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$400 to over $1300 per person. Generally speaking, the sweet spot for a standard trek on a budget is somewhere between $600 and $700.

Much below that and the level of service could suffer (see below). And once you start approaching $1000 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 $1,395 — 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 $600 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 $550, and perhaps as low as $400. 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 $500 looks kind of suspicious.

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 $600 for a reliable — and ethical — service.

A Breakdown of Additional Inca Trail 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 $50 and $100)
  • Tips for porters, guides and cooks (see this Inca Trail tipping guide for more)
  • A tent of your own, rather than sharing (maybe $30 to $40)
  • 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