For many people, being able to seize the opportunity to hike the Inca Trail is a dream come true. And because this trek already is under pressure in your mind to be amazing due to its celebrity status, the last thing you want to do is mess up the planning. That is why choosing a trekking company is so important – this element is what can make or break your trip.
No problem – I will do it on my own!
Sorry to burst your bubble but you can’t. If you want to hike the traditional Inca Trail, Peruvian law requires that you be accompanied by at least a guide. However, most people would also like porters to carry the required gear, which includes tents and food for at least three days. If you’re one of those people, then finding a good trekking company is a must.
There are many many companies out there who would love to take you on the Inca Trail. But not all of them are worth your time and consideration. The company with whom my sister and I did a seven day combo trek of Salkantay Mountain and the Inca Trail was Alpaca Expeditions. You’ll see along the way why we ultimately chose them. Here are some elements you should keep in mind as you’re making your own selection:
Is It Local?
I believe it is hugely important to choose a local company, or at the very least, a company that uses local guides and employees. I believe this is fundamental to responsible travel because you’re putting your money directly into the local economy and the hands of local people.
Alpaca Expeditions: 100% locally owned. Also, all their tour guides and porters are locals from Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
How Are the Guides and Porters Treated?
Look for a company that goes out of its way to provide more than just the basics to its employees. It was really sad to see some of the poorly equipped porters on the trail, when I was there. It was also important to consider how well trained the guides are – do they speak your language, are they trained in safety, will they be able to tell you about your surroundings, etc.
Alpaca Expeditions: Their guides all have tourism degrees from Cusco National University, they all speak English, and they’re all trained in first aid and safety. Porters (aka the Green Army) are given excellent trekking equipment/clothes for free, are provided health insurance, and are paid competitive wages. Also, while the government does allow each porter to carry up to 25kg, Alpaca’s porters only carry a maximum of 20kg each.
Is Good Equipment Provided?
Enjoyable trekking largely depends on the equipment being used. As much as I enjoy camping, I don’t want to have a leaky tent or feel rocks under my back. Nor would my knees ever forgive me if I trekked this kind of terrain without poles. In other words, know what you can tolerate and know your standards.
Alpaca Expeditions: They provide everything within the initial cost with the exception of a few things that are supplementary (i.e. trekking poles, sleeping bag, and an upgraded sleeping mat). In my experience, all of their gear was great. I especially liked that they use 4-person tents per two people – you’re able to stretch out a bit and have your bag with you. One item that you’ll love if you’ve had any experience with public outhouses is that this company provides a private toilet tent! Trust me – that is definitely a bonus!
After equipment, the next important thing is food. It’s fuel and you need lots of it to be able to walk for three to seven days in the Inca Trail terrain. But wouldn’t it be nice if the food wasn’t just fuel but also a little bit of a gastronomical adventure? Of course the answer is yes, so make sure you research what food is provided by the company you’re considering.
Alpaca Expeditions: Quite frankly, I was in awe. I have no idea how so much food was carried, how there was such a wide variety of North American and Peruvian dishes, and how in the world a cake was produced on the last day! I tip my hat to the Chef. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all fantastic.
How Do They Give Back?
This element is not a “must” but it is fantastic to be able to support a company that in turn supports local communities around it. It is a great way to ensure your tourist dollars have multiple impacts.
Alpaca Expeditions: They support the porters’ communities in various aspects of life, including health and education. For example, they provide donations to schools, cover salaries of certain teachers, and work with local clinics. They even do things like tree planting and take porters’ families to see Machu Picchu!
Other Things to Consider
Group size: If I see that the group can go up to high in number, as an introvert, that is a huge warning sign. Know your personality when it comes to determining what you can handle in terms of people. Some people want to share a sunrise with others and some people prefer greeting the day in solitude. All about preference.
Total Costs: It’s vitally important to keep in mind that cheap is definitely not always good in something like trekking. For a company to charge bargain basement prices, it’s pretty much guaranteed that corners were cut somewhere…is that something you want to risk? Only you can make that choice. But of course, just because a company is expensive, it doesn’t mean it will definitely be good! This is why it is also important to…
What do others say: Verify the reliability of a company you’re considering by checking reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor or simply doing a Google search and reading people’s blogs (like mine!) to gauge their experiences.