Inca Trail Hiking with Zephyr Adventures

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    You should plan well in advance to guarantee your spot on the Inca Trail!

    You should plan well in advance to guarantee your spot on the Inca Trail!

    Here it is, still April, and the next available Inca Trail pass is not until late August.  The passes that remain for the peak season (through September) will go quickly.  Let us share with you a scenario that we experience far too frequently, especially this time of year.  We are contacted and asked if we can arrange a trek on the Inca Trail for June or July.  We can hear the hope in the voices of these people, and we know they have already asked other outfitters and have been told the passes are sold out for the dates they want, yet they are still hopeful they will find somebody who has squirreled away a few passes somehow (which is not possible, by the way – spots are reserved only with full payment, passport number and name of each specific trekker and it cannot be changed later to another person).   We are very sad to tell them that even though they have already purchased their flights from another part of the world to go on their dream vacation to Peru and hike the Inca Trail, it won’t be possible for them this time around.  (If you find yourself in this all-too-common situation, you should know that there are alternate treks in the area (such as the Lares Trek, the Cachiccata Trek or our proprietary three-day Sacred Valley Trek) that are equally as nice and don’t require a trail pass.)

    If you look at any website related to the Inca Trail, you will inevitably find a precaution to book your Inca Trail pass three (during the regular season) to six months (in the peak season) in advance.  This is no marketing gimmick – this is the plain truth.  The Inca Trail is a popular destination for adventurous travelers the world over and you cannot just “show up and go” like you can at many other locations.  Passes for the trail are limited to 500 per day, and roughly two-thirds of those passes will be for the guides, porters, cooks and other staff who accompany the trekkers.  This leaves fewer than 200 passes available for actual trekkers.  Think about it: only 200 passes per day, for one of the most sought-after adventures in the world!   This is both bad and good.  Bad, because it does not allow one to be spontaneous in his or her planning.  But ultimately (we think) very good, because a limited number of people on the trail each day helps keep it and its fragile environment as pristine as possible for future travelers.

    Our advice if you are planning to hike part of the Inca Trail that requires a pass: please, don’t leave the planning for the most crucial aspect of your trip until the end!

    As the owner of Zephyr Adventures, I have been lucky enough to travel three times to Peru and to do three separate treks on various Inca Trail Routes. As we head into the winter season when many of you will be considering plans for an Inca Trail vacation in 2011, I’d like to give you my thoughts on how to select the trek that is best for you. Continue reading below this great photo by our guide Liz Miller of the Chachabamba ruins on the Royal Inca Trail route.

    Inca ruins at Chachabamba by Liz MillerFirst of all, you should read the pages of this website to familiarize yourself with the concept that there are more than one “Inca Trail” routes. The Classic Inca Trail is the route most travelers are familiar with but it is not for everyone. It has a steep climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, acclimatization issues due to the almost-14,000 foot elevation, and long downhills on stone steps that wreak havoc on knees and other joints.

    As an alternative, the Royal (or Original) Inca Trail is much easier. It runs along the Urubamba River and thus is lower and flatter. It also has many fewer visitors and it is not unusual for our groups to see no other western tourists on this route.

    Finally, there are the Inca Trail options that do not require an official trail pass. These include the Cachiccata, Lares, and Sacred Valley treks. In evaluating all these trekking options, here is what I recommend:

    1. First of all, decide whether you want to join an organized group or travel on your own with your own small party. Joining a group of independent travelers is a great idea if you are traveling solo or if you are interested to interact with other people. Sharing amazing experiences with others can be one of the best parts of traveling but if you are not into it or already have your own travel party, a private trek might be the way to go.

    2. Second, decide whether you want the experience of hiking to Machu Picchu. When many people think of hiking the Inca Trail, what they are really thinking about is replicating the steps of the Incas on a journey to their sacred city, Machu Picchu.  Only the Classic and Royal treks actually end up at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu and you should join one of these if this is part of your dream. The Lares, Cachiccata, and Sacred Valley treks we offer don’t end up at Machu Picchu. They also don’t require a trail pass, which is important as the passes often sell out.

    3. Third, if you have decided on a trek to Machu Picchu, determine whether you should do the Classic Inca Trail or the Royal Inca Trail. Choose the Classic if you are confident in your ability to handle the altitude, steep climbs, and long downhills. The views you are rewarded with are absolutely amazing. Choose the Royal Inca Trail route if any of these issues are of real concern. The Royal trek is a great alternative that allows you to achieve a similar goal – trekking over four days to Machu Picchu – on a real Inca Trail but without the hardship. Note we have organized group treks going on the Classic Inca Trail (April 15-23) and on the Royal Inca Trail (October 15-23) in 2011.

    4. Finally, talk to your preferred tour operator. Hopefully, that will be us! Although you can read about the Inca Trail for months on end, talking to someone who has been there always helps. In fact, if you want to ask me any questions, just email me directly: allan at zephyradventures dot com.

    Enjoy your adventure!

    Allan Wright
    President, Zephyr Adventures