FIRST: DECIDE WHAT TYPE OF SERVICE YOU WANT
Inca Trail prices can vary considerably and the wide variety of types of service can be confusing, especially since everyone is walking along the same route. Let’s look at the cost of the most popular economic services first:
Basic Standard Service 4 day Trek (US$600 – US$850)*
Most companies post their prices 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.
WHAT DOES THE PRICE USUALLY INCLUDED?
A maximum group size of 16 trekkers, transport to the start of the trek, entrance fees for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, guide, tents ( normally 2 people 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 Ollantaytambo in the Expedition Train (current price US$78), private bus from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco.
WHAT DOES THE SERVICE USUALLY 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$12).
LOOKING FOR A BARGAIN?
The Inca Trail trek can be purchased for prices below US$650. Simple arithmetic can show that these companies have to depart with the minimum of 16 persons each trek (comprising clients from various budget agencies) and that they cannot provide a quality service or pay their porters 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?
SECOND: DECIDE WHERE TO BUY THE INCA TRAIL TREK
Booking 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 to be reasonably economical, although you have less flexibility as to when and where you want to go.
However, if it just the Inca Trail trek that you are after, booking in you own country can end up being 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$1200 in your own country, expect to receive a trekking service similar to a service bought directly in Cusco for between US$650 and US$750.
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.
Buying a trek directly with a local tour operator based in Cusco like SAM Travel, Orange Nation, Peru Treks or any other local company, offers much better value for money so long as you book with a respectable company. There are over 500 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 an 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!
THIRD: BUYING YOUR TREK ONLINE
Entering “Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu” into the Google search engine is not a very reliable way to find a good local trekking company. Sometimes 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 and large international travel agencies. 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:
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.
1.- 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 illegitimate outfit simply won’t respond.
2.- 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?
FOURTH: SELECTION 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), if the guide speaks English, what is the food like, what train service (if at all) is included. These items should be clear from their website. 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 some may not reply.
Check it out some TOP Inca Trail Operators to Machu Picchu
FITH: ONCE YOU HAVE SELECTED A TOUR OPERATOR FOR THE INCA TRAIL TREK
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. All trek operators need your passport information in order to buy your Inca Trail permit from the Peruvian government. If you plan on hiring an additional porter or staying 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 US$200 or the 50% to be paid before or shortly after this booking confirmation.