The Classic Inca Trail

The Classic Inca Trail, accessed via Cusco, Peru, is a four-day trek that takes hikers up to heights of 4,200 meters on a route incorporating stretches of original Inca path, passing underneath huge glacial mountains and through the luxuriant sub-tropical jungle. Along the way, trekkers encounter ancient Inca ruins before finally emerging at Sun Gate, a pass overlooking the city of Machu Picchu.


To help limit the impact tourism has on the Inca Trail, a maximum of just 500 people are allowed to start the walk each day. This number is taken up in the main by guides and porters, leaving around only 200 places for tourists; so, in general, pre-booking is essential. To book a place during the dry season, between May and October, it’s necessary to reserve a place at least four months in advance, often further.

During the wet season, which falls between November and April, it may be possible to make bookings on arrival to Cusco, although it is not wise to count on this. More and more people are making advance reservations. During February the trail is closed.

Walking the Inca Trail during the wet season does have its advantages (tours are often cheaper and there are fewer people around) however, the rain and heavy fog that descends on Cusco at this time of year can affect visibility. This means that the grand vista of Machu Picchu emerging through a cloud of early morning mist, as happens during the dry season, cannot be guaranteed.

Choosing a Company

Regardless of the time of year, you decide to tackle the trek, you’ll need to book with a registered tour company in Peru as permits can only be purchased by licensed companies and trekkers are only allowed on in the company of a licensed guide. This can be done through a third party agency in your own country, who will then arrange the details of your trip. This option saves you the trouble of having to find a Peruvian company to book with, however, after commission, it does work out more expensive than making direct bookings yourself.

If you do decide to make your own bookings, this will mean taking to the internet, where everything isn’t necessarily what it seems. When contacting a company to make a reservation on the trail, make sure you email them any questions or concerns that you have. You should ask for confirmation that the booking is direct and not through a third party. It’s also a good idea to enquire about a company’s refund policy in the event of cancellations owing to insufficient numbers.

It also doesn’t hurt to check the availability of permits at the government website: www.machupicchu.gob.pe. This will help you avoid the bait and switch that sometimes happens with less reputable firms where they tell you there are permits but when you arrive you find out you are hiking a different trail entirely.

Private or Group

A basic package per person for the classic four-day Inca Trail costs around $550, depending on group size. To reduce this cost you can try to join as large a group as possible. Conversely, you can opt to pay more to secure a private tour. This option will give you greater control over your itinerary, such as who you’ll be walking with and when and where you camp.

Essential Items

A sleeping bag: if you don’t have one, then many companies offer bags for an extra fee. Your own loo roll is a must. Wet wipes are a really good idea. There are not many showers along the trail, so a quick, daily clean with wet wipes can be very refreshing. Toothbrush and any regular medication you’re on, as well as a first-aid kit, sun cream, and insect repellant.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness generally occurs above 2,400 meters, and much of the Inca Trail route exceeds this height. To avoid feeling the effects of altitude sickness, which include headaches and shortness of breath, on the trail, it can help to acclimatize in Cusco for a few days before you’re set to start your trek. Cusco is at 3,400 meters, a height that is comparable to the majority of the Inca Trail.

A local tea drink called mate de coca, which is available for free in most hostels and hotels in Cusco, is said to help relieve altitude sickness. However, while the mild stimulant may help to get your breath back, for relieving more severe symptoms, locally sold Soroche pills can yield better results. On the actual trail, your guide will carry an oxygen tank in case of an emergency.

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