The Inca Trail used to be open to individual hikers and organized tours alike for a nominal entrance fee. This policy enabled thousands and thousands of tourists to visit the trail each year, but as a consequence also led to its severe deterioration.
To prevent the trail from deteriorating further, the government has recently put forth a set of new regulations including the following important changes: 1 Individual hikers will no longer be allowed on the trail. Hiking will only be allowed when organized by licensed tour agencies. 2) Groups of up to 10 independent travellers who do not wish to use an agency will be allowed to hike the trail if they contract an independent & licensed guide to accompany them, and as long as they do not contract any other persons such as porters or cooks. 3)Maximum of 500 people on the trail at any time. 4) No plastic water bottles on the trail, only canteens. 5) Entrance fees will increase from $17 to $50 ($25 for students with ISIC card); hikers starting at Km 104 will be required to pay $25. NOTE: THESE NEW REGULATIONS ARE TO HAVE TAKEN EFFECT AS OF JANUARY 1 2001, BUT I HEAR THAT THEY ARE NOT STRICTLY AND OFFICIALLY ENFORCED AT PRESENT TIME. IN ADDITION, THERE IS TALK OF POSSIBLY CLOSING THE TRAIL FOR THE ENTIRE MONTH OF FEBRUARY AND/OR MARCH 2002 FOR CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE. CHECK WITH A TOUR GROUP (see list elsewhere in this journal) PRIOR TO MAKING ANY TRIP PLANS. FINALLY, THE GOVERNMENT IS PLANNING A FURTHER INCREASE IN ENTRANCE FEES. CHECK HERE FOR UPDATES. An additional anticipated change may involve the passenger train service between Cusco and Aquas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Currently, foreign tourists are allowed to ride the local train in addition to the tourist trains. Local trains may be limited to Peruvian nationals only in the future.
PS. Those of you who are independent hikers and fret hiking in organized tours once the rules change, need not worry too much. Even in an organized tour you can always "get separated" from the group and hike on your own. Just make sure you camp with others nearby and be with your group at the check-in station at Trekkers' Hotel. You might also want to be around for the delicious meals made by tour cooks. This option will cost you more but you will be able to hike on your own.