Alpaca Expeditions Review
When beginning our search for a trekking company to hike the Inca Trail, it was overwhelming. There are many options to choose from and they all offer similar packages and treks. They all include the ticket to Machu Picchu and a varying choice of 2-8 day hike along the Inca trail. It took almost a month to settle on one company. In the end, we listened to the overwhelming number of reviews on Trip Advisor for Alpaca Expeditions. People raved about the company with the highlight being the food that is prepared for the group along the trail (gourmet food while trekking the Inca Trail? Ok!). It was since Max is a sucker for good food, that solidified our decision. Alpaca Expeditions would be our company to guide us on the Inca Trail.
The booking and reservation process was easy and the Alpaca Expeditions website is professional. Everything is explained thoroughly and any question one might have is answered on the comprehensive website. A deposit had to be made online (through PayPal) and the rest of the fee could be paid in Cusco the day before the trek began. Alpaca Expeditions would send email updates throughout the months prior to your trip. They recommend booking 6 months in advance because the slots do fill up! Because of regulations put into place by the Peruvian government, only a certain amount of people are allowed on the Inca Trail daily (as well as on Machu Picchu) so each trekking company has to share that number.
The day before the trek, Alpaca Expeditions has a briefing meeting in the evening. When we arrived in Cusco, we made sure to find their building, which is centrally located in the city. Our guide from Alpaca Expeditions, Eddie, was fantastic and went over the itinerary with us for the 4 day hike. We had joined a group trek which ranges in numbers from 4-16 people in each group. We were in a group of 4 which allowed a lot of individual attention from our guide but also allowed us to get to know the other couple which was great.
Alpaca Expeditions was to pick us up at 4:30am the next morning from our hostel, Niños Hotel. We were picked up on time and then we set off to a 2 hour ride from Cusco to the beginning of the trail in Ollantaytambo, nestled away in the Andes Mountains alongside the Urubamba river.
About an hour and a half in, we stopped at a local place to have breakfast. Everything was laid out nicely and it was a good chance to use a regular toilet one last time! After breakfast, we finished our (bumpy) ride to the start of the trail.
Getting through the gate to enter the Inca Trail took 25 minutes or so, but Eddie had everything organized and he was well prepared. We hiked through the morning and were ready for lunch. The porters -that are required to come along the trail with every group- had set up and made a fantastic lunch for us. This was the first taste of the type of food Alpaca Expeditions had to offer and is was tasty and abundant. One thing is definite with Alpaca Expeditions: you will not go hungry, despite being far from civilization on the secluded Inca Trail. The porters are so accustomed to the trail, they are able to walk (run?) ahead of the group and set up the tents and prepare food before the group ever arrived. All we had to focus on was the hike itself. It was cool to see the matching line of green t-shirts that all Alpaca Expeditions porters and guides wear stream far ahead of us up the mountains.
We both struggled with altitude sickness and Eddie was great. He gave me oxygen 3 times and was prepared to deal with it.
With Alpaca Expeditions they include 4 breakfast, 3 lunches, 3 tea times, and 3 dinners. If there is a food restriction, they go out of their way to prepare food for that person. There was a group member that was vegetarian and they were always taken care of separately. Additionally, they prepare water for your own packs by boiling and chilling it.
The Peruvian government requires 9 porters for 4 tourists. They now have a limit on how much weight they can carry on the trail. So a group of 16 would have about 30 porters!
Eddie was an expert on all of the Inca ruins and Inca culture in general. It was obvious that he was educated and passionate about his job. He speaks English, Spanish, and Quecha (the Inca language). Most of the porters only spoke Quecha, so there was a language barrier between the group members and porters. Eddie was our only translator!
Our last dinner on the trail, they baked a cake! There is no limit to the chef’s talent! Max and I did not get a change to cut our wedding cake so we used this one instead 🙂
At Machu Picchu, the guide gives a 2 hour guided tour. This was informative and necessary- otherwise Machu Picchu would have been too overwhelming and large to see the landmarks.
Alpaca Expeditions is the most expensive trekking company. They were worth the money because they were thorough and organized. It is a bit unnerving having to book something so expensive for what is often a once in a lifetime trek on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but Alpaca Expeditions made us feel like we were in professional hands from the start.
Although we had an overall good time, we give Alpaca Expeditions a 4/5.
We have a few grievances-
- The last dinner, the group is expected to give a tip to the porters. I understand that they do so much hard, physical labor… but that is why we paid so much initially. Eddie gave us a 25 minute speech about how they come from nothing and because of this job they see their families maybe 5 days a month. This speech was delivered after dinner with all 9 porters standing and listening (to a speech they do not understand) and it continued on until I said, “okay, here is money.” It felt very uncomfortable and unnecessary. Alpaca Expeditions even gives you a guideline of how much you should tip…why don’t they just up the initial cost more? The four of us ended up having to pay about $400 USD more than we thought. So the most expensive trekking company forces the groups to pay more. So in total Alpaca ended up being over $750 per person.
- After Machu Picchu, you have to take a series of buses and trains to get back to Ollatytambo, where the trail begins. Everything was explained and laid out nicely. When we arrive, Eddie was there and was driving along with another employee our group and another group from the 5 day hike. This is where things really began to fall apart.
- On this 2 hour bus ride- Alpaca Expeditions employees were picking up locals from the residences along the way. Then ranging anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes, they were dropped off at various locations. At one point- the employees got off the small bus and went into the residences with the locals. Never was this explained and it was clearly family and friends of the employees. This is 100% inappropriate. So on the paying customers dime, people got free rides? Unprofessional. The bus ride turned into over 3 hours.
- The road that is taken is dangerous. Switchbacks on mountains need caution- the employees were passing cars on in the single left lane with NO visibility. This was the portion of the trip that I felt most unsafe. At one point, we had to come to a complete stop because we almost got hit from driving in the wrong lane.
- When we arrived back in Cusco, some locals were still with us and they got dropped off at their destinations FIRST. Keep in mind that we have been up since 2:45am and it is now past 9:00pm. Then Alpaca Expeditions stopped the van and told us to get out rather than dropping the remaining people of at their hotel accommodations. They gave us a few dollars for a taxi and said, “Good Luck”
I have tried reviewing Alpaca Expeditions on Trip Advisor to explain the train wreck of last day, but Trip Advisor removed it more than once. On Trip Advisor, you are not supposed to be able to review overnight companies- only day trips. Alpaca Expeditions advertises themselves as a day trip company to stay on Trip Advisor, otherwise the reviews will get removed by Trip Advisor.
I would recommend them overall but be prepared to spend a significant more money than listed on the website and know that the professionalism can be hit or miss. That being said, having witnessed the other tour companies along the Inca Trail, I would still choose Alpaca Expeditions if I were to do it again.