Just like there are many roads that lead to Rome, just quietly, there are a few options on how you can get to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s like a smorgasbord of adventures; you just have to pick the one that suits you. Read on for a brief summary of the options available.
Inca Trail – If asked, most people would assume the Inca Trail was the way to trek to Machu Picchu, and they are, of course correct for this is the most popular route to take along the original Inca road.
The Inca Trail is so popular in fact, that the Peruvian authorities now limit the number of trekkers to 500 per day, this is controlled by issuing permits which are sold out months in advance. The Inca Trail is not very long 43km (26miles) and usually completed in about four days and reaches a peak of around 4,200m at Dead Woman’s Pass – but don’t let the name put you off.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, you do need a good level of fitness, especially as the air is somewhat thin at that height which makes that 43km just a little bit harder to handle. With 500 trekkers per day it can get busy especially around the campsites. But this is the main trek which allows you to walk right up to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, the other routes bus you to the final destination. It also has different ruins to look at along the way.
So if you are looking for an iconic bucket list tick and you don’t mind walking on a bit of a trekking highway, then this one is for you.
Lares Trek – If you were to consider there is a high road and a low road, this one is probably the middle road!
The Lares is much more remote and higher up into the mountains, reaching a peak of around 4,400m. Which one is harder depends on you, the Inca Trail has more up and down hill trekking, so can be tougher on your knees, but the Lares is higher, so the effects of altitude will test you a little bit more; slow and steady will win the day.
The Lares trek takes you through remote villages, so you are able to interact with the locals more, they really do not get to see many westerners, they are just as fascinated by you, as you are of them, especially the children. These really are traditional communities who still live, dress and go about their everyday life as they have done for centuries. Do not forget though, the last night on trek takes you by train to Aguas Calientes for a night in a hotel/lodge before taking an early bus to Machu Picchu in the morning.
So if it’s a more cultural experience you’re after while enjoying remoteness and solitude while trekking, this one is for you.
Salkantay Route – This is often the alternative option people take if they can’t get a permit for the Inca Trail, but be aware this is also a tougher option for the more hardcore trekkers.
It’s further and higher than the others, with a distance of approximately 60km starting around 3000m and reaching 4,600m, an extra day is often required to complete this trek. The Salkantay route will give you a great mixture of natural environments from lowland jungle to barren plains to snow-capped mountain peeks as you hike along rugged terrain rather than original roads.
If you want a more challenging trek with changing scenery then this one is for you.
The public transport option – Not much into trekking? Not to worry, you don’t have to miss out; you can still make it to Machu Picchu using public transport/taxis.
If you really were pushed for time you could make it from Cuzco to Machu Picchu and back in a day, but that’s not really ideal, if you’ve made it that far, take your time and enjoy the countryside.
There are no roads from Cuzco to the sacred site, so your options are to take the train to Aguas Calientes, which will take about 3.5hours, then a 20 minute bus ride for the final part of the journey, and the same in return. But perhaps a better option would be to spend a couple of days in and around Cuzco, take a bus or taxi along the scenic road to Ollantaytambo, and stay the night there.
Ollantaytambo has it’s own Inca ruins which are certainly worth a visit. Then head to Aguas Cailientes on the train, this is the only way to get there (without walking), again spend the night so you can be up early the following morning to take the bus to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu at dawn – easily the best time of day to be there.
I mentioned at the beginning, getting to Machu Picchu is like a smorgasbord of adventures. It’s so user friendly, the great part is, if you are going to Peru with friends or family, you can plan your itinerary so you split up in Cuzco, each can take their preferred route to the historic site.
Imagine that, meeting at the Sungate to Machu Picchu at sunrise, so much more romantic than the top of The Empire State at sunset. That’s so old-hat!