Travelers hoping to hike the Inca Trail this year are in luck; permits are going on sale today for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic broke out. But you'll need to be quick. The trail is only accepting half its usual numbers for 2021.

The classic Inca Trail, which can only be accessed through organized tours, is ready to accept visitors from July 15. As of today, authorized travel agencies are permitted to sell tickets, giving hikers access to four- or five-day permits for routes 1, 2 and 3 of the once-in-a-lifetime Inca Trail which brings hikers through cloud forests and mountain passes to reach the 550-year old citadel of Machu Picchu.

Read more: Inca Trail essentials

Under new rules, the Inca Trail will open with a 50% reduced capacity for the entire 2021 season to allow for social distancing measures to be applied. With only 250 permits available per day, rather than 500, tour operators are urging hikers to plan as quickly as they can.

Young couple looking at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is reopening the once-in-a-lifetime Inca Trail ©Onfokus/Getty Images

Maritza Chacanta, deputy operations manager at Intrepid Travel, tells Lonely Planet hikers can expect a lot of changes this year including reduced capacity of walking groups, temperature screening requirements, cleaning protocols for tents and equipment, distancing between tents and trekkers, and mask-wearing policies, among others.

"Intrepid Travel has been deeply involved in the reopening plans for the Inca Trail on the ground, working in partnership with the government and local authorities," says Ms Chacanta. "The reduced capacity limit is a major change and gives travelers an even smaller booking window, but the trip offers a unique, rare glimpse and opportunity to experience a bit of untouched wilderness in one of the most popular trekking spots in the world."

Meditating on Machu Picchu
Smaller groups will give hikers a greater chance to appreciate the beauty of Machu Picchu ©Gfed/Getty Images

Peru's borders are open to tourists and quarantine has been scrapped for all arrivals except those coming from South Africa, India and Brazil due to the epidemiological situation in those countries. When traveling to Peru, you need to complete an affidavit and present either a negative PCR, or antigen test result — even if you are vaccinated — before you board your flight, or show proof of recovery from the virus. The measures apply to travelers over the age of 12. Always check the latest measures before planning any travel.

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Peru has the world's highest known COVID-19 death toll, according to the New York Times. It also has strict COVID measures in place to contain the virus. Face masks are required outdoors for everyone, and in restaurants, museums and bars. Double masks are required in highly populated indoor public spaces such as grocery stores, pharmacies and markets.

Curfews are in place throughout the country. In the Urubamba province (where Machu Picchu is) the curfew is between 10pm and 4am. In capital Lima the curfew is between 11pm and 4am. Rules are constantly in flux so if you're planning to travel anywhere in Peru, be sure to check local restrictions before setting off.

This article was first published on October 12, 2020 and updated on June 25, 2021.

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This article was first published October 2020 and updated June 2021

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