You’ve been dreaming about the day in which you will (finally!) get to experience Machu Picchu by yourself and take some really cool pictures in the famous Inca city. You’ve probably heard about the Inca trail, but the truth is, Cusco is full of trails that once were a part of the Royal Road System of the Incas. It is a good idea to check out the different alternatives to get to the ruins before you make a final decision. Having grown up in Peru, I’ve been to Cusco several times. So let me share with you, my top 6 ways to get to Lost City:
1. By train:
The easiest and more comfortable way to the Lost City is by train, which leaves from Cusco city or Ollantaytambo and takes you to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town). Tickets are sold by IncaRail or Peru Rail, and prices vary from 53 US$ to 460 US$ for a one-way ticket.
2. The Inca Trail:
This is the only trek that leads you directly into the ruins through the Sun Gate. You will see the Inca paving of the trail, as well as well-preserved ruins like Wiñay Wayna as a warm up before arriving in the lost city. There are two versions of the trail: the 4-day or the 2-day trek. However, it’s popularity makes this route a very crowded one, the price is rather high, and you can not make it independently. Also, you should book it at least six months in advance from a certified tour group since tickets are limited.
3. The Salkantay route:
Famous for its majestic sceneries, this 5-day trek will loop you around glacial Mt. Salkantay before heading to the Machu Picchu citadel. The advantage of this route is that it has fewer tourists than the Inca trail, the campsites aren’t as crowded, it is cheaper, and you don’t need to book it long in advance. In fact, tours leave every day from Cusco and can be booked only a couple of days before departure.
4. Two Inca cities – one trail:
Why not kill two birds with one stone? Choquequirao, which means “Gold Cradle” in the Quechua language, is an important but still little known Inca city. Three times bigger than Machu Picchu, it has been named as Top Region Destination for 2017 by Lonely Planet. An Inca trail few know about connects these two cities. However, the trek is hard, and you’ll need to be in pretty good shape to endure the 8 to 10 days long journey. If you are up for the adventure and want to feel like a real explorer, you should check out my article: “The ultimate adventure trek: Choquequirao to Machu Picchu” where I explain how to do this trek independently.
5. Cusco – Santa Maria – Santa Teresa – Machu Picchu:
Take the bus that goes from Cusco to Quillabamba, and get off at Santa Maria. You can find the majority of bus agencies to Quillabamba in Calle Inca, as well as shared taxis at Plaza Almudena that depart all day long.The trip takes around 5 hours.
In Santa Maria, take a shared taxi or a minivan to Santa Teresa. I recommend you to spend a night in Santa Teresa and bathe at the crystal-clear thermal waters which are an easy walk away from the village. Early in the morning, walk along the River to Aguas Calientes or take a taxi to the Hidroelectrica and then walk the rest of the path (2-3 hours). The advantages of taking this route are that the costs are lower than Inca Trail, you will get a closer look at rural Peru, and you will have a shorter but breathtaking trek to Machu Picchu.
6. Take a mini-van from Cusco to Ollantaytambo:
The minivans leave from Calle Pavitos or Puente Grau as soon as they fill up. It will cost you around 6$.
I recommend spending a night (or more) in Ollantaytambo to visit the ruins and the market, and then taking a minivan or a taxi early morning to Km 83 (approx. 6 US$). From this point just follow the rails until you arrive in Aguas Calientes (around 10 hours depending on your pace). This way is your cheapest option to get to Machu Picchu, but don’t underestimate it, you will be walking along the Sacred Urubamba river, and it will bless you with beautiful landscape views.
Bonus: Top secret route
Rent a car and drive to Hydroelectrica. Immediately before the entrance, take a left over the bridge. There is a café with a parking in the back a few meters around the corner. The owners are very friendly and you can leave your car overnight for only 15 soles (4 US$). They will let you camp there overnight if you need to. Then walk an easy walk to Aguas Calientes down the train-track (2-3 hours). Enjoy your day in the thermal baths and get ready to see the ruins the next day!
Make sure to buy your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu in advance, since they are not sold on the archeological site itself, and they may be sold out, especially if it is high season. On this article, I tell you how to save some cash by buying the tickets yourself.
Despite the road you choose, will be awed by incredible landscapes as well as the history of the Inca Empire. Happy travel!
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