Seeing Machu Picchu: Book a Tour or Explore on Your Own?

by  Darren Murph | Mar 6, 2014

Even if you've never been to South America, or left your hometown, you've probably heard of Machu Picchu: it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary. Even though visiting this historic Inca site site requires a certain degree of planning, it turns out that it’s entirely possible to visit Machu Picchu in a single day. Here's how to do it...

In order to conquer Machu Picchu in 24 hours, you’ll need to arrive in Cusco – Peru’s former capital city, and one of the most endearing towns in the country. Cusco’s airport receives flights from a fairly limited number of cities, so you’ll probably be connecting via Lima. Meanwhile, lodging is abundant in Cusco; at RumiWasi, a B&B-style hotel, the staff will even customize a free breakfast for you and your guest at any time in the morning. We had our meals delivered to our room at 3:45 a.m. – a terrific perk given that a typical single-day Machu Picchu tour will start at around 4:20.

For the tour of Machu Picchu itself, you have two options: organize the excursion yourself, or book a tour. In terms of cost, the latter option costs about $50 more, but when you consider all the steps involved, that may  seem like $50 well spent. On your own, the trip requires a $125 round-trip transfer from Cusco to Ollantatytambo, a $70 round-trip train ride into Aquas Calientes, $20 for the bus up to Machu Picchu’s entrance, and $50 for entry into Machu Picchu itself. That’s $265 total, and if anything goes awry in that list of transportation connections, you’re essentially out of luck – particularly if you only have one day to explore.

Meanwhile, with a tour – like the one operated by Adventures in Peru ($315 per person) – you'll travel with representatives the whole time. They won't just set up your trip. They also know exactly who to call, and how to work around any issues that arise with your itinerary while you're traveling. In this sense, paying more for a tour might be worth the peace of mind alone. To book a tour, you’ll want to make reservations in advance, but after that initial phone call, your entire Machu Picchu-in-a-day plan is taken care of.

After being picked up in Cusco at 4:20 a.m., a 1.5-hour minivan ride will take you to Ollantaytambo, where you’ll board a 1.5 hour train to Aguas Calientes. From there, you’ll meet a guide and hop on a 35-minute bus ride that crisscrosses a mountainside, eventually arriving at Machu Picchu. From there, you'll receive a two-hour guided tour, followed by a few hours to explore by yourself. That’s enough time to hike the Inca Bridge trail (approximately 45 minutes) as well as the Sungate trail (approximately 100 minutes), both of which provide stunning views. As the sun sets, you’ll head back to Cusco, arriving  at around 10:00 p.m..

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