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Inca Trail Permits at Cusco, Peru

May 28, 2009
Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu

Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu

Trek permits are required for the Inca Trail. Alternative treks such as Lares Valley, Ausangate, Choquequirao, and the one via Santa Teresa do not require trek permits. The government issues a maximum of 500 trek permits for each day. Since trekking staff are also included within this limit of 500 persons this means that, on average, about 200 trek permits are allocated to tourists and about 300 allocated to guides, cooks and porters.

You can check the government trek permit database that shows the real-time availability of Inca Trail trek permits.

How to use the database:
All the information given there is in Spanish. The database is mainly used by the trekking agencies in Cusco to decide when they need to close their groups and buy the trek permits and not generally intended for public use. However you don’t need to know much Spanish in order to check how many trek permits are still available on the date that you want to do the trek.

Step 1: Wait for the government website to load, that can take a few minutes. Click on “Ingresar Como Invitado” (Enter as a Guest)

Step 2: Click on “Consultas” which can be found at the top left-hand side of the page. This will bring you to a new page entitled Bienvenido Al Modulo de Consultas

Step 3: Click on “Disponibilidad Camino Inca 2009” which can be found on the left-hand sidebar of the page. This will bring you to a new page entitled “Disponibilidad de Espacios Camino Inca 2009”

Literally translated this means “Availability of spaces on the Inca Trail in 2009”. You will also see the words “Elija el mes para ver la disponibilidad” which means “Select the month to see the availability”. This is followed by a drop-down menu listing the months of the year. The months are similar enough to English to be able to guess the Spanish equivalent. You can select any of the months right up until January 2010. Treks permits for later dates in 2010 will not go on sale until the middle of January 2010.

Step 4: Using the drop-down menu select the month that you are planning on starting the trek, then hit the “Ver Disponibilidad” button (= see availability”)

Step 5: The number of remaining spaces for each day of the month will now be shown. (Fecha = date, Disponibles = Available). The maximum number of spaces is 500.

Inca Trail Website Results

Inca Trail Website Results

Interpretation of the Results: If the number of spaces available is zero then it basically means that all the trek permits have been sold out for that date and no matter how many companies you contact, none of them will be able to offer you space on the Inca Trail. The only options that you have are to look at an alternative departure date or an alternative trek to the Inca Trail. Even if companies have cancellations, regulations prevent them from filling these spaces with other clients. This may sound ridiculous but the system has been designed to prevent “wealthy” companies buying up all the spaces in advance using made-up names and passport numbers and then canceling them nearer the time only to fill the canceled spaces with real clients. The number of remaining spaces does not fall steadily, rather it falls exponentially. That it to say that the number of spaces remains between 300 and 500 for quite along time but as it starts to fall below 250 more companies decide to buy permits for their groups and the rate that the spaces drop starts to increase. Often the last 100 spaces can sell out in a day or so. For example just because there may be 150 spaces available on the day that you want to start the trek, by the time you find a suitable trekking company and send them your trek deposit, it doesn’t mean that there will still be 150 spaces left! So it is highly recommended to book your Inca Trail as far in advance as possible.

Some points to ponder:
1. Book with a reputable agency that does not farm you out to another operator! You can make sure an agency has their INCA TRAIL LICENSE by going onto the website of the Institute of National Culture (click on “Ingresar como Invitado)

2) All operators will ask you for a deposit which is generally non-refundable. It is non-refundable simply because the INC does not give back the agencies any money when a passenger cancels or changes a date. The agency then has to re-apply for a new permit if passengers change dates. Agencies have different payment methods. Very few accept credit cards – mostly Western Union Money Transfer Company is used or Peru/Foreign Banking accounts. In general if you have checked the agency is reputable with a license it should be safe to send your funds.

3) There is no such thing as a wait list/cancellation list. If any agency tells you that they can do this, they are simply not telling the truth and are operating illegally. If a passenger cancels their space is not given to anybody else.

4) Apart from the deposit, you will be required to give your current passport details of all the persons travelling with you on the trail. You will need to give your first name, last name, passport number, date of birth and nationality. If this information is not supplied, no agency can take out permits for you/others. The important part of this information is that you give the same passport details that you will be travelling with to Peru. There are various check points on the trail and they will check the agency documentation against your passport; if its does not match you will not be allowed entrance. If you are renewing your passport, you need to keep 2 x photocopies of your old passport that you are going to hand in for renewal and you can apply with this information as long as you bring the photocopies with you or if you are able to keep your old passport, then travel with your old & new passport.

6) Personal Porters? The agency that you book with will ask you if you want the help of a personal porter to carry your extra luggage. This is a good idea if you are not used to hiking. It helps you enjoy the trail more! Rates vary from agency to agency. You can then walk with just your day-pack carrying whatever you need for the day like sunblock, rain jacket, camera, snacks, etc. Keep it light!

7) STUDENTS? If you are a student with a valid ISIC (international students card) then you are entitled to a discount. Again this may vary from agency to agency, but should be around $30 discount. In order to claim this discount you need to provide the agency with a scanned in copy of your card and travel with the card on the trail. If you do not have your card with you on the trail you will be obliged to pay the full fare.

Inca Trail entrance fees / Trek permits: As from January 2008 the entrance fee for the Inca Trail is 244 Peruvian Soles (about US$88) Students and children under 15 years old receive a 50% discount. Trekking companies also have to buy a trek permit for each one of the porters in the group (41 Peruvian Soles, about US$13 per porter). The entrance fee for the shorter Inca trail trek costs 142 Peruvian Soles (about US$51 for adults). Students and children under 15 years old pay 122 Peruvian Soles (about US$44).

2. Student discounts: Students with a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC) receive a 50% discount on the price of the entrance fee but you must inform the tour operator at the time of making your reservation and bring the card with you on the Inca Trail. No other forms of student identity are acceptable i.e. letters from college, international youth identity cards etc. The tour operator will purchase a student trek permit for you (clearly marked only for students). At the start of the Inca Trail your permit will be checked and you will be asked to show your ISIC card and passport. If the card is not valid or you forget to take your card then there is a very high possibility that you will not be allowed to start the trek. This can cause major disappointment and also delay entry of the rest of the group to the trail. In the past you could just pay an additional fee for a standard trek permit. Due to the added bureaucracy and potential problems associated with applying for a student discount and associated delays many trekking companies have stopped offering this option.

4. Making an Inca Trail trek booking: Since only 500 trek permits are issued per day for the Inca Trail (trek permits are also required for the porters and cooks) it is important to try to make a trek reservation as far ahead as possible. There is no clear rule as to how far ahead is enough to to guarantee you a space since this depends on demand. As a guide, however, we recommend the following:
December, January, March: 2 months in advance, 3 or 4 months in advance for departures around Christmas
April, October, November: 3 months in advance, 4 months in advance around Easter
May, September: 4-5 months in advance
June, July, August: 5-6 months in advance

5. Independent Trekkers: Since June 2002 trekking independently on the Inca Trail has been prohibited. Regulations state that each trekker must be accompanied on the Inca Trail by a professionally qualified guide. Trying to organize a guide in advance is difficult since tour agencies just aren’t interested in hiring out their guides. If you wait until you arrive in Cusco to arrange a guide then you are liable to be left with only the worst guides and the very high probability that all the spaces on the trail are fully booked. If you want to get away from it all and trek on your own then there are some excellent alternative treks such as Lares Valley, Choquequirao or Ausangate. If you do manage to organize a guide for the Inca Trail in advance you cannot have a group greater than 7 persons and you can’t employ the services of other trekking staff such as cooks or porters.

6. Maximum Group Size: The maximum allowable group size is 16 persons. For groups larger than 8 persons there must be 2 guides. (on the shorter 2 day trek there must be 2 guides for groups larger than 7 persons)

7. Porters Working Conditions: In April 2002 a new law was introduced to set a minimum wage for all porters on the Inca Trail. This has followed years of exploitation. This wage is 42 Peruvian Soles per day which is about US$15. It may not seem a lot but wages are all relative to livings costs and compared to other professions 42 Soles is quite well paid. To put things in perspective teachers earn between US$200 and US$300 per month. Even though the law exists it is not being enforced and many companies are still paying their porters as low as US$5 per day. In 2002 the maximum weight that a porter can carry was limited to 25kg (20kg load + 5kg personal items). All porters have their weight checked by government officials at the start of the trail. However even this system is open to abuse and many tour operators get their guides and assistants to carry large loads across the checkpoint where they are dropped and left for the porters to pick up. Many trekkers who have hired an extra porter are also asked to carry their bags across the checkpoint to be given to the porters after they have been weighed. So even with the new regulations and a weigh-station at the beginning of the trail it is still possible to see porters carry loads of up to 35kg.

In general though, the introduction of these regulations have dramatically improved the porters working conditions compared to the conditions just four or five years ago when wages of US$5 per day and loads of 45kg were the norm. There is still a long way to go though when it comes to the provision of adequate meals, backpacks and warm dry sleeping accommodation. When deciding on a tour company ask them what their policy is towards looking after their porters.

8. Licensed trek operators: The INC (Institute of National Culture) is the regulatory body responsible for controlling access to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. In order to operate 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. The license to operate the Inca Trail is renewed at the beginning of each year. Due to legal problems the Government has found it hard to withdraw licenses from poor performing companies and every tour operator that has satisfied the basic requirements has so far been given a license. Legislation is likely to be introduced later in 2008 to give more power to the Ministry of Tourism and allow them to fine, suspend or close badly performing companies.

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