!