Organize your Inca Trail trip to Machu Picchu
Although Cuzco is an amazing place by itself most people still come here as a departure point for their trip to Machu Picchu. The city is scattered with travel agencies, most of them located on or our around Plaza de Armas and Calle Plateros.
It’s possible to reach Machu Picchu by bus and train, but most people opt for the spectacular 4 day Inca Trail or one of the alternative trekking routes to Machu Picchu.
Kind of trips
Classic Inca Trail: The most popular route is the classic 4 day Inca Trail which brings you to Machu Picchu over a spectacular Inca trail of 45 km with unforgettable mountain scenery and impressive Inca ruins. For your information, it is not allowed to walk the Classic Inca Trail without an officially registered guide, so you have to book a tour.
Since this trip is frequently full (see below) alternative treks to Machu Picchu are offered, such as the Salcantay route or the Lares Valley Route.
Salcantay Route : The 75 km / 5 day Salcantay route is spectacular and is a good alternative to the Inca Trail. This trek is a bit harder than the Inca trail as it’s longer and you have to cross a pass of 4700 meters. Beware, some travel agencies will sell the Salcantay route as the original Inca Inca trail.
Lares route : The 23 km / 4 day Lares route is less walking. It brings you through the Lares valley to Ollantatumbo and from there you take the train to Aguas Calientes.
There are other alternatives too.
By Train / bus : If you’re not into walking it is also possible to organize trips to Machu Picchu by bus and train. It’s more comfortable to have this organized, but you can also do this yourself. Note the train is surprisingly expensive.
Check the national train website : http://www.perurail.com/web/tper/tper_a2a_home.html
Other trips are also organized such as the trip to the recently discovered ruins of Choquequiraw, which are expected to be larger than Machu Picchu once fully excavated.
When to book?
In the high season (May-August) it is advisable to book your trip well in advance as the amount of people on tour groups is restricted to 500 per day (200 visitors and 300 staff, porters, guides, cooks, etc) and groups fill up, sometimes even months ahead during the high season. You could still try to book in Cuzco, but if you want to be safe book well in advance.
During the low season in November / January you may be able to show up in Cuzco and book the tour at a local travel agency, perhaps having to wait for a couple of days. You could use those days to acclimatise and see the sights in and around Cuzco or if you need to wait longer you could even visit Arequipa and return. Still, if you want to be safe, better book some time ahead.
Prices for the Inca Trail vary from USD 270,- to a staggering USD 1300,- for the 4 day walking trip. The alternative routes are somewhat cheaper as the high entrance price of the Inca Trail is avoided.
To a certain extent you are certainly likely to receive better service with the companies charging higher rates, but this is not a guarantee. In many cases a large percentage of the price also goes to commissions, especially if you buy through intermediaries. Make sure to shop around properly, ask around for recommendations, browse the recommendations on travelspecs and get a good feeling about the pricing and quality of tour operators. If you find lower prices than the range stated above it is assumable that the tour operators are either saving on your comfort and service (i.e. quality of food and English speaking guides or the number of porters) or are underpaying or mistreating their staff. We would certainly not like to encourage that. But definitely don’t go for prices higher than USD 450,-. (Jan 2010).
To get a better understanding of what you get for this money : A large part of this price is used to cover for the following costs: supporting staff, guides, cooks, porters, but also meals, taxes, entrance fee for the Inca Trail, Entrance fee for Machu Picchu, the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantantumbo, and the bus from Ollantantumbo to Cuzco. These costs make up a significant part of the price. Make sure to verify which costs are and which are not included in the price. Tips for porters are not included.
Note, you will get an interesting discount if you can show a valid ISIC student card.
When to go
May to October is the best time to walk the Inca Trail as this is the driest season. June- August are the busiest months. But also in the other months it’s possible to walk the trail. The Classic Inca Trail is closed in February each year in order to clean up the trail and let the canopy recover. Machu Picchu is open however, and remains reachable by train or the alternative routes.
In order to enter most sites in and around Cuzco you are required to buy the Boleto Turistico. Different Boletos are on offer including the Plaza de Armas and different Inca sites around Cuzco. Note, you will get an interesting discount if you can show a valid ISIC student card.
More information and the tickets can be obtained at the Oficina Ejecutiva del Comité in the back of the Municipalidad . Address: Avenida Sol 103. Bring your PASSPORT
Look out for pickpockets around the area and while waiting in line!
The Catedral of Cuzco, which has been declared UNESCO World heritage is situated on the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco and together with the ‘Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus’ it determines the face of the square. The Cathedral was built in 1654 and took nearly 100 years to finish. You will see that the cathedral is built on Inca foundations. In fact, the site of the cathedral was previously used as the Palace of Inca Viracocha. However, as with the other Inca structures around the square, the original temple was torn down by the Conquistadors only leaving the foundations and using the scrap rocks to construct the new building. The Cathedral is adjoined to the “Iglesia del Triunfo”.
Address: Plaza de Armas
Entrance: With Boleto Turístico
La Compañía Church
Although it was formally declared by the Pope that the ‘Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus’ should not be more beautiful than the cathedral decide for yourself which you like most. Like with the cathedral the original Inca Temple, which originally stood here was destroyed and replaced by the colonial masterpiece. The Inca foundations were left in place.
Address: Plaza de Armas
Entrance: Not with boleto turistico, a small entrance fee is asked
The best museum to learn more about the history of the Inca’s. The museum also has a large collection of sculptures, pottery, gold and other archeological findings. Really cool museum.
Address: Ataúd / Tucumán
Open: Mo-Fri : 9:00-5:00 pm Sat: 9:00-4:00 pm
Sacred Valley Sites
The area Around Cuzco was referred to by the Incas as “The Sacred Valley,” which is no surprise as the area is just beautiful. Numerous inca ruins and remains can be found here. The below are of particular interest.
Sacsayhuamán is a large, or better said enormous, and impressive Inca ruins site just north of Cuzco. The main purpose of the site was to serve as a fortification to protect the city of Cuzco. It is the largest and most interesting Inca site around Cuzco so you should definitely visit. Characteristic of the site are the enormous rocks that were cut and fit perfectly into each other. Fascinating. We still wonder how on earth they did it. The site offers great views over Cuzco and the surrounding area. Although the site of Sacsayhuamán is enormous it used to be many times bigger. However, most of the structures were tore down by the Conquistadors to reshape and use the rocks for buildings in Cuzco.
You can organize a tour or go by yourself.
Entrance with Boleto Turístico
This Inca site is a spring which still works today.
Entrance with Boleto Turístico
One of the less frequently visited Inca sites around Cuzco is Tipón. Pity cause it’s really interesting. It’s not too big, but in neat condition and the absence of tourists is pleasant too. You can see the irrigation and terracing techniques of the Incas. A clever irrigation system runs downs the several escalating terraces. On top of the terraces the source of the water is captured into a small well. The funny thing is that nobody knows where the water comes from, it just sprouts up right out of the ground.
The route to Tipón is really pretty. A cool way to get is here is by mountain bike.
White water rafting
With the Rio Urubamba nearby, some excellent rafting trips can be organized from Cuzco. Although the Urubambo is not very wild (max Rapid III), it makes a good introduction to rafting and the scenery on the way is spectacular. It’s quite a popular activity to do in Cuzco. The wilder and more challenging rivers like Apurímac are further away. Multiday trips can be organized from Cuzco. Ask around at the tour operators near Plaza de las Armas and Plateros. The same goes here as for the trips to Machu Picchu regarding price and quality, make sure to shop around and get references from other travellers about quality and price.
Trekking around Cuzco
Although you will get a good view of the surroundings doing the Inca Trail, the area around Cuzco is just stunning and has way more to offer. Andean peaks, high mountain passes, glaciers, rural villages traditional agriculture, semitropical climates are all not too far away and can all be covered in one single trip. Cuzco really is a trekkers dream. If you have time and like trekking it’s definitely worth it to discover more of this area. Ask around at local travel agencies for the options. It’s also a good way to kill some time while waiting for the Inca Trail departure.
Give yourself a few days to acclimatise (2/3 nights in Cuzco) before engaging a trek. otherwise you might get altitude sickness.
The scenery around Cuzco is really amazing and especially charming once you get of the main roads. A great way to explore the area is to rent mountain bikes. You can join one or multi-day organized tours or go by yourselves. In case you go by yourself be careful for passing traffic who are not that used to cyclists and make sure to have a decent map of the area. Most Inca sites around Cuzco are within cycling distance. And if you’re fed up it’s not very hard to find a pick up ride back to Cuzco.
Make sure that you’re acclimatized (2 or 3 days in Cuzco) before getting on a bike as the altitude can get to you.