So, you want to hike to Machu Picchu? Good choice. Taking a train or hiring a car is for bums, and you’re more interested in working out your bum instead. Hiking to Machu Picchu is the only way to truly appreciate the degree of difficulty in both building and reaching this city in the sky, and how crazy sophisticated the Incas were to pull it off. When deciding which route is right for you, there are a few details you must consider:
- Is hiking directly into Machu Picchu via Inti Punku (Sun Gate) a must? If so, the Inca Trail is the only hike that does this. All alternative routes end up using a train or tram to reach the base entrance with all the normies who took the train the whole way.
- How much are you willing to spend? The Inca Trail hike is capped at 500 permits per day, which includes guides and porters. With demand for this hike at an all-time high, and the supply capped, you are going to spend anywhere from 2x-3x the price of the alternative routes.
- How soon are you traveling to Peru? We booked our trek on January 23rd, 2017 for July 2nd of the same year. When we spoke with our tour guides, they were already accepting bookings for 2018. It was our understanding that the longer you wait to book your hike, the worse your campsite you will be. Since the tour operator needs the permits before booking, those selling last minute permits to the trail tend to camp at sub-optimal sites for trail navigation and arrival to Machu Picchu.
Depending on your answers above, you will know if the Inca Trail is right for you. We knew from the get go that we wanted to do the Classic Inca Trail, so our review is solely focused on the 4D/3N Classic Inca Trail Trek. However, we have had friends do the Salkantay and Lares and absolutely loved it. On the Lares, you get a llama to carry your gear. So depending on your love of cute, cuddly, furry animals, that might be a huge plus.
After researching from a handful of highly-rated companies, we booked our trek with Alpaca Expeditions, a 100% Peruvian and locally-owned operator based in Cusco.
- Professional guides fluent in English. No joke, these guys were using words I only ever recall from my college lit courses. Our two guides, Villejio and Ronaldo, were hilarious and provided interesting history lessons throughout the four days.
- Great food and a lot of it. I’ve never eaten so much food in four days. Every meal has, at a minimum, three courses. This also includes vegetarian or gluten free options depending on your group’s dietary needs. Plus, a popcorn and hot cocoa happy hour every night!
- High-Quality Equipment. From the sleeping bags to the tents, everything was in fantastic condition. We opted to rent the hiking poles, sleeping bags and inflatable air mattresses for an additional cost and it was well worth the price.
- Locally owned and ethical. Alpaca Expeditions makes a big deal about this, and rightfully so in my opinion. Porters and guides have a long history of being exploited by tour operators in Cusco. It isn’t uncommon for some to wait months before being paid for their work, and even then they may only get a portion of what is owed. Alpaca Expeditions provides porters with new uniforms, high-quality hiking boots, and timely payment.
- Campsite location and time management. This is probably the most important aspect of actually doing the Classic Inca Trail. Since treks with Alpaca Expeditions fill up quickly, they book the campsites much farther in advance than some of the cheaper, lesser known operators. This means getting out in front of the crowds and making it to the Asunagate first to witness the sun crest over the mountain top and bathe Machu Picchu in its rays.
- Tip collection and breakout. My only issue with this tour operator was how gratuity was handled, or rather, how it wasn’t handled. It was left to us to figure out how to collect and divide the tips among the porters and cooks. After which, we were asked to present to the entire group their individual take. Due to language barriers, the cultural difference with tipping and the slapdash way the tips were pooled together, everyone went to bed annoyed and flustered. Not a deal breaker, but something that needs to be fixed.
- Let’s talk about poop 💩. This is definitely the lowlight of life on the Inca Trail. Squat toilets that look like something out of Saw. You need to collect your own toilet paper and store it for proper disposal, which half the hikers seem to ignore. Instead, it piles up in the stall adding new layers of detail to an already dour decor. Add in the fact that, at night, you will be in frigid temperatures with only a headlamp to light your way and you have yourself a recipe for a wonderful toilet experience. That is if you are lucky enough to even go to the bathroom. Probably half of our group was experiencing some form of constipation, which coupled with the copious amounts of food at each meal, led to some fellow hikers being physically hindered during the last day on the trail.
The Journey is the Destination is the Alpaca Expeditions slogan, and their Classic Inca Trail trek reflects that. They have put together a high quality, well thought-out trek that made it the highlight of our South America adventure. We highly recommend them.
Want to learn how to travel across Peru easily? Read our review of Peru Hop