getting to machu picchu; hike, tour & train options
There were so many reasons why South America was high on our list for a long time; a continent we longed to discover. I dreamt of eating the freshest ceviche on the Caribbean coast, being immersed in Spanish -a language I adore but at times can barely understand - of exploring the Amazon jungle as well as colourful cities and everything else in between. But if there was one real pull to South America, and in particular Peru, then it had to be Machu Picchu.
Perched atop a mountain more than 2000 meters above sea level sits the most spellbinding and awe-inspiring site. The Incas greatest accomplishment sat quietly nestled in the clouds for nearly 500 years before being re-discovered in 1911. You will no doubt have seen photos of Machu Picchu; probably hundreds of them plastered all over postcards, Peru holiday adverts and destination catalogs. The ruins have become a national symbol not just of Peru, but of South America as a whole. Their discovery seemed to wake up the rest of the world, and place the region on the map, suddenly people who had no previous notion of visiting Latin America were packing their bags for Peru, with Machu Picchu in their sights.
I sometimes feel when you've seen photos of a place or heard so many stories about somewhere; the reality can be rather disappointing. Like when we visited Maya Bay in Thailand, what was supposed to be paradise, felt more like an average beach overrun with tourists. From the Eiffel Tower, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Copenhagen's Little Mermaid; some "icons" don't quite live up to their reputation. During the 3 day jungle trek to reach Machu Picchu, these thoughts crossed my mind a lot, what if it didn't move me the way I hoped it would? What if this once magnificent place had lost its magic due to over-tourism, social media over-sharing and greed?
Well fear not, Machu Picchu has lost none of it's magic.
When I first laid eyes on the Inca's citadel, just as the clouds began to part, I was hit with an emotion that made everything leading up to that point more than worth it. Some people are moved to tears, some are left breathless, but we were all silent. Machu Picchu is one of those rare places that seems to demand silence and evoke awe. A truly magical mountain top that leaves you feeling inspired. Regardless of how to reach Machu Picchu; whether it's by jungle trek, Salkantay trek, the original Inca Trail or numerous other methods; what awaits you is more than worth the journey.
how to get to machu picchu: the options
Below are the most popular options to get to Machu Picchu, from the scenic Salkantay trek to luxurious train options. There is an option to suit every budget and fitness level, and new tour companies are opening constantly with new routes and tours to reach the famous wonder of the world. All prices below are inclusive of entry tickets to Machu Picchu.
the inca trail
There are lots of different ways to reach Machu Picchu; the most famous being The Inca Trail itself. By doing the Inca Trail you follow the route the Incas themselves would have taken to reach Machu Picchu and this is generally done over a 5 day period. If you don't have time to do the full Inca Trail then there are shorter options where you join the trail at a later point. There are a couple of reasons why we didn't do the Inca Trail; the cost and the availability. The Inca Trail is very expensive; because it is the most famous route then it needs to be booked at least a year in advance and can cost anywhere between $600 and $1,600. David and I never know where we are going to be next week never mind next year therefore it didn't make sense for us to book it and be stuck to a date. We also felt the Inca Trail is overpriced for what it is and tour companies are now just cashing in on a route. If you are interested in doing the Inca Trail then you can check out the official website for prices and availability.
the salkantay trek
The Salkantay Trek is a stunning 5 day hike which takes you over mountain tops to reach Machu Picchu. This trail is supposed to be difficult, but incredibly beautiful and even takes in part of the Inca Trail. On this trek you are hiking at altitude and will reach heights of over 4,600m and this was the main reason we opted not to do this trail. We'd done various hikes at altitude in Peru including Laguna 69 and I suffered a lot from altitude sickness, therefore I didn't want to take the risk of being unwell and have this overshadow my Machu Picchu experience. This trek typically costs around $300 - $350 USD and we spoke to people who done this trek and absolutely loved it as it's definitely the most scenic option. You can check prices and availability for this trek here.
the jungle trail
The Jungle Trail option is an action packed, adrenaline pumping way to reach Machu Picchu. It can be done over either 3 or 4 days and includes mountain biking, zip lining, white water rafting and some hiking. Although it's not quite how The Incas got there; it was really fun! The Jungle Trek cost us $250 USD and we done it over 3 days (we missed out the day of hiking).
the train from ollantaytambo
In complete comparison to the jungle trail, you can reach Machu Picchu from the town of Ollantaytambo by train. The journey only takes about 90 minutes and tour companies can arrange drop offs and pick ups at the Ollantaytambo station. The cheapest train ticket will cost you $60 one way although there are luxury train options which charge over ten times that amount. The train is a good option for people who aren't fit enough to do any treks or who are tight on time. We feel the train is overpriced and takes away part of the voyage to Machu Picchu, however we know for some people it is the best option. You can check Peru Rail for tickets and availability for the train, and if you are happy to blow the budget then there are some spectacular train options.
walk from ollantaytambo
This is by far the cheapest option when it comes to reaching Machu Picchu; as it literally costs $1. Two of our favourite bloggers at Along Dusty Roads have created a full guide on how to get to Machu Picchu for $1 so if you want to cut down on costs then their post explains how to get there for super cheap. The route involves walking from where the train leaves in Ollantaytambo and following the tracks all the way to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town). The journey is 28km in total, pretty and free!
We definitely think some things are worth suffering a little for; and whilst you can get the train to Aguas Calientes, and from there, can get the bus straight to the gates of Machu Picchu, there is something special about trekking there. Regardless of which trek you do, laying eyes on Machu Picchu having spent several days pushing yourself, you can't help put feel a sense of accomplishment. I'm not sure you would get the same sense of gratitude and appreciation for what the Inca's created without shedding some blood, sweat and tears yourself.
For us, Machu Picchu surpassed all expectations and overlooking the ruins truly felt like gazing upon a wonder of the world. However you decide to reach it, seeing this incredible site creates a memory which will stay with you for a long time.