Different Ways to See Machu Picchu
If you’re thinking of visiting the fifteenth-century ruins of the Lost City of the Incas, then you’ve probably heard of the legendary 25-mile trek along the Inca Trail just to get there.
That might sound a little intense, and four days of trekking might be too time consuming for shorter trips to South America. But if you’re looking for a different way to see Machu Picchu, you’re not alone. In fact, only one-fifth of the tourists who visit this ancient archaeological site actually use the classic route.
For those eager to experience the Inca Trail, permits are limited. In 2001, as many as 1,600 people set off each day, but the Peruvian government has since limited the number to 500. And because that number includes all support staff, the number of tourists is capped at around 200. The most popular time to visit is from May to October — the dry season. Although if you don't mind the probability of rain, November to April is a quieter time to visit. It’s noteworthy that the trail closes for the entire month of February.
Here are some alternatives for visiting Machu Picchu.
Option 1: Take the train
If trekking is not your thing, you can simply hop on a train to Aguas Calientes. Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, this small town is located in the valley below the remains of the Incan city. From there, you can get a bus to the ruins’ entrance, allowing you to save all the walking for the site itself. There are three trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, but the Vistadome train is great for panoramic views en route.
Photo: inyucho CC BY 2
Option 2: Truncated Inca Trail
If you’ve got a permit but not the time for a four-day trek, consider getting off the train at the KM 104 stop. From there, you can complete the one-day Inca Trail, which involves around 9-miles of hiking through the Andes.
Option 3: Alternate trek
If you decided to visit on short notice and couldn’t obtain a permit, or you’ve already done the Inca Trail and are looking for another route to Machu Picchu, don’t fret — there are alternatives.
The Lares Trek starts at Lares Hot Springs, where you can bathe in the waters, and includes a mix of trekking and short bus journeys that lead to a hotel stay the night before visiting Machu Picchu — a significant advantage for those who want to look and feel fresh for travel photos.
The Inca Jungle Trek is a great option for adventurous types and includes mountain biking and zip-lining on South America’s highest zip-line. The Choquequirao Trek treats dedicated hikers to eight or nine days of trekking, with the Incan ruins of Choquequirao a highlight that rivals Machu Picchu itself.
So, if you weren’t fortunate enough to get a trail permit or if trekking is not your cup of tea, don’t despair — there are plenty of different ways to see Machu Picchu that may serve you better than the classic Inca Trail route.