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Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Inca trail to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts
Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts KANDOO | Machu Picchu Trek with the high altitude experts

Trek to Machu Picchu with Kandoo Adventures

Thank you for considering organising your trek to Machu Picchu with Kandoo. We hope we will be able to have the opportunity to arrange the trip of a lifetime for you. Kandoo are unique in running all our own treks and this extra control allows us to consistently deliver a great experience leading our customers to rate us as the Number One Tour Operator on Trustpilot.

So however you want to trek to Machu Picchu, and whatever you want to do in Peru while you are there, we are here to help so please do contact us with any questions you might have or jump on a live chat to one our team of experts.

Highlights of trekking to Machu Picchu


Enjoy a private tour of the ruins at Machu Picchu, the iconic temple of the Incas
Climb Huayna Picchu for stunning views of the Machu Picchu ruins
Explore the beautiful city of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incan empire
Enjoy some of the other great things Peru has to offer like Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, or the Amazon jungle

Which are the best trekking routes to Machu Picchu


Inca road system When people talk about the Inca trail they generally mean the relatively short 4 day hike from just outside Machu Picchu into the ruins itself. This though is only a very small part of the vast network of paths and trails that the Incas created which are estimated to run to over 20,000 miles.  The map opposite shows just the Inca "Motorways "and these cover over 5000 miles.

All the Inca paths were constructed with the attention to detail and engineering skills for which the Inca are still famous and as result many are still in excellent condition today.  So, rather than there just being one "Inca trail", there are actually lots of great Inca trails to choose from and whichever route you choose all our trips include a private tour of the ruins at Machu Picchu.

 The eight routes we have chosen to operate provide tremendous variety in the scenery you can expect to see, the cultures you will encounter and the length of the trek. For more advice on routes generally see Machu Picchu route recommendations. 

On four of the routes we run a regular program of open group treks. These are the Classic Inca trail, the Salktantay trek, the Lares trek and the Ausangate trail.  On the other four routes we operate, the Inca trail via Salkantay, the Vilcabamba trail, the Choquequiroa trail and the Huchuy Qosqo trail you can book a private trek for any size of group from 2 upwards.

A map showing the location of all of these routes is below together with brief summaries of the routes.

Machu Picchu treks

The Classic Inca Trail

Sun Gate at Machu Picchu This is by far the most famous trek in South America and is rated by many to be in the top 5 treks in the world. In just 26 miles (43km) it manages to combine beautiful mountainscenery, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and, of course, a stunning mix of Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels. The final destination of the trail just cannot be beaten: Machu Picchu, the mysterious "Lost City of the Incas" and of course you arrive at the ruins at the famous Sun Gate. It's only shortcoming in our view is that it is a short trek that is not particularly challenging.

Salkantay Trail

One of the reasons the Classic Inca Trail is popular is the incredible diversity of the views and ecosystems, and in this respect the Salkantay route is even better. The walk is dominated by the 20,500-feet-high Mount Salkantay and cuts through the beautiful Mollepata Valley and passes Salkantay at an altitude above 15,000 feet before traversing around the mountains to arrive at Agua Calientes. There are less ruins on this route but also a lot less trekkers. National Geographic liked this trail so much they include it in their list of the World's Best Hikes.

Lares Trail

Lares trekThe Lares trek is an excellent trail for those who want to get off the ‘beaten track’ as it treks through Andean communities which are unchanged over centuries. You are still surrounded by stunning mountains, lakes and valleys but the real interest is in the fascinating villages you trek through. The trail starts from the Sacred Valley, so called because of its incredible fertility, and crosses two 4000 metres passes as well as visiting the relaxing hot springs in Lares before finishing at Agua Calientes and your tour of Machu Picchu.

You are surrounded by stunning mountains, lakes and valleys but the real interest is in the fascinating villages you trek through. Again you will see less  ruins than on the classic Inca trail but this is a great option if there are no permits for the Classic trail. Along with the Salkantay Trail this was ranked as one of the top alternative routes to Machu Picchu by National Geographic.

Inca Trail via Salkantay

Salkantay Mountain This route is, in our opinion, the perfect combination of mountains and culture. Approaching the Inca Trail via Salkantay, it is a spectacular 7 day trek that starts in the warmcitrus valley near Mollabamba, passes beneath the snow-capped, sacred mountain of Salkantay and eventually joins the Classic Inca Trail. It combines the best of the rugged scenery on Salkantay with the best of the Inca Trail in one fantastic week’s adventure. 

Located northwest of Cusco, Nevado de Salkantay, the cordillera's tallest peak rises to 6271 meters above sea level. The name Salkantay means 'Savage Mountain' and it is a strikingly beautiful single peak providing a great focal point for this route. The Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek normally takes 7 days walking and has become popular with trekkers wanting to combine a quieter, less trodden route with a visit to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. For the first 4 days you will be surrounded by magnificent scenery and rarely see other groups of trekkers. On the fifth day you join up with the Inca Trail at Wayllabamba and continue to Machu Picchu, arriving at the Sun Gate. The trek is only a little more difficult than the Inca Trail, and horses can be used for the first 4 days to carry food and equipment. Since horses are not allowed on the Inca Trail, you'll swap over to using human porters for this final section.

Ausangate Trail

Rainbow Mountains at Ausangate This trail does not really qualify as a trekking route to Machu Picchu as it does not pass anywhere near the ruins. It is included here is because the departure town is Cuzco so the trail can be done as an additional trip while in Peru and because it does visit the spectacular Rainbow Mountains.  In its own right though Ausangate is a fantastic trek which takes in some of the most remote and wild places in Peru.

The trail crosses over the Cordillera Vilcanota and as well  as the Rainbow Mountains the stunning scenery includes snow capped summits and beautiful lush valleys.  

 

Vilcabamba Trail

This 5 day trek covering 60 mountainous miles is not for the faint of heart or weak of legs. Starting at the town of Cachora, a two-day hike crosses the mile-deep Apurimac River canyon to the remote ruins of Choquequirao (the name means "Cradle of Gold" in Quechua), which have become famous in recent years for their similarity to Machu Picchu.The route then continues through the sparsely populated Cordillera Vilcabamba, which looks much the same as when Hiram Bingham first explored here a century ago. The route traverses a mountain range, crosses rivers and valleys, and cuts through several of Peru’s diverse biozones: dry scrub, lush cloud forest, and puna, a high-altitude grassland. The trek ends a short walk or train ride from Machu Picchu. Some of the days on this trek can be quite long and tiring. If you are unsure of your fitness we can easily extend this trek by an additional day.

Huchuy Qosqo Trail

IHuchuy Qosqo ruinsf you're short on time but still fancy doing a little bit of trekking before hitting the highlights of Machu Picchu, then the Huchuy Qosqo trail is perfect for you. With only 17km of trail and  a maximum altitude climbed of 4350m, it is ideal for those looking for an introductory trek in the Peruvian Andes.  

The name Huchuy Qosqo translates as Little Cuzco reflecting its historic importance and the town features some well preserved Inca ruins.

 

Choquequiroa trail

Choquequirao ruinsOur longest and most challenging trek in Peru this trip, this takes you to the ancient city of Choquequirao, which translates as Cradle of Gold. Choquequirao topped the prestigious Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2017 Top Regions list.

The site is still being  explored by archeaologists and, unlike Machu  Picchu,  it can still only be reached by trekking for 3 days. This means it is still wonderfully quiet and a perfect choice  for the most adventurous hikers.

 

When is the best time to trek to Machu Picchu?

As with all our destinations, when you are planning when to trek to Machu Picchu you have to make a trade-off between how good the weather is likely to be against how busy it will be.

Avoiding the crowds

With the permit system operating on the Classic Inca trail, the numbers on the trek itself vary little during the year, as almost every day is sold out. (In February the trail is actually shut for repairs and maintenance).  The alternative Inca trails we operate are all fairly quiet year round so, in terms of  trekking,  the numbers you can expect to see on the trail  is not a big issue in deciding when to go.

The real problem is the actual site of  the ruins at Machu PIcchu where 90% of visitors arrive by train for the day and this affects all routes equally.  During the main Northern Hemisphere holidays , from June to August, Machu Picchu is extremely crowded and if you go at weekends it is even busier. So if you want to have some quiet to enjoy the tour then these months are best avoided and, if you do have to travel during this period, certainly try to avoid arriving at the ruins on a weekend day.

Weather

Machu Picchu is relatively close to the equator and experiences very small differences in temperature during the year. Much larger temperature variations are recorded daily and, during the trek, the temperature will change with altitude.  Machu Picchu though sits in the sub-tropical Andes and this region has a very distinct dry and wet season. The dry season starts  in May and runs through September with expected rainfall then increasing through to February when it peaks.  Rainfall over this period is typical of sub-tropical regions with warm sunny periods interrupted by short, sharp deluges. Charts of the average temperature and rainfall are below

 

Machu PIcchu temperature chartMachu Picchu rainfall chart

 

 So to summarise, if you want the best chance of dry weather then June to August are the best choices but you will have to accept that Machu Picchu is likely to be very crowded. If you can tolerate a little rain then the shoulder periods are excellent times to visit so consider late April or May and September to October.  And unless you really have no choice avoid December to March.

Permit system for the Classic Inca trail

Start of Inca trailPrior to 2004 there were no limits on the number of trekkers using the Classic Inca trail. This lack of control resulted in overcrowding on the trail and at campsites, substantial erosion of the trail itself and  other environmental damage caused by waste. From 2004 onwards, a permit system was introduced which restricts numbers on the trail to 500 persons per day and this number includes all the guides and crew who also need a permit. As a result, the number of permits available for trekkers is probably only 200 each day. 

Until 2017, all the permits for each year were put on sale in January for all dates for that year. For the current year the "permit on sale" date has moved to October. The critical things to understand is that prior to that date no operator can guarantee that you will have a permit. When permits go on sale it is a free-for-all and operators scramble to reserve the permits for the dates for which they have bookings. Fortunately, for the 9 years we have been operating treks to Machu Picchu we have never failed to obtain the permits we required.

If an operator ever informs you that they are able to block-book or pre-order permits they are lying. The permit system is policed very strictly and permits are only issued against specific names and passport numbers and you are required to check in for the trail at the 82km start point with your passport. If you have married recently you must take a passport in your maiden name as the park authorities are totally inflexible enforcing these rules.

With such a limited number of permits available, and demand extremely high, popular dates sell out completely within days . So if you heart is set on the Classic Inca trail then follow our advice here on how to get your permit. Alternatively have a look at some of the other great routes we operate.

About Machu Picchu

Machu PIcchu templeWhen you reach the end of your trek and arrive at Machu Picchu you will be standing 2,430 m above sea-level,on a sharp ridge rising above a a tropical mountain forest. The setting is simply breathtaking.  As well as the beautiful natural setting, the scale of the construction and the feat of engineering to build in this location are quite amazing. Giant walls, temples,houses have been cut into the rock itself and the surrounding forest has a huge diversity of flora and fauna.

Machu Picchu was built around the fifteenth century but was sadly abandoned when the Spanish Conquistadores conquered the Inca in the sixteenth century. It was then left unknown to the rest of the world until 1911 when it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham.

Since then, Machu Picchu and the Inca trail have become huge tourist attractions and progressively more of the site has been cleared of jungle and more of the buildings have been reconstructed.  The restoration work still continues although the fast growing jungle makes even keeping the existing cleared site free of forest is a huge task.

Machu Picchu was built with highly polished dry-stone walls in the best classical Inca style. Approximately 200 buildings are arranged on wide parallel terraces around a vast central square that is oriented east-west and is believed to be a public place of worship.

There are three large structures contained in what archaeologists call the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. These are the Inti Watana, (a ritual stone associated with the astronomic clock) the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

The site is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, as well as the upper town and the lower town. The temples are part of the upper town, the warehouses the lower. Maintaining Machu Picchu and all its visitors required an army of workers and servants and a huge amount of food and the extensive terraces were used for agriculture with complex irrigation providing water for the fields.  For more on what you can see at the ruins see "Top 10 things to do at Machu Picchu"

Other things you can do in Peru while visiting Machu Picchu

Visit Lake Titicaca
Visit Lake Titicaca

Squeezed between the mountains of Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is one of the most fascinating lakes in the world. It is the world's highest navigable lake at over 3800 meters and is a sacred place for the Inca civilization, as their mythology says that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born here....

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Hike Colca Canyon
Hike Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is truly immense: twice as deep as the USA's Grand Canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, the area is remarkably fertile and you can see the local people farming here on the pre-Inca stepped terraces. And of course Colca is really famous for the rare Andean Condors which can be seen at close range....

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Experience the Amazon jungle
Experience the Amazon jungle

Just the name Amazon conjures up images of ancient tribes, dense untouched forest and incredible wildlife, and whether you visit the Amazon for just two days or much longer you will not leave disappointed. ...

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Fly over the Nazca Lines
Fly over the Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are what archaeologists call geoglyphs: patterns carved into the ground creating immense images. And the geoglyphs at Nazca are vast. Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain, some 400 km south of Lima, they cover an area of about 450 sq. km....

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Visit Lake Titicaca
Peru festivals

Peru has the most fabulous festivals every year that are spectacular displays of coloured costumes, intricate dancing and amazing singing. If your trek coincides with one of them make sure you have a look....

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Machu Picchu trek FAQs

Q1How fit do I need to be trek to Machu Picchu

The classic trek involves just three days trekking with one serious high point at the Dead Woman's Pass. Generally you will be hiking for 5-7 hours a day. The trek is therefore within the reach of average fitness walkers with a little effort in the months before the trek invested in doing some good length walks and some regular cardio exercise.

Q2Can I trek the Inca trail to Machu Picchu independently?

No, at the time that the permit system for controlling numbers on the Inca trail was introduced the Park Authorities made it mandatory to use a registered and licensed operator.

Q3How far in advance do I need to book?

Permits for the Classic trail are tightly restricted to 500 trekkers per day. All permits for a year are now released in October for the following year and many dates sell out in hours. If you want to follow the Classic trail you need to book well in advance. Other routes such as Lares or Salkantay are not subject to permits and can be booked at shorter notice.

Q4How do I get to Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is not the easiest place to reach as there are no direct flights and so all routing take you via Lima, the capital of Peru. This journey can be further complicated by the fact that strong winds often close Cuzco airport in the afternoon.  From Europe the best flights are with KLM . From North America there is a wider range of options including American Airlines and US Airways. For more detailed advice on flights see here.

Q5What are the tents like that you use?

On all our treks we use comfortable three person mountain tents that are extremely strong and reliable and with only two person occupancy you have plenty of room. Our mess tents are tall, strong and comfortable allowing plenty of space for large chairs. For more about our tents see here .

Q6What will the food be like on the trek?

The quality of food that our cooks provide on our Machu Picchu treks is amazing. And if you have special dietary requirements we can handle most things so just let us know well in advance. For more on food on our treks see here

Q7What insurance do I need for my trek?

A condition of joining any of our trips is that you have proper insurance and for Machu Picchu treks this needs to cover you up to an altitude of 4500m. Cover should specifically include the costs of emergency evacuation if this was necessary. For more on insurance advice see here .

Q8How much tips should I expect to pay?

Tips are not a substitute for us paying good wages and Kandoo pay some of the highest wages to our crew of any operator. Tips though are normal in Peru and we recommend  $20 per day for the guide, $12 per day for the cook and $5 per day for the porters. These are all costs for the group. Of course tipping is optional and if you are not happy with the service do not feel under any pressure to pay tips. For more advice on tipping see here

Q9What are the passport and visa requirements?

A visa can be bought for all nationalities on arrival and unlike a lot of destinations there is no minimum term required as outstanding on your passport. For more detailed advice on visas see here

Q10Do I need any vaccinations

Unfortunately the list of recommended vaccinations for visiting Machu Picchu is very lengthy and includes Rabies as well as the more normal vaccinations most people have. For more detailed advice on vaccinations see here 

Q11What kit do I need for the trek?

Unlike our other destinations, Machu Picchu is not subject to huge changes in temperature so you will need far fewer layers and warm clothes. Essentially a pair of shorts, t shirt and thin fleece are fine for the day and a change into trousers and a thicker fleece/jacket for the evening. For wet weather gear we recommend using a plastic poncho as even when it rains the humidity is high and even expensive goretex gear will not let your body breath fast enough to stay dry.

Q12WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF MACHU PICCHU?

Machu Picchu has been called ‘The Lost City of the Incas'. It is located atop a mountain ridge, more than 2400 metres above sea level, overlooking the Urubamba Valley, and is less than 80 kilometres from the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco. It is believed that Machu Picchu was constructed in the early 1400s as a palace and temple complex for Emperor Pachacuti, who lived between 1438 and 1472 by today’s calendar. Its ruins are very well preserved, and an excellent example of the ‘classic Incan style’ of architecture.

Q13HOW WAS MACHU PICCHU CONSTRUCTED?

Originally constructed with polished dry-stone walls and thatched roofs, Incan stone work was unique, featuring huge stone blocks carefully ground and shaped to fit together in perfect complex patterns without mortar. The fact that they are still standing in this earthquake-prone region is a testament to the sophistication of the technique. Machu Picchu was constructed from stone quarried from the site itself, and chippings from the large stones went to form the terraces and courtyards, allowing them to drain off the heavy rainfall they receive without too much erosion.

Q14WHAT ARE SOME OF MACHU PICCHU’S MOST IMPORTANT SITES?

The site has two primary components: the agricultural sector and the urban sector. The urban areas are further divided into the upper town or temple district, and the warehouses of the lower town. It has around 200 buildings constructed in wide terraces, centred on a large public square. To the west of this square is a tower called the Torreón, which was very likely an astronomical observatory (without a telescope, of course). Also of interest are the Temple of the Sun, the Room of the Three Windows, and the Inti Watana stone. These were all central to the worship of the chief Inca god, Inti, who was associated with the sun. The Inti Watana, sometimes called ‘the Hitching-post of the Sun’, is a stone set up to mark the position of the sun at the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. Note that Bingham named it such, based on his limited understanding of its religious significance and his desire to make for compelling publication. Modern researchers believe the stone is more likely a calendar, much like Britain’s Stonehenge. The Inti Mach’ay is an actual site associated with the worship of Inti at Machu Picchu. It is a carefully constructed artificial cave designed to only receive light for a few days around the winter solstice, when the Royal Feast of the Sun was celebrated. Young nobles would be initiated into manhood by having their ears pierced as the sun rose upon them in the cave.

Q15WHY WAS THE INCA TRAIL CONSTRUCTED?

Though the Incas knew of the wheel, it never became an important tool in their mountainous region. Instead all transportation was on foot, and all goods were carried by men or pack animals. They did have an intricate road system, and it extended to Machu Picchu itself. Today the ‘Inca Trail’ is a large part of the Machu Picchu experience for many trekkers and tourists. The roads are not suitable for vehicles, however, and the only access to the site is on foot, though a tram will take you as far as the foot of the mountain. The Inca trail itself can be trekked in part, or all at once. The shortest section is the One Day trail, which ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The next longest is called the Classic Trail. It starts quite a bit farther back before joining the one day trek, and includes an ascent well above 4000 metres, where the air is quite thin and special care must be taken to avoid AMS (altitude sickness). The longest is the Mollepata trail, which leads onto the Classic and One Day trails in turn. Both of the longer two cross several diverse Andean environments, from alpine tundra to cloud forest, and take you past settlements and ruins as well as through mountain tunnels.

Q16WHEN WAS MACHU PICCHU DISCOVERED?

There is some evidence that Europeans may have been aware of Machu Picchu’s existence in the mid to late 19th century, but it was not until 1911 that an American named Hiram Bingham publicised it widely, and explored the ruins in depth. Only in 2007 did Yale University and Peru reach an agreement about the fate of the 400,000 plus artefacts Bingham removed from the site in the early 20th century. Originally, the artefacts were to be returned to Peru by 1917, but Yale retained most of them until 2012, ostensibly because Peru lacked ‘the infrastructure to care for them’. The antiquities are almost all housed in the National University of San Antonio Abad Del Cusco’s La Casa Concha, near Cuzco’s colonial centre. Peru declared the site a Historical Sanctuary in 1981. Two years later Machu Picchu became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is now considered one of the ‘new seven wonders of the world’. It sees nearly half a million visitors each year, and many are becoming concerned about the impact such high amounts of visitors are having on the site, both in terms of trash and pollution, and actual damage to the structures.

Q17WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF MACHU PICCHU?

The nearest town, Aguas Calientes has grown explosively due to the tourist traffic, and is the site of a much criticised tramline intended to make the site more accessible. A bridge was recently constructed to allow easier travel across the Vilcanota River, though Peruvian courts ordered that the bridge not be constructed. As a result of this sudden and potentially damaging popularity, the World Monuments Fund declared Machu Picchu one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World in 2008. As of 2011, only 2500 visitors are allowed to Machu Picchu each day, and no more than 400 are allowed into the citadel itself, and only briefly.

Q18WHO WERE THE INCAS?

The Inca were primarily ethnic Quechuas, descended from at least two groups of well-developed and quite civilised people, the Chimu and Wari cultures, who had sophisticated urban settlements and wide trade cultures as early as 500AD. In the mid 1400s, the Inca rose quickly from a small, isolated people to the largest empire in pre-Columbian South America. At its height, the Incan empire covered a third of the land in South America, and had a population as high as 16 million. That empire would prove to be short lived. The empire had only just come out of a civil war where two half-brothers (Atahualpa and Huascar) fought for the throne of their father. The Spanish explorers, already active in the region, had already been responsible for several crippling outbreaks of smallpox, and the Incan empire was in decline. Machu Picchu was abandoned less than 100 years after it was built. Soon, the Spanish Conquistadors would come to what would later be named Peru. They defeated the weakened Incan forces at the Battle of Cajamarca in 1532, and had control of the entire empire (then known as the Viceroyalty of Peru with its capital in Lima) after taking the stronghold of Vilcabamba in 1572. Most of the old capital of Cuzco was destroyed, and replaced with new European style buildings in an attempt to replace the older culture and religion entirely. Only the fact that Machu Picchu was already abandoned, and quite hard to reach, spared it the same fate. Records suggest that the Spanish were unaware of the temple complex’s existence, though it was well known by nearby villagers up until its ‘rediscovery’ in 1911.

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