Due to the great popularity of this well-known excursion to Machu Picchu and in order to protect and safeguard the area from erosion, Inca Trail permits are somewhat complicated to obtain and their regulations only offer limited daily quotas. Since 2004, the number of Inca Trail permits is limited to 500 people per day: 200 for hikers and 300 for support staff. Therefore, if you are determined to hike the Inca Trail, the key is to book well in advance. The following tips will help you successfully book the Inca Trail.
When to book the Inca Trail?
For the high season (between the months of May to August), try to book between 6 and 8 months in advance to be guaranteed a place on the date you wish to do the route, these months the permits are sold out well in advance. Inca Trail permits are sold on a first-come, first-served basis and, since 2017, sales for the following year begin in October. Once all spaces are reserved, no tour operator or trekking guide in Cusco can continue to offer permits for the Inca Trail, this means that you will not be able to hike the route at all.
Even for the low tourist season, it is suggested to book as far in advance as possible (3-5 months in advance). Please also note that the Inca Trail is closed in the month of February each year for maintenance work.
How to book the Inca Trail
First of all, you should know that you have to book the Inca Trail through a tour operator licensed to operate the Inca Trail located in Cuzco. Many travel agencies in Peru can take you to Machu Picchu, but not all of them through the Inca Trail.
If you book through a travel agency with a good reputation in your home country, they will certainly book the Inca Trail through one of those official and licensed Inca Trail Operators in Cusco.
Remember that you cannot simply buy an Inca Trail permit online and organize the trek on your own, nor can guides or others (other than an official agency) buy the Inca Trail ticket or make any reservations for you.
If you have any difficulty contacting a licensed tour operator, please contact us for assistance.
Steps to book the Inca Trail
First of all, you should check if the date you wish to travel has availability to hike the Inca Trail. You can check availability by contacting us (or at machupicchu.gob.pe but you may find this unintuitive and more tedious). The information comes from the Ministry of Culture and is the same for all tour operators.
The number of places can vary very quickly from one day to the next. Agencies often book up to 30 spots at a time, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly run out of available spots. Once the number of available permits drops below 150, you have to hurry to book and you may only have 2 or 3 days (or not even that) to finalize your reservation. Cusco tour operators cannot “hold” places for you for too long.
Choose a reliable travel agency in Cusco
Finding a good and reliable agency in Cusco that is an authorized Inca Trail operator is not always easy. How do you know that you will have a well organized and professionally guided trek that guarantees a great experience in Cusco? How do you know that your money is in good hands and that you will get the service you paid for once in Peru? And how do you know that the support staff will be well paid and their labor rights will be respected?
We recommend that you do some research on the internet about the reputation and services of the agencies and compare them; you don’t have to go for the most expensive one (some are very expensive) but it is not advisable to go for the cheapest one either. The cheapest company will certainly not be the ones offering the most comfortable experiences, and the most expensive ones may be overcharging for a service that is not necessarily worth what you are paying for. You want an agency that offers good service and that fits your budget, needs and the amenities you are looking for on this trip. Also, make sure it includes all necessary tickets and services, as well as no hidden costs.
Note on prices for booking the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is not cheap. All Inca Trail trips include Inca Trail permits (approx. $90), entrance fee to Machu Picchu (approx. $45), transportation to the starting point of the trek, the train back to Cuzco, camping equipment to be used during the 4 days, all meals, porters, a cook and a guide. This means that, if you have a place, you can forget about all this and concentrate on the fun part of preparing your trip. Generally speaking, we can say that you are insuring yourself by booking the Inca Trail between $650 and $900 (quality service) per person, depending on how big the group is (or if it is a private service), the camping equipment provided, the train, etc.
Choose a trekking company that practices responsible tourism and has transparent labor policies, i.e. pays fair wages and treats well the porters: the people who carry the camping equipment and food during the trek.
Make sure you have a valid passport
Once you have decided, your operator will ask you for an advance payment (usually non-refundable): it is understandable, as they have to use that money to acquire the permit (non-refundable in almost all circumstances). They will also ask for a copy of your passport, as this is an official requirement that the Inca Trail authorities need to register your entry.
Inca Trail permits can only be purchased by an official Inca Trail operator in Cusco, with the passenger’s valid passport. The tour operator will use the names and passport numbers you submit with your trek reservation request, so make sure all this information is complete and accurate. We recommend that you send a copy of your passport, so that there are no mistakes with the number.
- You need to bring the same passport with you to Cusco and take it with you on the Inca Trail, as you will need to do your registration on the first day of the trek. If the name or number on your passport does not match the name and number on the trek permit, you will not be allowed to start the Inca Trail (nor will you be granted a refund).
- In case you need to renew your passport between the booking date and the Inca Trail start date, you must send a copy of your NEW passport to your trekking operator and take the OLD passport with you to Peru. The operator will change your permit number prior to your arrival (this has an additional cost).
- Student card. If you make a reservation with a student card, you must send a copy at the time of booking and bring the original card on the trek. If you fail to do so, you will not be able to start the trek nor will you have the possibility to apply for the discount. In some cases – especially when there is a time limit due to availability you may have to forget about the student discount. Not all student cards are recognized, so make sure your card meets the requirements.
Check your payment options
Different Inca Trail operators offer different payment methods, and you can choose the one that suits you best and suits your needs. Especially if you are in a hurry (due to decreasing availability), be sure to check in time and make sure your credit card has funds, you have a specific credit card (VISA is generally used in Peru), you have a PayPal account, etc. When there are only a few tickets left for the Inca Trail, a few hours can make all the difference.
Contact a tour operator and make a reservation.
Once you have made your choice and chosen an Inca Trail operator, such as Lorenzo Expeditions, and know that there is availability for the required date as well as having your passport and a valid payment option, you are ready to book the Inca Trail!
Contact the Inca Trail operator of your choice and wait for them to contact you with confirmation of your reservation. Depending on the Inca Trail operator, you may be asked to make the reservation online on their website or to submit a reservation form by email. Some agencies will ask you to indicate a second date, in case the Inca Trail tickets are sold out for your preferred date.
Huayna Picchu: an extra mile?
When booking your Inca Trail, why not consider the option of hiking up Huayna Picchu Mountain? You will be able to get the most impressive views of the citadel of Machu Picchu, you must hike an extra hour to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that lies behind the Inca citadel. It’s a bit tricky, as the path is quite narrow and the steps seem endless, but the views and the feeling of gratification are totally worth it!
If you wish to climb Huayna Picchu, remember to mention this to your Inca Trail operator when you make your reservation. This is important because they need to book an additional Huayna Picchu ticket for you that matches your Inca Trail in terms of the correct date and time slot. This is because Huayna Picchu tickets are in as high demand as Inca Trail permits.
No permits left to book the Inca Trail? Waiting list for the Inca Trail?
There is no waiting list for the Inca Trail. All Inca Trail Permits are personal and non-transferable. Even if another hiker cancels, the permit will not be available for rebooking. Inca Trail permits are strictly personal and non-refundable.
If permits are out of stock, this is for all Inca Trail operators. All permits are matched with the person’s passport number, and the government has strict inspection policies at Inca Trail checkpoints.
Know your alternatives
The time has come to look for alternatives. Fortunately, there are other magnificent treks in Machu Picchu, so you should not be too sad.
One of the most popular alternatives is the Inka Jungle Trek Authentic Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 4 days, this route to Machu Picchu is the most adventurous trekking option in the Cusco area. It is also the most varied in terms of activities. The trek includes a mountain bike descent, followed by level III and IV rafting, a jungle hike and an optional zip line. To conclude your adventure you end with a visit to Machu Picchu. This tour is naturally aimed at adventurers who enjoy exciting and adrenaline-filled experiences.
In addition, you can always visit Machu Picchu by train, which is also highly recommended.