You can visit Machu Picchu as part of a guided tour or independently, and as far as getting there, you have plenty of choices. For the intrepid traveller who has a bit more time and is comfortable using some local lingo, it’s possible to arrange transport and a day permit to Machu Picchu – but be prepared for some classic Latin American cues! If you’d like to take the hassle out and have all the logistics sorted, it’s best to arrange a guided tour, or as many people do, a guided tour of Peru including Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
As you’d expect there are plenty of outfitters offering day tours and multi-day tours. When comparing tours, take into account some of the following:
- Is the tour fully guided or simply transport? Be careful with locals offering transport, it is easy to get overcharged.
- Are the guides bilingual? The history and background of regions is often just as fascinating as the scenery. Having a guide that speaks very good English is important if you want to enjoy everything there is no know about a place and its people.
- Does the company have good reviews? You can look on their own website or on third party sites, and look for recent to older reviews for consistency.
- Does the company look professional? Again, have a look at the website, or if you’re already in Peru, visit the office.
- Does the tour include the price of necessary permits? This catches many travellers out. There can be alot of hidden costs when traveling in South America and Peru.
- Does the tour include meals, and of what standard? Are you getting a nice mix of cultural and practical meals for your trip. Peru has some of the best cuisine in the world, and of course if you're on a trip there you may want to sample the best. A good tour operator will include a yummy meal selection as part of your experience.
- If it’s a multi-day tour, is accommodation included and of what standard? Do you want to spend time in local accommodation, a hotel or homestay?
- If the tour includes multi-day hikes or other activities, are the equipment and services included (camping gear, porters etc)? Another important factor to consider. If you are visiting in the quieter rainy season, you'll need good wet weather gear. If in summer, you will want lots of water, insect repellent and good breathable gear.
Hike to Machu Picchu or take a day tour?
One of the main things you’ll want to consider is how you reach Machu Picchu. After all, it’s quite possibly going to be the highlight of your entire Peru adventure! The Classic Inca Trail is a popular choice, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Inca, arriving on day four at Intipunku (the Sun Gate), where you’ll see the whole of Machu Picchu spread out before you in all its glory. To protect the trail, the ‘Classic’ route is restricted to 500 people per day, including cooks, porters and guides, and the permits always sell out during the busy months between May and September. For this reason, it's important to book at least three months in advance.
There are other Inca hiking trails, such as the Lares Trail, which is also four days, however you spend the third night in Aguas Calientes and then head up to Machu Picchu by bus the following morning. Many people say that this trail is quieter and allows for more interaction with the local communities along the way. You can compare the Inca Trail and Lares Trail here
Of course, if you’re not keen on a multi-day hike (at altitude) you can spend those days touring the Cuzco and Sacred Valley regions, before visiting Machu Picchu on a day tour. Whether visiting on a day tour or at the end of a hike, it’s definitely worth having a good guide to interpret the cultural and historical significance of Machu Picchu.
Meaning ‘Young Peak’, Huayna Picchu is the distinctive mountain that rises over Machu Picchu. The Inca built a trail up the side of Huayna Picchu and built terraces and temples on its top, which according to local legend, is where the high priest and virgins resided. The Temple of the Moon is nestled on the side of this mountain. As with entrance to Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu is restricted to 400 daily visitors and tickets must be purchased early to avoid disappointment. The one hour climb is quite steep and at times exposed, so you need to be sure-footed and it’s definitely encouraged to hike with a guide.
Learn more about Machu Picchu tours here.