Peru’s Inca Trail is, without a doubt, one of the most popular treks in the world. The four day hike takes adventure travelers on a wonderfully scenic walk through the Andes, along a route that was once used by the Inca themselves, culminating with a sunrise arrival at the mountaintop fortress of Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail tour is so popular in fact, that the Peruvian government had to start issuing permits a few years back in order to limit the number of people on the trail at any given time. Those permits are nearly impossible to come by at the moment, thanks in no small part to the fact that the trail was closed for much of the early part of the year, leading to pent up demand.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to the classic route, such as the Royal Inca Trail Trek offered by Zephyr Adventures, a small travel company based out of Montana that has been offering tours to adventure travelers since 1997. Part of the appeal of this trek, besides the fact that it doesn’t have the same permit issues as the classic Inca Trail, is that it is also much less physically demanding. The Royal Inca Trail follows the Urubamba River along a different route to Machu Picchu, which helps hikers to avoid some of the more demanding climbs and other issues that come along with altitude. This route is also seldom hiked by anyone other than Zephyr’s groups, which means the trail is mostly empty, and generally shared with just the local Quechua Indians who inhabit the area.
Zephyr offers this adventure as one of their pre-arranged group treks several times a year, but it can also be booked as a private trek as well. If you go with that option, you’ll be able to pick dates that best work for you, although you’ll need at least one other person to join you. Should you choose to make a private trek, there are two intineraries available. Zephyr’s Airport-to-Airport option, will have the guides greeting you upon your arrival and you’ll spend nine days completely in their care. But should you go with the Ala Carte Trek, you’ll be on your own getting to and from Cusco, and spend only five days just doing the trek itself.
All in all, this looks like a great alternative to the regular Inca Trail, which can be quite daunting for many travelers. It is physically demanding, adds the sometimes unpleasant element of high altitude, and is very crowded during the high season. All issues you won’t have to deal with on the Royal Inca Trail.