Inca Trail Trekking Regulations
06 years ago the Peruvian Government proposed many changes to the administration of the Inca Trail in a bid to protect its fragile eco-structure from over-use. Most of these proposals have been aimed at reducing the number of trekkers on the trail, improving the quality of the tour operators and offering a reservation system whereby trekkers will be forced to make their reservations many weeks (even months) in advance. Some of the proposals were introduced slowly throughout 2003 and 2004 but the Government started to enforce the majority of the regulations more strictly in 2005. Further regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2006 with the main aim improving porter welfare. All trekking companies that operate the Inca Trail must have an operating license which is issued at the beginning of each year.
Summary.- We recommend that you make a reservation for the Inca Trail and pay for your entrance fee well in advance. In the low season (Oct-Mar) in order to guarantee spaces we advise making a reservation at least 3 months in advance. For the months of April and September we recommend making a reservation 4 to 5 months in advance and for the peak months of June, July and August we recommend a minimum of 5 to 6 months in advance, preferably earlier. If you don't make a reservation and pay your trek deposit in advance it means that the tour operator won't be able to buy your trek permits. Once your tour operator has confirmed your reservation and bought your permits then it can be very difficult to change the date of trek departure and prohibited to change the name or passport number on the permit.
If you turn up in Cusco during the height of the rainy season (January and March) it may still be possible to find space available on certain days with some agencies 5 or 6 days prior to the trek departure date although don't rely on it. During 2008 there were many people who were disappointed not to find spaces available in the low season even when arriving in Cusco 3 weeks in advance. Things were even more difficult for people arriving in May to September with it being impossible for visitors to purchase last minute spaces on the Inca Trail upon arrival.
In the last few years the prices of the 4 day Inca Trail standard pool service have increased dramatically due to a big increase in the cost of operating the trek, increased taxes and transport costs. The added difficulty of obtaining spaces on the trek also resulted in tour operators having to depart with much smaller, less economic groups. The standard 4 day trek now costs between US$480 and US$500 per person depending on the company and the service provided.
A detailed account of the Inca Trail regulations can be found below.-
1. Inca Trail entrance fees / Trek permits: As from January 2008 the entrance fee for the 4 day 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.
3. Restricted numbers of trekkers: Over the last five years Peru has become a more popular travel destination especially since Machu Picchu became one of the 7 new wonders of the World.. There are many great treks throughout Peru but the Inca Trail is the most well known. During the peak season of 2000 many campsites became crowded and the trail became littered with rubbish. In early 2001 the Government proposed to reduce the number of people on the trail to 500 per day. This figure roughly comprises 200 tourists and 300 trekking staff (guides, cooks and porters).
In 2002 and 2003 the government tried to enforce the 500 limit but, due to many complaints by the local tour operators, they gave into pressure during the busy months of July and August and allowed an extra 200 persons. Since 2004 the government has strictly enforced the 500 limit, and many trekkers were disappointed that there were no spaces available.The figure of 200 tourists includes trekkers on both the 2-day and 4-day treks as well as the Salkantay 7-day trek. As an estimate we would say that about 160 trekkers per day are starting the 4-day trek, 25 on the 2 day trek and 15 on the Salkantay Trek. In February 2008, 160 tour operators in Cusco were awarded licenses to operate the Inca Trail. With about 1500 tourists looking for just 160 available spaces divided between 160 companies it doesn't take much to realise that things can become a little complicated. Trek permits are now being issued on a first-come-first-served basis so in order to avoid disappointment we recommend booking well in advance and with a reputable trekking company.
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 be enough to guarantee you a space since this depends on demand. As a guide, however, we recommend the following:
- December, January, March : 3 or 4 months in advance for departures around Christmas
- April, October, November : 4 months in advance, 5 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 and official travel agency. 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 07 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 has 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.
South Adventure Peru Tours , more than 150 porters and chefs regularly for our company and more than 150 porters have proper insurance.
8. Inca Trail Closure during the month of February: The route of the classic 4-day Inca Trail will be closed each year during the month of February to allow conservation projects to be undertaken as well as giving the vegetation a chance to recover. This is a good month to close the trail since it is also the wettest month of the year. Machu Picchu and the shorter 2-day trail will remain open as usual.
9. 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. A comprehensive list of licensed Inca Trail tour operators can be found by www.dirceturcusco.gob.pe or www.sernanp.gob.pe.
When you arrive in Peru:
(1)Never buy tours or treks from salespersons at airports or from taxi drivers.
(2) Never buy tours or treks from salespersons at airports or from taxi drivers. (We can't emphasize this point enough)
(3) Never reveal your name and personal details to anyone unless it is really necessary. Don't give away information about your tour itinerary to anyone that doesn't need to know. When you book your flights or when you arrive at your hotel in Lima people may ask you which trekking company you have booked with. When you arrive in Cusco you may be surprised to find someone waiting for you at the airport with a sign with your name on it. This person may claim to be from the trekking company and kindly offer to take you to your hotel where they will ask you to pay the trek balance! Yes you've guessed it, someone from Lima phoned them through your details and flight times, and the person who met you at the airport wasn't working for the trekking company at all! Whoops! Where did that money go so quickly? Always pay the balance of the trek in the office of the trekking company and not to a "representative" in your hotel.
(4) Always pay for your trek in the office of the tour operator (I've said it again) and obtain a written receipt. Ensure that the name of the office is actually written outside of the office and that the receipt has the same name as the company. Never pay money to people who pick you up at the airport.
(5) Try to avoid "too good to be true" offers. A cheap tour price usually means a cheap service. An unbelievably cheap price usually means no service at all!
Problems with service? If you have paid for a trek and the service promised doesn't materialize then you can take your complaint to a government tourist protection body called INDECOPI. Just mentioning their name is usually enough to frighten a company into taking your complaint seriously. However your complaint should first be brought to the attention of the guide during the trek so it gives him/her opportunity to sort the problem out. If things don't improve then ask to see the manager in the office when you return. It helps if you have a receipt with the name and address of the office and a list of what were included in the trek. It also helps if you bought the trek with a company in Cusco and not in Lima or some other part of Peru. INDECOPI have an office in Avenida Sol in Cusco. Don't go to them unless the complaint is serious and you have given the company the opportunity to sort it out first....