By: James Asquith, CEO and founder of Holiday Swap.
What is the best way to see Machu Picchu? Not via “the” Inca Trail, and here is why. I have now been to Machu Picchu three times and each time I have done it differently. Everyone is very quick to ask if I’m taking “the” Inca Trail when I visit – my answer will always be no. There are many trails the Inca people took and to pay the over inflated price for the pleasure of camping in other people’s trash left behind and hearing obnoxious adventure stories is not my idea of fun. All trails to Machu Picchu (including just hiking one hour from Aguas Calientes) ends on the Inca Trail, so you will get to experience the over-trodden path at the end, even if you take other well rated paths like the Salkantay Trail (rated one of the world’s best by National Geographic). In the end, you won’t have to book months or even a year in advance, and you can save yourself $400 in the process.
This time I took Peru Rail directly to the citadel from Cusco, which is the easiest for a long day trip. In the past I have woken up at 4:00 AM, took the same train up to Aguas Calientes and hiked to Machu Picchu to see the sunrise. It was an amazing experience and because it was so early, we beat the tired looking Inca Trail hikers and large groups of tourists. The train is a great and cost-effective way to not only see the beautiful surrounding scenery from a glass-roof train, but also get to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
The citadel of Machu Picchu is a magical place. If you are lucky, you will either find the archaeological site drenched in sunshine bursting through the mountains or awash with passing clouds that are pushed up over the mountainside. Both are amazing and it is almost worth returning here several times to experience the cultural site’s different sides. Granted, the majority of tourists here do take the train, and it can feel busy at times, but if you want to really enjoy the landscape and save some money from the Inca Trail trek – this is your best option.