View from the Inca Trail, day three. Photo by karlnorling, flickr.com.
For many travelers in Peru, one of the biggest expenses beyond the flight there and back will be hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. But how much should the Inca Trail cost? And why are some treks along the very same trail three times the price of others?

How Much Does the Classic Inca Trail Cost?

The classic four day/three night Inca Trail trek can cost anywhere from US$600 to over $1300 per person. Generally speaking, the sweet spot for a standard trek on a budget is somewhere between $650 and $700.

Much below that and the level of service could suffer (see below). And once you start approaching $2000 you’ll be entering luxury territory, with gourmet food, fancy mattresses, and personalized attention.

In my list of recommended Inca Trail tour operators, you’ll find prices ranging from $600 to $3000 — the latter being a luxury trek that lasts for five days and four nights (one day more than the more standard four-day trek).

Backpackers on a tight budget should aim for the $650 to $700 bracket. But if money isn’t too much of an issue, then maybe a little luxury is just what you need.

The cost of the Inca Trail trek typically includes the Inca Trail permit and Machu Picchu entrance fee; bus and train transportation from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu and back again; a bilingual guide (Spanish and English); porters; tents; and three meals a day.

How Cheap Is Too Cheap When Booking an Inca Trail Trek?

You might come across Inca Trail treks for under $650, and perhaps as low as $550. This might be a reduced price due to a seasonal promotion, in which case it should be fine. But if it’s the standard Inca Trail cost for a particular tour operator, you should be cautious.

I don’t recommend these cheaper treks for two reasons:

  1. The level of service will likely suffer at these lower prices. The food and the equipment will probably be average at best, and the standard of the guides won’t be as high as with a slightly more expensive tour operator.  
  1. More importantly, there’s a real possibility that the porters within this price range are being underpaid and treated unfairly. This is a known and ongoing problem along the Inca Trail, so an Inca Trail trek below $680 looks kind of suspicious. More so when they do not hire women porters and include free extra porters, hot showers and other perks.  This is an issue  that was recently reported on Lonely Planet from the US of America

Some of these particularly cheap treks might turn out just fine. And there are almost certainly newly-licensed companies who are trying to do extra-cheap treks just to draw in their first clients. But that in itself is a risk, as you could end up with an inexperienced company that only just got authorized among the 130+ licensed Inca Trail operators.

All things considered, and especially considering the ongoing porter welfare issues, it’s best to pay $150 or $200 more for a more established and more reputable company. The food will probably be better, as well as the overall level of professionalism — which is important for a fairly tough four-day trek.

And let’s face it: The Inca Trail is such a one-off experience for most people that it makes sense to pay at least $690 for a reliable — and ethical — service.

Do These Prices Include Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Tickets?

The Inca Trail price includes the entrance fees to visit Machu Picchu, but they do not include the cost of Huayna Picchu mountain and Machu Picchu mountain tickets.  You must obtain separate permits to hike to any of these mountains after the guided tour of Machu Picchu. You can do so through your travel company or by yourself at the official site of the Machu Picchu National Sanctuary here.

A Breakdown of Additional Inca Trail Hike Expenses

Your total Inca Trail cost will rise slightly when you figure in a few extras. These might include:

  • An extra porter (this could be anywhere between $150 and $180)
  • Tips for porters, guides and cooks (see this Inca Trail tipping guide for more)
  • A tent of your own, rather than sharing (maybe $50 to $60)
  • Equipment rental if required, such as walking poles, a backpack and other trekking gear (cost varies)
  • Snacks, souvenirs and anything else you might buy along the Inca Trail or at Machu Picchu
  • Machu Picchu mountain tickets 55 USD
  • Huayna Picchu mountain tickets 55 USD

What is the Price of the Short Inca Trail 

The short Inca Trail hike is one of the best options that people can take to get to Machu Picchu. This tour takes two days and one night and covers a distance of 12km or 9 miles which can be covered in only seven hours. The most popular itinerary includes a hotel night at Aguas Calientes town. On the second day, travelers return to Machu Picchu for the guided tour. Some companies offer you to upgrade your adventure and camp in tents and have an outdoor cookout instead of a night in a hotel. The short Inca trek tour price ranges between 500 and 600 USD per person for group tours with a hotel night included and between 700 and 900 for private tours with a camping option. Like the classic Inca Trail, the short Machu Picchu trek price consists of the Machu Picchu pass, train and bus tickets, meals, and accommodation. You might be wondering why this shorter tour is almost as expensive as the classic Inca tour. The answer is that the operational expenses for this tour are much higher due to the costly train and hotel services that your travel company might use. 

What is the Cost of Other Inca Alternative Hikes?

People can book different alternative hikes when tickets for the Inca trail are sold out, or one simply wants to avoid the crowds and have an off-the-beaten-path experience.  

The most important alternative hike is the Salkantay trek in all its versions. For instance, the classic Salkantay trek costs between 450 and 600, while the Salkantay trek and Inca Trail prices range between 900 and 1300 

Also, The Lares treks cost between 650 and 850, and the Inca Quarry hike costs between 650 and 750. The price of other longer alternative hikes, such as the Choquequirao trek, is slightly higher than all the other alternatives, ranging between 1200usd and 1600.

Again, all of these tours include Machu Picchu tickets and everything else that the other Inca Trail tours provide, such as camping gear, meals, tour guide, porters,etc.

Machu Picchu By Train Tour Costs

For those who don’t want to do any hiking, there is an option to travel to Machu Picchu by train. Any local tour company based in Cusco will be able to offer you a tour of this kind. Usually, these tours take one or two days. The prices range between 400 and 600 USD depending on the type of service one chooses, especially if you decide to stay in a fancy hotel or travel on some of the most expensive trains mentioned above. 

 Inca Jungle tour

The Inca Jungle tour is a multi-activity tour that takes you to Machu Picchu via the back door. The Inca jungle tour combines downhill mountain biking, white water river rafting in the Urubamba river, and a couple of days of hiking. The first part takes place on the road that connects Cusco to Quillabamba (the second-largest city in the Cusco region, located in what is considered part of the Amazon basin. The white water river rafting part takes place in the Urubamba river. The hiking part is done on the road that connects Santa Maria with Hidrolelectrica and Machu Picchu. Many companies will offer you this tour, both online or in Cusco. Make sure you choose one with an impeccable record in safety. The average price of this tour ranges between 2550 and 400 US dollars.