An alternative to taking the train to Machu Picchu is to hike there instead. For the adventurous you can trek to Machu Picchu along the Classic Inca Trail. Starting at Kilometre 82 (82 kilometres from Cusco along the railway to Aguas Calientes) this beautiful trek through mountain scenery, jungle cloud forest and past Inca ruins, is 43 km in length and takes 4 days to complete, arriving at Machu Picchu for sunrise of the 4th day. The maximum altitude along the trail is 4200m so you need to be acclimatized and fairly fit before you begin. There are many Inca Trail tour operators who have groups leaving regularly for the trail, accompanied by a guide and spending the nights camping. Prices range from US$600 right up to US$1500 depending on the service and group size.
If time or energy is a problem then the Short Inca Trail offers an alternative to the full 4 day hike. This 2 day trek misses out on the best of the mountain scenery and starts further along the Vilcanota Valley at a place known as Km104, which is much closer to Machu Picchu. It's a moderate trek (but by no means easy) walking uphill from Km104 to the Inca ruins at Wiñay Wayna. You then continue to Machu Picchu itself although you won't have time for a guided tour on the first day. You then take the bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes where you spend the night. The following morning you then return by bus to Machu Picchu where, if you are early, you can enjoy the sunrise, followed by a guided tour. Most people then take a late afternoon train back to Cusco.
The number of people allowed on the trails mentioned above is strictly limited so you must make a reservation several months in advance. You can't do any of these treks independently, you must go with an organised group operated by a licensed Inca Trail tour operator. These organized treks usually included your train tickets so that's one less thing for you to worry about.
If you've left it too late to get a space on the Classic Inca Trail trek then you may consider an alternative trek to Machu Picchu.
The 5-day Salkantay/Santa Teresa trek has become very popular over the last few years and doesn't require trek permits so this trek can easily be booked just a few days in advance when you arrive in Cusco. However the better quality companies may fill their groups many weeks in advance so we still recommend making a booking online to avoid disappointment. The first three days involve a fairly difficult trek to Santa Teresa. The fourth day involves a shorter trek and a train ride or walk along the railway line to Aguas Calientes. The final day is spent visiting Machu Picchu and then returning to Cusco late in the evening.
Another alternative trek worth checking out is the Lares Trek. The Lares Valley is a beautiful valley that runs parallel to and "behind" the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This series of mountain pathways takes you through beautiful valleys well off the usual tourist trail. You'll see small communities living the same way as hundreds of years ago, practicing their local traditions and farming techniques. You will also have the chance to see locals producing beautiful hand-made textiles. There are several route options as you can see in the map above. Most treks start either near the town of Lares or in the Sacred Valley and finish in the village of Patacancha (near Ollantaytambo) or back in the Sacred Valley. Most tour operators combine these treks with a visit to Machu Picchu at the end. Although none of the treks end at Machu Picchu a bus takes the group to Ollantaytambo and then take the train to Aguas Calientes where you spend the night. The following day the group will visit Machu Picchu and return to Cusco by train and bus later in the evening.
A list of recommended trekking tour operators can be found on our web page Cusco Tour Operators
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