The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the world’s most famous hiking trails, bringing in hundreds of visitors from around the world on a daily basis. With more than 200 licensed Inca Trail tour operators guiding visitors through this trek, and only 500 Inca Trail permits being issued on any given day, it’s recommended to get your trail permit or tour reservation early to avoid any disappointment.
Now you may be thinking 500 permits per day seems like plenty? However, when you factor in the guides, porters, and other trekking staff for each group, only about 200 of these permits are left for tourists.
While alternative treks can provide opportunities for last-minute hikes to Machu Picchu, trekking along the classic Inca Trail – be it for four or five days or more – definitely requires advanced reservations. If you arrive in Cusco hoping to find space on the Classic trail, there’s a very good chance you’ll be waiting a few weeks or months for an opening depending on the season. You may be able to trip the short Inca Trail, however it only covers the last one third of the Inca Trail.
How early do I need to book my Inca Trail Trek?
Ideally, you should try to book the Inca Trail about six months or more in advance, especially if you want to go during high season (April through September). During these months, trail permits are in high demand. Permits for example 2023 will go on sale the 1st of October 2022. Many popular dates sell out in just hours. All of the agencies that purchase tickets have their advanced bookings ready to book that day the moment the tickets go on sale.
The months after high season also tend to sell out ahead of time. If you want to hike the Inca Trail in October through December, we’d recommend you book at least three or four months in advance. If you want to hike it during the Christmas holidays you may need to book even earlier. During the rainy season, January and March, you might be alright booking as little as three to five weeks in advance. However, if you’re wondering what happened to February, that’s the month during which the Inca Trail closes for maintenance. However, Machu Picchu itself does not close.
According to Orange Nation Peru, one of our recommended Inca Trail tour operators, Inca Trail permits seem to sell out earlier each year. With that in mind, try to book six months in advance – for whatever time of the year – it´s the best way to avoid disappointment.
Making the Inca Trail Reservation
You can check the availability of permits for the dates you are interested in hiking the trail through a tourist company in Peru that is a licensed Inca Trail operator. No one except licensed Inca Trail operators can purchase Inca Trail permits. Inca Trail tour operators and intermediaries also have calendars showing availability. If you book with a licensed tour agency, they will tell you whether they have permits for the trek and usually the permit is included in the price of the tour.
If you do manage to find availability for your chosen date, the tour agency will request a deposit upon making your reservation and this is non-refundable. Government regulations state that all permits are non-refundable and non-transferrable. Thus, no changes can be made. If you change your dates, you have to pay for another permit.
If you are being wise and booking your trek in advance prior to the permits being available for the next year, the tour company will request a minimum of 2 start dates or more which you will prioritize. Permits go on sale the 1st of October of the prior year. For example, October 1st of 2023 tickets go on sale for all of 2024. You will need to provide a deposit which is fully refundable if the tour company cannot purchase your permits. Literally on October 1st, there is a made rush by all companies that provide the Classic Inca Trail of 4 or 5 days to purchase the desired dates of their trekkers. Many highly desired dates are sold out in minutes.
If you’re ready to start looking for a tour operator that’s right for you, read our guide on Choosing & Pricing an Inca Trail company. Also, be sure to review the Top Rated Classic Inca Trail operators.