Preparing for your trip
- At its highest, the trail reaches 4200m above sea level, so you should spend at least 2 days in Cusco acclimatising before you start the trek. If you don’t, altitude sickness could make your first few days pretty uncomfortable.
- Book your spot a few months in advance. The number of trek permits issued is limited to 500 per day (including tour guides and porters). In the high season you’ll need to book 3 months in advance.
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On the trail – How to book your Inca Trail: You will need to have an experienced, certified guide when hiking the Inca Trail. Contact an authorized Inca Trail Trek Operator in Cusco.
What to take
- First aid kit
- warm top/bottom for the evenings
- hiking boots; runners are possible if you don’t mind them getting thrashed by the rocky trail and you have strong ankles
- Wash kit, 2L water bottle and water purifying tablets.
- hat, preferably something covering your neck
- cash to tip porters/guides and buy snacks along the way
- Long pants or slacks
- Long-sleeved shirts.
- Several T-shirts
- Rain wear (you never know when will rain even if its the dry season).
- Insect Repellent and sun block (sun is always stronger in such altitude).
- Personal toilet items.
- A light backpack.
- Gloves, scarf, wool socks.
- A towel and toilet paper.
Porters – There seems to be about 1.5 porters per client on the trail, and you’ll spend a fair amount of time getting out of their way as they hump all your gear to the next camp. Fortunately, the government has recently restricted the amount of gear tour operators can pile on each porter to 25 kg (including their personal stuff). You are allowed to pack only 6 kg for the porter to carry so choose carefully. On many tours you can pay extra for personal porter to carry most of your things, although you will always want a daypack for water, snacks, and clothing. A recent documentary chronicling one year in the life of an Inca Trail porter, Mi Chacra, won the Grand Prize at the 2010 Banff Mountain Film Festival.
Costs – Around US$400. If you are paying less than US$350 for the 4 day trip, something is fishy. Make sure your tour includes the entrance ticket to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu (US$85) and the Backpacker train(US$48) or Vistadome train (US$71) back to Cusco.
Stay healthy – The tap water in Peru is not potable. Do not drink it. You must either boil water for five full minutes or drink bottled water.
Because you are visiting Andean areas, don’t forget to take precautions to avoid altitude sickness if you are prone to it. Be sure to try a hot tea or an infusion of coca leaves on arrival at altitude. During your first day move slowly and eat lightly, resting the first couple of hours. Sample altitudes above sea level:
- Cusco: 3,360 m (11,000 ft)
- Machu Picchu: 2,400 m (7,800 ft)
- Urubamba Valley: 2,850m (9,300 ft)
- highest point on the trail: 4,200 m (13,600 ft)
Alternative Route to Machu Picchu – With the new regulations regarding availability of spaces to do the trek each day (500 permits per day), you might consider trekking to Machu Picchu following a different route. Alternatives are:
- The Salkantay trail is 75km over five days, via Mount Salkantay, and reaches altitude of 4600 meters so requires somewhat greater fitness than the traditional Inca trail. Salkantay was one of the trade routes for Coca and Potatoes and passes some recently discovered Incan storage facilities. The Salkantay trek is considered less ‘touristy’ with more cultural highlights, however some critics comment that the very reasons that saw the Inca Trail severely regulated, are now occuring on the Salkantay trail (lack of infrastructure, random camping, large tour groups, maltreatment of guides and porters, etc). Ensure that the company you travel with is aware of sustainble tourism. If you chose to travel with a dirt cheap company, tip your staff extra well!
- From Cachora over Choquequirao (ruins bigger and less touristic than Machu Picchu and similar location) to Machu Picchu, 8 days, with extremely few tourists enjoying the very traditional and beautiful rural area. The trail is demanding. At Chicon Expeditions (located at main plaza in Cusco) a package including entrance fees, good equipment, english speaking guide with license, transportation with bus + train, mulis and driver, cook and food 430$ per person.
- Lares (4 days)
- Lares and Machu Picchu (4 days)
- Ancascocha (4 days)
Ausangate trek (7 days) is not in the same region as Machu picchu therefore is not seen as an ‘inca trail alternative.’
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The Lost Inca Civilization • Locations & Activities