So you’ve decided to hike the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The next step is to pick your dates and start the process of booking your Inca Trail permit. But before you do, there are a few important factors you need to consider, such as the best time to trek, weather conditions, and how far in advance to book.
Best time to trek the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail unfolds in the ruggedly mountainous region north and west of Cusco where peaks reach over 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) before beginning a descent into the cloud forest and the Amazon. Elevations on the Inca Trail route range from8,500 feet (2,600 meters) at the start to13,828 feet (4,215 meters) at the highest point and7,970 feet (2,430 meters) at the finish. At these altitudes, temperatures and weather conditions change quickly. No matter when you trek, you are likely to experience blazing sunshine, temperate warmths, cloud cover, and bitter cold all in the same day.
Generally, dry season from June to August is considered the best time to trek the Inca Trail. The trail is dry and you are likely to get better views of the landscape. You also need to be prepared for strong sunshine during the day and frigid nights around 30°F (0°C) and below. Note that even in the dry season, there’s always a chance of light showers. This is just the reality of high mountain weather.
The shoulder season months — April, May, September, October, and November — are also good times to trek the Inca Trail. You are likely to experience a mix of weather conditions. But again, as long as you are prepared for rain, there’s no reason you can’t still enjoy the trek.
The rainy season on the Inca Trail begins in December and ends in March. Rain comes in the forms of anything from heavy thunderstorms to light drizzle. But you might also get lucky with the weather and get very little or no rain.
Rainy season is understandably the least popular time to trek. And it’s important to be aware that booking your Inca Trail permits during this time comes with some risks. In addition to muddy trails and campsites during the trek, extreme weather conditions can cause flight delays and cancellations to/from Cusco and road closures due to landslides. If the rainy season is the only time you can travel to Peru for this experience, the best thing to do is be informed, pack smartly, and stay flexible.
Regardless of the season, preparation is key. The ability to roll with what Mother Nature gives you will go a long way in ensuring your trek is a pleasurable experience.
When to book your Inca Trail permit
Inca Trail permits for 2019 go on sale in October 2018. Only 500 permits are available for any given date and these are issued on a first-come first-served basis.
Out of the 500 available permits, an average of about 200 permits go to hikers, while the remaining 300 permits go to guides and support staff (cooks and porters).
Given the limited supply of Inca Trail permits, some trek dates in high season sell out literally within hours after they become available.
Therefore, the ideal window to book your permits depends greatly on when you are planning to travel to Peru. These are our recommendations for when to book based on past years’ experience.
- 9 months in advance for high season months, i.e. May, June, July
- 5 to 6 months in advance for shoulder season months and selected holidays, i.e. Easter week, end of December
- 3 to 6 months in advance for low season months
May to August is the high season not just for the Inca Trail, but also for Cusco and Machu Picchu. The longer you wait to book permits, hotels, flights, and trains, the fewer options you will have in terms of availability.
In the low season, permits for select dates remain available until several weeks or even days before. Nonetheless, if your heart is set on trekking the Inca Trail, you should begin making arrangements to secure your permit as soon as you know your travel dates. Note that once your permit is purchased you cannot change the date. Inca Trail permits are also non-transferrable and non-refundable.
Note that the Inca Trail closes every year for the entire month of February. This is not only for scheduled maintenance, but it also avoids the worst of the rainy season.
Inca Trail Permits for 2018
Just to give you an idea, as of this writing (June 2018), permits for the remainder of 2018 are sold out for all dates between June and start of November. Permits for dates in early November and late December are becoming limited and we expect these to sell out soon. Plenty of permits are still available in the remaining weeks of November and December.
Checking Availability on the Inca Trail
To view Inca Trail permit availability, go to the official Peruvian government website http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ (click on the British flag for English) > click on Consultas/Queries > on the drop down menu, select Camino Inka, year and month. The calendar will show you the total number of permits still available for each date.
Note: You can view availability online, but you must buy your Inca Trail permit through a licensed tour operator. That’s us✋ Once we get your reservation, we can purchase your permits immediately (for 2018) or as soon as they go on sale (for 2019).