Let’s start with how you want to see the trail and Machu Picchu. There are seemingly countless options to get you to the famous ruins, but in this post I am going to focus on the most common.
The Inca Trail
First of all start your planning early, there are only 500 people allowed on the trail per day. It sells out everyday, and several months in advance. Do not think you can wander into Cusco and book a hike on the Inca trail, unless you are there for a few months!
There are two main tour types offered for the real deal Inca Trail, the traditional 4 day, three night hiking and camping option, or the newer 2 day and 1 night hike and sleep in Machu Picchu town. If camping is your thing then there are lots of guide companies offering this type of trek, and even more offices selling it. The more reputable ones can be found online. We scoured the web checking Trip Advisor forums and reviews, as well as other bloggers for the companies were looking at, and eventually settled on Llama Path. We took the 2 day & 1 night option.
Door to door service
You don’t need to hike the Inca trail to be rewarded with a trip to Machu Picchu. Tours can be arranged to take you from your hotel right to the entrance. The hike, even the two day, is intense so if you are up for that this might be the best option.
Typically a bus will take you from Cusco to Ollantaytambo about 1.5 hours away, then a train for the final 2 hour stretch to Machu Picchu town. From the town it’s a half hour bus ride up the sets of switch backs to reach the entrance.
Other hiking trail options
The one that looked pretty appealing in this category was the Incan Jungle tour, which is a multisport way to get to the site. A combination of mountain bike, rafting, and hiking are used to make the climb to Machu Picchu. For a portion of this trek is said to be on the Inca trail, but that is not the main focus.
Where to stay
The most popular places to base yourself, and for good reason, is Cusco. Located a few hours away from the site offers plenty to keep you busy as you get used to the altitude. Cusco is 11,200 ft above sea level which is actually higher than Machu Picchu, which comes in at about 8,500 feet. Most companies will want you in town at least two days before your hike to ensure you won’t have issues on the trail. You will need it, that altitude is a bit rough. Make sure you plan you time after your hike for a few days to relax and recover. We booked 2 extra nights afterward at a Cusco hotel.
Since the ruins and Cusco are about 4 hours apart most opt to stay in Machu Picchu town for at least a night. To do it all in one day would be rushing it but theoretically could be done.
Anyway you choose to see the lost Incan City you won’t be disappointed.