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Travel Story by Ian Reynolds

  Following the Inca Trail - Part I
Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu

The 4-day trek to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail was one of the highlights of my holiday to Peru. Numerous archaeological sites, amazing mountain scenery, lush cloud forest rich in Andean flora and fauna, and of course the sacred city of Machu Picchu are just some of the many attractions en route. Fortunately we were blessed with perfect weather for the duration of our trek. Apparently the nights can be bitterly cold but they were surprisingly mild so we suffered no great discomfort.

Our trekking group was composed of fourteen intrepid adventurers – seven Brits, six Aussies and a lone American as well as our two guides. We were a motley crew and everyone rubbed along well.

I had booked the trek through Peru Treks many months ago. This was a wise move due to it being the peak trekking season and the new regulations that are now in force. The number of trekkers has been limited to about 200 people per day (500 people including guides, cooks and porters) making it essential to book your trek well in advance.

In 2001 the Peruvian Government proposed many changes to the administration of the Inca Trail in a bid to protect its fragile eco-structure from over-use. Most of these proposals have been aimed at reducing the number of trekkers on the trail, improving the quality of the tour operators and offering a reservation system whereby trekkers will be forced to make their reservations many weeks (even months) in advance. Some of the proposals were introduced slowly throughout 2001 and 2002 but the Government started to enforce the majority of the regulations more strictly in 2003. Further regulations have been introduced at the beginning of 2004 with the main aim of eliminating poor quality operators. All trekking companies that operate the Inca Trail must have an operating licence which is issued every year in February.

In the past tour companies could wait till 2 or 3 days prior to trek departure to fill up their groups. With the new regulations things have changed and companies have to “close” their groups three or four weeks in advance to be sure of getting the trek permits for their clients.

A better quality service, fair treatment of porters, increased revenue in the form of taxes for a developing country is all good news, but the downside is that hiking the Inca Trail for people on a budget is now impossible. The increased Inca Trail rates apply to everyone including Peruvians and other Latin Americans and their absence from the Inca Trail and Cusco has been very noticeable in the last couple of years.

On occasions Peru Treks combine their clients with another trekking company of similar or higher cost. Qente are their preferred choice. The new regulations in 2004 has seen the larger tour companies making block bookings for the peak trekking months of May, June and July. They have monopolised the available trekking quotas to the detriment of the good quality smaller operators. As a result I ended up trekking with Qente at no extra cost. Procedures have now been put in place to prevent this from happening again in future.

Qente offer a high quality service, have won awards, and are highly recommended – I certainly had no cause for complaint. The contrast between them and the trekking company used in Huaraz could not have been more marked. A communal dining tent was provided for all meals that were prepared in a kitchen tent.

The guides and porters were excellent. Every morning they greeted us with a hot cup of tea as they woke us. They prepared three great meals every day and they smiled as they passed us on the trail carrying more stuff on their backs than us. On arrival at our designated campsite for the night we were greeted with a bowl of water, bar of soap and a towel. After cleaning ourselves up we would sit down to hot popcorn and crackers with jam washed down with tea or coffee. These refreshments were always welcome.

In the mornings prior to our departure from the campsite we would be handed a small bag of goodies to help keep up our energy levels while trekking. This would usually consist of an apple, an orange, and biscuits, boiled sweets, a drinks carton, and some other form of nourishment. They would also fill up our water bottles for us. It’s the little things like that which count.

Click on photo to enlarge

An encounter with a Llama  Passion flower  Inca ruins at Machu Picchu

Date Submitted: 19 Aug 2006

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