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I'm planning on heading to Peru to visit Machu Picchu next year. I heard there are some amazing and beautiful "long way around" treks that take you up and around to Machu Picchu the long way through the Andes as an alternative to going the direct and crowded tourist route. It's a multi-day trek where you have to sleep in tents along the way.

Has anyone taken a trek like this, and if so, how long was it, how much did it cost (approx), and if you know the tour company/website that would also aid in my research and trip planning!

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5 Answers 5

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Don't book before you get there. The prices quoted by silent1mezzo are staggeringly expensive, compared to what you can get once you're actually in Peru. Most 5day tours should run for less than $200USD.

The first step is to get to Cusco. You can fly there (landing there is pretty spectacular) or you can get a cheap bus from pretty much anywhere else in the country. Some people have problems with the altitude in Cusco, so planning a couple of days for acclimatisation and exploring is a good idea. There are some short walks to ruins near the city that will help.

There are probably hundreds of tour operators in Cusco (here is a list of 66 that have an online presence, there are many more without one) that run hiking tours to Machu Picchu. Ask around, or at your hotel/hostel for tour company recommendations as they're likely to change.

If you want to do the Inca Trail, it is recommended that you book well in advance (months), as this is so popular. Because of the popularity it is also very well trafficked and apparently not very charming or enjoyable as a hike (I didn't do it, so this is just hearsay). Basically, I would prepare for there to be whinging tourists to be all about you.

There are many hiking alternatives to the Inca Trail which also end up at Machu Picchu. These can all be booked in and leave from Cusco at less than a week's notice.

  • Salkantay: 5days/4nights, goes high up into the mountains (4600m) and past an unclimbed, snow-capped mountain called Salkantay. Some steep sections. Very spectacular.

  • Choquequirao: A longer trek (9 days) which includes cultural immersion as well as spectacular scenery. Involves 2 days of trekking back from Choquequirao on the same path, so there are some repeated views.

  • Cordillera Huayhuash (leaves from Huaraz): A comparatively quiet route offering solitude and scenery, takes one of two routes near the Cordillera Blanca mountains.

  • Lares: 4days/3nights, Takes in the Quechuan lifestyle. Famous for the textile villages encountered along the way. Crosses two peaks and takes in some hot springs and lakes.

  • Jungle Treks: Most of these involve a short walk, some downhill on-road mountain biking and a bus to Machu Picchu. Not highly recommended if you like hiking.

  • DIY hike: Get to Aguas Calientes by train and continue up to Machu Picchu either by bus or by hiking the the five-mile trail. If you get there at dawn as it opens, your views won't be spoiled by the throngs of tourists that arrive later in the day.

I should mention that most of these treks will be fully inclusive of include a tent and mat, food, and guide. Some provide a mule to carry your gear either all the way, or part-way with you. I found this against the spirit of hiking and chose to carry my own pack.

Other tips:

  • You can befriend your guides by offering to carry some of the food they are lugging for the group (they will likely refuse, but the gesture is appreciated)
  • Ask questions of your guide - I found they were not very talkative about the history or scenery but when prompted had quite a bit of knowledge to share
  • Always walk on the high side of mules so you don't get bumped off a mountain
  • It gets very cold at night at those altitudes, bring a good sleeping bag
  • The sun can be very intense during the day at altitude, bring sunscreen.
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Personally, I found the Incan trail hike acceptable. I had a buddy who DIYed his own hike without a guide (which is illegal) and it turned out okay, as well. Something I learned, show up to Cusco and book one there. There are tons of backpackers looking to make groups. –  Ginamin Jun 24 '11 at 1:48
    
Can I be 100% sure that there is no need to reserve the Salcantay trail in advance for the month of April ? –  Patrick Dec 24 '12 at 19:29
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Gap Adventures has tonnes of Machu Picchu trips (80 in the search) that go around and trek through Machu Picchu. They're not overly expensive (21 days is only $2800). Gap always have very experience guides.

Contiki Tours also have a few trips through Machu Picchu. I haven't been on one of their trips so I can't vouch for them. Contiki looks a little more expensive.

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Gap has some good guides, I met a few. I would still say book in Cusco. The guides are not exclusive to a company, they (and the porters) float between companies as they are needed. As I understand it, this is encouraged by the government as it spreads the money around the town and not only a few guides are making money. On a side note, to be a guide in Peru, you need a bachelor's degree in being a guide... so most of them are pretty knowledgeable. –  Ginamin Jun 24 '11 at 2:19
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I trekked part of the Lares for 3 days and 2 nights at the end of February. We crossed 2 passes of around 4000m high during this excursion.

Itinerary:

Day 1: Leave Ollantaytambo at 7am by van and we reach our destination around 10am. You also climb your first pass before the end of the day.

Day 2: Wake up early at 5am and leave camp at 7am for your 2nd pass. By 4pm, we have climbed down the mountains to a much warmer spot.

Day 3: The van picked us up from camp before 10am and we headed to the train station to catch the next train to Aguas Caliente which is the closest town to Machu Picchu.

Prior to reaching Ollantaytambo, I left the majority of my luggage in Cuzco. Since there were mules and horses to carry our stuffs, we were limited to around 5Kg per person. The hike itself was pleasant with a regular backpack.

I will recommend you spend a few days in Cuzco or other higher altitude area in Peru before you start your hike. Some hikers who starts hiking within 1 or 2 days of landing in Lima tend to have altitude sickness on the hike which is not pleasant at all. I already got my altitude sickness a couple of days before the hike in Puno and I was ready to hike by the time I reached Cuzco.

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Perfect :D Thank you for the detailed breakdown and the tip about altitude sickness. Something I had not previously considered. –  justinl Aug 23 '11 at 5:28
    
+1 for acclimatising in Puno. –  Simon Gibbs Sep 18 '12 at 11:51
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I'd be worried about a tour operator that only charged $200 for the Inca Trail. Some of the cheap operators underpay their porters. Since their the ones doing all of the hard work, it's worth putting in some effort to find an operator that treats the porters well. We went with SAS Travel in December of 2010. It was significantly off season so it rained quite a bit but the bonus was that there weren't many people on the trail. Our group of about 15 hikers (plus another dozen+ porters and guides) and one other group about the same size were really all we saw the whole time. Our guide was pretty good. It turns out he was an archaeology grad student so he had some good info about the Incans.

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You had a dozen porters and guides, and you think they were all paid well? I made sure to tip the guide and porter we had on our hike. This is apparently customary as they don't generally get paid much by the tour organiser. –  jozzas Jul 22 '11 at 5:49
    
Of course we tipped the guide, assistant guide, and porters. I thought that went without saying. –  Sean Jul 22 '11 at 15:29
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There are many alternatives to get Machu Picchu. Starting with Classic Inca Trail 4 days, Short Inca Trail 2 days these two routes has several archaeological sites on the route and beautiful landscape. On the other hand the alternative routes they don't have archaeological sites on the route however have beautiful views across the valley, snowy mountains. The alternatives routes are: - Salkantay Trek 5 days - Lares Trek 4 days - Choquequirao Trek 8 days

Good Luck!

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protected by Ankur Banerjee May 9 '13 at 23:10

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