The Inca Trail – Permits and Guides

The Start Of the Inca Trail (copyright Carmel Stewart)

I have decided to do a short series of blog posts on the Inca Trail in Peru. The Inca Trail is approximately 43 kms in length starting at a place known as Kilometre 88 where the train stops and finishing at Machu Picchu. The highest point on trail is Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 metres. Carmel and I walked the Inca Trail in September 2009. This was our first experience of trekking and we learnt a lot from the experience in particular we learnt some valuable lessons about things to think about when choosing the company you are going to pay to accompany you on the walk and the company who will be responsible for the camping side of things.

As with most of these treks or walks you are not allowed to set off by yourself you have to go with a company on the trip. The company you choose has to get permits for each person to do the walk these permits are unique to you they can’t be transferred to someone else. in addition the permits have to be acquired long before the trip starts so when planning your trip think ahead you will need to lock yourself in to that date. When you book with a company they will request your passport number and that passport number will be locked to that permit. A few months before I went to Peru I had to get a new passport but I had already given my passport details for the permit so I was required to bring the old passport with me to show when my permit was checked against my passport. If I had had the wrong passport number it is probable that I would not have been allowed to walk the trail.

Carmel and I did a heap of research into which Company we should go with. We were looking for a number of things – firstly the company need to have good reviews from other travellers even that is difficult to establish sometimes because the companies themselves have been known to write bogus reviews but I look for lots of reviews and I also like to see how the company respond to criticism if there is any. We also looked for a local company, a Peruvian Company, we wanted the money to stay in Peru rather than go offshore. We looked at the company’s policy on porters and found out how they were paid and how they were treated. Again this is sometimes not easy to do but we attempted to find out as much as we could. We were looking for an ethical company, with a good record and good reviews and of course you are also hoping for a reasonable price. In the end we went with Andean Life in Cusco. I have to say it wasn’t as good as I had hoped but it was OK. The company turned out to be willing but the camping equipment was quite old and worn, the zips on the tents failed, the food was not that inspiring and by about day 3 I had got beyond being able to eat some of the strange concoctions being served up. That being said it is a well known fact that altitude can have an impact on your appetite but I don’t think it was all altitude. Along the Inca trail there are camping grounds which all trekkers must use so the porters go ahead during the trek and set up at the camp grounds before you arrive. We were always situated at the furthest possible distance from the ablutions block which meant a long walk to the toilet every time. This could have been a blessing in that the toilets on the trail were indescribably filthy I would have to rank them as close to the worst I have ever seen in my travels around the world. Some of the camping companies on the trail bring their own toilet tents. When I first saw this I thought that was quite funny and wondered why people would do this. Having experienced the toilets on the Inca trail I can now understand why. Inevitably because the toilets were so bad people chose to go to the toilet in all sorts of places around the campsites which again made it all pretty gross. That is also not a solution increasing the maintenance and cleaning of toilet blocks would certainly help the situation. Probably easier said than done.

One of the issues that we were not happy with on our particular trip was the working conditions of the porters. They did not seem to have sufficient clothing and footwear for the cold weather and some of them appeared to be sleeping in the dining tent on the bare ground. When we looked around at the other camping groups their porters appeared to have appropriate clothing for the weather. The guide we had was Ok not particularly friendly but not unpleasant. So all up the company were Ok but I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. I think you could do better. Next time I am going to talk about issues concerning altitude on the Inca trail and how we managed them.


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