Planning a trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many different options when visiting the region-and in particular Machu Picchu-that even experienced travelers may end up feeling somewhat confused. The following tips will help to ease the planning process: Going to Cusco & the Sacred Valley
There is so much to see in Cusco and the Sacred Valley that you could easily spend a couple of weeks here. If you're pressed for time, however, you can squeeze your trip into three to four days. Give yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude-try and spend the first few days resting and taking it easy, and don't attempt any hikes or treks in your first couple of days.
Going to Machu Picchu
Note that no roads go to Machu Picchu: your only options for getting there are one of the following: the Inca Trail; an alternative trek that ends in Aguas Calientes, the little town that sits below the ruins; or by train, which runs to Aguas Calientes from either the town of Poroy just outside Cusco, or from the Sacred Valley.
The best months to go to Machu Picchu are April and May, when the weather is dry and sunny. From June to September, both Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail get very busy. During rainy season (October to April) it is much less frequented but very rainy, which can cause problems with flooding. Getting to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is the only trek that leads to the gates of Machu Picchu. Subsequently, it is extremely popular, and, as places on the trail are limited to 500 per day (which accounts for approximately 200 tourists and 300 staff), it gets booked up quickly and must be planned well in advance. In addition, it is only possible to do the Inca Trail with a licensed agency, and every single trekker must have a permit (organised by the agency). Tips:
- It is necessary to book at least three months in advance. If you simply turn up in Cusco, you will not be able to do the Inca Trail. If you wish to do the trail during the most popular months, May to September, you must book at least six months ahead.
- Visit SAS Travel's website (URL: www.sastravelperu.com/bookings), where you can find a list of availability for the Inca Trail for the year.
- Choose your tour agency carefully. Only use officially licensed agencies. Book a tour with a local, Cusco-based operator (you can book through their websites) rather than an agency in your home country, as international agencies may charge twice the price. See Cusco Tours for more information on recommended agencies.
- Note that the Inca Trail is closed for the entire month of February for maintenance.
- The Inca Trail costs between $400-550 per person. This price will include your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu-you do not need to buy this separately.
- The Inca Trail is four days long, and generally begins and ends in Cusco, with transport organised by the tour agency. It is advisable to arrive in Cusco at least a few days before the trail in order to acclimatize to the altitude.
- An alternative to the four-day classic Inca Trail is the two-day version, known as Camino Sagrado del Inca or Camino Real de los Inkas, which also ends in the ruins of Machu Picchu. It's an easier trek, but does not include some of the best ruins and views that you will find on the four-day version. Prices are only slightly lower ($300-450), and it is also necessary to book many months in advance.
- Another alternative way of reaching Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail is to run it. Erik's Adventures, a U.S.-based travel agency, offer a 9 day tour of Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, including an 11-hour Inca Trail marathon. See the Inca Trail for more information.
Advantages: it's the Inca Trail! An unforgettable way of reaching Machu Picchu.
Disadvantages: high cost; need to plan far in advance; need to be physically fit; longer time commitment (at least six days: two days acclimatizing beforehand, and four days on the trail itself)Getting to Machu Picchu by train
A quicker, and more inexpensive way of getting to Machu Picchu is to take the train to Aguas Calientes, the town just below the ruins of Machu Picchu. Trains runs to Aguas Calientes from Poroy, a town 20 minutes outside of Cusco, or from the Sacred Valley.
- You can either go by train to Machu Picchu with an organized tour, or you can go independently. If you go on a tour, everything (transport, entrance fee, tour guide, food etc.) will normally organized for you. Organized tours last from one to two days. See Cusco Tours for a list of recommended tour agencies.
- If going independently, you can do the trip from Cusco in one day, but, in order to maximize your time at Machu Picchu it is advisable to spread the trip over two days; for example, arriving in Aguas Calientes the day before in order to go to the ruins early (6 a.m.) the next morning.
- Going by train means that you do not need to plan as far in advance as you would if doing the Inca Trail. However, as numbers to Machu Picchu are limited to 2,000 a day (though it sounds like a lot, tickets still sell out quickly), it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. During May-September, try and buy your tickets at least a few weeks in advance; outside of those months, several days in advance will suffice. You can check www.machupicchu.gob.pe (the official Machu Picchu government website) which lists entrance availability for the year. It is wise to purchase your entrance ticket before buying your train ticket.
- If you go independently, you need to buy the train tickets and Machu Picchu entrance ticket separately. You can buy train tickets online or in Cusco (see Getting to and Away from Aguas Calientes for more information). You can also buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets online or in Cusco (see Buying Tickets for Machu Picchu for more information).
- A one-day organized tour will cost from $200. If going independently, a return train ticket to Aguas Calientes from Poroy (Cusco) costs from $93 and a return train ticket from the Sacred Valley costs from around $70. See Getting to and Away from Aguas Calientes for more information.The entrance fee to Machu Picchu starts at $48.
- Though the Inca Trail is closed for the month of February, Machu Picchu is not, and is open year-round.
Advantages: Lower cost; quicker (1-2 days); physically easier; not necessary to plan far in advance.
Disadvantages: It's not the Inca Trail! A less "authentic" and more touristy way of reaching Machu PicchuGetting to Machu Picchu via an alternative trek
It is also possible to trek to Machu Picchu without going on the Inca Trail.A few alternative treks end in Aguas Calientes, from where you can hike or bus up to the ruins. The Inca Jungle Trail, HidroelÃ©ctrica trek, Salcantay, and some versions of the Choquequirao trek finish in Aguas Calientes.
- Alternative treks can be cheaper than the Inca Trail, as you are not required to buy the $112 permit that you must obtain for the Inca Trail.
- It is not necessary to book an alternative trek months in advance. During the months of May to September, it is advisable to try and book a few weeks in advance. However, it can be significantly cheaper to book an alternative trek once in Cusco-online prices are much higher. However, this may mean waiting around in Cusco for a little while until a trek is available-though, especially outside of the months of May to September, you can often book a trek straight away. See Cusco Tours for a list of recommended agencies that offer alternative treks.
- It is advisable to arrive in Cusco at least a few days before the trail in order to acclimatize to the altitude.
Advantages: Lower cost; less crowded trails; not necessary to plan months in advance.
Disadvantages: It's not the classic, famous Inca Trail; some alternative treks can physically be more demanding, without the comforts (toilets, cooked meals) of the Inca trail.
Other alternative treks
If you're not concerned with ending up in Machu Picchu, there are also excellent treks in the region that don't end in Aguas Calientes. See Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley Trekking for more information.
Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley: Safety, Acclimatization, Safety and Earthquakes in Cusco.