How The Inca Trail Hike Permits and Machu Picchu Tickets Changed in 2022
The Peruvian authorities started playing around with the fine print of the Inca Trail permits in April 2022. First they tricked us tour operators into thinking they cared about us, when they told us we could reserve Inca Trail permits without any deposit payments until the 3rd week of the month before the hike. Well, this lasted about a month and then, like a shifty lover, they ghosted us..The no-money-down-to-reserve-4-day-Inca-Trail-hike offer silently disappeared. Meanwhile, over the last 2 months, the Peruvian Ministry of Tourism whittled a little rule here, and carved out a chunk of regulation there, and now the procedures for using the Machu Picchu entry tickets that come with your Inca Trail permits are entirely different than they were evan 1 year ago.
I'm writing this only for those folks who care about tiny details. Honestly, if you just book your hike or your trip with a trustworthy operator, most of you will enjoy the many choices for traditional and adventure activities that Peru has to offer. Just let them handle it. However if you care about which route you're going to tour in Machu Picchu, or the amount of time you have for your tour, then read on my friend. Your time will be rewarded.
It used to be that Inca Trail hikers earned a certain recognition and prestige for choosing to get to Machu Picchu on foot. Not to mention the suffering they endured to get there. (Ok. A lot of suffering. There. Are you happy?) The Inca Trail hikers, were rewarded with the bonus of having unfettered access to the circuit of their choice in the citadel of Machu Picchu, and the flexibility to enter any time they liked. It's been this way for years. And remained the same even after reopening from the covid shutdown. But then. . . something happened in 2022. It was as if angry Gods were tossing boulders one or two at a time, down the mountain at us. We braved Covid restrictions, new President. political turmoil, labor strikes, and good old-fashioned mudslides. We dodged. We ducked. And we learned how to operate in the new challenging system. This is my attempt to describe the recent changes to Inca Trail hikes, permits, and the Machu Picchu tickets that come with them.
Here's a comparison of the 1-day, 4-day and 5-day Inca Trail treks, before and after recent changes to permits in 2022:
Classic 4-day Inca Trail
Before the permit changes: Hikers trod into Machu Picchu on day 4 of the hike and entered into the ancient city for a guided tour on any circuit they chose, or the circuit the tour operator chose if it was an open group hike. After the guided tour, they would return to Cusco.
After the permit changes: The hike is about the same, but the entrance to Machu Picchu is restricted to the 2 lower circuts, 3 and 4. (see the map) The only bonus awarded hikers for the additional cost and suffering of arriving on foot, is the exclusive access to stand next to the famous Guard House overlooking Machu Picchu. This is the x-spot for the most high-profile photos splashed all over the web. At this time, only hikers have access to this spot on the day they hike down from the Sungate. Vistors coming from the main entry to Machu Picchu are not permitted access to the Guard House. They are demoted to a landing right below. Before you get all huffy and dejected, let me point out that the difference in altitude between the two spots is the height of one or two terraces. (maybe 15-20 feet?) So. The view of Machu Picchu is fantastic from either spot because they're part of the upper terraces.. The only limitation I can see is that hikers don't have access to the upper terraces for the tour of Machu Picchu ancient city. Your entry ticket to Machu Picchu is only for circuits 3 and 4. That's the lower section of Machu Picchu. The views down there are not the same.
5-Day Inca Trail Hike
Before the permits changes. (if booked in advance) hikers on the 4-day hike could choose to spend an additional night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and use the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu on day 5. On Day 5 they could get up any old time and enter Machu Picchu any time and tour any circuit. Then later in the day return to Cusco.
After the permit changes: someone who probably never, ever stepped foot on the Inca Trail, decided to redistribute the miles per day so that you only hike 7 or 8 kilometers on each of the first 2 days, then a whopping 16 kilometers on the 3rd day. The reasoning behind the change remains a mystery to tour operators whose tour guides now have to coax weary hikers up the high altitude passes and down many knee-jarring stone steps on day 3. The other change is that the hiking permits specify that hikers are only permitted to enter Machu Picchu on Day 4. So far, our guides are reporting that if they ask nicely, they can gain entry to the citadel of Machu Picchu for the groups they're guiding, on day 5. However, like the Classic 4-day hike, hikers are restricted to the 2 lower circuits on 3 and 4. (which is not shabby, BTW. See the map). And like the 4-day hike, hikers on the 5 day trek have exclusive access to the Guard House as they hike in on Day 4. We're expecting that the day will come when the rule that the Machu Picchu entry ticket must be used on day 4 will be enforced. Not today satan! When that day comes, don't worry, we have a plan! I told you that setting up trips to Machu Picchu is my superpower. I'm already on it!
1-Day Inca Trail Hike (this hike is part of a 2-day Trip to Machu Picchu)
Before the permit changes: 1-day hikers begin with a train ride from Ollantaytambo to KM 104 and could hike in to Machu Picchu then take the shuttle bus down to the village of Aguas Calientes and spend the night. The next morning they could enter Machu Picchu at any time and choose any circuit.
After the permit changes: hikers can descend to Machu Picchu from the Sungate and have exclusive access to the Guard House that overlooks the ancient city. From there they exit the park and take the shuttle bus to the village for an overnight in a hotel. The entry ticket that comes with the hiking permit includes access to Machu Picchu circuits 3 and 4 and can be used any time you like on Day 2. The only limitation I can see is that hikers don't have access to the upper terraces for the tour of Machu Picchu ancient city. Your entry ticket to Machu Picchu is only for circuits 3 and 4. That's the lower section of Machu Picchu. The views of Machu Picchu down there are not the same.
If you're still reading this, I know you're one of those lovely people who appreciates intel, no matter how complicated it is. In spite of what appears to be a system of complex rules and regulations, we're confident we can help you detangle the mess and maneuver through the perplexing intricacies to arrange your ultimate dream trip to Peru. The map that accompanies this post, shows a fairly thorough not--too-shoddy route on Machu Picchu lower circuits. It's not what I call a deal-breaker. And a good (Adios!) guide knows how to bring out the best aspects of any route you choose in Machu Picchu. Not to worry.
The philosopher Nietzsche also said, “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”