Inca Trail Booking 101

Inca Trail Booking 101

The Inca Trail hike with my 66-year-old mother is be an experience I will never forget.  Before I started my RTW journey I asked my mom if she wanted to do the Inca Trail trek and Machu Picchu together. She immediately said yes, even though she had no idea what the trek entailed and wasn’t too sure what Machu Picchu was either. My mom thought we would be staying in hotels, but instead we spent 4 days and 3 nights hiking and camping 3000m above sea level. The Inca Trail was definitely hard, but also rewarding. There is so much history on the paths we walked, and every morning waking up in the clouds I felt accomplished. Sharing this experience with a loved one is unparalleled. Look below for Inca Trail booking tips!

When to book the Inca Trail hike

Early! If you want to book the Inca Trail you must book in advance, since there are only 500 passes available per day. During peak season I would recommend booking at least 6-7 months in advance. For example when I checked availability on March 6, 2016 all passes were sold out until August 24, 2016. During rainy season (November – January) I would recommend booking at least 4 months in advance, although sometimes people were able to find availability one month in advance. (Note: The Inca trail is closed in February). You can find availability on this site: Inca Trail Availability  

Best Inca Trail tour companies

1. Best Value Option: X- Treme Tourbulencia

I have the most information for this tour group since I booked with them. X-Treme Tourbulencia is the cheapest option and has good reviews. I would recommend this tour, but if I were to do the Inca Trail again I would go with Llama Path.

Cheapest Option: $490 + $60 for porter Delicious Food:  I was amazed by how good the food was. There was always more than enough and great presentation skills. (i.e – making a parrot out of a cucumber and some carrots) Great Guide: Our guide was very passionate and proud of his heritage and the history of the Inca Trail. It was interesting to have a guide who shared a connection with the Aztecs. Small Group: The total group size was 5, which was really nice since I was with my mom. If I was traveling solo I would’ve wanted a bigger group, but since I had my mom a smaller group was more intimate and felt like a private tour.
DisorganizedThe company does not give a lot of information before the trek and is slow at responding to emails. Often times the prices would be different on various bills that they sent.
One of the Inca sites during our 4 day Inca Trail hike

During my trip I crossed paths with various tour groups and Llama Path stood out from the rest.  You could tell everything was tightly organized and that the porters were treated better than other tour groups. (The porters have a very hard job carrying 20 kg of camping supplies everyday and running through the Inca Trail in order to set up lunch and dinner before their groups arrive).  Llama Path offers a bit more luxury than X-treme Tourbulencia, for example after 8 hours of hiking I would walk by the Llama Path tents and see that their air mattresses and sleeping bags were already made, whereas with my tour group I would have to set up my sleeping bag myself. The cons with Llama Path are that is is more expensive and has a larger group. Even though Llama Path is more expensive ($675 + $90 for porter), it is worth the extra ~$200. The Inca Trail is a once in a lifetime experience, so paying extra to get the best of the best is not that much in the grand scheme.

      3. Highly Recommended Option: Peru Treks 

Peru Treks is another great option to book the Inca Trail. They are ethical and pay their porters a good wage. It’s well organized, they really take care of you and the food is amazing (Option to have gluten free food) . This trek is also more expensive ($650 + $ for porter).

Inca Trail Tips Before Going

  1. Rent walking sticks and sleeping bags once in Cusco, it will be much cheaper, than booking through the tour agency
  2. Arrive in Cusco 48 hours before your hike to get acclimated to the high elevation.
  3. Buy Coca leaves or coca products and other snacks for your trek.
  4. Hire a porter – unless you are an experienced hiker.
Highlights of Inca Trail Trek
  • Everyone knowing me and my mom: My mom and I stuck together the entire trek and I guess we are memorable since I have an afro and my mom was the oldest one out there. When we finally got to Machu Picchu, people from other tour groups would clap for us and we had countless people come up to us to congratulate us for finishing.
  • Finally reaching Machu Picchu – I wouldn’t want to see Machu Picchu any other way. After hiking for 4 days Machu Picchu was the perfect ending and reward.
  • Sipping champagne after a 3 hour vertical hike to Dead Woman’s Pass.
  • Walking on a path with so much history and being able to see several Inca Ruins.
  • Meeting the porters at the end. The porters are amazing, and although they only speak Quechua, on the last night it was nice to learn more about them.
  • Meeting llama
Worst Parts of Inca Trail Trek
  • Bathroom situation especially when you have the runs
  • The second day is very a long and tough day.
  • Unfortunately the moment we got to Machu Picchu clouds came

Alternative Options to Machu Picchu

If you didn’t book the Inca Trail in advance, do not fret, there are other hiking options once you get to Cusco. I spent a month in Cusco and I heard the most about these treks: Lares Trek, Inca Jungle Trek, and the Salkantay Trek. All of these options are cheaper than the Inca trail trek, yet you will not see as many incan sites on the way to Machu Picchu.  You can book these alternative treks with a tour agency in Cusco. There are also train options to get to Machu Picchu that can be done in 1 or 2 days, but my advice is to hike to Machu Picchu. The whole hiking experience makes Machu Picchu more worth it. Machu Picchu is extremely touristy and crowded, so going on a trek allows scenic views without the crowd.

Sailing the Gitano Del Mar from Panama to Colombia

Sailing the Gitano Del Mar from Panama to Colombia

There are three options to cross from Central America to South America.

  1. The Death Option – overland travel via the Darien Gap. Crossing the Darien Gap is only for the overly adventurous type due to the risk of kidnappings, treacherous jungle, crazed drug traffickers, and guerilla warfare. If one decides to cross the Darien gap by foot, then it is necessary to hire a guide, which can be costly. Since this option is expensive and dangerous, I’ll pass.
  2. The Boring Option – Fly. A one way flight between Panama and Colombia will range from $300 to $600, which is pretty expensive for a short distance.
  3. The Best OptionSailing the San Blas Islands! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Details for Sailing San Blas:

  • Duration: 4 to 5 days
  • Cost: $375 – $550
  • Itinerary: Visit the San Blas Islands for 2/3 days (sleep on the boat) and then sail for 30 hours to Colombia

Why Sailing is the Best Option

There are many boats, ranging from speedboats to catamarans, with different vibes you can choose to get from Panama to Colombia, It is important to research the boat that is a best fit for you. I recommend booking via Blue Sailing since they can match you with the appropriate boat. I told Blue Sailing that I was in my twenties and desired a social atmosphere, so they recommended the Gitano Del Mar, a Catamaran for 18 people, or the Gitanita, a monohull for 13. These two boats sail together so I decided to choose the Catamaran. Taking the Gitano Del Mar has been one of the highlights of my trip. My expectations were blown!

The Gitano Del Mar Experience

Gitano Del Mar is translated as “Gypsy of the Sea”. When I stepped on the boat I was greeted by our bubbly captain, Dingo, who took my shoes since he said I wouldn’t need them for the next 4 days. As Gypsies we were cut from the outside world with no worries. Things like showers, clothes, and cell phone reception did not matter. We entertained ourselves by playing card games, snorkeling, watching sunsets, drinking beers and rum(I learned that rum mixed with water is an acceptable mixed drink that keeps you hydrated!), and random activities like the beach Olympics. We had an international crew filled with Irish, Swiss, Germans, Canadians, Kiwis and more. It’s easy to bond with people on this trip since we are around each other 24/7.

 

 

The food was absolutely delicious! 3 meals a day are included in the cost for the boat. We had two chefs on board and each dish was sublime. My favorite meals were the seafood! Our captain would purchase fresh lobster and octopus from the local Kuna people. On our last day we caught tuna and had fresh sashimi. $550 does not feel expensive when it includes 5 days of accommodation and a happy, full belly.

 

After a couple days of visiting the San Blas Islands, the next step is a 30 hour sail to Colombia. Half of the boat got seasick, but I loved being in the middle of the ocean and riding with the waves. The ocean is serene, calm, and provides a beautiful setting.

Once we finally got to Cartagena, we stayed on the boat a little longer and enjoyed the hot sun and some beers. Eventually it was time to depart the Gitano and find some hostels in the city. For the next two days I hung out with my new friends before jetting off to Peru for the Inca Trail. It would of been nice to continue traveling with everyone, but it was time to go!

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