The legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu tops many people’s bucket lists. The beautifully preserved 550-year-old ruin site in the clouds is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and a wonderful pay-off for several days of trekking. We had high expectations for our tour with G Adventures, and we were not disappointed. This article reviews our unforgettable G Adventures Inca Trail experience, and explains how you can book yours.
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Why we chose G Adventures for the Inca Trail
When we started planning our one-year travel career break, we wrote down a wishlist of the things we most wanted to experience. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu had been a lifetime ambition for both of us, and so it was the first thing on the list.
For most of our travel activities we try to find low-cost or self-guided options. But we didn’t want to do that with the Inca Trail. We saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we wanted to make sure it would be a memory to cherish, and that we wouldn’t come away with any regrets. If that meant spending a little bit extra, we felt it would be worth it.
So we spent a lot of time looking into the various tour companies that operate the Inca Trail (of which there are many). After sifting through countless reviews and double-checking all of the fine print, we converged on G Adventures.
Although they were slightly more expensive than some of the tour operators (but not extortionate by any means), there were some stand-out factors that drew us to G Adventures. Some of these were deal-breakers. Let me explain…
Confidence for first-timers
Lisa and I had very little trekking experience before taking on the Inca Trail, and we had never been to such a high altitude (the highest point is 4,200 metres). Although we did all of the necessary training, the lack of experience still made us anxious about our ability to complete it.
The Inca Trail was our first ever multi-day trek. We needed to feel confident that we would be well looked after, and that our guides would be understanding and reassuring if we struggled with the pace. Every single review we read for G Adventures was exemplary in this regard.
It turned out that our team of guides, porters and chefs far exceeded our expectations. From the briefing meeting before the tour started to the final steps down to Machu Picchu, they were positive, encouraging, and a pleasure to be around.
High ethical standards
We didn’t want to go with a tour company that cuts corners when it comes to looking after local workers and communities. We’d heard stories that porters in particular on the Inca Trail could be poorly treated and underpaid.
G Adventures employs over 560 local people, and was named as the Best Inca Trail Operator by the regional tourism board in Cusco, with an emphasis on ethical practices. Its porters, chefs, drivers and office staff are fairly paid and well equipped.
We could see on the trail that the G Adventures local staff were treated well. First of all, they clearly enjoyed the work and were proud to be part of the company. One of the young porters was training to be a guide, and wanted to work for G Adventures for life. All of our crew were kitted out with good trekking gear, which was not always the case when we saw other tour groups.
We also loved that the tour package included visits to local initiatives such as a women’s weaving cooperative, a pottery craft and a Parwa community restaurant. There was clearly a lot of thought and effort given to supporting worthwhile local community causes.
While it’s possible to find cheaper tour operators, we thought that G Adventures offered great value for money with their Inca Trail packages. We paid £799 / $1,050 each for our 7-day tour as it was peak season, but it’s possible to get it for as little as £615 / $800.
This price covers everything, including transport, accommodation, tents, catering, staff, and the permit for visiting Machu Picchu. With some of the cheaper operators, you have to sort your own permits and pay for them separately.
We were happy to pay a bit extra to have all of this taken care of, and to feel assured we would be in the capable hands of a great team that was being fairly treated.
What to know before you go
For everything you need to know about preparations for the Inca Trail, check out our complete guide for first-timers. These are the essentials to keep in mind:
- It’s best to arrive in Cusco at least a couple of days before beginning the Inca Trail. The city stands at 3,400 metres elevation, which is just right for getting acclimatised to the altitude on the trek.
- It’s a good idea to get your accommodation booked early for your time in Cusco before and after the tour, as the best places get booked in advance during high season. See our guide to the best hostels in Cusco for great value-for-money options.
- If you go with G Adventures, make sure you attend the briefing meeting on the first evening. It will answer any uncertainties you may have, and it’s a great opportunity to get to know your group and the staff team.
- Once you are on the trail, there are no ATMs. G Adventures provides all your meals and water refills, but if you want to buy any extra snacks or run out of water, you will need some cash.
- The snacks and drinks sold on the trail come at a heavily marked-up price. It’s a good idea to stock up before you go, and pack some light trekking snacks and a couple of energy drinks.
- The Inca Trail is a challenging trek, especially if you’re new to it. Make the effort to do some training beforehand and you’ll be fine. We explain how you can do this in the guide linked above. Bear in mind that the Inca Trail involves a lot of stairs – this will be a lot easier to tackle if you practice walking up and down stairs for a few weeks beforehand.
- The trail involves some long days of hiking, and the weather conditions can be volatile. This means you will need solid hiking gear, in particular walking boots and a decent waterproof jacket. It’s also a good idea to bring walking poles and your own sleeping bag, although you can hire them from G Adventures if needed. Check out our complete Inca Trail packing list for everything you need to take.
- Finally, consider bringing some extra money to tip the team of porters and chefs who will be looking after you on the trail. The recommended amount is 50 US dollars.
Our G Adventures Inca Trail experience
We did the 7-day Inca Trail package with G Adventures. You can find the full details of the itinerary and make a booking here. But first, let me tell you a bit about our own experience on the tour, and why we would recommend it to anybody planning to hike the Inca Trail.
Day 1: arrival and briefing
The first day of our tour had a relaxed vibe, and was all about preparations for the days of trekking ahead and getting to know our group. At this point we had actually already been in Cusco for a couple of days to acclimatise to the altitude.
We checked into our Cusco hotel for the night (included in the package) and met our tour guide, Ray, for the first time. We instantly felt reassured that we were in good hands. He smiled, introduced himself, told us not to worry and gave us instructions when the briefing meeting would take place later in the day.
We arrived early and eager, but still a bit nervous about it all. Luckily a group of cheerful Canadians were already there, filling the room with positive energy – we were pleased to find they were going to be in our trekking team!
Kicking off the meeting, Ray told us that our group would be called the ‘Inca Warriors’. There were 14 of us in total, which we thought was the perfect group size; not too big, but plenty enough to foster some team camaraderie. Everyone got on straight away, and we knew we there wouldn’t be any problems if anyone were to struggle on the trek.
The rest of the meeting answered all of our concerns and questions. We learnt all about the trail, what to expect each day, and how we could combat issues with altitude. A second team guide would stay at the back of the group and look after anyone who needed to take it slowly.
With our nerves replaced by excitement and positivity, we grabbed some food and a drink with the team before buying a few last-minute snacks and packing our bags.
Day 2: Sacred Valley tour
The first full day began bright and early. We climbed into a van and headed out towards the Sacred Valley, with a short stop at the Cristo Blanco statue (Cusco’s version of Christ the Redeemer) for an awesome panoramic view of the city.
Throughout the morning we had the unique opportunity to spend time with valley communities and learn about their way of life. We were warmly welcomed at a women’s weaving cooperative, where we discovered the secrets of their craft, before having lunch at a Parwa community restaurant supported by the tour.
In the afternoon, we had our first glimpse at some Inca ruins. At the Pisac ruin site we had time to explore the centuries-old remains of a sophisticated citadel, perched high on top of a hill with breathtaking views across the Sacred Valley.
From Pisac we drove on to Ollantaytambo, our resting place for the night, and checked into our hotel before exploring more beautiful ruin sites (the town was once an important Inca administrative centre).
To cap off the day, we sat down for a team meal and a cool Peruvian beer in a rustic local restaurant on the town’s main square. The next day the real challenge would begin, and we were ready for it.
Day 3: the trail begins: Inca ruins and Andean scenery
At daybreak we enjoyed a hearty breakfast (much-needed fuel for a day of hiking) and set off again in the van. From Ollantaytambo it took about an hour to drive to the trail’s starting point. Passing through the gates and onto the official trail made it feel real – we were actually doing it!
This was the first full day of hiking, and it was the perfect gentle introduction. We knew from the briefing that the second and third days would be the toughest, so we were pleased to be eased into it. The path meandered along gurgling streams, past Inca ruin sites and through beautiful mountain scenery. By mid-afternoon we had covered around 11 kilometres, and that was it for the day.
Perhaps the most eye-opening thing about this first hiking day, however, was seeing our amazing team of porters in action. Our team of 14 trekkers was supported by a 25-strong unit of guides, chefs and porters.
Each of the porters carried 25 kilograms on their back, all to make it easier for us – it meant we had only a very light weight to carry. They set up camp for every meal, cheered us as we arrived, prepared our food, washed up after us, packed down the camp afterwards, and then lugged all the gear on to the next point at rapid pace. Incredibly, the oldest porter in our team was 65 years old.
Day 4: Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point
The second day of trekking involved the toughest and steepest ascent. We set off before sunrise to trek up the long path to Warmiwañusca, which is the highest point on the Inca Trail at 4,200 metres. It’s also known as Dead Woman’s Pass, as its shape on the horizon resembles a dead woman lying on her back.
Reaching the summit took a huge effort and felt like a big achievement. Ray made sure we had regular stops and kept ourselves hydrated to stave off altitude sickness. Although only a couple of people in our group were experienced hikers, every single one of us made it. The view back down into the valley from the top was stunning.
We arrived at camp by 2pm, which gave us plenty of time to rest, refuel and rock out a pack of cards for some games. Those pre-hike nerves were long gone; we were loving every minute of it.
That night, the sun set early; we were in darkness by 6pm. Out in the wilderness, many miles away from any light pollution, the stars shone brilliantly like a glittering blanket in the sky. Sheer perfection.
Day 5: Hiking above the clouds
As we embarked on the third day of hiking, some of those nerves returned. We knew that there was a steep descent ahead and a lot of downhill stairs, a passage of the trail we’d heard referred to as the ‘Gringo Killer’. True to form, though, our guides kept us reassured and made sure we were setting a comfortable pace.
Before the big descent we encountered more ruin sites, and emerged into some sprawling landscapes as we trekked over two high passes. As we trudged along stony paths surrounded by dense flowering vegetation, clouds descended around us. It was enchanting, almost surreal.
That night would be our last in a tent on the trail, and so our final gathering with the amazing team of porters. After we arrived at the midday camp, they presented us with a huge cake, freshly baked, and inscribed with ‘Welcome to Machu Picchu’ in icing. What a lovely touch.
Day 6: descending to Machu Picchu at sunrise
On the final trekking day we had the earliest start of all, rising at around 4am. Nobody minded, as this was the moment we’d been waiting for. Only a short final hike of around 4 kilometres separated us from Machu Picchu.
It only took about an hour, but it felt like an age as our anticipation built. The view that awaited us was even more mesmerising than we had imagined. Everyone has seen the pictures of Machu Picchu, but they do not do it justice. We’ll never forget the sight of those legendary ruins emerging into view as we descended from the Sun Gate.
Once we’d had some time to process the moment and take our photos, Ray showed us around the site and enlightened us about the site’s construction and purpose. There were smiles all around, and relief that we were done with hiking. At least we thought we were…
It turned out that on the day we arrived at Machu Picchu, teacher strikes had been taking place around the country, and the train service between Cusco and Machu Picchu was cancelled . On the positive side, it meant the site was a lot more quiet than usual. But it also meant that we were stranded.
This was obviously a situation that was out of the control of the G Adventures tour guides. What mattered was how they handled the situation. They did so flawlessly.
Ray had known about the situation before we arrived at Machu Picchu, but he chose not to tell us until after we’d seen the site. This was the right decision. He didn’t want the special moment to be tarnished by worrying.
Once we were done exploring the site, he gathered us together and broke the news. It meant we would have to hike another 10 kilometres along a train track to a nearby town, from where we could take a bus back to Cusco. We’d developed a great team bond by this point, and although we were all tired, everyone looked at it positively. It meant we got to spend a few more hours together! We sat down for a big celebratory lunch, before setting off on one last hike.
A few days later, we were all given a 50 GBP refund for missing out on the train ride, a gesture that we thoroughly appreciated given that it was not the fault of G Adventures.
Day 7: Departure
The next morning, weary after a late arrival in Cusco, we all met once again in our hotel lobby for one last team breakfast. It was a huge, delicious buffet, and everyone took advantage. We said our final farewells to Ray, who dropped by to see us.
That night we met for more food and drinks with the Inca Warriors who were still around in Cusco. We were exhausted, but thoroughly satisfied. The Inca Trail had lived up to our expectations, and so much more besides. And we had made friendships to last for a lifetime.
Our takeaways from the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail with G Adventures gave us one of the most special memories of our lives. Not only this, but it sparked a new passion for hiking. Since the trail, we’ve done a lot more around the world, including famous multi-day hikes such as the W Trek in Patagonia.
The tour also demonstrated to us the importance of having a great guide. We had that 100% with Ray and the rest of the team looking after us. A few days later, when we trekked the Colca Canyon in Peru, we found out how badly it can affect an experience if you don’t have a good guide. We’re very grateful that we were so well looked after on the Inca Trail.
The ‘G’ in G Adventures stands for ‘Gap’. As Career Gappers we believe in the value of taking time out of work to travel, and so their message resonates strongly with us. We love what they do, and we’ll be using their services for a long time to come.
How to book your Inca Trail tour
Booking your Inca Trail tour with G Adventures is easy. Simply head over to their website, choose the package that suits you, and follow the instructions. They will take care of the rest, and if there’s anything you’re unsure about, their friendly team will be more than happy to help.
Insurance for the Inca Trail
It’s very unlikely you will come to any harm on the Inca Trail, but investing in insurance gives you the peace of mind to know you’re covered if something does go wrong.
As the classic Inca Trail reaches an altitude of over 4,000 metres, it’s not usually covered by standard travel insurance policies. When looking for the right insurance package, you will need to bear in mind that the policy will need to include hiking to 4,200 metres.
We recommend World Nomads for insuring your Inca Trail experience. They offer special hiking insurance that is designed to cover treks like the Inca Trail. If you’re on a longer trip, they have excellent options for backpacking insurance, and the customer services team is extremely helpful and responsive.
You can get started with your insurance policy using the quote box below, or the link to hiking insurance above. You can also read our guide to long-term travel insurance.
More ideas for your Peru itinerary
If you’re planning on spending more time in Peru, read our suggested 28-day itinerary and our Peru trekking guide for some inspiration. Also check out our article on things to do in Cusco for activities before and after the Inca Trail.
Here are some more of our articles on Peru:
- How much does a Peru trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Lima in 2 days: the perfect itinerary for backpackers
- Visiting Iquitos: the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
- 24 hours in Huacachina: the Peruvian desert oasis
- Flying over the Nazca Lines: a complete guide
- Discovering Peru on a budget: the legendary local menú restaurants
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