Anyone hoping to trek the Inca Trail in 2018 better start planning, as permits are about to be released – four months earlier than usual.
Until this year, the initial tranche of permits for travel were released in January of the same year and the rest in February, but for the first time the Peruvian Ministry of Culture is releasing all permits for 2018 on October 1st, 2017.
With only 500 permits available per day, travellers are advised to book the trek, which ends at the 550-year old Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, as soon as they can. "Tickets usually sell out almost immediately for the peak trekking months of April, May and August," said Dan Clarke of RealWorld Holidays. "Five-hundred a day may sound like a lot but when take into account the permits required for the guides, cooks and any other members of the trek team, you can see how they can disappear very quickly indeed."
Permits can only be obtained through an officially licensed company that operates the four-day trek; they can not be bought separately. The Classic Inca Trail is the most popular South American tour for many specialist operators. In Ireland, specialist companies such as Trailfinders and Intrepid Travel run their own tours, while tour operators such as Sunway and Abbey Travel also offer trips.
Travellers who miss out on Inca Trail permits can still trek to Machu Picchu on an alternative route – the Salkantay trek for which no permit is needed. "On the Salkantay trek, you pass through small communities and farmsteads, and approach Machu Picchu from the other side. Instead of arriving at Inti Punku (the sun gate), you get a stunning panorama, free of human interference – no transport, no farms, no tourists," said Laura Rendull-Dunn of tour operator Journey Latin America.
Machu Picchu is among the most iconic ancient sites in the world but has become a victim of its own popularity in recent years, with Unesco threatening to place it on its endangered list. Pressure to do something about overcrowding prompted the Peruvian government to introduce a new timed entry system earlier this year, with the aim of creating a more even distribution of visitors throughout the day and reducing queue times. However, the new system controversially allowed for an increase in the total number of visitors from 5,000 a day to nearly 6,000 – more than double the Unesco recommendation of 2,500.
– Guardian Service, additional reporting by The Irish Times