You must book your tour 6-9 months in advance to guarantee your spot on the Inca Trail, especially if you want to go there during peak season (June-September). Only 500 passes are allowed to be sold for each day, and roughly 300 of them are for guides and porters.
2. Tour Company
Make sure to book a company based on three things:
I) Service – check out TripAdvisor reviews to get an idea of how they run the tour
II) Value – For the classic 4D/3N Inca Trail, you are looking at roughly USD$650 per person which includes: guide, tents, foam sleeping mat, most meals (except breakfast on first day and lunch/dinner last day). A full porter carrying 14kg is approximately USD$150, a half porter carrying 7kg is approximately 75kg. Don’t book a company which is significantly cheaper as they are usually cheap for a reason and at the same time don’t pay too much more as there are companies that claim to offer a more luxurious service but don’t end up adding much more than the standard tours. Many of the companies do not advertise their prices online so it’s worth emailing a few companies to get an idea of the range of prices on offer.
III) Ethical treatment of porters – this is an important one for us, but may not be for everyone. Porters do all the heavy work to make sure your journey is as comfortable as possible. Make sure the company you chose offers fair wages, proper uniforms and working conditions. Often the companies who treat their porters well make it known on their websites. We saw far too many porters carrying ridiculous loads wearing broken sandals and rags for clothing
Click here for a list of recommended companies
We chose Llama Path and were very pleased with the price, service and treatment of their porters.
3. Getting there
All Inca Trails start from the city of Cusco. There are a few ways to get there but the most common route is to fly into the capital of Peru, Lima and either take a connecting flight directly to Cusco or to take a bus
It is only a 4 day trek so you don’t need to bring too much. You won’t be showering so it’s likely you will be wearing the same clothes the entire time
– waterproof jacket and trousers OR poncho
– leggings or hiking trousers (zip-off)
– hiking boots (preferably waterproof)
– t shirts (quick dry material)
– thick hiking socks
– toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, toilet paper/pocket tissues, sunscreen, insect repellent
– sleeping bag (can often be hired from tour company for approx USD$30)
– camera with extra batteries
– head torch
– small day backpack
– 1 litre water bottle
– hiking poles (must have rubber tips)
– neck scarf
If you are at a reasonable level of fitness you could probably do it without any training, however if you are not a regular walker/hiker it is probably worth doing 4-5, 6 hours + hikes in the 2 months leading up to the trail. Train particularly in areas with plenty of stairs or inclines. As you can see on the elevation map above, the steepest uphill portion is up towards Dead Woman’s Pass – this is the part where some people may experience altitude sickness (read below). There are two steep downhill portions to be aware of, that is, the trail down from Dead Woman’s Pass and that from Phuyupatamarca. We would highly suggest the use of hiking poles for this section for both safety and protection of your joints.
6. Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness can occur to anyone, usually at elevations above 2000 metres. This is because there is less oxygen at this level and symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea can occur. These are all common symptoms and usually resolve after about 24-48hours after reaching a certain altitude. It is recommended that you have plenty of water, rest and paracetamol if you feel you need it. If the symptoms worsen, you must seek medical attention.
A few things you can do to help prevent altitude sickness is:
– acclimatize: arrive in Cusco at least 2 days before the trek and do some short walks while you are there. The city is quite elevated so don’t be surprised it you feel unwell quite soon after getting off the plane
– go slow: one of the big reasons why people feel the effects of altitude sickness is because they are walking too fast. This often means that the body does not have the time to adjust to the low levels of oxygen
– diamox: this medication was originally designed for treatment of glaucoma, but it is now commonly used for prevention of altitude sickness by dilating the blood vessels thereby increasing the amount of oxygen into the bloodstream. Discuss this with your doctor. It can be difficult to buy in pharmacies, I have purchased it online through a UK pharmacy which requires you to also do a quick online consultation with a doctor
– coca leaves: you will see these everywhere in Peru in the form of leaves, tea or candy. Locals believe that chewing on the leaves can help with altitude sickness. You will likely also be served coca tea on the trail which may help. No one is really sure whether it actually helps but its been used for hundreds of years so it must do somehing!
This can be a bit of an awkward topic to bring up with the tour group. Generally you will be given a guide as to how much to tip. Usually a collective pool from the entire group will be given to the porters and chef on the last night, whilst tips to the guide and assistant guide are given separately on the last day.
Based on our experience and also speaking to people from other tour groups, tips to the porters varies between 60-80sols per porter with the chef receiving double. Tips to the guides are personal but usually between 150-300sols for the main guide and 75-150sols for the assistant guide from each person.
So as an example our tour group had 10 people. There were 13 porters, 1 chef, 1 guide and 1 assistant guide.
13 porters @ 65 sols each = 845 sols
1 chef @ 65 x 2 = 130 sols
Tip from group = 845 + 130 = 975 sols
Tip from each person = approx 100 sols
Make sure you bring the money with you as there are no cash machines along the trail. Keep in mind this is purely a guide and that your group may choose to tip more or less based on the service.
The majority of toilets on the trail are squat loos, so if you’ve never used them before, its well worth practising your squat to avoid falling bum first into people’s waste. Also do not flush any toilet paper down the toilet as this will cause a blockage you don’t want to be responsible for!
There are a few showers which offer close to freezing water so basically no on ever uses them. I’d recommend using wet wipes to wipe yourself down every evening. Also porters will offer you a bucket of warm water when you arrive at your campsite for you to wash your face, feet and hands.
So they are the main points. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below.
The Inca Trail can be gruelling at times but once you arrive at Macchu Pichu, you’ll see that it was totally worth it!
Til next time
Ann & Jason xo