They say it is all about the journey! Hell yeah its about the journey! It is the journey that gives you a thousand memories of hard work, of unexpected twists and turns, of bitter failures and sweet sweet success! I want to make one such journey a memorable one for you! The journey to one of the “seven wonders of the modern world”: Macchu Pichu!
Trekking the Inca trail to Macchu Pichu is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. The intense four day trek passes through some magnificent views of the Andes, wildlife, less popular but equally beautiful Incan ruins and eventually entering Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate (the traditional entrance to Machu Picchu). To protect the trail and the surrounding ecosystem, the govt. of Peru has limited the number of trekkers on the Inca Trail to 500. Hence, the pre-advance bookings (sometimes a year in advance) and exorbitant trail costs.
If you haven’t booked the Inca Trail in advance, OR if you don’t want to shell out the kind of money that travel agencies demand for a guided tour for these treks, OR IF YOU JUST WANT TO TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, it may be worthwhile to know that only the most popular treks to Machu Picchu need a permit, which means there are alternate routes that can be booked on arrival right in Cusco. There will be multiple travel agencies competing on prices at Cusco (for other trails), therefore there is a better chance of negotiating and getting a good deal.
Ofcourse, if Inca trail is what you want to do, then pre-booking is the only option as they sell out fast. Another thing to note here is that entrance tickets to Machu Picchu have to be purchased beforehand. They can be booked online, or bought in Cusco or Aguas Calientes.
Listed below are some popular routes:
Without doubt, one of the most popular routes to Machu Picchu. Trek difficulty level is moderate for a healthy person, starts at Cusco (pick up by travel agency) to reach Machu Picchu at dawn of the 4th day. The trek may cost upto 600$ (for a group of 16-20 people). Trek permit is needed. (Llamapath is a good travel agency that I have heard about, although they may be more expensive)
42 Kms hike, starts at Lares (a village north of Cusco) and reaches Machu Picchu in 3 days. Trek permit is not required, and it can be booked on arriving in Cusco. (Expect to pay 400$) (Includes Macchu Pichu entrance fee & return to Cusco by train)
The 7 day trek passing through the snow-capped Salkantey mountain starts at Cusco (pick up by travel agency) to reach Machu Picchu. The trek costs higher than the Inca Trail (~750$) and is rated difficult for a healthy person. A trek permit is not needed. If booked in Cusco, you pay around 230$ (negotiable). (Includes Macchu Pichu entrance fee & return to Cusco by train)
If hiking is too boring for you, then bike-raft-hike-zip line your way to Machu Picchu with the 3 day Jungle trek. 4 hours by bus, 3 hours downhill bike ride, 8 hour trek and 6 hours of another trek for a total of 4 days/ 3 nights to Machu Picchu. Trek permit is not required and some activities are optional. (Costs around 220$). (Includes Macchu Pichu entrance fee & return to Cusco by train)
Chuck the treks and choose to ride PeruRail from either Cusco (for 80$) or Olantaytambo (for 50-70$). Olantaytambo is an Incan village 60 kms north of Cusco, and you can reach here via a shared taxi for less than 2$. The train passes through some of the most beautiful views of Andes – small villages, jungles, beautiful weather a cup of tea and some interesting conversations with the fellow travelers! The final destination of the train is Aguas Calientes, the main access point to Machu Picchu (except for Inca trail or Salkantey). On reaching Aguas Calientes, take a shuttle bus upto Machu Picchu.
The 15$ route:
The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu could cost as low as 15$ one way. Take a 6 hour bus to Santa Maria, from the Santiago station in Cusco (start early around 6:45 am). From Santa Maria bus stop, get a shared taxi (or combi, as they call it) to Santa Teresa and then a combi to Hydraelectrica (Hydroelectric station). From this station hike to Aguas Calientes and then to Machu Picchu. Make sure you go with a friend or another traveler, as the trek through the jungle could be a little scary. Read more about this route here (my tripadvisor review).
There may be a couple of more options to get to Machu Picchu which you may discover in Cusco itself, but these are the more popular ones. All costs mentioned here are exclusive of the Machu Picchu entrance fee (128$ for adults). An ISIC (student discount card) card can fetch you a 50% discount on the entrance fee.
Oh! and don’t forget to bring your passport to this world heritage site – to stamp it with the date of visit.