4 Ways To Reach Machu Picchu That Aren’t The Inca Trail
The journey is part of the fun.
Whether you don’t have the time to spare, haven’t booked far enough in advance or don’t want to pay the hundreds of dollars it costs, you’ll be pleased to know there are several other ways to get there.
#1 The Inca Jungle Trek
Trek time: 4 days, 3 nights
This adrenalin-injected tour packs a whole lot of action into four days. Starting mountainside, you’ll ride 40km and descend 2000m into the jungle before white-water rafting the Urubamba River.
Day two takes you on a 16km hike through cocoa plantations, up mountains and along an authentic stretch of Inca trail. Then, on day three, you’ll zip-line between mountain peaks and hike three hours from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. Along the way, you’ll stay at basic but comfortable guesthouses and eat at local restaurants.
Several tour operators run this tour, departing Cusco daily (you can get to Cusco via an internal flight on LATAM). Prices start at around $260 (USD$200), all-inclusive.
#2 Salkantay Trek
Trek time: 5 days, 4 nights
Named after the tallest mountain in the region, the Salkantay Trek will take you high into the Andes, through cloud forests and into the jungle. In total, it covers around 60km of tracks once frequented by Incan messengers.
Horses will carry your bags, but hiking up to 20km in one day and climbing the Salkantay Pass at 4650m above sea level makes this the most challenging option. Expect steep climbs and cold nights – especially on the first couple of days.
Accommodation ranges from tents to luxury lodges, depending on which tour operator you book with. If needed, you can hire mats and sleeping bags from your tour operator or at an array of outlets in Cusco.
Several operators run this tour, departing Cusco most days. Prices start at around $325 (USD$250).
#3 Lares Trek
Trek time: 4 days, 3 nights
The Lares trek is as much about exploring local villages as it is about hiking through the Andes. There are several route options ranging in length and difficulty. The most popular is the 33km Weavers Way, so called because, along the way, you’ll visit communities famous for crafting traditional Quechua textiles.
The Trek takes you over just one pass 4450m above sea level, while other routes are longer and traverse multiple passes. Because it is lesser known, the Lares Trek attracts fewer travellers; at times, it’s likely you will feel like you’ve got the Andes all to yourself.
As on the Salkantay trek, horses carry your belongings and accommodation ranges from tents to deluxe lodges, depending on which company you book with.
Tours depart Cusco several times a week. Prices start at around $260 (USD$200).
#4 Take The Train From Cusco
For anyone short on time or energy, the train to Aguas Calientes is the best bet. Peru Rail and Inca Rail both offer services from Poroy (30 minutes from Cusco), departing in the morning, and Ollantaytambo (90 minutes from Cusco) throughout the day.
The journey takes around three hours from Poroy and an hour and a half from Ollantaytambo. The latter is slightly cheaper with prices starting at $135 (USD$105) with Peru Rail and $160 (USD$123) with Inca Rail, compared with $170 (USD$130) and $202 ($155USD) from Poroy, respectively. Book early.
The Final Stretch
No matter how you travel, you will end up in Aguas Calientes. From here, you have two options: the first is to put yourself in the Inca’s shoes and hike the almost-vertical ascent. To do this, it’s recommended that you’re ready and waiting at the entrance of the pathway (a 20-minute walk from town) when it opens at 5am.
Expect hundreds other eager walkers and a never-ending stream of steps. It’s tough going and you’ll be breathless and sweaty when you arrive 50 minutes later, but the euphoria you’ll feel at reaching Machu Picchu as first light filters through the mountain peaks makes it worth it.
The other, more popular and far easier option is to catch the bus. Busses depart Aguas Calientes every 15 minutes between 5:30am and 3:30pm and return between 6:30am and 5:30pm. It costs $31 (USD$24) return or $16 (USD$12) one-way. Expect long queues in peak season, so arrive at the bus stop early.
(Lead image: Nad Hemnani)