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How to Pick Your Perfect Machu Picchu Trek

By Zoe Smith, Viator.com
updated September 29, 2021
Tourist and llama sitting in front of Machu Picchu
Paop/Dreamstime

This article was written by Zoe Smith on behalf of Viator.com.

Few bucket lists are complete without a trip to the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and Peru’s number one tourist attraction. Built in the 15th century, the site is not only world-renowned as an architectural masterpiece but also known for its dramatic location, perched on a 2,430-meter high mountaintop high above the city of Cusco. Few travelers pass through Cusco without visiting the magnificent Lost City of the Incas, but for adventurous travelers, the ultimate challenge is hiking the legendary Inca trail, a high-altitude, multi-day hike through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu.

With Machu Picchu’s popularity soaring, dozens of tour operators and guides now offer tours to the Inca city, and with numerous trekking routes to choose from, plus government restrictions to contend with, it can be hard to know where to start planning your trip. To help you decide, here’s a breakdown of the different options to help you pick your perfect Machu Picchu trek.

Getting to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
is located 112 km northeast of Cusco in southeastern Peru and the archaeological site is open all year-round, typically from around 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The easiest way to visit Machu Picchu is to take the bus or train from Cusco, a scenic two-hour journey, stopping in the mountain resort town of Aguas Calientes, from where it’s a 20-minute bus ride up the mountain to the Inca city. For hikers there are also a number of options, the most popular of which is the classic 4-day Inca Trail, renowned as one of the world’s most spectacular hikes, showing off numerous sights and ruins of the Sacred Valley of the Incas en-route to the final destination.

When to Go
If you’ve decided to hike to Machu Picchu, the next thing to consider is when to go. The classic Inca Trail is closed for maintenance during the whole month of February, but if you must visit at this time, you’ll still be able to get to the site by train or via an alternative trekking route. The most popular time for trekking is between May and September, the driest months of the year, but it’s still possible to trek throughout the rest of the year. The shoulder seasons of March-April and October-November have the benefit of warm weather and fewer crowds, but there’s also a good chance of rain.

Due to government regulations, visitors on the classic Inca Trail are restricted to 500 hikers per day (typically around 200 tourists and 300 guides and porters) and the trail must be booked in advance with a registered tour company. You’ll need to book at least two months in advance, but as permits are given on a first-come first-served basis, you might need to book up to six months in advance for the most popular time slots like June-August. You’ll also need to provide correct passport information upon booking, so that you can be allotted a space.

Choosing a tour
The next thing you need to think about is what kind of trek you want to do, starting with which route to take. The classic Inca Trail takes four days and is unquestionably the most popular, but there are a number of other options that offer the chance to explore more off-the-beaten-track places, challenge yourself with a longer or tougher trek, or combine your trek with a multi-day tour of Cusco or Peru. Less-experienced hikers could even opt for a one- or two-day ‘mini-Inca-trail’ hike instead [Editor's Note: the Machu Picchu Adventure tour by G Adventures offers this one-day trek option]. When choosing a tour, there are also other things to consider, like accommodation options, cost, and the availability of porters. While many travelers will be looking to save money, the cheapest treks are not always the best choices, and you should think carefully about the camping facilities, porters (to carry your luggage) and food provided before selecting a cheaper tour.

Choosing a trekking route
There are now a number of increasingly popular treks to Machu Picchu, only one of which is the classic Inca Trail and if you have the time and money to hire a private guide, you will find a whole network of alternate trails and possible routes waiting to be discovered. To help you choose, here’s a rundown of the five most common trails.

The Classic Inca Trail
When you hear ‘Inca Trail’ this is the route that they’re talking about: the official 4–day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. A tough but manageable 43-kilometer (26-mile) trail, starting out at Qorihuayrachina near Ollantaytambo and climbing through the Sacred Valley (Urubamba Valley) to Aguas Calientes, you’ll hike steep mountain passes, rock-hewn stairs and cloud forest trails, taking in Inca sites like Q’entimarka, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna along the way. You’ll spend three nights camping out in the mountains on the route before making the final climb to Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise. While the distance might not sound long, the altitude and steep climbs mean you’ll need to be fit and used to hiking to complete the trek—you should also give yourself at least a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize to the higher altitude before setting off.

Salkantay Trek
An increasingly popular alternative to the Inca Trail is the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, known for its more challenging route and higher altitude. Climbing to heights of 4,600 meters and offering jaw-dropping views of the imposing Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range (include the 6,271-meter tall Mt. Salkantay) this is not a trek for the faint-hearted, but those up for a challenge can’t help but be impressed by the natural sights on-route—waterfalls, glacial lakes, looming mountain peaks, and lush valleys filled with wildflowers.

Inca Quarry Trail
Those looking to take the road less traveled should opt for the Viator Exclusive 6-Night Quarry Trail to Machu Picchu, a unique route that climbs the 4,400 meter Chancachuco mountain pass and the Inca quarry of Kachiqta, taking in smaller archaeological sites like the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) along the way. A good option for adventurous types that still like to travel in style, there’s less camping and hiking on this trek than the others, but still plenty of stunning views.

Lares Trek
A shorter and less busy alternative to the classic Inca Trail, the Lares Trail to Machu Picchu is a 33 kilometer, 2- or 3-day trek running through the Lares Valley and taking in many of the highlights of the Sacred Valley. Passing beneath the Vilcanota mountain range, trekkers get the chance to follow ancient Inca Trails through traditional Andean villages, take a dip in the Lares hot springs and visit the Inca ruins of Pumamarca.

Ancascocha Trek
Following a similar path to the main Inca Trail, the Ancascocha Trail is often nicknamed the “hidden Inca Trail” and the rewarding route remains largely free from tourists. Taking four or five days to reach Machu Picchu, this is a challenging route with undulating terrain, passing through traditional villages like Usutapampa, past the Ancascocha lagoon and over the 4,876 meter Inca Chiriaska.

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Thai Massage: Relaxing or Voluntary Torture?

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. Thailand, known for her islands, cheap food, and friendly locals, is also famed for massages. You may have heard horror stories of crazy poses, crackling spines and vicious masseuses bearing their full body weight on your naked back. Is the quintessential Thai massage experience really so scary, though? Sia Ling Xin, a massage addict and avid beach holiday lover, explains the various types of Thai massages commonly offered. No Thai experience is complete without a visit (or three) to the massage parlours. Remember, there's no need to be afraid of Thai masseuse lady! Thai Massage (with Oil)Pain factor: 2 stars This massage requires you to get naked and lie stomach-down on a bed. The masseuse starts applying oil on your back and rubs in long, gentle strokes. She may apply more pressure when kneading your shoulders, but overall, it's not painful or demanding. In fact, most people doze off and only wake up towards the end of the session, when the masseuse prompts you to sit upright, and proceeds to gently swing your head a few times... until she manages to 'pop' your neck. Expect the same swinging and popping for your spine and toes, but while you may hear scary sounds, it doesn't hurt at all. If you're looking to be pampered and fussed over, this is the massage for you. Traditional Thai MassagePain factor: 4.5 stars (if you ask for a strong masseuse, give it five stars, and bravo to you) You may be asked to change into a loose fitting outfit provided by the parlour, usually a pair of knee length drawstring pants and a t-shirt. This massage is fast-paced, demanding, and by far my favourite type of massage to get in Thailand. When in Thailand, forget about Swedish oil massages. Get kneaded as the Thais do! And boy, do they do it well. Expect lots of cracking (fingers, toes, spine, neck), lots of elbow and knee jabs (on sensitive points like the small of your back) and even some body-to-body contortion. It all sounds and looks a lot scarier than it actually is. My suggestion is to find a 'medium' strength masseuse and tell her to take the pressure down a notch if a while into the massage, you find it too intense. There is some pain involved, but only for areas that are stiff. And the pay-off is feeling wonderfully relaxed, almost like an out of body experience, after an experienced masseuse has had her wicked way with you. Relaxing Foot MassagePain factor: 3 stars (one star for the massage stick) If you're in the mood for a gentle foot rub that gets the blood circulation going, opt for this. You may see the masseuses whip out a black pen-like stick. Made of teak, this stick will be used to press on certain acupuncture points on your foot and toes, and you may feel a slight pinch. Overall, however, it's calm, gentle, and a great chance to practise your Thai with masseuses or just catch forty winks. About 50 minutes will be spent on your feet, and the last ten minutes on a quick shoulder and head massage. (This quickie will give you a taste of a full-blown traditional Thai massage.) Don't expect intense foot aches to disappear. The relaxing foot massage is great pampering while you're in the parlour, but it does not quite invigorate. If you like it hard, ask for the Oriental Foot Massage, which is a notch more intense. Aloe Vera MassagePain factor: 1 star (from the shock of cold aloe vera gel) This is the go-to massage for those who had a little too much fun in the sun and forgot protection (SPF 30 at least!). Sunburns can get nasty, and the pain sometimes lasts for days. If you're in the mood for a massage but your skin is too tender to be subjected to any kind of kneading and rubbing, opt for the Aloe Vera Massage. 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This article was written by Karen Attman on behalf of Viator.com. There are so many delicious dishes in Colombia it’s hard to choose just a few. Here are 12 of my favorite foods to try when visiting. Bandeja PaisaThe Colombian national dish, bandeja paisa, is not for the faint of heart. Born in the “paisa” region of Colombia—Medellin and its surroundings—it is called bandeja (tray) because rather than being served on a plate, it’s often served on a tray large enough to accommodate the huge portions. You certainly don’t have to travel to Medellin to try it, since this is a typical lunch throughout Colombia, sometimes served as a corrientazo (popular, inexpensive lunch). Normally included on the plate: rice, fried plantain, chicharron, ground beef, blood sausage, avocado, arepa, and red beans, all topped with a fried egg. LechonaLechona is whole baby pork, roasted to perfection, with a crunchy outer skin and deliciously soft meat on the inside. 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Inspiration

Dream Trips You Can Actually Afford

Machu Picchu, Peru I have to admit, this was the number one thing on my personal dream trip list, and I was finally able to do it in April of 2014 thanks to a super-affordable vacation package by G Adventures. The Machu Picchu Adventure 8-day tour starts in Lima, where you'll get a chance to soak up the food scene—try the lomo saltado, a delicious dish made of tender beef, veggies, rice, and french fries, or stick to ceviche—and take a walk by the Pacific after dinner. Then, you'll board a one-hour flight to Cusco and spend the next five days exploring the sites of the Sacred Valley, visiting ruins in Ollantaytambo, relaxing in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes, and of course, taking a bus ride up the mountain to view Machu Picchu at sunrise, definitely a memorable experience. 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World Spree offers an 11-day tour that includes airfare from San Francisco (or L.A., or New York City for an addtional charge), making this amazing county more accessible than ever. The trip also gives you time to explore Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, and includes an overnight cruise around scenic Ha Long Bay. All transfers, ground transportation, and intra-Vietnam flights are also part of the package price, as are most meals, a comprehensive sightseeing itinerary, and the services of English-speaking guides throughout. Several optional tours are also available for a little extra, including a half-day trip to see the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels ($40 per person) and a half day historic tour of Hanoi's "Old Quarters," the "Hanoi Hilton," that ends with a traditional water puppet show ($50 per person), but you'll have a number of guided tours along the way that are included as well. 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You'll also have day-trips to Alamar, Cojimar, and Las Terrazas before heading back to Havana each night. For those wanting to spend more time in this once-forbidden Caribbean country, check out the 9-day Colors of Cuba tour, which includes similar features and gives you time in Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos. Book it: Friendly Planet's Discover Havana tour starts from $2,499 if you book by Apr. 7th; their Colors of Cuba tour is also available from $3,699 per person when you book by Apr. 7th. India Although technically India did earn a spot on Budget Travel's To Go Or Not To Go: 2014 list due to 2013's violent streak against women, things seem to be calming down now, and with strength in numbers, you'll be fine with a group if you go. SmarTours offers a great, affordable 8-day tour that includes international airfare from New York City on Air India and five nights in three different Indian cities: one night in Delhi, two nights in Agra, and two nights in Jaipur. The trip includes all transportation within the country, daily breakfast and a farewell group dinner, and an extensive sightseeing plan that includes guided trips to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, the Red Fort in Delhi, the Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, and an elephant ride to Amber Fort in Jaipur. Book it: You'll have to act quickly on this one as SmarTours is currently having a sale that prices this tour from $1,299 per person if you book by Apr. 23rd. After that point, the prices rise to $1,799 per person, so don't wait! World Spree also has a brand new Incredible India travel package that includes international airfare from New York City, L.A., San Francisco, or Vancouver; 9 nights' accommodations in five-star hotels; an extensive sightseeing program including entrance fees; all transfers and transportation within the country, and most meals, from $1,499 per person for a 12-day trip. Australia & New Zealand Who wouldn't want to visit the Land Down Under—I mean, come on, have you seen these photos? Keep an eye out for airline sales by Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Air New Zealand, for starters, or watch for travel packages that include airfare, like those offered by Down Under Answers and Travelscene, which is running a special now thru Mar. 31st, that includes round-trip flights between the U.S. and Australia, four nights in Melbourne; four nights in Sydney, flights between cities, and all taxes and fees, from $1,799 per person. Additional options are listed below. Book it: 11-Day Australia on Sale: Sydney & Melbourne, Travelscene, from $1,799 per person based on double occupancy. The same company also offers a similar 11-day trip to Sydney and Cairns from $1,999 per person, as well as an 11-day trip to Brisbane and Adelaide from $2,299 per person. All must be booked by Mar. 31st for travel between May 1 and Jun. 21, 2015.

Inspiration

Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago: More Than 800 Untouched Tropical Islands

In a world where it seems every potential tourist spot is becoming yet another site for fast food franchises, Myanmar offers many locations that are unbelievably unspoiled. Formerly known as Burma, the country is vast and offers a wide range of ecosystems that can be enjoyed. Among them are tropical islands, such as those that make up the Mergui Archipelago to the south of the country. Because they only became opened to tourism recently (in 1997), there are not that many visitors as of yet, allowing you a chance to visit a place that few people in the world have ever been. It's the perfect spot for enjoying the surf and the sand. You can go boating, snorkeling, diving, and fishing here in turquoise water that is unbelievably clear. Or you can just laze on the pure white sand and do nothing at all except enjoy a refreshing drink. The choice is yours. On land, you'll be able to spot a number of different species including deer, wild boar, lizards, monkeys, and many tropical birds. In the water, there is abundant marine wildlife, including sharks, rays, dolphins, and an almost impossible myriad of colorful fish. As interesting as the animals are, so too are the local people called the Moken, or sea gypsies. They live primarily on the water and have a unique culture that is almost magical to behold. Today, they build their boats and fish much as their ancestors have done for centuries. They are superb swimmers and divers, making the bulk of their living by diving for pearls, shells, and other marine treasures. To get to the islands, you can fly from Yangon, Myanmar, or take a boat from Kawthoung or Dawei. Flights don't leave every day, so be sure to check the schedule when planning your itinerary. It's also possible to cruise there. The best part of the islands is the lack of infrastructure, so you're not going to find your pick of 5-star resorts here. The lodging of choice is the Myanmar Andaman Resort. While it is called a resort, don't think Club Med—it's more like an eco-lodge, but what it lacks in the facilities of a true resort, it more than makes up for in its proximity to nature at its unspoiled best. The hotel does offer kayaking and snorkeling trips and it's even possible to take most PADI courses here for those who wish to improve their diving abilities. If staying landside doesn't appeal to you, take a look at one of the many cruise options. They are available in a variety of lengths from as little as three days on up to 10. Of course, the longer a cruise you choose, the more you will be able to see and do. When choosing your cruise, you will have options as to the class of boat you would like—remember that you will be living aboard the ship for the duration of your tour, meaning you should choose the same comfort level that you would prefer in a hotel. Also, if your particular interest is in diving, be sure to look at one of the many vessels that offer that as a specialty. This article was written by Maureen Santucci. Originally from the U.S., Maureen has made Peru her home for the past five years. She writes for Fodor's Travel Guide as well as various travel blogs when she isn't escaping off to the mountains to hike, teaching Tai Chi, or treating patients in her acupuncture clinic.