By the late 1990’s, the famous stretch of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was becoming very popular and very crowded. There was very little regulation, and trekkers could travel independently or with any guide. The trail was becoming loved to death, and garbage and human waste were not being disposed of properly, erosion was a problem, and porters were exploited. This was diminishing the trekking experience and also causing sanition concerns. Porters had no rules in place to protect them, and guides did not need any sort of certification to lead trips.
In order to protect the natural resources, to provide for high quality experiences, and to protect the welfare of the porters, a permit system was put in place by the Government of Peru in 2001 to control the number of people on the trail and to impose minimum standards for the trekking companies. Of the 93 tour operators selling Inca Trail Trips at the time nearly half were denied permits to continue operating trips on the Inca Trail.
Private treks (non-guided) are no longer allowed. Only trekking companies with permits for the Inca Trail are allowed to offer trips on the Inca Trail. The maximum number of tourists in a group is now 16, and companies must bring basic equipment, such as a kitchen tent, dining tent, first aid kit and oxygen. Tour operators must use only assigned campsites with proper toilet facilities, they must carry out all garbage, and they can only use propane for fuel, as no open fires are allowed. Additionally, two guides must be provided for groups of more than 7 trekkers. Rules for porter protection have been put in place, such as they are only allowed to carry 20 kilos and they must receive a minimum wage of at least $15 per day.
While the permit system has driven up the price of an Inca Trail Trek, and it also has eliminated the ability to do an unguided trek, the trekking experience is vastly improved. Additionally, porter welfare is much better, and erosion and other issues on the trail are also improved.
Inca Trail Permits sell out months in advance.