Though at times crowded, the hike to Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experience—both a backpacking trip and a religious pilgrimage. There are lots of ways to do it, including walks of 1–4 days, with or without a pack on your back.
All trail hikers must go with an agency, to ensure everyone’s safety and keep trash off the trail. (The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, administered by the National Institute of Culture.) There is a wide range in price and quality among Inca Trail agencies, and reservations should be made at least six months in advance.
The two- or even one-day option begins at Km 104 of the railroad line and includes a steep hike to reach the final stretch of the Inca Trail, including the ruins at Wiñay Wayna. Some agencies continue the same day to Machu Picchu and stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, while others camp near Wiñay Wayna to enter Machu Picchu the following morning.
We highly recommend the four-day trip, which passes more than 30 Inca sites along the way and includes the most spectacular scenery.
Peruvian Andean Treks, ExplorAndes, and Tambo Treks are the longest established trekking companies in Cusco; they pioneered the contemporary trekking culture. We recommend them, not only for their unsurpassed experience and professionalism, but also because they consistently recycle their trash, pack out all human waste, treat water carefully, and pay porters fair wages.
Among the more than 150 licensed agencies operating in Cusco, the standard of service and social and environmental responsibilities vary greatly. It is up to the client to be discerning and to research thoroughly before booking. All agencies listed here are recommended.
Peruvian Andean Treks (Pardo 705, tel. 084/22-5701, www.andeantreks.com) is owned by American and long-time Cusco resident Tom Hendrickson. This company was voted Cusco’s best tour operator in 2006.
ExplorAndes (Av. Garcilaso 316-A, tel. 084/23-8380 or Lima tel. 01/715-2323, www.explorandes.com) is Peru’s most established adventure sports agency. It offers the traditional Inca Trail hike, as well as variations that combine it with treks above the Sacred Valley or around Nevado Salcantay and Nevado Ausangate. ExplorAndes was voted Peru’s best overall tour operator by the Ministry of Tourism in 2005.
Tambo Treks (Casilla 912, tel. 084/23-7718, www.tambotreks.net) is owned by Andreas Holland and has been operating for over 30 years. It offers diverse treks and tours with tailor-made itineraries (six people minimum), which accommodate group specifications and a wide range of special interests. The staff are very knowledgeable, and since its foundation Tambo Treks has had a profound commitment to helping local communities. Most importantly however, the welfare of all their staff has always been a priority as has working in an ecologically sustainable and responsible manner.
Auqui Mountain Spirit (José Gabriel 307, Urb. Magisterial, tel. 084/26-1517, www.auqui.com.pe), run by Roger Valencia, has been operating for over 20 years. This high-end agency has a very experienced team and specializes in customized trips, especially for corporate clients.
Ecoinka (Saphy 456, tel. 084/22-4050, www.ecoinka.com) was founded by Ricky Schiller, who has been involved in the tourism industry for over 30 years. The expert staff provide excellent service.
Perú Sur Nativa (Magisterio 2da Etapa K-7-302, tel. 084/22-4156, www.perusurnativa.com) is owned by long-time Cusco adventurer extraordinaire Raúl Montes.
Enigma (Clorinda Matto de Turner 100, tel. 084/22-2155, www.enigmaperu.com) is one of the newer agencies; it has gourmet cooks. It offers Inca Trail treks combined with Nevado Salcantay, Vilcabamba, and the ruins of Choquequirao.
Inca Explorers (Ruinas 427, tel. 084/24-1070, www.incaexplorers.com) has a range of longer trips to Vilcabamba, Choquequirao, and the Cordillera Vilcanota.
Q’ente (Choquechaca 229, tel. 084/22-2535, www.qente.com) has been running since 1995 and provides a good service and trained staff.
The following Inca Trail operators are at the bottom of the price range but have been reported to be environmentally responsible.
United Mice (Plateros 351, tel. 084/22-1139, www.unitedmice.com) is probably the most recommended backpacker’s choice. It also offers a seven-day Salcantay trek.
Andina Travel (Santa Catalina 219, tel. 084/25-1892, www.andinatravel.com) offers frequent departures for the Inca Trail and interesting sociocultural projects.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition