Just over a month ago I got to cross off a major item on my bucket list and one of the Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu! If you’re reading this I’d imagine you might be planning your own trip to Machu Picchu, and are wondering what’s the best way to get there. Well, the truth is getting to Machu Picchu is not so straight-forward and will require a bit of planning. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through it!
The first think you have to know are the two main options for getting to Machu Picchu: taking the train or choosing one of the various treks. Both will take you Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Aguas Calientes from where you can hike up to Machu Picchu or take a 30-minute bus ride.
So how do you choose? Simply put, the train is best for those who aren’t into hiking and would rather spend more time exploring towns, and trekking is better for those who love hiking and would rather spend more time in nature. To be honest, if I would have gone on my own I would have chosen the train! But thankfully my group of friends convinced me to join them on a trek, and this blog is for those of you who are thinking of doing the same and want to know how we made our decision and if it might be a good option for you!
There are many treks you can take to Machu Picchu, the most popular being the famous Inca Trail which is the ancient stone trail the Incas once use as a pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu. However, this is the most expensive and the most crowded option and for that reason, we decided against it. The other trek options are the Salkantay Trek, the Inka Jungle Trek, the Lares Trek, and self-guided treks. Here is a brief overview of each trek:
Salkantay Trek (4-5 days): Most difficult hike but with the best landscapes
Inka Jungle Trek (4 days): Jungle trek with mountain biking, rafting, and zip-lining
Lares Trek (4 days): The most cultural trek, visit local villages, moderate difficulty
Self-Guided Trek (3-5 days): Hike one of the public trails and carry all your own gear
After a lot of research, we ended up choosing the Lares Trek since we were most interested in meeting locals and having a cultural experience. And for our tour we chose to go with Alpaca Expeditions, who are rated the #1 Cusco tour company on TripAdvisor and pride themselves in sustainability, which is very important to me when choosing a tour company. We had a quick briefing at their office the night before the trek, and the next morning woke up at 5am to begin our 4 day, 3 night journey to Machu Picchu!
The first day of the trek started with a quick visit to some local hot springs fed from a nearby volcano. We enjoyed the hot pools for about an hour, and then had our first picnic breakfast before we drove to the beginning of our hike. This was a beautiful area in the mountains and a nice way to ease into long hiking days!
The first day of the trek we hiked a few hours to lunch, and then a few more hours to camp hiking uphill gradually along the way. We walked by rivers and a beautiful series of waterfalls and took in the lush greenery of the Lares Region. The first day of hiking was not too hard but definitely tiring, but we were mentally preparing for Day 2, the hardest day of the hike!
Around sunset we arrived to first camp, which were large tents set up right in front of a beautiful lake with no one around but us. Though it was rainy and I couldn’t get good photos. At every village we stopped at there were locals selling handmade crafts, and these locals and cute kids were nice enough to let me snap some photos of them in exchange for a few soles 🙂
The next morning we woke up just before sunrise thankfully to clear weather and a beautiful view of the lake outside our tents. We learned that the weather changes constantly in the Lares Region, and one second it can be storming and the next sunny with blue skies! Thankfully we had amazing weather with little rain, and our guides said we were very lucky 🙂
Day 2 of the hike is the most challenging, since it’s entirely uphill and some parts become very steep. That combined with the high elevation, we had to take very frequent breaks to get enough oxygen! We saw many herds of alpaca and sheep along the way, and it seriously felt like a scene out of Jurassic Park!
After a few hours of steep uphill hiking we finally made it to the top of our trek, Condor Pass at 14,000 feet. Though absolutely exhausted, we were rewarded with snowy mountains and incredible views of the lakes and valleys below. And it felt good to know the rest was downhill!
Our 2nd night we camped on the property of one of the locals who our tour company had befriended over the years. Thankfully we had a lot of time to rest after our long day of hiking, and our lunch and dinner with the group was delicious as always! I’m vegetarian and there were plenty of options for me, incase any of you were worried about that 🙂
Day 3 of the hike was all downhill, and unfortunately I ended up hurting my knee with all of this downhill since I have chronic pain from a sports injury. So I had to take a horse down while the others were on foot, but it was fun getting to spend one day staring at the views instead of the floor the whole time to make sure I didn’t trip 🙂 This day we saw amazing laeks on the way down with views of the mountains from the day before in the background!
This day we also got to visit the home of a local woman and learn about their way of life in the Lares mountains and how they make colorful handmade clothing mainly out of alpaca wool. We got to dress up in local attire and dance to Quechua music with our Alpaca Expeditions team, which was pretty funny 🙂
At lunch time we reached the end of our hike, and transitioned over to a bus to head to Salineras de Maras to learn about the famous salt ponds that are a way of life for the locals in the area. It was nice that they included this in our trek because we didn’t have to worry about doing a trip here on our own another day. And of course, we bought some pink salt which was so cheap and definitely worth it!
Next we headed to Ollantaytambo, a small town in the Sacred Valley with an Inca Fortress which you can pay about 130 soles to walk around. But we decided to spent our free hour exploring the town, which was one of my favorites in Peru! Though it’s not very big, it’s a very cute town with colorful markets and little canals running through it.
In the evening we took a train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, where we were treated to a nice hotel and showers at the end of the night which was much needed after 3 days of hiking and camping!
On our last day we woke up very early to have a quick breakfast and wait for the first bus to the place we hiked for 3 days for, Machu Picchu! I highly recommend taking the very first bus up to be the first ones there, because it will only become more and more crowded with each hour that goes by. There were already quite a few people when we arrived but we still got all the photos we wanted and then had a 2-hour tour of the ruins with our guides, Javier and Rodrigo. The best photos are at the top and you can’t go back once you walk past it due to restrictions, so make sure you take your photos before you keep walking down!
Overall, the trek was an amazing experience and though I haven’t personally done the other treks, I think the Lares Trek might be the best trek out there! It’s the perfect combination of hiking, culture, and still getting to see other parts of the Sacred Valley. I’m not in the best shape so I thought the trek was very difficult at parts, but as long as you’re in decent shape and take your time you will be fine!
And I couldn’t recommend Alpaca Expeditions more for your Machu Picchu trek! They were extremely professional, had a “leave-no-trace” mentality and our guides Rodrigo and Javier were awesome and took good care of us along the way. Thank you to the Alpaca Expeditions crew for this awesome experience!
As always, feel free to share your questions and thoughts in the comments below or on social media and make sure to pin one of these images below if you liked it!