The Inca Trail was by far the best travel experience I have had to date. It is everything you think it is and more. Everything about the experience was amazing, the views (my site logo is just one of the pics from the trek), the group we were with, and the trekking company itself.
If you have any sort of shred of interest in going, the Inca Trail should be on the top of just about anyone’s bucket list. I saw people of all ages and walks of life on the trail so there is little excuse for anyone not being able to make it. You do need to be in relatively good shape, but porters will carry the tents, cooking equipment etc leaving you with only your personal gear with the option to hire a porter for that too!
Which Inca Trail Tour Company
There are several tour companies based out of Cuzco that gives tours like this. There are usually different tours to choose from (Jungle hikes, Mountain hikes, etc.), but the most popular (and I assume the best) is the Inca Trail trek that ends in Machu Picchu. We talked to people who waited until the last second to book something only to find all the Inca Trail treks were full. The other ones did sound fun (and people returning said they had a blast) but ill leave those for next time (the jungle trek caught me eye in particular).
We ended up going with the tour company “Peru Treks,” specifically the Inca Trail 4 Day Trek. It was a matter of comparing different trekking companies, reading reviews, what you get for your money and who seemed to be the most reliable. Everything held up for Peru Treks and were had no regrets. Their website also has a lot of good info on Cuzco and the area in general, as well as hotels and day activities. The website and description of what we booked was very accurate, so their website is a good resource.
The total price, per person, for the Inca trail Trek was around $500 USD (As of July 2014 it seems to be $595). You pay a partial deposit when you book it (like $220) and the rest upon arriving in Cuzco. 500 dollars may sound like a lot at first, but I thought it was very reasonable considering you get private coach bus ride to the start of the hike, the 4 day guided hike, food/ drinks for 4 days, basically 3 nights of lodging (of course its camping in tents, but staying at hotels would be much more money), porters to carry the heavy stuff, entrance into Machu Picchu, and a combo bus and train ride to get you back to Cuzco.
The guides take a lot of the headache out of things for you too, since they know what they are doing. Basically there are a lot of costs that would add up if they weren’t included, so its a pretty good deal, and having a person explaining the significance of everything was just an added bonus.
Read their website in full to answer any questions, especially the itinerary and FAQ. Book early (as in at least 4~6 months in advance) – dates fill up months in advance, so it’s not really a spur of the moment thing while you are there.
What to Bring
Packing for the Inca Trail can be a little tricky. For starters, look at my guide for packing for international travel and add things from there. While it’s not necessary, a lightweight and small internal frame pack would be a great purchase. A person in our group got by with a drawstring pack and some shopping bags, but I would not recommend it. He seemed to struggle with his contraption on some of the steep stair climbs.
Something on the smaller side, 35~45 liters is ideal. Purchasing a backpack for this trip has proven beneficial to me – I used it on my most recent trip to Europe and will be using it again for my trip to Japan. I bought an Osprey pack, but anything will do. Go to your local outdoors store and try a few on and see what you like best.
The last thing you want to do is bring to much on the trail itself. Unless you are hiring an extra porter, the weight can be a struggle on day 2 during the accent to Dead Woman’s pass. Make sure you bring layers, the mornings start cold and then get warmer as the day goes on, so being able to shed layers is beneficial. It’s very sunny out at times so you will want light colored fabric to cover yourself with to prevent burns. To help prevent burns wearing a big dorky safari type hat or over-sized bandana and visor system to cover your ears and neck is also helpful. A headlamp is also a must have item for searching for the bathroom late at night. A water bladder helped me tremendously too – staying hydrated is key!
Fitness for the Inca Trail
While you don’t have to be a marathon runner, you should be in decent physical shape before undertaking any trip to a high altitude area. Don’t let this discourage you though, we saw people of all ages and walks of life on the trail. Undertake an exercise program, and get a few good hikes in long before your trip (at least a few of these with a weighted pack). You can always hire a porter if you feel the need, but you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you have a goal in mind.
The hardest part for me was not going up but coming down. The trail is rocky and I have weak knees – so renting trekking poles probably saved my life. A good, cheap add on I’d recommend and saves you the hassle of packing them yourself.
How We Got to the Inca Trail
The closest city to the Inca Trail is Cusco. Ideally you will want a few days before the trek to acclimate to the altitude and a day or two after the trek to rest. There is a lot of stuff to do in Cusco so your downtime can be spent doing things. Erik and I did some day hikes to better help us acclimate.
Flying to Cusco is relatively easy. We flew into Lima and then stayed overnight in the airport to catch a early morning flight into Cusco. I was a bit worried about sleeping in an airport in Peru, but it turned out to be a non-issue with dozens of travelers doing the same thing, we felt completely safe. Don’t plan on sleeping on the flight from Lima to Cuzco. Its only a few hours and you get to fly over the Andes mountains during sunrise, a view I didn’t want to miss.
I hope you find this guide useful. As I mentioned this trip, while short (We were in Peru for only 10 days), was one of the best trips I have ever taken. In the coming days I’ll share more about my trip to Peru!