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I've seen this post about it, but I've dug a little bit more into the topic on the web and some people suggest to reserve in advance, in particular for the main Inca Trail.

However others say to wait and make cheaper reservations in Cusco (especially if I plan paths alternative to the Inca trail).

I'm actually now more oriented to go for the Salkantay path (I've been told it is equally beautiful), cheaper and less crowded. I hope to not miss too much by skipping the Inca Trail.

What do you suggest ? If I chose Salkantay rather than the inca Trail, am I going to lose a lot ?

Can I just wait and make reservation in Cusco two days before I want my tour to start? Or I risk not finding anything available?

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The answer depends on (at least) two things. Whether you want to do the 'proper' Inca trail or one of the alternatives and what time of the year you are going.

If you want to do the proper trail in high season you should book in advanced. Sometimes it is fully booked for 3 months.

I was there in October (not high season) and I stayed in Cusco for two weeks anyways. There was a waiting time of 11 days for the proper trail, which in the end I did not do. The waiting time may be too long for most people anyways.

For the alternative trails, most of them are not even limited to a certain number of people, so it is much easier to get on them. I think I booked mine in Cusco the evening before we left.

Again this depends on when you are there, April is not super high season, but I think it gets busier. But I expect you can still get on a tour fairly easily.

As usual, it also depends on the size of your group. It is much easier if you are alone or a couple compared to a family of eight.

I can't compare the main Inca trail with any of the other ones, because I only did one. But I haven't heard anything about the alternatives being really shitty.

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The main Inca trail has a limit of 500 people starting on it each day. This sounds like a lot, until you realise 300 of those are porters! So it's quite hard to get it. My brother had to book months in advance.

However, there are several other trails. Salcantay is meant to be higher, less ruins but more scenic. I'm told the Lares trail goes along the river a bit more. And you still end up at the same place. They're all much easier to get onto, and even National Geographic has an article on the top 6 alternative trails.

Wikipedia has a short piece on the Salcantay Trek, if that interests you.

Finally, there's the 'easier' option - where you take a bus to Ollantaytambo and then a train from there to Aguas Calientes. Then the next morning at 3-5am, you get a bus up to the site. You'll want to be on the first bus to ensure you get one of the limited tickets to hike up Huayna Picchu (the tall peak you see at the back in most pictures of Machu Picchu).

A friend did the Salcantay, raved about it. My brother did the Inca Trail, said it was the hardest thing he's ever done in his life. It all depends what you want, and how you're affected by the weather, the altitude and the experience.

But the best part - no matter which way you get there, you're ending at Machu Picchu. And that's fantastic!

In terms of reserving, it's hard to tell. As many people and websites will tell you:

Peak tourist season corresponds with the dry season in July and August when the nights are cool and the days are generally dry. January and February are the rainiest months, and many people visit the area in November and April to avoid the heaviest crowds.

So on that theory, April might be quite busy. If you really want to do the Inca Trail, it's your 'once in a life' thing, then reserve it and make your schedule slightly less flexible.

If you, however, have some flexibility, well you could risk it, but stand the risk of not getting the main Inca Trail. But there will always be one of the other trails available, at least.

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The limits on the Inca trail are 500 people starting on any particular day - not 500 people on the trail at any one time. Excluding porters/guides, that means around 200 people can start the trek per day, not 50. The exception is each February, when the whole trail is closed for repairs. –  Doc Dec 21 '12 at 23:37
    
@Doc - just checked, you're right. I'll update my answer. –  Mark Mayo Dec 21 '12 at 23:38
    
From your and other answers, it seems that Salcantay is a very good alternative to the inca trail. Even better if I'm interested in the landscape and not historical ruins. I think I will go for it. –  Patrick Dec 24 '12 at 19:26
    
So I can be quite sure that I don't need to reserve in advance for the Salcantay, correct ? –  Patrick Dec 24 '12 at 19:27
    
@Patrick, sorry, been away for a few days. It's South America - nothing is guaranteed, and these things are seasonal, but when I was there during October, that was certainly the case, as it was when my friend was there during May. Your mileage might vary, and the tour companies may have been messing with us, but the impression they gave was that there were always guides and tour companies around with spots. But as with anything, if you want to be certain, I'd call ahead - say, to a company like The Point hostel who has a tour desk, and get them to reserve you a spot :) –  Mark Mayo Dec 28 '12 at 17:58
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I would recommend you book in advance especially if you go in high season (April to September). Regardless of the route you choose you will have an unforgettable experience.

Salkantay route doesn't have many archaeological sites but is offset by the beauty of the landscape.

Regarding the Classic Inca Trail this has more archeological sites and a unique natural beauty.

Here http://incatrailmachupicchu.org/ you will find more information about the Inca trail and its alternative routes ...

Have a great trip!

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