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Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the top of the must-visit list for travelers of all kinds: history lovers, archaeology buffs, adventure travelers, spiritual seekers, and more. This mountaintop fortress city was first built in the 1400s but was not seen by non-native eyes until 1911, when locals led an American archaeologist there. The remarkable architecture, much of which is still intact (never having been attacked or plundered by conquistadors), combined with the location — high above the striking green peaks of the Andes — makes Machu Picchu visually unique, though travelers also say there’s something deeper about the draw to this place, something more spiritual and even visceral.
For obvious reasons, the Peruvian government takes great care to protect both Machu Picchu itself and many of the surrounding archaeological features, including neighboring mountain Huayna Picchu, as well as the Inca Trail, the famous hiking route which leads travelers through the mountains on an ancient pathway. Limited numbers of travelers are allowed to pass through this trail per day, and only when accompanied by a licensed guide. Even if you’re not hiking the Inca Trail or one of the other trekking routes, you’ll likely want to visit Machu Picchu with a guide or tour group. It’s a lot to take in and understand, and rules are strict, so having some to navigate the situation makes it much easier. Below, the best tours available on Viator.
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Cusco is the closest major city to Machu Picchu, and if that’s your Peru HQ, consider this single-day trip which makes the somewhat complex ground transportation from Cusco easy so you can focus on the site itself. It begins with a bright and early hotel pickup in Cusco and then a train to Aguas Calientes, followed by a bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu itself. Your tour guide will then offer a personal tour of the Machu Picchu ruins, showing you the Intihuatana, the Room of the Three Windows, and the Temple of the Sun. After a break, the tour then goes on to the higher neighboring mountain, Huayna Picchu, and hikes up to see the ruins there, including the Temple of the Moon. It’s a tough hike, but a rewarding one, as the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and of Machu Picchu itself are unparalleled. After the descent from Huayna Picchu, the group will travel back to Aguas Calientes to eat, shop, and simply decompress, and then it’s back to Cusco by train. All entrance fees and ground transportation costs are included in the tour price.
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If you’d like some help getting the lay of the land but aren’t interested in structured group activities, it's best to hire a private guide. Surprisingly, doing so is rather affordable and gives you both flexibility and all the personalized attention you could want. This excellent service pairs travelers with an English-speaking local guide who knows the ruins inside and out and will illuminate their history and cultural context while answering any specific questions you may have. Your guide will meet you at your Aguas Calientes hotel or the train station, help you board the bus for the mountain, make your entrance, and then spend several hours showing you around. If you’d also like to climb Huayna Picchu, your guide is available (with additional fees for both Huayna Picchu entrance and the guide itself). Note that this tour covers the guide only, not the fees for the bus ticket or Machu Picchu entrance.
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Travelers who like to combine their adventure trips with luxury and comfort should consider this single-day tour which departs from Cusco on a luxury train named for the Indiana Jones-like archaeologist who was the first non-local to see the ruins. The train offers fine wines, gourmet meals (a three-course lunch on the way there and a four-course dinner on the way back), plus live folkloric music and, of course, spectacular views in every direction. Upon arrival at Aguas Calientes, a private bus takes you up the mountain where your tour guide will then show you around the spectacular ruins. After your guided tour and some time to explore on your own, you’ll stop at the mountaintop Belmond Sanctuary Lodge for high tea, and then it’s back down the mountain and back to Cusco in sheer luxury. This trip is a splurge, but it really is a fantastic one. All transportation, food, drink, entertainment, and entrance fees are included, as is a professional guide.
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If you want to hike the ancient Inca Trail, you have to do it with a guide (by law), and this company is an excellent choice, providing both a guide and porters as well as some help with the logistics and paperwork required to make this trek. The tour begins with a hotel pickup in Cusco and a quick stop (via bus) in Ollantaytambo for last-minute stock-ups before heading to Piscacucho, where the trail begins. Over the next three days, this relatively demanding hike ascends and descends over a mile in altitude on ancient pathways and stairways, with views of a number of less-famous but equally amazing archaeological sites, as well as villages and farms. Each night, your small group will set up camp and your crew will prepare a hot and delicious dinner. On the final day, you’ll wake up well before dawn for a morning hike to the final checkpoint, which opens at 5:30 am, and from which you’ll hike to the Sun Gate, the traditional Machu Picchu entrance, arriving just as dawn begins to break. After a guided tour of the site and plenty of time to explore, it’s back to the modern world for you, with a stop in Aguas Calientes for shopping and eating and then a train/bus combo back to Cusco. All meals, camping gear, and entrance fees are included, as are the services of a small crew of guides and porters.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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One of the favorite alternatives to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the Salkantay Trek, which is less-crowded but has equally spectacular views and archaeological sightseeing options along the way. The tour begins with a hotel pickup in Cusco and a three-hour trip to the trailhead at Soyrapampa. There, your support staff will make sure you have all the gear you need and help you strap it to the pack-horses who’ll accompany you on the trip. The first day of the trek is the hardest, with an uphill hike to the highest point you’ll reach, the Apacheta Path, at 4590 meters above sea level. The good news is, the rest of the day is all downhill until you arrive at your campsite. The next two days take you through stretches of jungle, the village of Lluscamayo, the Llactapata ruins, the town of Aguas Calientes, and an optional trip to the hot springs at Santa Teresa. On the final day, you’ll rise early to hike to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which you’ll reach pretty close to sunrise. A two-hour tour of the abandoned city is followed by a return to Cusco via train from Aguas Calientes. With just a few exceptions, meals and transport are all included, as are camping gear and a crew (plus horses) to guide you, feed you, and help you with logistics.
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Lares Trek is a lesser-known option for hiking to Machu Picchu, and it’s an excellent one for folks who prefer a less-trafficked path. While it doesn’t pass by as many archaeological sites as some, it does offer lots of spectacular scenery and views of wildlife, and it goes past a number of farms and villages, so there are more opportunities here to learn about local life and the history of the Incas themselves than you might get on some of the other trails. This tour in particular also spends a portion of the final full day of the trek in the natural hot springs at Lares and the final night in a hotel room in Aguas Calientes, which feels pretty good after a few nights spent in tents, and offers a bit of a recharge before you enter Machu Picchu itself the next morning. The hiking is not quite as hard as some of the other trails, but it’s still quite difficult, and a team of guides, porters, and pack mules are there to help haul your camping gear and few personal items. Hot, freshly-cooked meals are included in the trip, as is all necessary camping gear, entrance fees, ground transportation, and a night in a hotel.
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Of all of the alternatives to the Inca Trail, Huchuy Qosqo is the easiest. That’s not to say it’s super easy, but it’s shorter and quite a bit less intense, with none of the major upward hikes of the others, making it easier for people traveling with kids and those who just aren’t quite up for thousands of old stone stairs. It’s still a beautiful, meaningful outdoor hiking and camping experience, though, one which takes you through a number of tiny villages (many of which don’t see many tourists, so they’re excited to have you visit), and through some stunning natural places, with views of the mountains, lakes and rivers, and grasslands filled with wildlife. The trek includes a guided tour of Machu Picchu itself, as well as a guided tour of the Sacred Valley, where you’ll learn about Incan history and culture. The tour price includes all meals, camping gear (carried by mules), a night in an Aguas Calientes hotel, and necessary entrance fees.
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The Inca Jungle Trail is a newly-designed trek that combines hikes on ancient paths (some of which were just recently discovered) with some more modern adventure-style transportation (namely, mountain bikes). The trek stops at various natural sites and archaeological ruins, including the spectacular Llactapata, which offers views of Machu Picchu as well as fascinating exploration opportunities in and of itself. Though the days are spent trekking and biking and doing other adventurous and physical things, this is not a camping trek; you’ll spend nights in hotels, which makes it a great choice for those who love nature but aren’t quite up for chilly mountain camping. It’s an all-inclusive tour, with guides, hotel rooms, meals, entrance fees, water, train fees, and usage of a bike all included in the rate.