Ok, I'm having a hard time really believing that I would need to book an Inca trail hike in advance. First of all I am very uncomfortable booking something without meeting the company. Secondly, I am sure I would be able to get a better deal if I could purchase/book it in Cuzco. Lastly, if there are only 500 people allowed on the trail each day, I have a hard time believing that there will be 1500-2000 people using the trail on any given 3-4 days in MID APRIL, thus I should be able to book the day I arrive in Cuzco and leave within the next couple days... does that not seem logical? Please correct me if I'm wrong.
I will explain what I know having done the Inca Trail in June, 2005. First, I booked via Internet in April and got one of the last passes available for June. That may give you an indication of advance planning necessary.
That said, I do realize that there is a weather difference between your ETA, April, and June, but from my personal experience...
In June, I met a number of people who arrived in Cusco, spent a week trying to get a pass and left without hiking the "classic" 4-day Trail. Second, officially, trail companies need to secure an Inca Trail pass 30 days in advance. These passes have YOUR NAME on them. Any company that sells you a pass for the classic 4-day trial (I will explain why I keep referring to this later) they are breaking the law by changing the name on the pass.
Also, it's not that there are 500 tourists on the trail any given day, there are 500 people on the trail any day. With the guide/porter to tourist ratio at roughly 1:1, you now have room on the trail for 250 tourists to start each day. All of a sudden, it doesn't matter if it's mid April or mid November, there are only 250 tourist spaces on the trail a day.
Most people I met booked the trial with a company months in advance sight unseen. There are numerous Internet resources you can find that will both rave and flame about every company - you'll need to make a decision and make the best of it. I went with SAS, one of the pricier outfits, but one that I determined was a safe bet - I wasn't wrong. Excellent company, great food, good guides, an overall fantastic experience. Much of it depends on what you bring to the table yourself.
This is not to say that you might be able to saunter into Cusco, and buy a pass on the classic 4-day trial from the first guide company you walk into. For me, it was too important to risk, but that's just my tolerance.
Finally, "classic 4-day" versus other Inca Trails. The Inca built many trails approaching Machu Picchu. One, the classic trail, visits several forts, gate houses and farms along the way. This is the most popular trail that only allows 500 pax/day.
There are other trails, a 7-day that sounds grueling but rewarding, and shorter ones, that approach MP from different directions. If you end up in Cusco and can't get on the classic trail, these are supposed to be decent alternatives, as well as far cheaper and far, far less busy.
I hope this helps - I write all this only because I don't want you to believe that you don't have to book in advance, you may only get to Peru once, and it would be a shame not to hike the trail if it's that important to you. Regards, Josh
Thanks a lot Josh.
That's a ton of good information.
Josh is absolutely right.
I don't have a huge, huge amount of extra-valuable advice to add other than a company recommendation and the fact that I met a few people who'd accepted massively cut price offers from the manic touts around the Cusco Plaza de Armas and were really short changed; the extra fifty dollars is worth it. The Inca Trail is fantastic and for a little pre-booking you can guarantee a non-leaking tent and worthwhile guide (there are too many ruins to put up with the clueless, non-English speaking fraudsters).
My sales person bit is to recommend Llama Path. I think I originally heard about them earlier on in this forum and they really lived up to any mention they might have had. They're a little bit cheaper than SAS but their attention to detail goes beyond any reports I've heard from other travellers. From the coca tea at the pre-trek briefing to the trail-to-hostel drop off at the end, they are brilliant (and will email you a scanned copy your pass as soon as they buy it, just so you're sure). One of the things they also do is to include the price of the bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes in the original price; this is rare and saves you the seven dollar shock so many other groups had to put up with.
So. Believe Josh and enjoy it.
You can monitor the avaiability for inka trail on official site www.inc-cusco.gob.pe in "sistema de reserva RCI" then click on "disponibilidad" on the left and coose your date.
I did it last july/agosto and reserve with Marisol in advance as it was a high season and everyone that when there without reservation, pay more or did not make it.
In april should be some different.
ok, i have an inca trail question... i didn't think it was worth opening a new thread so i'll add onto this one. What kind of water do companies supply (they do supply water don't they??) for the hike? Is it agua pura or normal water w/ sterilizing tablets, or do they expect you to supply your own tablets???
I just did the trail two weeks ago with United Mice (cant recommend them enough - excellent service!) We had the opportunity to buy water along the trail during the first day (just one or two places). After that, the guides boiled river water every night and filled our bottles each morning for us. I brought purification tablets with me but never had to use them.
HOwever, I would just add that since coming back from the trail I have contracted typhoid. It may not be in ANY way related to the water we were given on the trail, there are endless ways I could have gotten it, but maybe as a precaution you could add the purification tablets to the boiled water as well as a double measure of safety.
Hope that helps!
Did you have a typhoid vaccination before visiting Peru?
I too, highly recommend bringing and using your own water purification tablets. On day two when I started to drink the supplied boiled water, I got a bit of a stomach issue. Nothing huge, but it was uncomfortable between pit stops. The altitude is such that they have to boil the water longer to get the purifying effect, and often, they just don't let it go long enough. I brought MicroPure tabs, which I bought in the US but are available in Europe, Australia, etc. Doesn't taste like iodine and can be drunk over a long time (unlike iodine). If you don't pack purification tabs, may I at least suggest portable PeptoBismol (tablets) and some Imodium AD or its generic equivalent. Good luck, you're going to love the Trail.
RE: Typhoid vaccination.
I know you didn't ask me, but if I may... I did get the typhoid vaccination before traveling to S. America, it's a good vaccination before traveling anywhere. There are two types, an injection that lasts five years, or a series of three pills you take every other day, that lasts 10 years. It was an easy choice for me, I took the pills