Machu Pichu is on most people’s itineraries when they visit Peru, and for good reason. It’s hidden lost city built in the middle of the jungle abandoned for reasons we can only speculate, brimming with genius architectural designs that one cannot comprehend at times. Suffice to say it left me breathless, and though Peru is bursting full of wondrous and diverse places to explore, this one cannot be missed. Of course, there are several ways to experience it based on your level of fitness, preferred level of comfort, size of your wallet and love of the outdoors. It’s good to have an idea of which way is right for you before you go, or you’ll risk being flummoxed and under pressure to book when you get there. Stay cool, pick 2-3 reputable agencies to visit and haggle with and keep in mind what you really want to get out of the experience.
Should you book before your trip?
This is only necessary if you want to do the original Inca Trail, which books out 6 months in advance. Additionally if you want to climb Wayan Pichu, you need to purchase an entrance ticket that includes this and they sell out around a month to four months in advance, depending on the season. The other option is to climb Machu Pichu mountain which is generally available last minute and has impressive views as well, though it is a lot harder. With most tours you’ll have plenty of time to do either. Do note that you cannot decide to do either mountains on the day as you purchase the mountain access with your entrance ticket.
The other reason you may want to book in advance is if you’re planning to get the train there instead of trekking, although there are usually seats available for the next day it can never be guaranteed.
For everyone else, wait until you get to Cusco. It will be cheaper than what you can find online, you can see what the weather is like and factor it into your decision (do you really want to camp in the freezing cold rainy season?), and you can get more of a feel for what you’re going to be doing by talking to the staff there and comparing agencies.
Cusco is the jumping off point for visiting Machu Pichu and as you can imagine, it is absolutely brimming with agencies offering you the exact same tours for vastly different prices. Do your homework and don’t be pressured into making a decision, the only constraint will be availability of the train if thats how you decide to do it. For everything else, there’s always a tour available for the next day.
It’s hard to know who to pick, I usually go on recommendations or if that’s not an option go with your gut. Agents should be personable, know their product inside out and be able to answer all your questions with a smile. We found such an agent called Jose from J.A. travel and he’s the best business man you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t pressure you, he jokes around and he gives you a good deal when you ask for it. He’s a proper family man and does honest business, I respect him immensely. You can find him on Calle Triunfo just off the main plaza, in one of those shops that sells everything from jumpers to pan flutes, sitting at his desk at the front of the shop.
Choose the option that’s right for you
Machu Pichu by train – 2 days 1 night $195-220 USD
This is the option we went for because it’s the easiest and quickest. We took a bus to Ollantaytambo and from there a train to Aguas Calientes, the town right below Machu Pichu. We stayed overnight in basic accommodation then took a bus up to the site at 7am (this bus isn’t included in the tour cost but can be bought separately for $12 USD each way.) We had a 2 hour tour of the ruins, free time in which we climbed Machu Pichu mountain and a return train at 7pm.
You can also combine this trip with visiting the sacred valley on the first day, which consists of 3 archaeological sites leading up to and including Ollantaytambo. We did this in a separate tour when we first arrived in Cusco for a mere 35 soles, so if you choose to do this as part of a trip to Machu Pichu make sure you don’t pay too much extra as its a really cheap day trip to do. Some places were charging $380 for Sacred Valley and Machu Pichu so don’t be fooled!
Machu Pichu by bus – 2 days 1 night $100 USD
With this option you don’t take the train so it’s much cheaper, that’s being said I felt the train was a nice experience and very scenic too. You take a minibus to Hydroelectrica, then walk from there to Aguas calientes (the town is only accessible by train or foot which is why you have to walk this last part.) the walk is about 2 hours along the train tracks. You stay in basic accommodation, visit the ruins the next day but must leave promptly at 2pm to get back to Hydroelectrica in time for your bus back.
Inca Jungle Trail -3 or 4 days $150-$220 USD ($150 if you get the bus back from Hydroelectrica instead of the train from Aguas Calientes)
This is the fun party style option that consists of mountain biking on day 1, a couple of hours walking plus rafting, zip lining, and thermal baths stretched across the other days, it’s definitely easier but also for the more adventurous types. You stay in hostels so your clothes have a chance to dry out too which is a treat!
Lares trek, Salkantay trek, original Inca trail 4 days 3 nights, $250-300 USD
These are for the more serious Trekkers as you do 5-8 hours of trekking a day. I met a lot of people who did the Salkantay, this is the serious option for those who haven’t booked the original inca trail 6 months in advance. They all loved it and said it was the hardest thing they have ever done. I can’t comment personally… Multi day treks just aren’t my thing, I like showering and getting warm after a day of hiking!