Independent Inca Trail information for visitors to Peru. This is a non-commercial site.
Inca Trail - Choosing a Company
1. First decide what type of service you require.
Inca Trail prices can vary considerably and the large number of types of service can be confusing, especially since everyone is walking along the same route. Lets look at the cost of the most popular economic service first:
Basic Standard Service 4 day Trek (US$520 - US$600)*
All prices are in US dollars and refer to prices paid directly with trekking companies in Cusco. Expect to pay 50-100% more if booking with a travel agency outside Peru.
Service typically includes:
A maximum group size of 16 persons, Transport to the start of the trek, entrance fees for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, Guide, Tents (2 persons per tent), Dining Tent (communal tent where the group will eat meals and for the porters to sleep in at night), Kitchen Tent (to prepare the meals, store the food), Meals (and a cook to prepare them), Porters (to carry just the tents, food, and cooking equipment), Emergency oxygen bottle and basic first aid kit. Return to Cusco in the Expedition Class tourist train (current price US$50).
This service may or may not include: Pick-up from your hotel on the first day of the trek (you may have to take a taxi to the company's office or another pre-arranged meeting point), Bus from the Machu Picchu ruins down to the town of Aguas Calientes after the trek (US$9), Transfer from the train station in Cusco back to your hotel (although a taxi costs less than two dollars).
* The Inca Trail trek can be purchased for prices below US$520. Simple arithmetic can show that these companies have to depart with the maximum of 16 persons each trek (comprising clients from various budget agencies) and that they cannot provide a quality service or pay their porters half as much as they should be paying. Be suspicious of any such "bargains" on offer. After paying several hundreds of dollars for your international and domestic flights to visit Peru why compromise on the quality of your trek and the treatment of the porters for the sake of saving US$50 !
Expect to pay more if:
(i) The group size is limited. Some companies offer a more manageable maximum group size of 12 persons. Others offer groups as small as just 8 persons. The smaller the group size is, the more expensive the tour will cost.
(ii) You return in a more expensive train service. The various services can be found on the Peru Rail web site www.perurail.com The standard Expedition class is comfortable with seated only reservations. The service is not crowded and you can buy teas, coffees and snacks. After the Inca Trail most people sleep all the way back. The Vistadome is about US$40 more expensive and has slightly larger seats and glass windows in the roof.
(iii) Extra porters are included in the price of the trek. Normally porters are included just to carry the camping equipment. If you want a porter to carry your sleeping bag and clothes then you will have to pay extra. Estimate at about US$2 per kilogram per day.
(iv) The trekking company will guarantee departure no matter how big the group is. Many companies that charge US$600 upwards provide the same service as the companies that charge much less. This is because they will guarantee to depart with just two persons in the group. Companies that offer a cheaper price often have to join with other companies to meet the minimum group size required to depart. Sometimes these companies can be of a lower standard than you have signed up to.
Private Service 4 day
Obviously if you don't want to join up with other people that you don't know or you have a small group of your own then you may consider taking a private trek. If there are just two of you this option an work out expensive (US$1400 - US$2000 per person depending on the service). However if you have a group of more than eight people then is an option certainly worth considering.
2. Decide where you want to buy the trek.
Buying the trek in your own country offers the security of being able to make a reservation with a well known travel company. Most companies will send you comprehensive brochures, have toll-free phone numbers and accept payment using all the major credit cards. Many of the specialist tour operators will be more than willing to help you with your hotel bookings (in the medium to luxury category), international and domestic flights and travel insurance. Most companies will probably be able to offer you a complete package deal with fixed dates where you travel as part of a tour group. This method can often work out reasonably economical although you have less flexibility as to when and where you want to go.
However, if it just the Inca Trail that you are after, booking in you own country can work out expensive and not as "eco-friendly" as you would imagine. You will find that local taxes and overheads make up over 40% of the trek price. If you are paying US$1000 in your own country expect to receive a trekking service similar to a service bought directly in Cusco for between US520 and US$600
Very few people realise that only Peruvian trekking companies are granted licenses to operate the Inca Trail and even the biggest overseas tour companies such as GAP or Toucan have pay local companies to operate their treks.
Large overseas tour operators often have very competitive contracts with local companies and the actual amount paid to the local tour operator is likely to be closer to US$500. This means that even though you have paid a premium price for your trek the service you receive is worth less than half the value and the local company's profit margins are so low that they cannot afford to pay the porters and trekking staff reasonable wages. The other major disadvantage of buying your trek in your own country is that overseas tour operators are currently exempt from paying local taxes, so very little of your money actually benefits Peru and local people.
Buying a trek directly with a local tour operator based in Cusco offers much better value for money so long as you book with a respectable company. There are over 200 tour companies based in Cusco alone and the wide variety of similar sounding names can be confusing. The obvious difference to booking a trek in your own country is that just phoning the company to make a reservation can be expensive and a daunting task especially if you don't speak Spanish. Local companies rarely advertise their services outside Cusco and only the most expensive send out brochures. The easiest way to find out about the various services on offer is using the internet. Although the internet is a great source of information it can also be a place full of misleading information, phantom companies and businessmen just out to make a fast buck. Buyer beware !
3. Buying your trek on the Internet
Entering "Inca Trail" into the Google search engine is not a very reliable way to find a good local trekking company. Often popular, nice looking websites do not equate to good quality local companies. In fact local companies rarely rank in the top 20 results. Most of the results are US based travel agents. Even though a company may have a great sounding name and "web presence" you may have to look carefully to see the actual name in which the company is registered. How can you check to see if the company even exists? We've put together a few questions to ask a potential company below to establish whether or not they are legitimate:
(i) Establish the registered name of the company. Most company names in Peru end in either the initials SAC or EIRL. Even though the web site name may be "South America Super Treks", their actual registered name may be "South America Rubbish Treks EIRL". If it is not clear on their website ask them.
(ii) Ask the company if they will actually operate the trek or just sell your tour to another company. Obviously very few companies will write back and say that they will sell your trek to another company but very few will also lie about it. A quality trekking operator will usually respond with a positive answer while a tour agent or cowboy outfit simply won't respond.
(iii) Ask if the company requires a minimum number of persons before they will depart on the trek and what happens if they do not reach that minimum number. If they don't reach the minimum number required which other companies do they combine with and if the other company is cheaper will they refund the difference.
Now that you have established who you are dealing with you can check to see if they are recommended anywhere. Guide books are a great source of reliable information and are often neglected by web surfers (where all information is free!!). Guide books such as the South American Handbook (published by Footprint) are updated every year. The editors visit Peru to check out the hotels and trekking agencies and include the most popular in their listings together with comments. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Fodors, Bradt Trekking Guides all are a great source of information although not updated yearly. Guidebooks have already done the hard work for you. Most of the web site guides to Peru are commercial sites sponsored by tour operators so they offer very biased information and include companies that pay them commissions or referral charges. Only a few non-commercial independent sites exist. The web site Andean Travel Web www.andeantravelweb.com/peru is one of them, offering a huge amount of useful travel information including recommended hotels and tour operators. The South America Explorers is another useful source of information (membership fee required) www.saexplorers.org.
4. Selecting the final tour operator.
By following the above information you may have narrowed down your search to a handful of local operators. Check out their web sites and try to compare the services offered. As discussed above try to establish the maximum group size, whether the trek departure is guaranteed (you don't want it to be cancelled at the last minute if they don't meet the minimum number required), does the guide speak English, what is the food like, what train service (if at all) is included. These items should be clear from their web site. If they are not just ask them. Try to be as thorough in your research as possible but try to avoid sending a standard email to loads of companies as it only wastes their time.
You may be concerned about how the companies on your short list treat their trekking staff. Porter welfare issues are receiving greater publicity thanks to organisations such as Peru Porters Project. Their web site www.peruweb.org/porters offers useful guidelines to help you select a responsible trekking company. Our page "Porters Welfare & Responsible Tourism" also contains information to help you make an informed decision.
5. Once you have selected a tour operator.
Now that you have gone to all the effort to select a suitable tour operator to meet your requirements it is time to finalize the procedure by making a reservation. The company will require your name, nationality, passport number, whether you are a student, meal preferences and trek start date. If you plan on hiring an additional porter or stay an extra night in Aguas Calientes then make sure you send this information as well. The tour operator will confirm your reservation. Check to ensure that the booking confirmation contains all the above personal information as well as a detailed list of what is included in the trek together with the final price. Most companies will require a trek deposit of 50% to be paid shortly after this booking confirmation.
6. Relax in the comfort that you have done your best to make your Inca Trail trek as enjoyable as possible.
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This is a non-commercial website. Copyright Andean Travel Web 2000-2012. All material used within this web site is original work and is subject to international copyright law. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited without prior permission from the editor. This web page was last updated in August 2012.