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Different ways to travel to Machu Picchu
The legendary Inca Trail may be revered as one of the best treks in the world, but it's not the only way to arrive at the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. There are a handful of alternative routes to reach this impressive lost city, each offering something slightly different and appealing to different types of travellers. Read on for what we consider to be the best alternative ways to get to Machu Picchu...
The two-day Inca Trail
For those who desire to arrive at Machu Picchu on foot but are short on time or new to trekking, this is the perfect alternative to the classic Inca Trail. Starting at KM 104 of the Machu Picchu train line, this 12km trek will lead you on a gentle climb through cloud forest, passing waterfalls and streams to the hidden ruins of Wiñay Wayna, the final Inca site before Machu Picchu. From here, the journey continues up steep jungle steps to the Sun Gate for your first view of Machu Picchu. After marvelling at this ancient citadel, you will overnight in the town of Aguas Calientes, ready for a guided tour the following day. It is important to note that the two-day Inca Trail requires one of the 500 permits available each day and therefore forward planning is a must, however this climb is possible in February when the classic Inca Trail is closed for maintenance.
This four day journey is an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail and equally as rewarding, with the added bonus of no crowds and no restriction on permits. Slightly shorter in distance but higher in altitude, it is considered to be as challenging as the Inca Trail and blends the perfect mix of adventure with cultural immersion. The trek consists of two full days of hiking through the remote and rarely visited Lares Valley, brimming with high-altitude lakes, snow-capped peaks and pristine waterfalls. Passing through several authentic Andean villages along the way offers a glimpse into local life, where little has changed in the past 500 years; locals wear traditional Andean dress and local customs remain deep rooted in the Incan way of life. After two nights of camping, on the third day the trek ends near the historic ruins of Ollantaytambo, and from there the train takes you to Aguas Calientes, where you will overnight in a hotel ready to explore Machu Picchu the following day.
Covering a distance of approximately 40 miles over five days, this journey is named after the Cordillera Vilcabamba's highest peak and runs along the most awe-inspiring and challenging terrain to Machu Picchu. The trek runs across the Mollepata Valley, winds past Mount Salkantay, down into sub-tropical cloud forest and onto an ancient and remote Inca trail which leads to the Inca ruins of Llactapata. Once in Llactapata a small train takes you to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you will overnight in a hotel ready to explore Machu Picchu the following day. From glacier lakes, jungle vegetation and towering peaks, the route is packed with flora and fauna and remnants of the Inca civilisation. Higher in altitude and further in distance, the Salkantay trek is more challenging than the Inca Trail, but with fewer hikers, outstanding views and no restriction of permits, it is a great option for the more active traveller.
Lodge to lodge trek
Offering adventure at its finest, this innovative programme combines adventure with luxury mountainside lodges and is perfect for those put off by the idea of camping. Each day, after a full day’s trekking you will be pampered with hot showers, fine gourmet meals, and soft mattresses. Spread over seven days this trek follows a similar trail as the Salkantay trek but at a more gentle pace – providing time to acclimatise, mix with the locals and fully take in the area’s magnificent beauty. Another option is to follow the Lares route, which focuses more on a cultural experience by visiting hidden communities and getting under the skin of local life.
A train journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco
For those not interested in camping or short on time, taking the train to Machu Picchu is the ideal option. The three-hour train journey, which winds through the mountains of the Sacred Valley and follows the Urubamba River, takes you through scenery of outstanding beauty. The Vistadome and Inca Rail are both excellent options, but for those with a lust for luxury then the Belmond Hiram Bingham train is a must. With its elegantly designed 1920s blue and gold Pullman carriages and its three-course dining, it offers a journey not to be forgotten. Day trips to Machu Picchu are possible, but we strongly recommend staying overnight in the town of Aguas Calientes (the gateway to Machu Picchu) and exploring the ruins the following day, allowing you more time to make the most of this ancient wonder.