What You Need to Know About Changing Your Inca Trail Permits
Most people who book their Inca Trail permits in advance are set for their hike into Machu Picchu. But. What happens if you need to change your plans? We have had groups with various situations and real-life scenarios affect their ability to stay on track. Whether you discover you want to make changes weeks before, or after arrival in Cusco, Peru, here's what you need to know.
In consultation with Vidal in Cusco, who has contacted his local resources at the permit office, I'm going to review your options regarding special circumstances that may cause you to want, or need, to change your permit. There are 2 hikes that require permits. The easy 1-day Inca Trail hike which is part of 2 day trip to Machu Picchu. And the 4 day Inca Trail hike which can also be extended to 5 days if you want to have an extra night in a hotel so you can return to Machu Picchu to spend more time.
First, let's review how permits are acquired.
- can be purchased only by licensed operators
- valid or expired passport is the only document accepted as ID and the same document must be presented at the trail head for checkin.
- available on first come / first serve basis
Secondly, I want to clarify the distribution of permits between 2 pools in the same reservation system.
- 500 permits for the 4-day (or 5-day) Inca Trail hike. These are distributed to hikers, trail cooks and porters who work on the Inca Trail
- 250 permits for the 2-day Inca Trail hike
Can you change the date of your permit?
No. Permit dates and names cannot be changed, transferred, refunded or saved for a future date. (banked)
Can you change your permit from one hike to the other?
No. If you get a permit for the 4-day (or 5 day) Inca Trail hike and decide later you want to downgrade to the easier (shorter) 2-day hike, the permit is only valid for the 4-day Inca Trail. This works both ways between the 2 hikes. You can't upgrade your permit if you have the 2-day Inca Trail hike and decide later to change to the 4-day (or 5 day) hike.
Can you have 2 permits in your name at the same time? If you can't change your permit, can you just buy another?
No. It doesn't matter if its 2 permits on different dates for the same hike or 1 permit each on different dates for the 2 day and the 4 day hike. I actually had this happen to me when I had a permit for 2-day Inca Trail hike in May and in April I tried to reserve another permit later in the year in October. As long as my name was in the system, I could not buy another permit until AFTER the hike in May was completed. By that time, the permit I wanted in October was sold out. But what if you want to downgrade from the 4-day hike to the 2-day hike and you're willing to pay for another permit? It can't be done until after the day of the hike that you have the permit for, has passed. It doesn't matter if you want to upgrade or downgrade your Inca Trail hike, you can only have 1 permit in your name at a time.
What happens to your permit if you don't go on your hike?
Your spot will go empty. The Peruvian government is not interested in getting in the business of changing permits and hike reservations. Although the rest of the modern world functions in a travel industry that has accepted, and even capitalized on our propensity to want the flexibility to make changes in flights and hotels, the Peruvain government is not willing to go there. Can you blame them? I see an opportunity to increase revenue because many of us are willing to pay extra for the privilege of changing our plans. But not everyone shares that interest.
What good is the permit if you can't go on the hike?
Your permit is still valid for entry to Machu Picchu on the date specified on the permit. And the tour operator you choose to book your hike through usually includes roundtrip train tickets for the 2-day Inca Trail hike and 1 way train tickets for the 4-day Inca Trail hike, as well as 1 way or roundtrip shuttle bus tickets, and possibly transfers back to Cusco. The only time this might not be the case is if you ask for a custom hike.
What if hikers show up to hike the Inca Trail and discover they are not fit enough. What can they do?
Fortunately this doesn't happen often. But it has occurred for various reasons. Which is why it may seem like we're trying to get into your business when we ask questions about your previous hiking experience or regular exercise. Honestly we're trying to prevent problems.
- 2-Day Inca Trail. We try to schedule a pre-hike briefing at your hotel the day before you hike just to go over your logistics. But it also gives our local manager a chance to determine if there might be any obstacles to completing the hike. He might ask to see your backpack or ask you questions about your fitness if he is concerned. The local manager and guides have the final say about whether or not someone is fit enough to hike. They will not let you get off the train if they don't think you can make it. This is for your safety and the well-being of our staff. It's not possible to send in a car to pick you up. Once you get off the train at KM 104, your only option to get to Aguas Calientes is on foot. They have to notify Perurail and change your ticket. It's not a matter of simply staying on the train.
- 4-Day Inca Trail. When people book a multi-day trip with hotels and tours before they begin the hike, we typically scheduled the same guide to be with them the entire trip. This gives the guide a chance to observe the group and see if anyone might not be able to do the hike. In cases where our guide recommends not hiking, the tour operator is not obligated to provide alternative services. You're technically on your own to find hotel, tours, activities and even 1 way train tickets to get to Machu Picchu. (your permit allows you to enter Machu Picchu on what would be Day 4 of the hike, and the tour operator should have your train ticket included). Our local team offers assistance when this happens. They will help you find a hotel (at your expense) and may be able to arrange a driver to set up easy day hikes and activities. In a few cases, we arranged for the cook to prepare the meals because the food was already paid for. But this kind of outcome depends on the tour operator you use and the amount of time our guide has to spend with you before you begin the hike.
Once your name and passport are in the system for a permit for the 4-day hike, no changes can be made. It can't be cancelled, transferred to someone else, or refunded. Your only option is to abandon the permit and walk away. So what if you
Have we ever successfully changed a permit? Technically the answer is yes and you would think that it was a situation worthy of being historically noted. In 13 years, I can only think of 1 incident where we were able to change the date for a 2-day hike. This only worked because permits were still available for the new date. It is not possible to do this for the 4-day hike even if permits are still available for the new date.