The second most popular way of getting to Machu Picchu (the most popular being by train) is hiking the Inca trail, along the extensive network of roads built and used by the Inca. There are literally thousands of these trails spanning through Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, with Cusco at the heart of the former empire.
The most famous of these trails is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This trail involves a 43 kilometer (27 mile) trek which passes iconic landmarks and ruins over the course of 4 days, ultimately ending at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. This is the only trek that takes travelers directly to the ruins of Machu Picchu at the end of the hike. Alternative treks end near Machu Picchu or in Aguas Calientes, where travelers have to take a bus up to the actual ruins.
It is characterized as a moderately difficult hike, mainly due to the actual distance the hike covers as well as the fact that travelers will reach an altitude of 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) above sea level. If you are not used to hiking at high altitudes, it is recommended that you acclimatize yourself in Cusco or the Sacred Valley for at least a day before you take on this trek.
Inca Trail Checkpoints and Camps
Inca Trail Trek Pre-planning
Once you have decided that you are up to the task of trekking 4 days in the Andes Mountains to visit the mysterious Inca citadel, there are a few steps you should consider.
Trekking the Classic Inca Trail is highly regulated. Only 500 permits are issued daily, with around 200 permits available to tourists (the rest are used by cooks, porters and guides), which are sold out quickly and well in advance – particularly for treks between April and October. Therefore, it is important to book your permits months in advance. Note that the rainy season lasts from November until March, so keep this in mind and be ready for prolonged showers if you do the hike at this time. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is closed during the month of February for maintenance, so it is impossible to trek at that time.
Choosing a Tour Provider
Travelers are only permitted to trek the Inca Trail with an authorized tour operator. Every year, Peru’s Servicio Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas por el Estado (SERNANP) issues or renews permits for travel agencies and tour guides to provide tourism services involving the Inca Trails and the Santuario Historico de Machu Picchu.
Here are a five authorized tour providers with consistently good reviews (current for 2014 and 2015):
- Wayki Trek – Personalized Travel has worked with Wayki for over 10 years and gets our highest marks
- SAS Travel
- Enigma Adventure
- Llama Paths
- Peru Treks
While these are most popular and highly reviewed, there are more than 150 other authorized companies with valid permits. One of the most important things to consider when choosing a tour operator is to do with porter welfare. It is not uncommon that porters are often mistreated and paid unfair wages by a tour operator, and some companies will try to lower their prices at the expense of the porters, guides, and cooks. If you spot an unusually good “bargain” price tag for the Inca Trail Trek, chances are the operator cut some corners, whether it be docking the pay of the trekking personnel or skimping out on the itinerary. It is important to note that just because a company is officially licensed by SERNANP does not mean they offer the best service or provide fair treatment for their trekking personnel.
When you book your Inca Trail Trek, you can expect the following services to be included in the price tag:
- No more than 16 people in your group
- Transportation to the beginning of the trek
- Entrance fee for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
- Tents (made for 2 people per tent)
- Dining tent
- Kitchen tent
- All meals prepared by a trained chef
- Porters to carry equipment and food
- Emergency oxygen
- First Aid Kit
- Expedition Class tourist train return ticket to Cusco
Some other services may or may not be included, such as pick-up from your hotel for the first day of the trek, transportation from the ruins at Machu Picchu down to Aguas Calientes to catch the train, or transfer from the train station in Cusco to your hotel. Be sure to double check with your provider so that you are not surprised by additional fees.
Recommendation for Booking the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
All in all, you want to make sure you book the right trek (which is traditionally 4 days/3 nights), and you want to book it early with a reputable, officially licensed tour company. Remember is the price tag is too good to be true, then it probably is.
Categories: How To