Inca Trail permits are required for anyone who wishes to trek along the former royal highway of the Inca, and there are only so many. This is a relatively recent development, and one that is linked to the preservation of the trail. Over the years, the popularity of the Inca Trail grew to such high levels that something needed to be done in order to make sure that too much damage wasn’t caused by the visiting masses.
Inca Trail availability is strictly upheld. A permit must be obtained in advance, and only 500 of these permits are available on a daily basis. These permits aren’t only designated for tourists. In fact, most of the Inca Trail permits for any given day are claimed by the guides, porters and cooks that work for the numerous Inca Trail tour groups. As far as breaking down the numbers, approximately 200 daily permits go to tourists, while the remaining 300 are allocated to the staff of the tour groups.
The Peruvian government is responsible for putting a limit on Inca Trail availability. It is also responsible for handing out the permits themselves. More often than not, Inca Trail tour companies arrange to obtain the permits for their guests as part of a package deal, and since the tours typically last more than one day, multiple permits are usually required. The majority of the tour companies base themselves in Cusco.
May through September is the most popular time to hike the Inca Trail, so permit availability is particularly limited at this time. It is recommended that prospective trekkers get their Inca Trail permits at least three months in advance when looking to enjoy a hike during the peak period. At other times of year, it is usually sufficient to make a tour reservation and obtain a permit at least fifteen days in advance. The trail is closed in February for maintenance.