Inca Trail Hiking with Zephyr Adventures

    News about trekking and hiking in Peru

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    We recently conducted a “Two-Minute Survey” and asked potential travelers for their opinions about traveling to Peru.  Our intent was to not only find out how and where people were interested in traveling to and in Peru, but also to find out if we had the information on our Inca Trail Hiking website that people needed to make a decision about their travels.  I was somewhat surprised by some common misconceptions that people had about traveling to Peru and trekking on the Inca Trail.

    1. I can’t go by myself. Not having a travel partner was the most popular reason listed for why somebody hadn’t yet traveled to Peru.  The truth is you can go alone!  Sure, it might be a little daunting to fly to Peru by yourself, but on our Peru treks (both private and group trips) we meet you at the airport upon arrival and are with you every step of the way.  (Note to solo travelers: many of our trips have a good percentage of travelers who come by themselves.  As an example, 100% of the participants on our Kilimanjaro trip this year are solo travelers!)

    A Zephyr trekker contemplates the universe from Inca Trail, above the clouds and peaks.

    A Zephyr trekker contemplates the universe from Inca Trail, above the clouds and peaks.

    2. It is expensive. Travel can be expensive, that’s true.  However, Peru has a couple things going for it that other places don’t.  First, spending 10 days in Peru costs much less than spending 10 days in, for instance, a European country – your dollar goes a lot farther!  Second, it is difficult to put a price on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Trekking on the same stone paths as the Incas did 500 years ago…hiking for four days to reach Machu Picchu by foot…watching from the comfort of your tent as the peaks of the Andes disappear behind the swirling clouds…these are priceless experiences that only a fraction of humans on this earth get to do.  When you look at that way, it isn’t expensive at all – it is just a matter of prioritizing.  (At Zephyr, you might recall that we prioritize adventure!  Incidentally, if you’re curious as to how we stack up against the competition, price-wise, click here.)

    3. I’m not in good enough shape to hike the Inca Trail. The Classic Inca Trail Trek (our most difficult trek) has been completed by hundreds of thousands of people.  Chances are good you can do it too, provided you are not extremely overweight or have other health issues that preclude you.  Mental perseverance also goes a long way in completing the Inca Trail!  The hiking will be challenging for some people and quite moderate for others.  If you are concerned about the steepness or high altitude of the Classic Inca Trail, you might consider trekking the Royal (Alternative) Inca Trail.   The Royal Inca Trail is a lower-altitude option that is perfect if you are worried about your lungs, your knees, or your ability to handle high altitudes and steep terrain. This trek avoids the intense climbs and sharp descents of the Classic Inca Trail.  Click herefor an overview and comparison of all our Peru treks, including difficulty levels.

    visiting-machu-picchu-peru4. I’ll plan my hike once I get to Peru. Many people are unaware that hiking on the Inca Trail requires purchasing a pass to do so.  Even more are unaware that only 500 passes per day are issued (and two-thirds of those passes are for the porters who support trekkers like you).  And even more don’t realize that passes sell out sometimes six months in advance. As I write this, the first available pass is in August.  So, hiking the Inca Trail is not something you can simply show up in Cusco and hope to plan once you get there.

    What’s stopping you from hiking the Inca Trail? Leave your comments below or email us.

    This is one of the first questions potential travelers to Peru ask who want to hike the Inca Trail. Although there are a number of considerations as to when one should hike from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, two are most important: weather and the availability of trail passes.

    Weather is never a sure thing but the smart traveler at least looks at the climate of the area based on past years’ weather. Technical data is available for Cusco, the nearest city to the start of the Inca Trail, which sits at almost 10,700 feet in elevation.

    Average High Temperature (Fahrenheit)

    64 64 65 66 67 66 66 66 67 68 67 66

    Average Low Temperature (Fahrenheit)

    45 46 46 43 39 35 34 37 41 44 45 45

    Average Precipitation (inches)

    5.9 4.5 3.8 1.5 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.9 1.9 2.7 4.3

    You can learn a few things from this data. First, the average high temperature barely changes from month to month. This is true because Cuzco is only 10 degrees south of the equator (as compared to, say, Seattle which is 47 degrees north of the equator).

    The average overnight low temperature does change a bit more, ranging from 35 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the high point on the Inca Trail is about 3,000 feet higher than Cusco, temperatures will be about 10-15 degrees colder at that point and perhaps 10 degrees colder at your highest camp. So temperatures at night in the months of June, July, and August are low and you need to be prepared.

    Still, what stands out in the above chart and what is by far the most important is the probability of rain in the area. Cuzco and the area of the Inca Trail has one main dry season and one main rainy season. The dry season runs from about mid-April through October. Travel in May, June, July, or August and you are unlikely to see any precipitation. However, the rains start in October and by December the Inca Trail is closed for the rainy months due to the persistent downpours and washed out trails.

    Unfortunately, the dry season in Peru coincides with the tourist season in North America and Europe, meaning everyone and his brother wants to hike the Inca Trail in July and August. Cuzco and Machu Picchu are simply more crowded in the northern hemisphere’s summer. Can you still hike then? Definitely. The nice thing is the Peruvian government limits trail passes so the trail itself is now never over-crowded.

    The negative thing is that, well, the Peruvian government limits trail passes and so you have to plan well in advance to secure a pass during high season.

    As of today, February 16th, these are the following number of days when any trail passes are available in that month:

    April – 2
    May – 0
    June – 18
    July – 31
    August – 31

    So you can see during the shoulder months of April and May, trail passes are almost sold out (they likely will be by the time you read this). Passes are disappearing for June and will likely be gone for July and August by mid-March.

    So when is the best time to hike the Inca Trail? First off, choose April through October for the best weather. Second, if you are limited to certain months of vacation, perhaps due to school schedules, the weather is excellent in July and August – just be prepared for cold nights and make sure to buy your trail passes six months in advance to secure your preferred date.

    Finally, if you have flexibility in your schedule, consider hiking during the shoulder seasons of April, May, September, and October when nighttime temperatures are not as low, trail passes are not as much in demand, and fewer tourists are swarming the ruins of Machu Picchu and the other Incan sites.