Hiking the Inca Trail in the Time of COVID

For adventure travelers, there are some classic hikes across the globe that routinely make everyone’s bucket list. For instance, the trek to Everest Base Camp is a must-do hike, as is a climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The other classic journey is hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, a four-day journey through the Andes that culminates with an early-morning arrival at Machu Picchu.

Over the past year and half, embarking on any of these trips has been incredibly difficult due to the COVID pandemic. International travel has been incredibly challenging to say the least, particularly in Peru which has struggled mightily with containing the virus. Things are improving in the South American country however and the tourism industry is slowly starting to reopen. That includes the Inca Trail, although if you plan to hike the classic route in the near future, there are a few things you should know first.

Hiking the Inca Trail
Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely via WikiMedia

Vaccinations Required

While COVID vaccines requirements continue to be a source of contention with many, the Peruvian government have made their stance on the subject clear. For weeks after reopening its borders, the country allowed anyone to enter who could produce a negative COVID test. That changed recently however with new guidelines going into effect on September 21.

Currently, the requirements to enter Peru for citizens and visiting foreigners are as follows: A complete vaccination record and a negative Covid test no longer than 72 hours ago are required to enter Peru by nationals and foreigners coming from countries with a high immunization rate.

In other words, if you’re looking to travel to Peru you’ll need to demonstrate that you have been fully vaccinated against COVID and have a negative test conducted in the past three days. How strictly these rules are being enforced remains to be seen, but it is best to come prepared in order to avoid being turned away.

Hiking the Inca Trail
Photo Credit: Colegota via WikiMedia

Fewer Permits

In addition to requiring vaccines and negative COVID tests, Peruvian officials are also looking to limit the number of people who are hiking the Inca Trail. The goal is to limit the size of the groups, making campsites less crowded. After all, it is a lot easier to be socially distant when there are fewer trekkers.

To that end, the government has cut the number of permits that it is issuing for the Inca Trail in half. Prior to the pandemic, 500 permits were given out per day, but now that number has been reduced to 250. That still seems like a fairly large number, but as Fernando Rodriguez, the operations manager for Intrepid Travel in Peru points out in this article, that actually only equates to about 100-110 travelers per day. That’s because all of the guides, porters, and support staff also need permits, leaving a lot fewer for foreign travelers.

What does this mean for anyone planning an Inca Trail trek? For starters, you had better book your trip well in advance of your travels. With fewer permits to go around, the travel operators are likely to be booked solid for months to come. It could also mean prices will increase too.

Restrictions for Machu Picchu Too

The Inca Trail isn’t the only popular Peruvian destination that is seeing more restrictions. As mentioned, the trail ends at the ancient fortress of Machu Picchu, which has seen its number of visitors severely restricted as well. Prior to the pandemic, more than 5000 people per day visited the site. Now, that number has been reduced to 2244. On top of that, most visitors will also receive an assigned entry time, regulating when they can actually step inside the famous mountaintop citadel.

Some of these new regulations aren’t likely to become a major hurdle in the short term. Many tour operators have not yet returned to business and travelers coming to Peru remain fairly low for now. But if the lower number of permits and entry tickets become the new normal for the future, it means that planning to hike the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu have become a bit more complicated.

On the other hand, for years Peru has struggled to maintain a healthy balance of the number of visitors who wanted see these places and what was good for the environment. By further limiting the number of permits, the fear of overcrowding is greatly reduced, which is ultimately good for these iconic destinations.

In the time of COVID, we have to look for silver linings.

Kraig Becker

1 thought on “Hiking the Inca Trail in the Time of COVID”

  1. We went there in 2018, it was packed with tourists but nonetheless amazing! Planning to visit again this December but we’re not sure about the whole process. This is really helpful, Kraig. I like the idea that they’re scheduling and limiting tourists. Surely, people would enjoy this setup more! Thanks for sharing!

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