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Perhaps the most classic Machu Picchu trip, walking the Inca Trail is a bucket list item for many. This is a challenging trip, but the reward is well worth the effort. Most Inca Trail treks take 4-5 days, though this varies.
Day 1-2, Cusco: Explore Cusco and get acclimated to the altitude. Visit cultural sites and museums to learn about the Inca before visiting Machu Picchu.
Day 3-8, Inca Trail: Embark upon the Inca trail.
Day 9-10, Machu Picchu: Arrive at the picturesque Sun Gate before the first wave of crowds. Take an in depth guided tour of the ruins, and spend free time exploring on your own. Climb the challenging Huayna Picchu for iconic pictures.
Trips that follow this itinerary:
The Inca Trail with Exodus - 9 Days
One of the biggest draws of Machu Picchu is its historical significance. Most tours will touch on this, but some dive deeper than others into the archaeological history and cultural history of the incredible site.
Day 1-3, Cusco: Explore Cusco and get acclimated to the altitude. Visit cultural sites and museums to learn about the Inca before visiting Machu Picchu.
Day 4, Agua Calientes: Take the famous Scenic train ride to Agua Calientes. Spend the night and prepare to rise early to catch the dawn bus to Machu Picchu.
Day 5-6, Machu Picchu: Take an in depth guided tour of the ruins, and spend free time exploring on your own. Climb the challenging Huayna Picchu for iconic pictures.
Day 7, Ollantaytambo: On your way back to Cusco, stop in Ollantaytambo another historically significant Inca site.
Day 8, Lima: Depart from Lima
Day 2-6, Official Treks: Strike out upon one of three treks, Lares, Salkantay, or Inca, on your way to the site.
Trips that follow this itinerary:
Sacred Land of the Incas with Intrepid - 15 Days
Many tour companies combine a trip to Machu Picchu with a tour of the Galapagos. Typically these tours range anywhere from two weeks to a full month.
Day 1-2, Cusco: Take time to adjust to the altitude. Visit Plaza de Armas, and explore the Old Inca Capital.
Day 2-3, Agua Calientes: Take the famous VistaDome scenic train ride to Agua Calientes. Along the way stop in Pisac to visit the market. Continue to Ollantaytambo for a tour of more Incan ruins before arriving in Agua Calientes. Spend the night and prepare to rise early to catch the dawn bus to Machu Picchu.
Day 4-5, Machu Picchu: Take an in depth guided tour of the ruins, and spend free time exploring on your own. Optional: climb the challenging Huayna Picchu for iconic pictures.
Day 6-7, Cusco to Lima: Return to Cusco and take a short flight to Lima - the jumping off point for your Galapagos cruise. Take a walking history tour of the city: San Francisco Church, Plaza de Armas, Government Palace.
Day 8, Quito: Leave Peru for Ecuador and head to Quito. Explore the city and see La Compania. Take a drive to the Equatorial Line Monument, where you can straddle the hemispheres.
Day 9-13, Galapagos Cruise: Enjoy a cruise of the Galapagos islands. Take in the history of Darwin’s time on the islands, which led to his groundbreaking evolution theories. Get up close and personal with the incredible and diverse wildlife, and learn about the delicate ecology on the islands from an expert.
Trips that follow this itinerary:
Machu Picchu and Galapagos Cruise with Smartours - 16 Days, premium trip
Machu Picchu and Galapagos with Explore! - 15 Days, value trip
Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands Multisport with REI Adventures - 15 Days, basic trip
Your first moment of seeing Machu Picchu can easily be a highlight of a lifetime of travel. Taking in the perilous peaks and the beautiful silvery stones that make up the legendary lost Incan outpost high in the Andes merits few equals in any other destination experience. For many, Machu Picchu is a rite of passage.
However, getting to that moment is a process that can either be just as epic or stressful and exhausting. Let Stride guide you towards the best tour operators to ensure that your journey to one of the world’s most famous archaeological ruins is smooth and memorable.
The first port of call is Cuzco. Cuzco was the capital of the vast Incan empire and is replete with both ancient Incan temples and exquisite colonial churches.
Boasting a dizzying mix of Catholic religious festivals, ancient Incan annual rituals, and popular music parades, Cuzco’s calendar is packed with exciting cultural experiences.
Cuzco also has its fair share of four-star hotels as well as budget accommodations, and is nestled in a beautiful landscape making it the perfect location in which to pass the time.
On the outskirts of the city, Sacsayhuaman stands strong as the former fortress defending the Incan imperial capital and is the perfect destination for your first glimpse at the impressively large and exquisitely carved stones that make Incan architecture so famous. Returning to the city, one can appreciate some of the most beautiful colonial architecture in all of South America. Some churches, like Qoricancha, are built on top of and incorporated within Incan ruins. The cathedral, Santa Catalina monastery, San Blas, and countless other colonial gems complete the beauty of a town where religious art is so beautiful, it inspired an entire Cusquena artistic school and movement.
Cuzco even has a modern side. Going with a good tour operator can help ensure you see the most recent additions to Cuzco’s ever-changing heritage: museums dedicate to chocolate and Pisco, resorts, spas, and even a vibrant nightlife.
Machu Picchu is much more than just Machu Picchu. A journey to the sacred Incan fortress is reached through the Sacred Valley. On the way to Machu Picchu, you will pass Pisaq, where Incan terraces cascade gracefully down from the ancient trading post. Later, you will find yourself passing the fascinating, and beautiful, salt mines of Maras or entering the sacred, but eerie, endless concentric circles of Moray.
Finally, a Sacred Valley tour is not complete without visiting Ollantaytambo, a beautiful town in its own right, with a beautiful colonial core and a dramatic fortress climbing up on every mountain around the quaint alleys below.
After Ollantaytambo, the more adventure-prone will find themselves on the famous Incan trail. This long-standing rite of passage will have you hiking amidst the Andes on an actual Incan road, passing ruins along the way. However, many elect to take a train instead. The winding trains range from economic to high-luxury. Regardless of which train you take, the views are amazing.
Unless you took the Incan trail the whole way there, you will have your chance to warm up in the hot springs of Agua Calientes in preparation for your exciting day in Machu Picchu.
Arriving early, you can catch the ancient mist disappearing to reveal the beautiful stones that make up one of the world’s most dramatic set of ruins. With your tour guide, you will learn about many of the secrets in those stones: an ancient sun dial, a temple designed to resemble a condor, and the temple of the sun, which boasts perhaps the most impressive ancient stonework in the Western Hemisphere.
After your guided tour, you may opt to go for a hike. Popular options include the sun gate, which is actually the end point of the Incan trail, or climbing up Huayna Picchu, a tough climb that is rewarded with its own set of ruins that tower over Machu Picchu and provide new captivating angles to photograph the fortress below.
For those desiring to focus on the ruins themselves, simply meandering its ancient streets will provide hours of captivating discoveries and mysterious wonders found in the meticulously cut stones that surround you.
A trip to Machu Picchu is never just a trip to Machu Picchu. Rather, it is a journey that can and should include colonial towns, religious art, ancient ruins, Andean treks, and breathtaking vistas. Machu Picchu is one of the more rewarding but daunting experiences in all of global travel, so it is best to plan well to ensure a fulfilling trip. See our comprehensive Machu Picchu trip planning tips article for help getting started!
Make sure that your entire journey in Machu Picchu, and Peru as a whole, is organized and led by the best tour operators available. That way, using the tools available on Stride, you can focus on creating memories of a lifetime.