How to find a cheap Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu

Machu-PicchuThe Inca Trail is arguably the most famous hike in the world. The four-day trek begins at a spot known as 82km along the Inca Trail and finishes at the most famous ruins in South America – Machu Picchu. If you’re going to Peru and like to hike, then you have to do the Inca Trail. Skipping it off your list is like visiting the Louvre and not stopping to look at the Mona Lisa.

But how do you choose a tour? There are many choices and many prices, so it can be difficult to know where to begin. Having completed the Inca Trail last week, after booking the ticket last minute in Cuzco, I’ve managed to learn from my experience and hope to share some of the money saving tips with you now.

Price differences on the Inca Trail

There’s no doubt the price for the Inca Trail can vary greatly. The cheapest ticket I came across was a student ticket for US$320 for a four-day Inca Trail tour and the most expensive was more than US$1,200 for a G Adventures tour which flies you to Cuzco and back from Lima as part of the price.

You might think that if you pay the lowest price you’ll get the lowest service, but we found that wasn’t the case. We paid US$355 each – even though WikiTravel advises that if you pay less than US$400 something must be wrong – and had a wonderful time.

>>>Check prices for a 7-day Peru Guided Tour – Inca Trail Express by Intrepid Travel

High season vs low season for Machu Picchu

view-on-the-Inca-TrailThe high season is the dry season, which runs from May through September. In July and August, Machu Picchu is apparently heaving with crowds, as these are the busiest months to visit. With the Inca Trail, they limit the crowds to 500 people starting the trail per day. This is quite a lot though – it is just a dirt track after all and 500 pairs of hiking boots stamping up and down it can make it busy.

The low season coincides with the wet season, which is from October through April. In February you can’t hike the Inca Trail at all as it closes for the entire month for maintenance. We went in the middle of March and even though it was the rainy season, it didn’t rain too much and we found it pleasant as it wasn’t swelteringly hot during the day.

Possibly the best time of year to go would be in early April or at the end of September because you’ll miss both the rainy season and the crowds of tourists.

The prices for the Inca Trail are more expensive in the high season due to the trek’s popularity. If you absolutely must visit during this time, you’ll have to book ahead because the tours can sell out months in advance. Unfortunately, this also means you’ll most likely miss out on a discounted rate as you won’t be able to hunt around for the best deal in Cuzco like we did – unless you can afford to wait (perhaps weeks) for a free spot to become available.

Booking Inca Trail treks through email queries

Before we got to Cuzco, we emailed around to the most popular travel agencies – including Wayki Trek, Loki Travel and Llama Path. I also emailed a few others but they didn’t bother to reply.

bear-on-the-Inca-TrailEmailing is a good idea because you can get a quick idea of the professionalism of the company depending on their response (or their lack of one!) and how much information they’re willing to give online before you book.

It also gives you an opportunity to ask for a better rate. For example, Loki Travel’s website is selling the Inca Trail tour for US$395 but when I emailed them they dropped the price to US$360.

It also will give you an idea of the price differences between the companies. For example, Llama Path wanted to charge me US$635 and Wayki Trek US$610. If you’re going in the high season, I’d advise emailing as many companies as possible to get the best price.

If visiting in the low season, wait until you get to Cuzco and then book when you arrive.

Hit the pavement once in Cuzco

bridge-on-the-Inca-TrailIt’s advisable to arrive in Cuzco 3-4 days before you hike the Inca Trail, so that you can acclimatise to the altitude. This is perfect timing if you want to wait until you get to Cuzco to hunt around for the best price for the Inca Trail hike.

This is what we did and the day we arrived we spent about five hours going from agency to agency. In total, we visited about seven agencies and were quoted a variety of prices with US$355 being the cheapest and US$650 being the most expensive.

We received three quotes for US$355 and ended up going with the one that could offer us the best date for departure – three days from when we arrived in Cuzco We also liked their customer service – the people in the agency were very friendly and took the time to answer all the questions we had. The agency was Eco Trek Path.

Warning: People will insist you book the Inca Trail months in advance because otherwise you won’t be able to get on a tour. If visiting in the low season this is absolutely not true – as our purchase three days before the tour proves.

Questions to ask when researching trek operators

So what questions should you ask the tour agency? Firstly, it’s important to know exactly what’s included in your trek because you don’t want to be caught out without food or a train ticket when you need it most.

All the agencies we inquired at generally included the following:

  • All camping gear except for your sleeping bags
  • All meals for the four days except for the first breakfast and the last lunch
  • Porters to carry all the cooking gear, tents and food but NOT your clothing, sleeping mats and bags and personal items.
  • Entrance to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
  • One guide per 8-10 people
  • Bus to the start of the trail and train and bus back to Cuzco

What’s not generally included:

  • A sleeping bag (make sure you hire a very warm one, we did and were comfortable. It cost us 8 soles – about US$3 – a day.)
  • Tips for the porters, guides and cook – we tipped 50 soles each for the porters and cook, and a further 20 soles each for the guide
  • Snacks
  • Bus down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes where you catch the train back to Cuzco – we walked this and it took about an hour and fifteen minutes

Once you’ve checked with the agency about what’s included, inquire about the service.

Ask:

  • How many people will be on the tour per guide? (It should be 8-10 per guide.)
  • How many porters will there be?
  • What’s the bus service / train service like? (What class of bus and train.)
  • Does the guide speak English?
  • Will you be receiving a briefing before you leave? (You should receive one the day before departure.)
  • How much extra cash you should bring.
  • If hiring the sleeping bag from the agency, how warm is it?
  • Where will your campsites be located and how early can you expect to arrive at Machu Picchu? (The earlier the better – we arrived at sunrise, which was around 7am.)

Consider what the tour company pays for

When you break down all of the costs included in the ticket, US$355 really is a great deal. For example, it’s 299 soles (US$105) for the entrance ticket for the Inca Trail, 126 soles (US$44) for your Machu Picchu pass and around 45 soles (US$16) for a guided tour of Machu Picchu. On top of this is your US$48 train ticket and bus transport to and from the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.

If you add all these costs up, you’ve got US$213 vital elements included in your ticket, meaning you’re paying around US$35.50 per day for your food, porters, camping equipment and guide. I consider this a massive bargain – when you look at the Inca Trail ticket like this it really isn’t expensive at all.

What you should expect on the Inca Trail itself

The Inca Trail isn’t glamorous. You’ll be pooing into a mucky toilet hole in the ground most of the time and sleeping in a two-man tent, possibly with a stranger if you come on your own.

But it’s so worth it. The views you’ll see of the mountains surrounding the trail are amazing. And if you’re lucky – like we were – you might even see a bear!

Not to mention you’ll be visiting Inca ruins with no one else around aside from your tour group. I found this much more magical than the heaving crowds that embrace Machu Picchu each day.

The food on the trail was surprisingly good

breakfast-on-the-Inca-TrailI often wondered how the cook managed to whip up his tasty array of meals each day. We even had a cake on the final day, which was amazing as he steamed it in the pan! Each meal was three courses and we never went hungry – although it’s a good idea to bring snacks like chocolate and muesli bars just in case.

You need to be relatively fit

The second day is the hardest when you climb uphill for about four hours. With the altitude, it can be difficult. But you don’t want to be the unfit person slowing everyone down. If you don’t think you’re fit enough, start hiking before you leave so you can get the hang of it and your fitness up.

Saying that, the Inca Trail certainly wasn’t the hardest hike we’ve ever done. The longest we ever walked for was six hours a day, so that was easy!

What to take on the Inca Trail

  • Passport – don’t forget it otherwise you won’t be able to get onto the trail or into Machu Picchu
  • You need to take cash. We ran out after leaving our tips and so we had to climb down from Machu Picchu to the town instead of taking the bus (US$10 per person). Our legs were aching so it wasn’t too enjoyable.
  • Take lots of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It’ll help you to battle the disgusting toilets.
  • Take warm clothing (gloves, hat and scarf) as well as a poncho to fend off the rain
  • Bring spare batteries for your camera or two cameras so you have something to take capture the moment with when you get to Machu Picchu.
  • Bring a plastic bag for all your rubbish, so you can carry it out.
  • Take a headlamp for nightime.
  • Pack limited toiletries – they weigh a tonne and there aren’t any showers until the last night anyway – we didn’t bother showering at all!
  • Don’t forget sunscreen and mosquito repellent.

And there you have it – a rundown to help you book your cheap Machu Picchu tour. Have I forgotten anything?

Good luck!

By Carmen Allan-Petale

Carmen is one half of the couple behind Double-Barrelled Travel, a travel blog focused on vlogging. Carmen married Dave two years ago and they quit their journalism careers in mid-2013 for a life on the road.



28 Responses to “How to find a cheap Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu”

Helen says:

the potential problem with cheap tours is that they cut corners when paying and providing for their porters, cooks and guides. is it worth contributing to the exploitation of local people in order to save a bit of money that you are more likely able to afford than the workers there?

 
    Carmen says:

    Hi Helen,
    I don’t think this is necessarily true. There’s restrictions on how much porters can carry on the Inca Trail, so they won’t be carrying more than other ‘expensive’ tour operators.
    Also, I gave a bigger tip – which went directly to the porters – than I would’ve if I’d spent more money on the tour.
    If you’re paying more money for your tour, it’s not likely going to the porters – it’s probably just going to the company, especially if they’re a large business.
    Speaking to our guides, it seems the porters are paid roughly the same wage across all companies.
    Thanks for your comment,
    Carmen

     
Jorja Alcorn says:

Interesting and informative post. Machu picchu is quite a hard kind of travel.

 
bill says:

Hi, I do not eat pork, is this possible on the hike? Thanks

 
    Carmen says:

    Hi Bill,

    We didn’t eat any pork on the Inca Trail, so I think it should be very easy for you to do the hike without worrying about eating pork. Just let the company know before you go that you don’t eat pork. There were some vegetarians in our group and they didn’t have a problem, as the company catered for them. They just let them know in advance.

    Hope this helps,
    Carmen

     
Robert says:

where did you eventually booK?

 

    Robert,

    There’s so much information in this article that it is easy to miss, but she does mention it:

    “We received three quotes for US$355 and ended up going with the one that could offer us the best date for departure – three days from when we arrived in Cuzco We also liked their customer service – the people in the agency were very friendly and took the time to answer all the questions we had. The agency was Eco Trek Path.”

    I assume they would not be too hard to find once you got to Cusco. Good luck. -Roger (the editor)

     
Nelly says:

Hi Carmen,
In which month did you hike? I’m thinking about doing it in either November or March and wonder which would be better and how bad the rain would be.

 
    Carmen says:

    Hi Nelly,

    I hiked the trail towards the end of March. To be honest, there isn’t much of a difference in the weather during November and March. In March, it’s slightly colder (by 2 Celsius per day), whereas in November it’s slightly more rainy.

    I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference if you choose between these two months. Just avoid high season around the middle of the year when it’s more expensive and more crowded.

     
E.S. says:

Thank you very much for the very useful information!
We will try to send you our feed back once we return from our trip to Peru.

E.

 
Lana says:

Hi, I’m planning on traveling Peru next year and was just wanting to get some tips from people who have traveled there. How much did you budget, I plan on staying in Peru for 2 months and where all did you see? I did plan on going in July and August due to the fact of money saving reasons but the more and more I read the better it seems to go off season. I might push my budgeting earlier.

Thanks,
Lana

 
mart says:

Thank you for the very informative post! How was your experience with Eco path trek and their tour group/guide? how big was their group? i’m planning to go with a group of friends in march 2015, they quoted me $410/person. anything i should look out for or any other companies i could shop around for price? we’ll have a short itinerary and couldn’t afford to shop in Cuzco for 3 days. thank you for your help and tips!

 
    Taryn says:

    What did you decide to do Mart? I’m looking to book soon for August 2015 – Eco Path Trek are offering me a great rate (385USD), but apart from the blog I am struggling to find anything out about them and cannot see them listed on the government list of allowed tour operators for last year, so am worried about sending my money over by Western Union. Thanks, Taryn x

     
      Alicia says:

      Hi Taryn!

      We (bf and I ) were having the same issue. We couldnt find anything on them (Eco Path Trek) and were really nervous. My boyfriend emailed with them back and forth, I did too. Doing the whole western union thing was stressful since we’ve heard all these sketchy thing about WU. I called Eco Path Trek on Sunday and asked why WU was only asking me for a name and Country since EPT provides extensive info to send the money. The man at Eco Path Trek said it was fine if WU only asked for those 2 things, WU said they only required name and country unless specified by the office where you would be sending the money from (ie: additional form?). We sent the money at a Rite- Aid using their phone service. Today my reservation was confirmed. I get a feeling that Eco Path Trek is building its resume still since I’ve stalked a bit on FB and looked at one of the employees page and on there she has EPT as her employer since 2011, so maybe they are fairly new? THey do have a YoutTube channel and a video where a group of about 6 people speak about their experience ( in Spanish). The reviewers look of similar decent but if you speak Spanish you are able to tell that they are from different countries including Chile and Bolivia from the way they speak.All that social media research (including this post!)allowed me to decide that I would book with them. We have officially started an adventure though, and well now I have to wait to get there. I booked mine for June 23, 2015!

      Good luck!

      I cant wait to add a review on Eco Path Trek’s tripadvisor page to give some travelers a peace of mind!

       
        Zach says:

        Sorry I accidentally commented instead of replied. Here is what I was trying to say. What made you guys decide to take the risk? I have been doing research and have not found a lot of information regarding Eco Path Trek. We are looking to book a trip for the end of July.

         
jason says:

white tour did you take?
i am planing on going in may or june. would i need to make an advance reservation in your opinion

 
Zach says:

Alicia, what made you guys decide to take the risk? I have been doing research and have not found a lot of information regarding Eco Path Trek. We are looking to book a trip for the end of July.

 
Heather says:

Hi,
Like people above, I have researched Eco Path Trek and can’t find any reviews or ratings about them. Roger did you actually use these tour guides? Can anyone provide a legitimate review for them? Or provide any links to other tour companies who are just as cheap?

 

    Heather,

    Sorry, but this article was written by Carmen Allan-Petale and I took the train when I went. She doesn’t check the comments on these articles very often so you should try to contact her through her own site, which is Double-Barrelled Travel. She probably has Inca Trail articles on that site, and I think she answers questions there. Best of luck. -Roger

     
Pablo Zapata says:

Thank you.

 
Jamie says:

Hi. Thanks for the informative tips on searching for MP tour agencies.
I’ll be arriving in Cuzco on Dec 1 and will take a couple of days to rest before hitting the trail. I have contacted a few you mentioned. Ecotrek offered the best price so far ‘$380’. I’m not too sure if I should take it or just wait until I get there as you mentioned as it is the first week of Dec and its availability is still enough as I looked into it so far. (But the Christmas week is crazy already- FULL!) I’m not too sure if this is too risky to wait as I want to hike after a couple of days I arrive there. Well, what would you do if you were me?
Thanks,
Jamie

 
    Kelsey says:

    Hey Jamie,

    We are planning to go at the same time, and are worried that if we don’t book in advance it will be sold out.

    Eco Trek is BY FAR the cheapest option out there, and seems legit!

    I think booking it ahead will give us peice of mind, but you might save a couple dollars if you wait until you arrive..

     
    RAPHAEL says:

    Hi jamie,

    I reached out to Ecotrek for a quote and they replied with over $800 per person for Dec 14-18th WOW! That was much more expensive than I was expecting. Could you explain what you did to get that price? $380

    Thank you!

     

Great post! Thanks so much for sharing all the details.

1. Do you know if it’s possible to do the inca trail for less than $300ea with only 2 people?

2. I’ll be there Dec 14th this year. Will it be closed then?

3. We’re pretty fit (distance runners) so we’re hoping to speed the process up, can you recommend any local tours that do it in 3 days?

Thanks a bunch, you rock 🙂

 
Melissa says:

Can someone give me the website for the Ecotrek company?

Thank you!

 
Linda says:

Hi Carmen,

I’m planning on going to Peru half November this year. Would you recommend to book the inca trail in Cuzco itself?

Thanks for your reply in advance!

 

Thank you so much for these advices! Im going to do the inca trail with my friend in november. We r very excited, but i must admit that im a bit scared

 
Ashley Sheppard says:

Hi there, I’m travelling to Peru in October 2016 but it was an unexpected trip and even though it’s still 3 months away I am having difficulty finding any companies with spots available for the Inca trail hike. Do you have any suggestions for companies I could try or people I could contact directly? I am also on a budget so hoping to find something not too expensive…

 

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