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1.- Do I need to book ahead?
YES! It is recommended that you make a reservation for the Inca Trail and pay for your entrance fee well in advance. Bookings should be done: Dec, Jan, Mar: 5-7 weeks in advance / April, Oct, Nov: 8-10 weeks in advance / May, Sep: 3-4 months in advance / Jun, Jul, Aug: 5-6 months in advance.
In Feb, the trek is closed but you can still visit MP. The number of Inca Trail permits is limited to 500 per day (about 200 tourists and 300 trekking staff). This includes the 2 and 4 day treks as well as the Salkantay 7 day trek. The estimate is 160 trekkers per day on the 4 day trek, 25 on the 2 day trek and 15 on the 7 day trek.
You can find the availabilty of Inca Trail permits in the official government website: www.machupicchu.gob.pe (it does not belong to a tour agency or tourist guide).
2.- Is it possible to do it without an agency?
Since June 2002 trekking independently on the Inca Trail has been prohibited. Inca Trail Regulations state that each trekker must be accompanied by a professionally qualified guide. The UGM (Unidad de Gestión Machu Picchu) is the regulatory body responsible for controlling access to MP and the Inca Trail. Companies must meet certain basic requirements proving that they have professional guides and good camping equipment, radio communications, and emergency first aid including oxygen. Their license is renewed each year and the list of authorized guides and agencies appears in the official website www.machupicchu.gob.pe
3.- Which is the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu?
The trains costs between 52-80 USD one way (Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes) and 73-397.50 USD one way if departing from Poroy station (closer to Cusco). The entrance fee to MP costs S/. 126 (aprox 45USD). For Peruvians and Andean Community members the entry fee is S/ 64 (apox 23 USD) and the round-trip in bus costs 19 USD (10 USD one way). If you have a valid ISIC student the entree fee is reduced by 50%.
4.- Is it possible to enter with a different name?
No, you need to carry a valid ID (passport) with the name you used during your booking to enter the park.
5.- Are there alternative routes to arrive to Machu Picchu?
There are a number of other treks that do not take to Machu Picchu, such as the Choquequirao trek, which doesn't make them less interesting.
6.- Is the number of visitors to MP also limited like those doing the Inca Trail?
The number of visitors to the archeological site of Machu Picchu has a limit of 2500 per day, which is an attempt to keep in line with UNESCO recommendations. During July 2011, several visitors were unable to secure an entrance ticket when they arrived at Aguas Calientes. Therefore, it is recommended to book in advance, especially during the high season. The trains are usually full so make your reservations in advance. You can book your visit to MP only or a ticket including the Huayna Picchu trek.
7.- How is the 2-day Inca Trail?
The shorter Inca Trail is for those visitoros with limited time on their hands or who just want to take things a little bit easier but still trek the Inca Trail. This trek starts at km104 and ascends to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna before continuing on to MP. Since you don't have much time at MP on the first day, most people spend the night at the town of Aguas Calientes and return to MP again the following day. This trail is subject to the Inca Trail regulations and trek permits must be reserved in advance as well.
8.- What is the price of the trail? What does it include?
Prices for the 4 day group service Inca trail trek generally range between USD $560 to 1600 per person including entrance fees and return on train (You can almost double these figures if you buy the trek with a tour agency outside Peru even though the service is the same). This price includes Peruvian sales tax known as IGV which is currently at 18%. A $40 discount is offered to students who have valid ISIC cards and to children under 16 years old. This is the standard service offered by most tour operators in Cusco and offers the most economic way of hiking the Inca Trail as part of an organized group.
Although services can vary from operator to operator, usually the following services are included: Bus from Cusco to the beginning of the trek, bilingual guide, assistant guide for groups of 9 people and more, entrance tickets to MP (included with trek permits), tent, sleeping mattress, cooking equipment, cook, meals, porters (to carry the tents, food and cooking equipment only) and return trip to Cusco in the Expedition train service. The following items are not usually included: Breakfast on day 1, snacks along the trail, 4 season tents, tourist bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes ($7), meals on the final day apart from breakfast. A private group and is generally similar to the group service but usually slightly more comfortable. Anything less than $525 per person will not allow you to have a good trek. Additional items such as porters to carry your personal items are usually included in this service. Typical costs per person provided by a medium range tour operator are:
These costs include entrance fees and return on the basic Expedition train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco. Prices can vary considerably from company to company depending on the quality of the service.
9.- What is the cost of an extra porter? How much should I tip?
Porters to carry your personal items can be hired separately for between $120 and $160 for the 4 day trek. Porters, cooks and guides also need an Inca Trail permit in order to enter to the Inca trail. Generally speaking if all the group have been pleased with the service then try to ensure that:
A typical group of 14 persons with 12 porters (12 x 6 = $72), 1 cook ($10), 1 guide ($25), and 1 assistant ($15) would receive a total of $122, which works out at a tip of about $9 per person. If you have employed a personal porter then you will have to pay his tip yourself. Remember the above figures are just a guide line. If the food that the cook served up was inedible and you couldn't understand what the guide was talking about then don't tip them. They'll soon get the message and hopefully improve their services. Don't, however, take you dissatisfaction out on the porters who were probably working hard throughout the trek.
10.- What is the weather like on the Inca Trail? What should I bring?
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(+ 0.25 cm of precipitation)
You should bring:
11.- How tough is it? How fit do you have to be?
You have to be fit. It is a common misconception that because many people do the Inca Trail then it must be easy ... it isn't. The trail is 45km (26 miles) long and involves great physical exertion to complete. On the second day you climb nearly 1200m (about 4000 ft) during the morning. Combine this with the high altitude (less oxygen in your lungs and blood) and extreme weather (you can easily get a sunburn during the day and temperatures can drop to below 0°C at night), and the trek can turn into a hard experience. However all these difficulties can make the final arrival at MP all the more enjoyable.
12.- What about altitude sickness?
In general, if you spend a few nights in Cusco for acclimatization purposes, you should be OK for the Inca Trail. For further details and recommendations, please read the Altitude sickness TA article:
13.- How many people usually are in the groups?
The maximum allowed group size is 16. Normally the group tours are between 12 and 16 people.
14.- What does the trail look like in the peak season?
Only 500 people per day are allowed to enter to the trail so during the peak season you will see the same amount of people than during the low season unless all 500 permits have not been sold out.
15.- Are there toilets on the trail?
Toilets have improved a lot in the last couple of years and all of the larger campsites have toilet blocks with flush toilets and running water. On the whole they are kept pretty clean. If you do need to go to the toilet between campsites then defecate well away from the trail and water supplies; 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. There are hot shower facilities in Wiñay Wayna on day 3, although they are usually unclean.