Only officially sanctioned travel agencies are permitted to organize group treks along the Inca Trail; an overwhelming number, nearly 200 tour operators (!)—both Peruvian and international—have been granted government licenses to sell and operate Inca Trail treks. With the higher-end agencies, it is usually possible to assemble your own private group, with as few as two hikers. Budget trekkers will join an established group. In addition to cost, hikers should ask about group size (12 or fewer is best; 16 is the most allowed), the quality of the guides and their English-speaking abilities, the quality of food preparation, and porters and equipment. You should also make certain that the agency guarantees daily departures so that you’re not stuck waiting in Cusco for a group to be assembled.

Recommended agencies that score high on those criteria follow. Some of the larger international adventure-tour operators, including several listed in Chapter 9, also handle the Inca Trail and alternative treks in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

* Andean Treks (www.andeantreks.com; tel. 800/683-8148 in the U.S. and Canada, or 617/924-1974): A longtime (since 1980), well-thought-of outdoors operator based in Watertown, Massachusetts, running 5-day treks along the Inca Trail as well as numerous other programs in Latin America.

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* Andina Travel (www.andinatravel.com; tel. 084/251-892 in Cusco): A progressive company interested in sustainable development, owned by a Cusco native and his North American business partner, offering classic Inca Trail and alternative treks.

* Apumayo Expediciones (www.apumayo.com; tel. 084/246-018): A veteran of adventure tourism in the region with fixed departures for hikes.

* Big Foot Cusco (www.bigfootcusco.com; tel. 084/233-836): A popular and dependable budget agency.

* Chaska Tours (www.chaskatours.com; tel. 084/240-424): A very capable mid-range company, run by a Dutch and Peruvian team, praised for its private and group treks to Machu Picchu as well as Choquequirao.

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* Enigma Adventure Tours (www.enigmaperu.com; tel. 084/222-155): An upscale adventure travel operator with a good reputation and specialized and alternative hiking and trekking options, good for small-group and private treks.

* Explorandes (www.explorandes.com; tel. 084/506-758): One of the top high-end agencies and among the most experienced in treks and mountaineering across Peru. Especially good for forming very small private groups.

* InkaNatura (www.inkanatura.com; tel. 01/203-5000): A long-running agency offering well-planned and comfortable Inca Trail treks.

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* Mayuc (www.mayuc.com; tel. 888/493-2109 in the U.S. and Canada or 084/242-824 in Cusco): Especially good for pampered Inca Trail expeditions (porters carry all packs). It aims to be low impact, and hosts smaller groups.

* SAS Travel (www.sastravelperu.com; tel. 084/249-194): Large, long-established agency serving budget-oriented trekkers. Very popular, responsible, and well organized.

* United Mice (www.unitedmice.com; tel. 084/221-139): Started by one of the trail’s most respected guides, this is another of the top trekking specialists organizing affordable mid-range treks.

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* Wayki Trek (www.waykitrek.net; tel. 084/241-8796): Created in 1998 by a group of experienced trekking guides from rural parts of Peru, this is one of the few operators owned and run by locals. They specialize in mid-range treks with small group sizes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.