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INCA Trail and associated Questions - 18 December 2007

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean INCA Trail and associated Questions - 18 December 2007

1. Posted by Taffski (Travel Guru 182 posts) 8y

Taffski has indicated that this thread is about Peru

Hi all,

OK, we've just come back from having completed the Inca trail to Machupicchu over 4 days.

I'll try and synopsise most of the stuff we found out before during and after the trek below. I can't recommend agencies (obviously) as we only went with one, however, I've got a few links below and a few hints as to what to look for in an Agency and most importantly in your trek.

Don't take this as the Bible PLEASE...... I'm only a pleb and am in no way accountable if your trip goes wrong or you don't get on etc. as a result of anything I say below. And please comment if you think somethings wrong, misinforming or overly biased etc. I'm not proud and the more contributers the better! The prices are only to give you an idea and don't take them as given...PLEASE !!

OK, here goes

1. You CANNOT do the inka trail without a registered Guide / operator. No DIY I'm afraid...... (we did hear of some guys who found a guide themselves whilst in Cusco and did it themselves but that's rare and very very hard to find good people!)

2. You Don't need to book months in advance.... UNLESS.... you're going in peak season. We turned up in Cusco and 4 days later (the time it takes to process the pass) we were on the Inca trail. From what we gleaned... November, December, January (February the trail is CLOSED) and March are low season. Outside of these dates reservations are highly advised.

3. Numbers are limited !
Per Day 800 people can go on the Inka trail (This includes 300 porters Max and 500 trekkers) To find out how many passes are available check the link out below... not sure how accurate it is but it'll give you an idea
http://www.inc-cusco.gob.pe/frame/disponibilidadxmes2007.cfm

4. There are hundreds of Tour Operators out there... choose carefully !!!
We went to about 10 in all during our time in Cusco and spent 2 days chatting to them all. Some were very good, some not so much, some professional and some outright cowboys!

To help in choosing the most important thing (I reckon) is to check out whether they're a Tour Operator (i.e. they actually have their own stuff to do the trail) OR they're a tour agency. Sounds simple, however, the Agencies invariable all use the same operators in the end so best to go direct to the operators if possible (see Questions to ask them below!)

i) Check that the agency is EIRL Registered. This means that they have to be authorized by INRENA (142 tour operator) and be accredited. here's a link to a web site with a full list :

http://www.perutrek.biz/tour-operator-trek-inca-trail-peru.htm

We found a few agencies who were amongst the cheapest, however, they weren't on the list above. We decided to skip them as a result... not worth it !

ii) Check out their website. If the web site looks good then invariably (contrary to most other things on the web) the agency will tend to be more professional and a better bet when it comes to transferring your money etc. We had leaflets from agencies in cusco that had web sites on their material... however... the web site didn't exist in reality!

iii) Phone them up ! We're in the 20th century and I know email tends to rule the roost... but all of them (and I mean all of them) have English (some German and Some French) speaking agents and if not... then they won't be the more reputable ones as the good English speaking tour personnel ask for more pay and hence tend to be employed by the more reputable agencies! makes sense really. However, don't expect perfect English and don't be put off by the odd spelling mistake etc. They're only human after all :)

iv) Ask Questions (I'll put some good ones down below in a minute) and keep in touch with them if you have new quesions in the meantime. Make them work for their commisions after all.

v) The Tour Operators and Agencies aren't that busy in the off season, so call them up during this period if you plan to go in the busy season. At the time we were in Cusco, they were all crying out for people to go on the trail and dropping prices as a result. If you plan to go in July.... there's more than enough customers to go around so they won't be as eager to deal with your probing questions in, say, April about going on the trek in August.... if you can get on at all that is!

5. PRICES !!!!

Ok, depends on with who, when and for how long.

i) With Who : this is a price range in OFF PEAK and is based on the operator and on a 4 day (3 night) trek and in USD!

SAS $400
United Mice $395
Peru Travel Expiditions $300
Pumas Trek Peru $250
Apus Explorer $225
Andean Life $350

Now the examples above are only a few examples of some of the quotes we got, however, they should give you an idea of what's the MOST (Off season 2007) you should pay and then the least you should expect to pay (although if you're a student with Student ID you can get it for as little as $190)

REMEMBER.... you get what you pay for in Life and the Inca trail is no different !!!!

To break the prices down :

Inca trail & Machupicchu license : $73 for 4 days
Student Inca trail & Machupicchu license : $36.50 for 4 days

Train from Machupicchu to Cusco : $46 (Backpacker Class) Only one train a day though !!!

Train from Machupicchu to Ollantaytambo : $40 (Backpacker Class) 4 daily.

I'll go through the train options in a minute.

OK, Other Costs :

Hire a porter.. should you wish. The trek is hard on Day 2 so you can hire a porter for only day 2 or for the whole trip if you'd like. Costs range from $100 USD for 4 days with the more expensive operators to 60 soles ($20 USD) for one day with the cheaper guys. Remember they give you a weight limit of about 7kg's only and will charge you more if you go over this !!!

Bus from Machupicchu to Aguas Calientes (also called Pueblo Machupicchu) : $6 one way! Might be $7.. can't remember exactly but it's another cost to consider. You can walk down... but it's a minimum 1 hour down and quite heavy on the old knees!

Bus from Ollantaytambo if you get off the train here..... You don't want to pay this and should have the tour company pick you up here to take you back to Cusco included in the price. If not.... it's not expensive (10-20 soles one way) but it's dark and a headache (unless you want to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo... which is a lovely little town and has other Inca sites to visit on it's doorstep!)

Water.... Costs from 2 soles (70 cents) at the start and goes up to 5 soles ($1.70) for 350 ml later on in the trail and not available at all camp sites. I{ll handle this again below.

beer and other incidentals .... Should you wish to purchase it at either your first nights stop or your last nights stop (some things also available en route... chips, chocolate, coca leafs etc.)

The train.

Here's some prices and times... got the whole time table from the Train station in Cusco (near the Market).. you had to go inside to get it though.... speak nicely to the security guard.

Two classes basically (Rich and Backpacker) I've listed Backpacker only here... however, looking at the timetable there's also a local train that does the route for a fraction of the cost..... maybe check this out in the train station before you book your trip (If you can) as it only seems to cost 15 soles.... not sure if it's only open to residents... so if you fancy really penny pinching then check it out in the train station. Anyway, here's a rough copy of the time table :

Machupicchu Ollantaytambo Poroy Cusco
Direct 17:00 18:36 20:17 21:23

Partial Service 16:20 17:58
9:15 11:30
14:30 16:12
20:30 22:02
5:45 7:44

There are other trains available (This list is only an indicator of times etc.) , however, the only thing I'd say is that the train to Cusco is LONGER than stopping in Ollantaytambo and then getting the bus as the bus only takes 2 hours to get to Cusco and it also means you{re not arriving at Cusco station late in the evening in the dark.... OK you get dropped off by the bus at Plaza De Armas or Plaza San Francisco, but it's walking distance from here to your hostel (normally.... even if it is in San Blas... that's what we did!)

Of course, if you like trains... insist on the train all the way back to Cusco.... up to you guys! There's only the one backpacker train all the way back to Cusco though and I'm sure your Agent / operator will inform you of the differences if you ask !!!

Hope it helps a little bit and of course..... do you own research wherever possible and I'm not god... so please treat the above as opinion ONLY !!!

Taffski

2. Posted by Taffski (Travel Guru 182 posts) 8y

OK... still with me ?????

Had to do another entry adn the first one in total was too large :)

1. Most operators ask that you have your own sleeping bag. Otherwise you have to pay to hire one!

2. Water. Ask if they give you boilt water in the morning to drink... or not! If not... bring pills or better still a water filter (you can get bottles with these built in these days!) Otherwise it'll cost you and remember.... WATER WEIGHS ALOT!!!

3. Where do we leave from? Sounds stupid, however you should leave from about KM82 (as they call it) It's the normal starting point for most tours and this will be different if you're on a longer / shorter trek.

4. Will you pick me up from my hostel? We had to walk down from our hostel to the bus pick up. You leave early so a walk at 5:30 am might not be the most important thing on your mind at that time... especially with all your gear on you !

5. Tips for the Porters and Guides (depending on their quality of course!)
I won't go into Porters too much, suffice as to say they work damn hard and earn every penny (sorry sole) they get payed... and after Day 2.... walking up to Dead Womans pass.. you'll know what I mean! To give you a rough guide. We tipped ours 50 Soles per backpacker and they shared it out amongst themselves. You may wish to include the guides or not in this... however... if so... make sure you split it first as they have a "ceremony" on the last night of your trek to give the money to the porters. You don't want to pay twice now... do you ?

To give you an idea... I asked the porters how much they get and it ranged from a per kilo basis (i.e. 20 kilos carried = 20 Soles per day) to a set rate depending on how senior the porter was.

Different tour operators did treat their porters differently... SAS had good bags for their porters... however, one of them carried a portable loo for the 4 days even though there are toilets at every campsite !!!

6. Rain proof gear (depending on season) most important in off season , however, a good poncho (large one to cover your backpack) will suffice. make sure you keep one set of cloths dry at all times as it gets cold at altitude also!!!

7. Warm Cloths.... Thermals for the nighttime proved invaluable and a good hat... easily bought in Cusco :)

The Trek

Day 1.... easy trek (3 - 4 hours) Slight inclune
Day 2.... Hardest Day (6 - 8 hours) Steep Ascent... not all of it though. The toughest day and if you{re not acclimatised or fit.... the day to hire a porter for your bag!
Day 3.... Long day (8 - 10 hours) Andean Flats (i.e. NOT) but not overly stressful just a long distance to cover. Best day however as you get to see all the temples prior to the climax...... However at camp there's showers for everyone for 6 soles.
Day 4.... Steep morning (1-2 hours) to the sun gate for dawn (depending on the weather) and then down into MachPicchu.

Questions to ask :

1. Are you a Tour Operator?
2. Are you a Tour Agency ?
3. Do I stay in your tents or someone elses?
4. What class of Guide will I get (Class A, B & C.... A = full English & either German or French and maybe others, B English & Spanish (Not brilliant though!)... C a few words in English and mostly Spanish... he / she'll most propably be learning from you on the trek :)
5. Is my train ticket included
6. Is entrance to Machupicchu included
7. Is the bus from Machupicchu to Aguas Caliente Included
8. Does the train take me to Cusco of Ollantaytambo? (you can decided which is best for you before you ask them this question)
9. How many meals do I get...... 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 evening meals is the least you should get.
10. Do I have to carry my own matrass... some of the cheaper ones require you do this... which is additional weight.
11. Can I hire my own porter?
12. How much does my own porter cost and how much weight will he carry?
13. Do we Get Purified Water... Do we have to buy it ourselves... will you provide boiled water?
14. Do I get picked up (in a van / taxi.... not met by someone on the road!) from my hostel / hotel?
15. Do I need to bring my own sleeping bag?
16. How much does the cleeping bag hire cost for 4 days?
17. What do I need to bring with me? (They should provide you with a list of things i.e. flashlight, sun lotion, towel etc. )

Right have to go for now... however, I'll read over this tomorrow night and update add to it later on.... think the wifes going to kill me !!!

3. Posted by PeruPlanet (Budding Member 18 posts) 8y

Wow....Maximum
Very complete information but i can do a little appointment
Local trains are only for residents that must show peruvian id to get the ticket

Congratulations Great Work!!!

4. Posted by travelbug_ (Respected Member 110 posts) 8y

Thanks for the very informative post :) . We might go there next year (still deciding on options of where to go ) so this was very helpful to me.

5. Posted by tricky (Respected Member 323 posts) 8y

wow, ultimate respect for that post(s).

My wife and I are arriving in BA tomorrow (Uruguay at the mo) and we thinking it's time to book the trail so this is amazingly helpful I have to say.

Did you say who you did it with or did I miss that? Been up all night so prob missed it.

Your account doesnt seem biased and thats fantastic.

Cheers again.

6. Posted by Marky1983 (Inactive 19 posts) 8y

Thanks sounds well tiring!

7. Posted by gallegos (Full Member 72 posts) 8y

Very accurate, except for the Inca Trail´s limit. The right number is 500 people per day total, which includes porters, cook, guides and tourists. The proportion staff / tourist is also wrong, there is more staff than tourists. Due to regulations the group has to include one porter per tourists at least, plus the cook and guides. So at the end, there is more staff than clients.

Also, the Inca Trail tour prices will increase next year due to a lower exchange rate between the US dollar and the Peruvian Sol. Right now it is 3 Soles per dollar, it was 3.25 early this year. The train fares will raise next year too.

Check out the train company's web site: www.perurail.com for 2008 train schedules and prices.

Have a safe trip,
Ivan

8. Posted by Taffski (Travel Guru 182 posts) 8y

Hi Guys,

Wife never killed me so thought I`d add a few final thoughts.

In reply to the numbers allowed on the trek per day, I asked many people about this and the numbers were either 500 or 800 in total so thanks for clearing it up.

In reply to the numbers of staff per tourist.... for our trek we had more people than porters. There were 10 porters.. three guides and 14 of us so I´m not too sure on that one. Might be that our operator flaunted that rules a wee bit.... after all we went with the cheapest availabela and got our just rewards :)

Anyway, thanks for the additional input Gallegos.

OK... some final points having slept on it..........

In determining the tour operator I can honestly say that the only things that we saw that differentiated the companies were the following :

1. Number of Porters used.... some of the companies had about 2 or 3 porters per person which definately seemed overkill to me. Ask your Agency how many porters they have and you can decided for yourself which you would prefer...more or less....
2. Quality of the food..... VERY IMPORTANT Indeed
Our food was eatable and consisted of :
Breakfast bread jam, pancake or eggs and tea or coffee
Snak Pack fruit, choccie bar and a juice
Lunch Soup, pasta or rice with vegetables
afternoon tea and popcorn
Tea Chips, meat and veg with a pudding or the likes with tea, coffee

Now it`s up to you if the level of food is the most important thing. We werençt particularly bothered as we`re used to pasta and sauce normally when trekking. However, for those with special dietry requirements I`d definately check out your operator and their food etc. We saw some of the other tour groups meals and they looked fantastic.... candle lit tents with only a few people, napkins... posh metal cutlery and three or four course meals..... again it`s up to you to decide what`s important.

3. The Expertise of the guide. Our guide decided to leave us on the last day in Machupicchu and hand us to another one of the guides. He took us round the site for about 1 hour... it was very regimented and straight out of the Idiots guide to being a tour guide in Machupicchu.... which I was annoyed with, however, we got what we payed for...... Other groups had 2 hours in machupicchu and their guides were clearly more interested in the site and deviated from the norm.

4. Quality of the equipment. Some of the tents looked brand new, while others... notably ours were a biut more regged around the edges, however, as long as they were water proof we didn`t care. Remember to ask how many people share the tens as it seems to be pretty normal to get 2 people in a "four" man tent. Depending again on what your used to you can ask your perspective operator about the quality of their equipment etc.

5. Pay for Porters and whether it was fixed or based on the weight they were carrying.

Remember, most of the agencies will have standard answers for all the questions above... so if you want them to squirm and get the real answer... then a good old email is always wnother good way of getting them to stick to what they say. If they´re a bit more reluctant to answer your questions formally in an email, then you can always question whether the answer is actually correct.

Other than those final thoughts...some final tip bits regarding the tour itself.

1. Ask if you can meet your porters beforehand. We heard of one operator who let their clients meet and greet the porters before they left and stayed the night before in Huayllaccocha .... which is the town where most of the porters are from... the company was called WAYKI Trek and cost 390ish...... we didn`t go with these guys.

2. Definately go up to the Winyawanya terraces on the second to last day as they were brilliant, overgrown and very few other hikers did this.... unless of course your tired from the days hike.

3. Ask your guide about the plants and flowers as theres loads of wild orchids all along the route and they`re really beautiful and of course you can find out about medicinal plants and herbal plants along the way also which was very interesting.

4. Maybe stay in Aguas Calientes the night after the Trail. It was a nice little town... if a bit touristy... but nice for the one night before returning to Cusco the following day. The Tour Operators should be able to arrange for your train ticket to be for the following day... or of course you can return by bus which is cheaper.

5. Everyone runs up Wayna Picchu after their tour in Machu picchu. An Alternative is to climb Cerro Picchu ... machu picchu mountain which gives you a different perspective on the site... albeit it further away. We climbed up machu picchu mountain first.... went about an hour to a lookout... took pictures and then returned to Waynu picchu and climbed it later in the day and there were far less tourists on the summit.... which is rather small .... as a result.

6. The Cafeteria in Machu Picchu entrance is expensive so try and find out if you get a lunch or picnic from your tour operator for the final day. Some of them did give you stuff for the final day. We didnt get anything for the last day which meant we had to pay 16 Soles for a limp ham sandwich and 11 soles for a Gatorade...... If your operator doesnt give you anything on the last day... save up from the previous days... that`s what we did although we did succomb and buy a coke for 10 soles..... 3 Dollars.

OK... that should be it........

Hopefully this post might helkp one or two of you and hope you all have a great trek on the Inca Trail. We absolutely loved it and had a great time and met lovely people also.

Good Luck

Taffski

9. Posted by dr.pepper (Travel Guru 316 posts) 8y

Hey all,

There's some great info in this thread, so I've decided to start a wiki travel guide to the Inca Trail based on all the tips listed here. Feel free to help out - anyone can edit the guide.

Cheers,
Eric