This is our guide to trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as a gay couple, with all the tips we picked up along the way.
We made it! A magical memory from our Nomadic Boys journey we will share forever.
This was what was going through our minds, whilst sat atop Wayna Picchu mountain, peering down at the Inca world wonder beneath us.
After an intense 4 days trek along the acclaimed Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley in the Peruvian Andes, we finally reached the climax point.
Machu Picchu is the highlight of most people's itineraries to not only Peru, but also to the entire continent. It receives over 1.2 million visitors annually, most of who come by train as part of a day trip from Cusco.
To really get a feel of what the Sacred Valley and the Inca culture is all about, the Inca Trail is a must. This is, after all, the famous route of pilgrimage the Incas used to take to reach Machu Picchu.
This is our personal experience trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, including tips on which gay friendly tour company to choose and dates for upcoming group tours to Machu Picchu.
Hike the Inca Trail on a gay tour
Lace-up those hiking boots and prepare for your own Andean expedition, because you're invited to join our friends at Out Adventures on their annual all-gay Inca Trail hike. By joining their sweaty scamper you'll be automatically guaranteed an Inca Trail pass, a local LGBTQ-welcoming host and a veto-ed team of guides and porters. The tour also includes time in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
What is the Inca Trail?
As well as being one of the most famous treks in the world, this 44km (27 miles) trail was initially part of a highly advanced network of around 40,000 trails built by the Incas to connect the distant corners of their kingdom.
This particular trail is the most popular because it had religious and ceremonial importance to the Incas. It was part of their route of pilgrimage to Machu Picchu and included rituals to honour the mountains.
The famous Inca site is 2,430 metres (7,970 feet) above sea level. The name Machu Picchu means old mountain in the Quechua language and was initially built in around 1450 at the climax of the Inca Empire. It was then abandoned in 1572 when the Spanish invaded, until 1911 when it was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham.
Whilst the trail itself is only 44km (27 miles), it winds its way up, down and around the mountains, snaking over 3 high passes, one of which reaches 4,200m (13,800 ft): Dead Woman's Pass.
The views of snow-capped mountain peaks, cloud forests and the various Inca ruins you pass along the way is what makes this trek so rewarding, and of course, world-famous.
Gay friendly tours companies
To avoid overcrowding the Inca Trail and to make it safer, the Peruvian government implemented strict rules to regulate access. As a result, it is limited to just 500 people a day of which 300 are guides and porters. Therefore, you need to book it at least 3 months in advance to avoid disappointment.
We used a company called Journeyou who are no longer in operation. There are other companies offering gay group tours which we've set out below.
Gay group tours to Machu Picchu
If unlike us you are flexible with your dates for the Inca Trail, then consider one of the gay group tours to Machu Picchu offered by these two excellent tour companies:
- HeTravels: one of the best companies for organising gay group tours. Dates for the next tour tbc, but check their website or contact them directly.
- Out Adventures: offer a more glamping experience in 3/4 star properties instead of tents! These take place in April and October.
We have teamed up with both companies to offer our readers an exclusive 5% discount. To claim, mention us when you contact them.
Acclimatising in Cusco
We cannot stress how important it is to spend a few days acclimatising in Cusco (located at 3,500m / 11,4800ft) before attempting the Inca Trail. The trek is hard, certainly harder than our Annapurna trek in Nepal and our Rinjani trek in Indonesia. The altitude sure can take its toll on you if you're not prepared for it.
To acclimatise, we opted to stay for a few days at the lush Sol y Luna Relais & Chateaux in Urubamba, located in the Sacred Valley just outside Cusco. It's a stunning gem full of luxurious casitas, with outdoor pool/Jacuzzi, horse ranches, all with the backdrop of the Andes mountains. The casitas in themselves have their private terrace, living room, fireplace, underfloor heating system, garden and some with private Jacuzzi. Most importantly of all, it's very gay friendly and welcoming to all LGBTQ travellers.
For more information about where to stay and what to do in Cusco, check out our gay travel guide to Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Our experience trekking the Inca Trail
Trekking the Inca Trail was one of the most rewarding things we've accomplished. But it was damn tough, involving lots of steps up and down, up and down… You're guaranteed buns of steel by the time you arrive at Machu Picchu on the final day!
The hardest part we remember through gritted teeth was trekking down from the highest point at Dead Woman's Pass (Warmihuañusta), which is 4,200 metres (13,800 feet) high. This involved going down some pretty high and steep steps for hours, which felt never-ending. If you have weak knees, this is not the place for you.
A typical day on the Inca Trail involved waking up at around 5/6am, with 1 hour to get ready, pack, have breakfast and then trekking until noon. Lunch would take around 1 hour, followed by a further 3-4 hours trek in the afternoon to the evening's base camp. Dinner was around 7pm and given how exhausted we were each day, we were fast asleep by 9pm!
Remember, there are no hot showers along the way. Some of the campsites have cold water showers available, but given how low the temperatures drop at night, you're better off using baby wipes to clean yourself during the 4 days.
Darling, be ready to sleep in a tent!
If, like our Seby, you're not impartial to a slice of luxury on your travels, then be prepared to compromise! You'll be sleeping in tents. They are comfortable and the staff always make sure you have everything you need. But they're still tents…!
One thing we would say is to check your camping equipment beforehand to ensure it's comfortable and in good condition. Don't skimp out on this. You'll thank us during the trek! Some of the must-have items to check with your guide are:
- Tents: are they big enough? If travelling solo, this shouldn't be as much of an issue, but if you're two, then double-check this!
- Therm-a-Rest inflatable mattress: you will need one! Sleeping on a rocky hard ground ain't fun! Make sure this is included.
- Thick sleeping bags rated to 5-degrees: make sure your sleeping bags are thick enough to keep you warm to temperatures that fall as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius).
- Oxygen can: ensure your guide always carries 1 small oxygen can to help with any altitude sickness. Our group was fine when we did our Inca Trail, but at the Dead Woman's Pass, one lady in our group grew weak and our guide had to use the oxygen to help her. She was fine later on and managed to finish the trek, but with altitude sickness, there is no predicting who it will affect and when.
- First Aid Kit: make sure your guide carries a First Aid Kit at all times.
Tipping the porters and your guide
What we have learnt through all our trekking experiences is that the guide is the one who is going to make your trek that extra special. Before booking, make sure your tour company guarantees that their guides are licensed and speak fluent English.
Your group will have a team of porters who carry all the equipment for camping and cooking. These guys are locals who are used to the terrain around the Sacred Valley. The whole operation is damn impressive…they go running ahead of you carrying your dinner whilst you're slowly lagging behind huffing and puffing with every step, trying to cope with the altitude. When you arrive at camp, they will have everything set up for you, along with food ready to eat!
What the porters do is extremely impressive, yet it's also a very difficult job and not the best-paid! Most of them do it because the tips offered at the end are a great source of income for them to feed their families.
So when it comes to tipping, remember this and please be generous!
The toilet situation!
Sadly, this is the only complaint everyone has about the Inca Trail. The squat toilets at the campsites are not in the cleanest condition. They are nonetheless useable but it goes without saying you'll need to bring your own baby wipes.
A good tour company will provide their own portable toilet tent for the exclusive use of its clients. However, due to the strict requirements by the government, tour companies are not allowed to carry the heavy chemical toilets, nor are they allowed to dig a hole in the ground to use. Instead you literally only have a plastic bag as a toilet in these portable tents. This is fine if you're the first person to use it, but those going after will have to battle with some pretty dramatic smells!
How much does it cost to trek the Inca Trail?
The 4 day / 3 nights Inca Trail costs around $700 per person. Depending on your budget and expectations, this will vary. If you want to go budget, you can find companies that charge less, but be prepared to compromise on things like equipment or quality of the food.
If you want a more luxurious glamping experience, then this will cost more, but will mean you have a more enjoyable experience in accordance with your expectations!
Can you do the Inca trail in luxury?
Yes you can!
If you have the budget to do it, there are many companies offering glamping experiences, which includes proper beds and champagne! Prices for these sorts of treks start from around $2,000-3,000 per person. This includes gourmet food, relaxing massages by professional masseuses and sleeping in super comfortable cots.
For more inspiration:
- Read why we think you shouldn't trek the Inca Trail in January
- Learn more about Peru with our 10 interesting facts about Peru you didn't know
- Discover the most famous and delicious Peruvian foods
- Try our recipe for Peruvian ceviche
- As well as our favourite Peruvian drink, the Pisco Sour
- Use our Peru gay friendly travel itinerary to plan your travels
- And get inspired by these unique gay friendly hotels in Peru
- We give you the lowdown about whether Lake Titicaca is worth visiting
- Read our interview with Aaron from Lima about what gay life in Peru is like
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Happy travels are safe travels