The Ultimate Guide to Inca Trail Permits
This guide covers all the details you need to know about Inca Trail Permits. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hardly needs an introduction. A multi-day trekking path that wiggles through the Sacred Valley of Peru, over tracks laid by ancient civilizations, across enormous mountain passes and through lush cloud forests, it’s the sort of thing that tops every hiker’s bucket list. And that’s before you even factor in where it ends: Machu Picchu, the mighty Incan citadel nestled in the Andes!
Tens of thousands of people look to complete this once-in-a-lifetime odyssey on the mountain trails above the Urubamba River each year. So many, in fact, that the Peruvian government made the decision to limit hiking permits for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu back in 2002. The move was aimed at protecting the natural habitats and historic dig sites along the route, something that required a drastic cut in numbers. Thus, Inca Trail permits were born…
This guide runs through all the ins and outs of getting your permit for the Inca Trail. It will reveal what the various permits cost, how to apply for one, and what you can expect from the application process.
Do I need a permit to hike the Inca Trail?
Everyone hiking the Inca Trail now needs a permit. That’s been the case since 2002, when the Peruvian Ministry of Culture first imposed limits on the number of people who could hike this legendary trekking path.
And it’s not just trekkers looking to conquer the Classic Inca Trail route (four days, three nights) who will need to apply for permits. You’ll need one of these sought-after passes if you’re planning on doing a short Inca Trail, a two-day trek as well.
Basically, permits for the Inca Trail are needed on any multi-day trek along the Classic Inca Trail route. To find out more about how to hike to Machu Picchu with The Explorer’s Passage click HERE.
How many Inca Trail permits are issued?
The number of permits for the Inca Trail offered was cut back in 2005 so that there’s now only 500 up for grabs each day. To put that into perspective, that’s around a third of the 1,500 people and porters who were estimated to have hiked the trail prior to the start of restrictions in 2002. So, it’s hardly a surprise that there’s always a scramble to get permits!
To make matters worse, a majority of the 500 permits that are issued daily are set aside for guides, porters, and cooks. Roughly 300 Inca Trail permits go to the support teams, leaving limited trail availability, allowing only 200 for visitors looking to get on the Inca Trail.
There is some good news. The Peruvian government recently added another 250 permits for sole use on the two-day Inca Trail. They’re in far less demand, but it has helped to free up the entire batch of original permits for trekkers eager to commit to the Classic Inca Trail.
How can I get an Inca Trail permit?
The only way to secure your permit for the Inca Trail is through a government-approved tour operator. This is not to create a monopoly on the route, but so that the authorities can vet and check all the trekking providers to ensure they’re operating in an ethical manner and treat staff fairly and equitably.
Usually, the cost of a permit is included in the price of a trekking package, but that’s not always the case, so be sure to CONTACT your tour company beforehand. Tour companies aren’t allowed to pre-order permits or re-sell them. This helps to prevent scalpers and companies from taking advantage of the system. Every permit is linked to a particular passport. You’ll need the following details at hand when you come to book:
- Full Name as on Passport
- Date of Birth
- Passport Number
- Passport Issue Date
- Passport Expiration Date
- Passport Country
A WARNING: Once the permit has been issued, you can not alter or change any details, so be sure you get them correct from the start.
Read Why you Should Hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Route with The Explorer’s Passage HERE.
How much do permits cost?
The cost of permits and entrances fees for the Inca Trail is almost always included in the price of a trekking package. Your cost will be the overall total of the hike plus pre and post trek hotels, meals, and activities, which can be anything from around $2,500 USD per person for a standard 8 day tour to well over $5,500 USD per person for the more luxurious 8 day experiences. Aside from the cost of your permit, trek packages typically also include several nights of porter support, camping gear rental, a guide, hotels before and after the trek, restaurant meals, tours in Cusco, vehicle transportation, train passes, and tickets for access into Machu Picchu at the end of the trail.
How far in advance should I book my permit for the Inca Trail?
Everyone should book their Inca Trail permit as far in advance as possible. The passes are in super high demand as they do offer access to one of the top hiking trails on the planet! It’s very common that permits for certain months of the year to sell out completely for the upcoming season in just a matter of days. On top of that, permits are non-refundable, so if any hikers who have purchased permits subsequently cancel them they won’t become available again at a later date.
Peru’s Ministry of Culture releases all the permits in bulk throughout the month of October for the upcoming year. The best way to ensure you’re in the running for your chosen trek date is to have a package pre-booked for the upcoming year before the permits are released in October.
In October of 2020 there was not a permit process due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Inca Trail was closed in March 2020 for the remainder of the year. For 2021, the Inca Trail was closed for the first half of the year and it reopened on July 15, 2021. Permits became available June 25th, 2021 for the remainder of the 2021 season. Based on our information on the ground in Peru, for the 2022 season permits will be released in October of 2021.
A general rule to follow is to book permits for the Inca Trail at least eight months in advance to ensure trail availability for treks on the Classic Inca Trail route. Contact us HERE for any questions about obtaining permits for the Classic Inca Trail route.
What can I do if permits for the Inca Trail are already sold out?
Sadly, the nature of the Inca Trail permit system means that not all travelers will be able to secure a permit. There’s just too much demand to see Machu Picchu after passing through the Sun Gate and conquering the Andes of the Sacred Valley.
But sold-out permits and limited trail availability for the Inca Trail doesn’t have to be the end of your adventures in Peru. There are many alternative treks that don’t require permits and don’t come with the same quotas. Check out:
- The Salkantay Trek – A 46-mile trail that takes four or five days and reveals some of the most stunning parts of the Sacred Valley. The Salkantay Trek is generally considered to be more challenging than the Inca Trail and with more seclusion in nature.
- The Moonstone Trek – A popular alternative to the Inca Trail that covers 25 miles and takes five days, this one includes glimpses of the Cachiqata quarry ruins and is much less busy than its famous compadre.
- Vilcabamba Traverse – A challenging, high-altitude romp through the Andes that showcases the Nevado Veronica and cloud forest habitats. No permit is required and a finishing point at Machu Picchu is possible.
Another option is to go for the one-day tour of Machu Picchu. You will need a ticket for the UNESCO site itself, but you won’t need to hike any portions of the Inca Trail, so a trekking permit isn’t required. The transports depart early from Cusco to catch the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Then you’ll breeze through the famous Incan estate before returning to Cusco that same evening.
What’s the best season to trek the Inca Trail?
It’s generally agreed that the best time to go hiking on the iconic Inca Trail is between the months of April and September. That’s Peru’s official dry season. The rainfall dips and the skies tend to be much clearer. That paves the way for excellent views on the trails, not to mention the best vistas of Machu Picchu itself at the end.
The downside is that permits for the Inca Trail are much harder to come by in the dry season. The best way to put yourself in a good position to get them is to book super early – most people recommend at least eight or ten months in advance. That’s especially true if you’re planning on coming at the height of the high season, between June and September.
Remember that the Inca Trail is completely closed in February every year for maintenance. You can’t book permits for the whole month but trekking resumes again at the start of March.
Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain
You might see optional extra hikes up either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain when you come to book your Inca Trail trek. These are the peaks that tower over Machu Picchu citadel, offering stunning views and photo ops. They aren’t a part of the Inca Trail itself, but they do require separate permits, although the permit is not the Inca Trail permit. Both have a daily quota of 400 hikers, so again think about booking early if they’ve stoked your wanderlust.
I look forward to hiking with you soon!
Founder & CEO
The Explorer’s Passage
About Jeff Bonaldi
Jeff Bonaldi is the Founder and CEO of The Explorer’s Passage, an adventure travel company. His mission is to provide travelers with the opportunity to transform their lives and the planet through the power of adventure.