Frequently Asked Questions About the Inca Trail

Category Hiking

salkantaypanorama2What is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail is South America’s most well-known trek. Typically starting at Km82 in the Sacred Valley and following a stretch of Inca pathway located close to Cusco, Peru that leads to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, this has been a favorite of tourists for decades.

How long is the Inca Trail?

Exact details vary depending on the agency you ask. From Km82 the distances quoted vary from 41km / 26 miles to 25km / 28 miles. Until we are able to confirm the exact distances our best estimate based on the testimonies of various guides is 41km / 26 miles.

How many days is it typically walked in?

Most people trek the full distance in 4 days with 3 full days walking and the final day covering the final 5km / 3 miles of the path and being mostly spent visiting Machu Picchu itself. There are various options for the trek; some agencies offer a marathon version of the trek where the whole trek is completed in just 1 or 2 days, another option is to do it in 5 days taking things at a more leisurely pace and having more time to visit the Inca sites along the way.

Is it possible to do the Inca Trail without an organized tour?

The government body who oversees the Inca Trail requires that all tourists are accompanied by a guide authorized by their organization. The guides are required to attend a course every year to maintain their authorized status. It is common for trekkers to book with an agency, however if you so wish you can book directly with an independent guide.

How difficult is the Inca Trail?

The difficulty of the trek depends on what you’re used to. Most trekkers find it to be physically challenging, however no technical expertise is required. The most challenging aspect of the trek is the altitude that you trek at. Simply walking at high altitude can leave you breathless so climbing 1000m in a matter of hours will test even an experienced trekker.

Do you have to be fit to do the Inca Trail?

The fitter you are the more you’ll enjoy the trek. The trek is undertaken by people of all ages and fitness levels so don’t be put off because you don’t think you’ll be able to manage it. Each day you have plenty of time to complete the distance and each person goes at their own pace. You typically set off at around 7:30am every day and have until 6pm before the sun goes down; most people find this enough time to arrive at the campsite having taken breaks along the way to enjoy the experience.
In rare cases some people turn back; if you feel ill along the route then you should mention it to your guide who will advise you what the best course of procedures is.

Do I have to acclimatize to the altitude before my trek?

It is strongly recommended that you spend a minimum of 2 days in Cusco or the surrounding area before you begin the Inca Trail. If you do not acclimatize before your trek then you may find yourself suffering to a greater degree from the effects of altitude.
To help yourself acclimatize you should avoid drinking alcohol, smoking and should stay well hydrated. If you notice that are suffering from the effects of altitude it is important that you advise your guide who will be able to assist you.

What is a typical group size?

The minimum group size on the trek is 2 people and the maximum group size is 16 people. Group sizes depend on the agency with some agencies regularly taking groups of 16 people and others taking smaller groups of only 4-5 people. A typical group is usually 8-10 people. When you are searching for your trek you will be able to see the current group size however you can’t guarantee that others won’t join the group at a later date.
If your group has 9 or more people in it then the Inca Trail regulations require that your group has a second guide accompany you on the trek.

Is it true that there are restrictions on the number of people who can trek?

There are a maximum number of 500 people allowed on the Inca Trail every day, this includes guides and support staff who make up 2/3 of all the permits issued meaning that there are only an average of 180 tourists a day. During February the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance.

How do I book my trek?

Once you have found the agency and trek you want, all you need to do is click the book now button and provide them with the name, date of birth and passport number of each of your group members as shown on their passport. If any of your group wishes to qualify for the student discount then you need to upload a scanned copy of their ISIC card. If any group members are under 13 years old you need to upload a scanned copy of their passport to qualify for any applicable discounts.

What happens if I change my passport after I book my trek?

You always need to be able to show the original passport or a copy of the passport that you made your booking with. The government body who oversees the Inca Trail is very strict in this manner and can deny you entry if you are unable to do so. To avoid problems it is recommended that you take a copy of your passport and keep this with you throughout your vacation. If you lose your passport and have not taken a copy or discover that incorrect details were given at the time of booking, advise them immediately.

Do I need to hire a porter?

It is recommended that you hire a porter for your trek. Trekking at altitude is very physically demanding so the less you are carrying on your back the easier your trek will be. If you do not hire a porter you will need to carry your sleeping bag, clothes, water and any other personal effects – these can weigh up to 10kgs / 22lbs or more.

How much of my personal effects will the porter carry?

The amount of weight allowance per porter depends on the agency you have booked with. Typically one porter will be able to carry up to 14kg / 30lbs of personal effects plus the food and equipment necessary for your trek. You are normally given the option of hiring porters by half the weight they carry (7kg / 15lbs) as most tourists do not require more than this.
The porters do not trek with the tourists as in the mornings they need to pack up the campsite after you leave and they need to arrive to the next campsite in good time to set everything up and have it ready for your arrival. For this reason any personal effects that the porters carry for you will not be available during the day!

What happens if I change my mind about hiring a porter?

Hiring Porters

You can normally only hire a porter at the time of booking your Inca Trail as permits for the porters need to be taken out at the same time as your permits. In some cases it is possible to hire a porter at a later date. If you are interested in this please contact us and we will advise you if it is possible.
If you have not been able to hire a porter in advance then you still have the opportunity to do so once you have started the trek. At the first village along the Inca Trail (Wayllabamba) you can try and hire one of the locals to carry your personal effects.

Cancelling Porters

It is not possible to cancel a porter once they have been hired as a non-refundable permit will have already been taken out for them. If you hired a porter after your original booking then you may be able to cancel.

How far ahead should I book my trek?

It is recommended that you book your Inca Trail at least 3 months in advance. Inca Trail permits sell out quickly and you can see 100 spaces sell in a matter of hours if the date is one of the first available. If you plan to trek between March and May then you should aim to book your trek before Christmas. Inca Trail permits for the year go on sale in early January, all pre-bookings are given first priority and in previous years permits for March through to May have sold out as soon as they have been made available.

What is Wayna Picchu?

Wayna Picchu is the mountain you see in all the photos of Machu Picchu. It is a popular activity for tourists to climb to the top of the mountain where there are some Inca constructions and great views of the city. It typically takes about 40 minutes to reach the top of Wayna Picchu, along the way there are some steep drops off to the side and some steep climbs up ladders so a head for heights is required.
For the more adventurous tourist it is possible to descend the far side of the mountain to visit a small site called the temple of the moon.

Do I need to book ahead if I want to climb Wayna Picchu?

Since May 2011 the permits for Wayna Picchu have been restricted to advance bookings only. If you want to climb Wayna Picchu then you should book in advance, however you do not need to do this at the same time as booking your Inca Trail. Normally Wayna Picchu permits sell out only a couple of weeks prior to the date of your visit.
There are 400 permits available every day with 200 permits available from 7am-9am and a further 200 permits available from 10am-12pm. As your tour of Machu Picchu will be from about 7am onwards most tourists choose to climb Wayna Picchu at 10am, if you book the 7am slot you will not have a guided tour of Machu Picchu.
Unfortunately it is not currently possible to buy a permit that combines entrance to the Inca Trail and entrance to Wayna Piccchu. If you want to visit Wayna Picchu on the same day as you visit Machu Picchu then you will need to pay the full price for a permit for Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu. If you plan to spend a night in Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu a second time then it is more economical to climb Wayna Picchu on your second visit.

Will I be provided with water on the trek?

choquequirao_610On the first morning of your trek you will need to provide your own water. It is recommended that you bring a water bottle with you as with roughly 6000 people doing the trek a month, disposable bottles really start to mount up. 1 liter / 2 pints of water is about the right amount for half a day trekking. At your first lunch stop you will be able to refill your water bottle with boiled water. Boiling water is normally sufficient to kill any microbes that may make you ill but if you would like to take extra precautions then you can bring along water purification tablets.

Are their toilets along the trail?

There are toilets available at all the campsites along the trail, so roughly every 2-3 hours. If you need to go to the toilet between campsites then do so well away from the trail; dig a hole, or cover your feces with a rock, and take the paper with you in a bag to deposit in one of the several bins along the way.

What should I bring on the trek?

  • Trekking boots with good ankle support, if this is not possible trekking shoes are the next preference; it’s really not recommended to trek in sneakers.
  •  Several layers of cotton t-shirts / long sleeved t-shirts which can be put on a taken off as the temperature changes and a fleece or something warm to put on at night or in the mornings.
  •  Zip off trekking pants (trousers) or something light-weight which is comfortable to walk in.
  •  Gloves, scarf, a hat and thermal underwear for cold nights and mornings.
  •  Sunhat.
  •  Raincoat or poncho.
  •  Daypack for your personal belongings.
  •  Flash light (torch).
  •  Insect repellant.
  •  Sun cream.
  •  Toiletries, toilet paper and a small towel.
  •  Bathing clothes (if you plan to visit the hot springs).
  •  Water bottle.
  •  Sleeping bag (these can be bought whilst in Cusco).

When is the best time of year to do the trek?

There are two seasons when you can trek to Machu Picchu, the dry season (March to October) and the wet season (October to February). As its name suggests the dry season has the least chance of rain, expect clear skies meaning warmer days but colder nights.  The wet season has a higher chance of rain, expect cloudy skies meaning warmer nights as the clouds trap the heat of the day.
Most people prefer to trek during the dry season if possible, the beginning (April and May) and the end (September and October) of the dry season offer the optimal conditions for trekking as you combine the best of both seasons – clear days and warmer nights.

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