How to plan your own Machu Picchu Adventure

A lot of my friends and family have been asking me about how I planned my Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu, so I’ve decided to write a post about it here. If you’ve done any preliminary research on going to Machu Picchu, you probably already know there are many options, but don’t let the planning and logistics discourage you. Going or seeing the Inca’s City of the Gods can be a very beautiful experience with just a little bit of preparation.

In my opinion, the experience which I found more beautiful than seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu on the final day of our 4 day/ 3 night trek, was the actual 4 day hike and just being on the Inca Trail itself. Being on the Inca Trail means to be surrounded by so much nature, history, culture, and life. It beckons you to understand the spiritual strength of the Incan people and admire how they built such audacious and beautiful buildings through their faith. Being on the Inca Trail challenges you a little bit both mentally and physically. But overall, being on the Inca Trail asks you to live in the moment.

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I really enjoyed hiking the Inca Trail because of its rich history and spiritual meaning. What is just a hike now for you and me used to be the religious pilgrimage for the Incan people. Also, the 26 miles through the Andes is beautiful. You’re immersed in nature and so far disconnected from civilization. For 4 days, I didn’t have any cell or wifi connection, access to work emails let alone electricity or hot water. I also didn’t have a mirror, so I totally forgot what I looked like for 4 days. The Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu embodies the cliché “the journey is the destination”. But I understand that a 4-day trek is not for everyone, and it’s okay if you choose to take the train up to Machu Picchu. The Vistadome train is a scenic ride alongside the river and allows you to see some Inca ruin sites along the way. I’ll write a future post of taking the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu and back, but regardless of how you choose to visit Machu Picchu, I recommend taking a few moments during your journey to reflect and admire the spiritual and physical strength of the Incas.

Now don’t get me wrong – seeing Machu Picchu in its glory is beautiful. However, be prepared for tourists crowds – and lots of them. During peak tourist months and just peak hours of any day, Machu Picchu can resemble some unreal amusement park with its large crowds, school groups on field trips, and overpriced refreshment stands.

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If possible, I highly recommend you do the Classic Inca Trial hike, which is 4 days of hiking 26 miles through the Andes and 3 nights of camping in the mountains. However, if you have time constraints or camping is not your thing, then I recommend the Inca Trail 2 day/1 Hotel night option. This partial Inca Trail hike is really just 1 day of hiking (no more than 5 miles), still allows you to be on the historic Inca trail, see 1-2 Inca ruin sites on the way, and you can stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes the night before you go see Machu Picchu at sunrise.

While planning your trip, consider what time of year you are going and book your spots with a tour company as far in advance as possible if your dates aren’t flexible. It’s important to note that are a limited number of spots to enter both the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, and hiking the Inca Trail requires you to go with a licensed Inca Trail Tour operator. Hiking the trail alone was prohibited after 2001 when tourists didn’t follow trail and camping regulations.

If you are going to do the full 4 day hike or even just the partial hike, I recommend “training” a little bit for the Inca Trail as well. You don’t need to be an athlete or experienced hiker to do the Inca trail. My tour guide also told me the oldest client he had on the trail was 77 and did fine. The Inca Trail can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Just like altitude acclimation, allow your body the opportunity to prepare a little bit for the trek with a little training. Get on the Step Master or climb stairs in your building. Views are best seen when you’re standing tall instead of bent forward catching your breath!

I found a really good article here on how to plan your Machu Picchu and help you ask a lot of good questions while searching for a Tour office. Additionally, I’ve listed the main steps to planning your trip below:

Step 1: Decide when to go

The number of people allowed on the trail and inside Machu Picchu’s wall is limited, so plan and book your trip as far in advance as possible. Spots can book up months in advance.

  • Tourist Season (also Dry season): May – September w/ June – August being peak seasons
    • Pro’s: Lower risk for rain
    • Con’s: More expensive and more crowds of tourists
  • Low Season: October – April
    • Pro’s: Way less tourists
    • Con’s: Expect light showers at unpredictable times of the day

Step 2: Consider your Machu Picchu Tour options

  • Hiking/trekking or by train?
  • Hotels or camping?
  • How many days?
  • Budget or Luxury?

 Step 3: Choose a Tour company that offers what you’re looking for

  • Find a credible company
    • Pro tip: The better-known companies (they’re recommended on all the sites) will have larger groups because people from abroad are usually booking these companies first. Look at the smaller, local names for more intimate groups and an authentic experience.
  • Check what is and what is not included
    • Pro tip: Ask them how big their tent is and if you get the tent to yourself or if you have to share with your friend. Tall, white boys you’ll thank me. Andean people are short, so look for a company with tents that can fit you.
  • Compare prices
    • Average classic Inca Trail trek (4 day/ 3 night) price is $500 – $650 USD per person, but the range can be anywhere from $350-1300 USD

Details of my trip are below. I also booked my 4 day/ 3 night Classic Inca Trail hike with Alpaca Expeditions. They are a newer Inca Trail tour operator with very positive reviews online and on TripAdvisor. In terms of price, they cost a little more than average but often have smaller groups and better camping equipment. I highly recommend Alpaca.

  • Dates: 4 days in Lima, 2 days in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude, then 4 days on the Inca Trail
  • Inca Trail Hike dates: January 6 – January 9
  • Weather: Unpredictable. Sub zero nights in the mountains. Light showers mid morning or late afternoon. Overcast and lots of sunny spots.

I’m considering on writing a few more posts on how to do Machu Picchu such as how to pack and where to eat, but let me know if you have any questions!

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