The price tag for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu depends largely on the tour company, package, and guide you choose. Here are some of the general costs, plus actual specifics from my own recent trek.
Doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu independently is not an option. The Peruvian government limits the number of hikers on the trails each day. Everyone must have a permit and be accompanied by a licensed guide. And yes, through a series of checkpoints on the trail, they actually enforce it.
But it’s easy to find a guide because there are tons of tour companies specializing in the treks. Even still, available dates can sell out fast; so make sure to book with plenty of advanced notice. My friend Colina and I originally wanted to do the hike a year ago, but when we tried booking four months out everything was already sold out. So we did it this summer instead.
General cost for Inca Trail trek: $500
On average, the classic Inca Trail hike costs around $500/person (this generally includes transportation to the trailhead from Cusco, a guide, porters, three meals a day, hiking permits, entry to Machu Picchu, and tents). You can find it even cheaper. But beside the advertised sticker price, there are a few other things to consider when choosing a tour company: How many hikers are in each group? How often and how much food is provided during the trek? And finally, what’s the reputation for the company’s treatment of its porters?
Even though we tend to focus on budget traveling, it’s good to remember that sometimes the cheapest option isn’t always the best option. Cheaper companies for the Inca Trail often have larger groups (15-25 people), provide smaller meals, and/or no snacks. Some even have a bad reputation for inadequately providing their porters (i.e. lacking rain ponchos, jackets, or even proper hiking shoes). I was surprised by how many people online included snacks as a necessary item to pack and bring along because there wasn’t enough food provided by their company.
My specific cost for our guide and porters: $710
My friend Colina and I opted for a slightly more expensive, but reputable company that specializes in small groups. It cost $710/person and was worth every penny.
It ended up being just the two of us on the trek with our guide Jhon and six porters (including a chef and sous chef). We had more than enough food with three hot meals, two teas, a mid-morning snack, and dessert daily. It was all incredibly delicious, and because our group was just me and Colina, we set the pace we wanted, and ended up spending most our time just hanging out with Jhon and the guys.
It was a much more immersive experience than spending the majority of our time with fellow foreign tourists, which is what seemed to happen in the larger groups.
For us, spending the extra $200 was definitely worth the added benefit of having a more immersive and individualized experience, plenty of food and water, and knowing that we were supporting a tour company who treated its employees well. As a bonus, part of the additional cost was also because our trek included an extra day touring the Sacred Valley sites and an extra night camping at the trailhead.
How to save money
1. Carry your own pack. Colina and I decided to carry our own packs as opposed to hiring an additional porter to carry our packs for us. We tend to pack light, and the fact that we’d be carrying everything with us up high mountain passes encouraged us to pack even lighter. Neither of us are huge backpackers (maybe once or twice a year), but we’re both generally healthy and in our 30s, and carrying our own packs was not a problem. This one trick saved us almost the entire difference of choosing a more expensive tour company.
2. Bring your own gear. Generally speaking, the only gear included in the price of the trek is the tent. Everything is available to rent from your tour company or any number of rental stores in Cusco, but you can save a little bit of money by bringing your own gear (backpack, sleeping bag and mat, and walking sticks if desired). And if you don’t own it, see if you can borrow it from a friend.
We brought all our own gear, including Colina’s walking sticks, which saved us money.
Practical tips for choosing a tour company:
There are so many companies to choose from, it can be overwhelming. I like to start with guide book reccomendations or online sources that I trust and who have a travel philosophy similar to my own.
Even more helpful can be word of mouth. The company we chose was recommended by one of Colina’s coworkers who had done the trip the previous year. They absolutely loved their experience and were only too happy to share all the details. Even better, they had in turn gotten the recommendation from a friend who lived in Cusco and said that the company was known locally for treating its guides and porters well.
Don’t forget the tip! (20%-30%)
The tipping culture is strong and an important part of the wages earned by the guide and porters. Tour companies usually indicate in their brochures what an acceptable tip is. Our company suggested 20%. We were so pleased, we gave 30%. Typically the tip is given to the guide who then splits it up between the workers reflecting the hierarchy of their jobs. It’s good to bring smaller bills (fives and tens), to make it easier for your guide to split up.
— Laura Rowley