Peru Travel Blog

Guide to Choosing the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

Written by: Kevin Groh

Machu Picchu on a sunny day with white clouds Guide to Choosing the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

If you’re into hiking and camping, a tour of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has got to be on your bucket list. Maybe you’re already planning your dream vacation to Peru’s famous ruins, and you want to know more about taking the Inca Trail to get there. What is the Trail like? Is it worth the challenges and the cost? And most importantly, which Inca Trail tour company should you use?

There are many tour companies who will take you out on the Trail. Most are fairly knowledgeable and professional, but as with any company, some are simply much better than others.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the best Inca Trail tour companies as well as thorough information about the Trail. If you’re planning a trip on the Inca Trail, you’ll want to read this first.

What is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail, also known as the Sacred Valley, is a 26-mile pathway through the Andes Mountains of Peru. The Trail begins in a small town called Patallaqta, not far from Cusco, and it ends at Machu Picchu. 

The Inca Trail is incredibly beautiful, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those lucky or brave enough to hike it. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by the stunning green mountains, catch glimpses of some of the local wildlife, and even make a stop in Ollantaytambo, Peru, a town surrounded by old Inca ruins, letting you learn more about the Inca religion.  

The average trail tour lasts for four days and three nights. If you’re an experienced hiker, you may be wondering, “Why does it take so long to travel such a short distance?” The short answer is, “You’re hiking through the Andes.”

Challenges of the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail can be a challenge for even the fittest of hikers; however, with the right tour company, even beginners, children, and older hikers can make it to the end.

So what are some of the specific challenges you’ll face when hiking the Inca Trail? Read on to find out more.

Rugged Terrain

As mentioned, the trail meanders through the Andes. A large part of the trek is spent traveling uphill. The hike to reach Dead Woman’s Pass, which usually happens on the second or third day, is particularly grueling. 

Much of the Trail is made of old stone stairs or simple dirt pathways. In some places, you’ll have to cross a small stream or creek. The path can be very narrow in spots, and in some places, there are steep drop-offs right next to the Trail. 

Guide in Peru sitting on a tree in a valley

Altitude

The Inca Trail begins at an altitude of about 9,186 feet (2,800 meters) and goes up from there. The highest point on the Trail, at Dead Woman’s Pass, is nearly 13,780 feet (4,200 meters). Even if you don’t typically suffer from altitude sickness, you may experience some minor lightheadedness or breathing difficulty at this elevation.

That said, the majority of the Trail hovers somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 feet, which your body will likely be able to adjust to while you’re there.

Weather

Of course, with any outdoor activity, perfect weather can’t be guaranteed. If you go between December and March, you may get rained on the whole time; if you go between May and September, the environment will likely be extremely dry. Temperatures usually range between 32 and 70 degrees F, but be prepared for either colder or warmer temperatures depending on the time of year you plan to be there.

Do You Have to Use a Tour Company on the Inca Trail?

Self-guided tours of the Inca Trail were outlawed almost 20 years ago. While some tour companies offer tours for individuals or small groups, every tour must be accompanied by a guide. There are several reasons for this, including personal safety and having the necessary provisions.

Safety

Considering how rugged and steep the Trail can be, taking a solo hike would be extremely foolish. Even if you travel individually with a private tour guide, you should be aware of the potential for injury, dehydration, and overexertion. 

Remember the adage that there is safety in numbers. If you travel as part of a group, you are less likely to experience safety issues and, more importantly, you will be surrounded by people who may be able to help if problems do arise.

Man standing on Inca Trail stone path overlooking valley

Food

In most cases, the tour company will provide your meals throughout the trek. This amenity will seriously cut down on the number of supplies you’ll need to carry with you. If you were traveling on your own, you would either have to haul all your own food with you or eat whatever you can get at the local villages along the way.

Camping

Most tour guide companies employ porters, people who carry your gear and set up the campsite each day. This saves you a lot of extra exhaustion from hauling your gear around so you can more fully enjoy the hike. Plus, you won’t have to worry about when to stop each day and where to set up camp–those details are taken care of for you.

Different Types of Inca Trail Tours

So what are the different kinds of Inca Trail tours you could take? Are all of them hiking-based? What if you’re not much of a hiker, but you still want to experience the sights along the way? Are there any options for, say, mountain biking or horseback riding?

While hiking tours are the most common, there are certainly other options as well. Let’s take a closer look at the standard hiking tours, as well as mountain biking and horseback riding options. Please note the mountain bike and horseback options are NOT along the classic Inca Trail. 

Hiking Tours

Most people who visit the Inca Trail choose to do so the old-fashion way: by walking. As mentioned earlier, the standard group hiking tour involves four days on the Trail and three nights at campsites. In many cases, these tours are structured so that you spend 5-8 hours hiking each day, and on the fourth day, you start early enough to reach Machu Picchu around sunrise.

Some tours are a little slower-paced, allowing for five days on the Trail. Others, especially private and small group tours made up of experienced hikers, may travel at a faster pace, reaching Machu Picchu in as little as two days.  

Tour groups may include up to sixteen hikers, or they may be much smaller depending on the type of tour you sign up for.

Mountain Biking Tours

There are a few tour companies that let you experience the beauty and wonder of the Inca through mountain biking. Though the mountain bike trails don’t coincide exactly with the Inca Trail, they pass through the same basic areas, allowing you to explore many of the same local villages and sights.

Most mountain bike tours last from five to nine days and include lots of additional local sightseeing adventures. However, due to the rugged terrain, these tours are only for experienced and fit bikers.

Horseback Riding Tours

There are several different types of horseback riding tours offered in and around Cusco, including some that follow along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. These multi-day trail rides let you experience the spectacular sights of the Inca without the physical stresses of hiking–your Peruvian horse does the work for you.

Most horseback riding tours don’t involve camping; instead, you’ll spend each night at a local inn or hotel.

Sacred Valley Peru Horse on a trail with clouds in the background

What to Look for in the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

If you’re riding horses or mountain biking, you’ll have relatively few companies to choose from. But if you’re planning to do a classic hiking tour, the tour companies may seem endless. How do you choose one company out of so many?

When choosing a tour company for your Inca trail experience, there are several factors you should take into consideration.

Professionalism

Of course, there are many different ways to determine professionalism, but one of the best is to read customer reviews. If the company has a lot of positive reviews, especially reviews that praise the company’s professionalism, then it’s a pretty good bet you’ve found a good tour company.

The tour company should have good communication skills and always be willing to answer any questions or concerns that come up. They should be easy to work with, offer a fair cancelation policy, and make it clear what all is included in their tours.

Inclusion

If you plan on taking young children or seniors along for the hike, it’s important to find a company that makes allowances for a wide range of ages and skill levels. Again, one of the best ways to determine this beforehand is to read customer reviews and to thoroughly check out any company information you can find online.

Also, if you or anyone in your party has health conditions such as asthma, you may want to find out if the tour company offers any special accommodations or training to handle any health situations that may come up.

Value

Obviously, you’ll want to choose a company that offers the greatest value for the money, but not everyone will determine value in the same way. 

If you’re planning a honeymoon, for example, you may be willing to pay top dollar for a private tour, gourmet foods, and hotel accommodations. If you’re taking a family or a large group of friends, you may choose the company that offers the best group discounts. If you’re on a budget and just want a basic hiking trip without all the extra amenities, you may only be interested in the cheapest tour available.

Experience

With any tourist attraction, you want a tour company that has been in business for a while and knows what they’re talking about. Many Inca Trail tour companies are locally owned and have been in business for twenty years or more. Many are locally owned and employ guides who are native to the area. 

If you can find a tour company that has been in business for a long time and that combines business experience with genuine knowledge of the trail and cultural history, chances are you won’t be disappointed with the tour.

Four travelers on Machu Picchu Tour with Peruvian guide

Enthusiasm

In addition to knowledge and experience, the best tour companies exude a level of enthusiasm for the trek. Think about it: you don’t want to be stuck with a guide whose attitude reflects boredom and disinterest. Even if they’ve been up the trail a thousand times, a good tour guide will not dampen the excitement of a tourist experiencing it for the first time. Good tour companies will expect their guides to maintain an enthusiastic attitude.

Cost of Traveling with the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

The typical cost of taking an Inca Trail tour can vary widely from company to company. A lot of tour company prices range between $700 and $1,200 per person, but costs can vary based on a number of factors.

Amenities

Most tour companies will provide your shuttle fees to and from the trail, food, camping and first aid supplies, porters to carry the supplies, and, of course, the tour guide. Some also include airport pickups, hotel accommodations, and gourmet food options. They may or may not include admission and a tour at Machu Picchu.

Type of Tour

Private tours are generally more expensive than group tours. And, if you plan to take a tour by mountain bike or horseback, you can expect to pay even more than you would for a standard hiking tour. These tours can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $4,000.

Most tours leave from Cusco, but if you’re traveling from Lima or some other part of Peru, your trip will be longer and will probably be more expensive as well.

Number of People

Some tour companies may offer group discounts for large parties, but this isn’t true across the board. If you plan to hike with friends or family, you’ll want to do your research before deciding on a tour company to find out whether or not they offer group discounts.

Time of Year

Depending on the tour company, you may have to pay a different price for off-season tours, between November and March, then you would for taking a tour during the regular season.

Quechua community member at Rainbow Mountain herding goats

Safety Tips when Traveling with the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

The Inca Trail is a challenging trek for anyone, but even inexperienced hikers can enjoy the experience if they travel with a good tour company and follow some basic safety precautions.

Stay Hydrated

This is the most important thing to remember for any outdoor adventure, but it is especially important if you’ll be hiking the trail during the dry season. The combination of mountain climbing and low humidity will dry you out more quickly than you may expect. The tour company will likely provide all the water you need. Remember to drink it regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Take Snacks

Food is also important to keep your strength up. Though three meals a day will be provided, you might also want to consider taking a pack of non-perishable, high-protein snacks for between meals. Granola bars, peanut butter crackers, mixed nuts, and jerky are some excellent snack choices.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Clothing should be comfortable, practical, and protective. Lighter colors are generally best, especially for summertime tours. For many, wearing T-shirts and cargo pants may suffice. Moisture-wicking clothing, such as gym clothes, is fine if the weather permits. If you go during the rainy season, you may want to take a rain suit. At any time of year, you may want a coat and other winter clothing items, as temperatures at the higher elevations can get rather chilly.

Footwear is also important. Make sure you wear either a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots. Investing in a pair of hiking poles is also a good idea.

Don’t Forget Sun Protection and Medications

If you sunburn easily, or even if you don’t, you may need sunscreen. You’ll be spending a lot of hours outside, and most of the path is not shaded, so it’s best to come prepared with sunscreen even if you don’t think you’ll use it. Better to be prepared than to not have it if you need it.

Naturally, if you take any regular prescriptions, you’ll want to take those with you. If you suffer from altitude sickness or you’re afraid you might ask a doctor about any prescriptions or over the counter meds you could take to reduce the effects.

Listen to Your Tour Guide

Your tour guide has probably been along this Trail dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Not only can he tell you about the cultural significance of the area, but he will probably have a pretty good idea of any particularly risky spots on the Trail. He may also be able to spot potential threats, such as changes in the weather or early signs of heat exhaustion. Listen to what your trail guide has to say, and follow all instructions he may give you.

Also, if you begin to experience any health problems or have any concerns come up, don’t hesitate to let your tour guide know.

Top Inca Trail Tour Companies to Consider

So now we come to the heart of the matter. We’ve talked quite a bit about the Inca Trail, its challenges, and why choosing a good tour guide company is important. By now, you’re probably wondering, what are some of the best tour guide companies?

Whether you’re hiking, biking, or horseback riding, we’ve selected some of the best professional, experienced, and locally-based tour companies for the Inca Trail. Read on to find out all about each one.

Best Inca Trail Tour Company for Hikers: Cachi Life

Cachi Life is a tour company that seeks to bridge the gap between tourists and local people. They’ve been around for several years now and have grown to compete with some of the best in the business. They strive to immerse travelers in the culture of Peru while improving the lives of those who live there. When you choose Cachi, you help them give back to the local communities of Peru.

So why else should you choose Cachi? They offer several different types of tours throughout Peru, including a classic 4-day/3-night trek along the Inca Trail. This hike culminates in a tour of Machu Picchu. The cost of the tour includes all necessary ground transportation, food and water as well as hot coffee, tea, and pisco, admission to Machu Picchu, professional tour guide and porters, camping tents, and a pop-up toilet tent, a meal tent, and a first-aid kit.

The classic trek provides hikers with a strenuous and challenging adventure that will give you a sense of accomplishment once you reach the end. If you’re an adventurous type looking for your next memorable adventure, consider choosing Cachi. The prices are relatively low compared with a lot of tour companies, so you can bring friends and family along without having to worry about the cost. 

Birthday Cake on Inca Trail

Best Inca Trail Tour Company for Mountain Bikers: Sacred Rides

If mountain biking is more your thing, you won’t want to miss the Inca Trail All-Mountain tour offered by Sacred Rides. 

This tour is not for the inexperienced or casual cyclist. Spanning 9 days and 8 nights, this thrilling adventure will take you all over the mountains around Machu Picchu, up and down steep slopes and rocky pathways. You’ll travel a vast network of ancient trails throughout the Sacred Valley, visit historical sights and local villages to learn more about the Inca religion. You’ll also have the option to tour Machu Picchu as well as other mind-blowing destinations in the region.

This tour is quite expensive, but if you can save up the extra money, it’s well worth every penny. The cost of the tour covers all transportation, hotel stays each night, delicious meals, exploration of the local peoples and culture, and lots of thrilling bike trails. The 4:1 tourist-to-guide ratio will allow for more personalized activities and interactions. 

This tour is a fantastic option for experienced and physically fit mountain bikers. If you’re looking for a tour that’s full of thrills and excitement and if you’re interested in learning more about the local culture, this tour is for you. It would also make an excellent choice for couples who share a love for mountain biking.

Best Inca Trail Tour Companies for Horseback Riding: Hidden Trails

Horse lovers will not want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the Sacred Valley on horseback. Hidden Trails offers an 8-day/7-night tour that includes local historical sites around Cusco, long Trail rides through the surrounding hills and mountains, exploration of various Inca ruins, and a climactic trip to Machu Picchu. 

Most of the tour’s exploration will be done on horseback, but there is also an option for non-riders if there are members of your party who would rather hike. Shuttles to and from various hotels and inns are included in the price. Most meals will be provided, as well.

Like the mountain bike tour above, the horseback tour doesn’t follow the Inca Trail directly but explores many areas near and surrounding the Trail. It is another expensive option, but it is well worth the price if you love horseback riding.

Other Top Inca Trail Tour Companies

Because hiking the Inca Trail is such a popular tourist activity, there are lots of exceptional tour companies that offer various kinds of treks. Some other good Inca Trail tour companies are discussed below.

Peru Treks and Adventure

Peru Treks and Adventure has been around since 2002. This tour operator specializes exclusively in the classic 4-day/3-night Inca Trail trek. It has garnered a number of awards and accolades over the years and was named Best Cusco Travel Agency by Peru’s Ministry of Tourism. It is quite possibly the best Inca Trail tour guide for hiking Machu Picchu.

So what is it that makes Peru Treks so good? For one thing, it is locally owned and operated out of Cusco. It employs its porters, cooks, and tour guides year-round, offering them some of the best treatment and benefits in the business, which in turn attracts the best and prevents high turnover rates. 

With a strong workforce of local employees, Peru Treks is able to offer all the usual amenities of a classic Inca Trail trek while keeping their prices competitive and affordable. What’s more, it donates a portion of its profits to local schools, organizations, and community projects.  

With an emphasis on the ethical treatment of its employees, Peru Treks porters and guides are more likely to do all they can to make your hike a memorable and enjoyable experience.

Alpaca Expeditions

Alpaca Expeditions is relatively new to the tour operator scene, but it has climbed its way up to compete with the best in the business. Like Peru Treks discussed above, Alpaca Expeditions values taking care of their team and providing an unforgettable trek experience. It claims to pay its porters better than any other tour company in Cusco and is committed to sustainability and community involvement.

Alpaca Expeditions offers several different Inca Trail tours, including private tours, group tours, classic 4-day/3-night tours, relaxed 5-day/4-night tours, and even more intense 2-day/1-night tours for the serious hiker. Some tours include hiking in Machu Picchu, and if you’re doing the short hike, you can choose between camping and staying in a hotel.

Valencia Travel Cusco

This tour company is a great choice for the young, old, and everyone in between. Friendly and professional guides, cooks, and porters make it an unforgettable experience. Valencia Travel Cusco offers several different Inca Trail and Machu Picchu tours, as well as tour packages that include other destinations as well.

What to Expect on a Tour of the Inca Trail

While each tour company will conduct their tours a bit differently, there are a few similarities you can expect regardless of the company you decide to go with. For example, most tour companies will not expect you to walk more than eight hours in a day, and some companies set a much more relaxed pace. Almost all of them will employ porters to haul your gear so you can focus on hiking and enjoying the adventure. Almost all of them will supply your meals.

In addition, there are a few other things you can expect to see and experience on a tour of the Inca Trail.

Terrain

The terrain will be rocky and mountainous. The trail is very steep in some places, requiring you to hike uphill for long periods of time. At higher altitudes, the air will be thinner, and you will become winded much more easily. For most of the year, the Trail will be dry, but if you go during the rainy season, the dirt paths will likely become muddy, and the stone stairs will be slick. 

If you go during the dry season, the Trail may be dusty, which could cause breathing difficulties if you’re sensitive to the dust.

Valley on Extreme Inca Tour with a trail

Wildlife

Depending on the season, you may have to deal with flies and mosquitoes. It’s a good idea to take bug spray–you may not need it, but again, it’s best to be prepared.

Wildlife trafficking has been a problem for a long time in Peru, so you won’t see a ton of animals all over the place. That said, there are lots of unique and diverse bird species in and around Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Occasionally you may see some wild dogs or horses along the Trail as well.

Another common sight is the alpaca. Similar to llamas, but smaller, alpacas have warm, soft coats that come in a variety of colors. They are naturally friendly creatures and may even get close enough for you to take pictures of them.  

Amenities

As this article has already shown, you can expect to be well taken care of during an Inca Trail tour. From meals made fresh each day, to campsites set up and prepared before your arrival, to shuttles that take you to the start of the Inca Trail and from Machu Picchu–most tour companies have you covered. 

Each of the companies reviewed in this article aims to give you a good experience and help you create memories. For that reason, their goal is to take care of as many details as possible so you can just enjoy the tour. Some of the companies will offer additional amenities such as pillows and foam mattresses for your tent, hotel stays instead of camping, and duffel bags for all your gear.

Additional Sightseeing to Combine with a Tour of the Inca Trail

There is so much to see in South America. If you’re going to travel so far, why not take in some of the other sights while you’re there?

A lot of tour companies offer tour bundles so you can combine your various sightseeing expeditions into one stress-free adventure. Or, if you can’t find a bundle that works for you, it’s perfectly fine to schedule your own separate tours.

If you’re already doing the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, there are several other great locations nearby that you may want to check out as well.

Peruvian Amazon

The Peruvian Amazon, as the name suggests, is the section of the Amazon Rainforest located in Peru. It can be seen from Machu Picchu as dense green forests in the distance.

Located just east of the Andes, it boasts a much different environment than what you’ll experience on the Inca Trail. Tropical conditions such as high humidity and frequent rains make this area a source of abundant plant and animal life. 

There are plenty of hiking and safari tours offered throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Located so close to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, it is sure to be a natural and unforgettable addition to your adventure.

Peru Amazon Jungle with a snake sustainable tourism

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is another fantastic destination. Located on the border between Peru and Bolivia, it’s a bit of a drive from Cusco or Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu. However, if you choose to make the trip, you won’t be disappointed. 

With an elevation of 12,500 feet, Lake Titicaca is the highest lake navigated by large sea vessels. It has over forty islands; some are populated and make for great tourist attractions, while others contain ancient ruins that history or archaeology buffs will love to explore. Some of the islands are even man-made from reeds that the locals replenish and replace every six months.

Galapagos Islands

Though the Galapagos Islands are situated about 500 miles from Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, it isn’t hard to find a tour company that offers combined trips to both destinations. You can take a cruise around the Islands or plan a tour on land. Either way, you’re sure to experience a lot of unique wildlife, photo-worthy sights, and you’ll come away with memories that will last a lifetime.

Final Thoughts

If you love hiking, camping, and outdoor adventures, a trek along the Inca Trail is an unforgettable experience. Even if you prefer mountain biking or horseback riding, exploring the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu is an adventure you won’t want to miss. 

Taking time to research the best tour companies will certainly make your trip all the more memorable. If you’re traveling with a good tour company, you won’t have anything to worry about but showing up on time and making memories along the way.

Guide to Choosing the Best Inca Trail Tour Company

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