There are several different ways to get to Machu Picchu, from car to train to the traditional trek. Even though the classic Inca Trail that the actual Incas used books almost a year in advance, I still feel like Machu Picchu is meant to be walked to, even if it’s a new route. I read somewhere that one theory on the Inca trail and remote Machu Picchu location was that the long journey was meant to prepare the Incas for their arrival into the sacred site. It was all planned as a physical and mental preparation for the experience of being there. I love this, whether it’s true or not. The concept of walking through mountains and jungle for several days towards this wonder of the world- it feels like you’ve earned it. Like it’s more than buying a ticket and taking a photo. It’s really a journey. You get dirty, sweaty, exhausted, covered in bug bites (seriously…hundreds), and just when you want to quit, you arrive and it’s all worth it. And you feel the beauty and amazing energy of it a million times more. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I couldn’t imagine just hopping on a plane to Cusco, then hopping on a train, then taking my profile pic and leaving. It felt like it wasn’t doing justice to the site or history of the Incas, their trail or their Machu Picchu. So, after convincing our Peruvian Henry (Peruvians get a great deal on trains, and treks are for gringos), we scoured Cusco for the best deals, sifted through the various routes, and by 7am the next morning we were headed off on the Inka Jungle trek. And it was one of the greatest travel experiences we’ve had.
Trek- In my opinion, the only way to go if you can. I dreamed of it this way for years, and it lived up to my expectations and more. The three most popular treks are the Inka Trail, Jungle Trek, and Salkantay.
Expensive. Most people won’t tell you what they’ve paid, but we heard numbers in the $500-700 range for the 5 day trek. In Peruvian Soles, that’s a very decent monthly salary. It books up from 6 months to one year in advance, simply because it is the original Inca Trail. Which, yes, is wonderful, but our trek overlapped with part of the Inca Trail and nobody noticed until later (and it was the most strenuous part). You see more ruins along the way than the other routes, walk along a landmark trail, and can enter Machu Picchu as the Incas did. If you’re a history or archaeology buff, this will have a lot more relevancy for you and may be worth it. This is a tough route, but they move slowly so it’s quite doable. Also, keep in mind the type of travelers booking things a year in advance- often a bit older, some backpackers, but not usually the majority, and it’s quite a crowded trail. For most people, let’s be honest, it’s to say you did the Inca trail.
Inka Jungle Trek:
What we chose and I think the best decision we made. It’s sort of the “fun one”, and always attracts a bunch of young travelers, and is very popular with backpackers. This route has biking on the first day, optional ziplining and river rafting on the other days, and despite one long day with 8 hours of walking, it’s the easiest of the bunch (but that doesn’t mean we weren’t too sore to go up stairs for a few days afterwards). We met an incredible group of people, everyone was so much fun and had a great attitude, and nobody was too sore to hang out and reward ourselves with multiple beers each night. For us, it was a great balance and the perfect mixture of exercise and fun. We stayed in hostels or hotels each night, so we had a chance to shower and access things we needed (including chargers, stores, etc.). They offer 3 or 4 days treks, with 4 day treks ranging from $200-275 (we paid 200 at a random agency), and 3 days usually being about $25 less than whatever the 4 is advertised as. It includes “everything”, from food, accommodation, entrance and return train (read below for exceptions). This route goes through the jungle, so the weather is warmer, which we much prefered to the snow we’d heard about on other treks.
Are you really intense? Then this is the one for you. This trek goes through the mountains and the scenery is dramatic and truly stunning. However, you hike an average of 9 hours per day with many steep inclines, minimal breaks, and often some snow. And then, at the end of the day, you camp. In the cold. For people who love trekking though, this may be the only one that satisfies your hardcoreness, and that’s awesome. But if you aren’t as determined- you may cry. We actually met people who said they cried during the hike. Of course, for very athletic or outdoorsy people, this is a dream trek and maybe the only true experience for you, and if that’s you then more power to you. It’s a better deal than Jungle, usually the same price but a day longer and more time walking. Be prepared for camping, cold, a lot of physical activity, and serious gratification and bragging rights when you reach Machu Picchu. People know who came from Salkantay. This trek also includes everything, and usually adds a bus ticket up the mountain because most people are not in the mood for the stairs after 5 days of this intensity.
For Peruvians, this makes a lot of sense. It’s less than $10 round trip for Peruvians, but about $100 for foreigners. And then you purchase your Machu Picchu entrance ticket separately, which is about $40 for a regular ticket (students get a discount). It’s quite expensive, and you’ll have to arrive the evening before, and therefore arrange your own accommodations in Aguas Calientes (the town just below the mountain) on your own. You may end up spending the same as you would on a trek. But, if you’re unathletic, hungover or whatever, maybe that’s ideal.
Cheapest, although probably the least desirable in our opinion, it requires driving one day, spending one night, and having most of the day at Machu Picchu before heading back. You can find deals for this around $115, with entrance, meals and the night’s stay included, and if you’re just trying to get in and out on the tightest budget and time frame, this will do it.
Peruvians- If you decide to do a trek, make sure to tell your agency you’re Peruvian. You’ll get a discount on the trek (they take out the train fare difference), on the bus if you take it up the mountain, and entrance.
Students- You can get a discount on your entrance ticket, but only if you have an ISIC card and you have it with you. (even if it expired!) If you do a trek, or anything that includes an entrance ticket, make sure to tell the agency before so they buy the right ticket and you’ll get a discount.
It may seem obvious, but as much as they advertise “everything included”, you’ll need to bring a decent amount of money. We spent about $30-50 each over the 4 days (including beers, of course!), and there are no ATMs along the way so we were lucky we brought that much. This may vary from trek to trek, but there’s a habit of…”overpromising”…and it’s best to anticipate it. None of our meals included beverages, they never provided water, and there were several times we had to pay for small transportation (if you don’t do the additional activities, or when the group ran late, etc.). And the beers each night were much needed and added up…
Additional Treks: (Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain)
These are two you need tickets for. Huayna Picchu must be reserved 3-6 months in advance, and is limited to 400 people per day. It’s that mountain peak in the back of all the photos. The cost varies, but you can include it when you book your trek. It has an additional Temple of the Moon on top, and incredible views. The trek is steep though and takes a couple hours. Machu Picchu Mountain, on the other hand, has an unlimited capacity and you can decide the day of (but it’s best to ask for when you book your trek in Cusco). It’s opposite Huayna Picchu, on the other side of the ruins. It’s usually quite cheap, about 15 soles, and it’s twice as high as Huayna Picchu. Thus, twice as long. The view is also stunning, but again, make sure you’re up for it before you buy a ticket. Ask your trek if it’s included when you book. (We didn’t do either, but there are several free hikes around the mountain, from simple such as the short walk to the Inca Bridge, to the much longer and more difficult hike up to the Inca Sun Gate, so you’ll have plenty to do without booking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain if you want to).
Get Your Tickets Here: Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu Tickets
Once you arrive to the tiny town of Aguas Calientes, just at the foot of the mountain, you’ll hear the endless debate. Stairs or bus up to Machu Picchu? The stairs are free, the last workout of the journey, and take anywhere from 40 minutes to 1 hour. The bus is $10, has a line starting at 5am or earlier (an hour before it opens), and it gets you up the hill in about 20 minutes. The stairs are tough, but most people love the view and experience. It’s ideal if you want to hike up in time for sunset, however the first few buses may get you there in time as well.
Cusco and Machu Picchu Weather:
The rainy season in the highlands runs from October to March and if you’ll be trekking during this time buy a cheap plastic poncho and bring it along. If you’re like me you’ll google “Cusco and Machu Picchu Weather” a million times but it’ll still never be what you expect. So bring a poncho… and read: All You Need To Know About Cusco Crazy Weather
Don’t Forget- All the miscellaneous things you need to bring and know!
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Before You Go: Things to Know About #Cusco and #MachuPicchuWeather https://t.co/bgZ9btO1te #Peru #ttot #Southamerica pic.twitter.com/Tdsv3nhCIo — TheBorderlessProject (@TheBorderlessPr) December 30, 2015