Ahh, Macchu Picchu - you glorious piece of heaven on Earth. If your life is all work, make adventure your mistress and hike to Macchu Picchu. She'll make you feel whole in ways work never could.
For starters, there are many different hikes to choose from. Here are the main ones:
*Prices generally include: tour guide, tents, porters, donkeys, chefs, meals B,L,D, train ticket + entry
Inca Trail - 4D/ 3N (Must be booked months in advance - $500USD+) Mainly, you'll be climbing a lot of steps. While you're on the world famous Inca Trail, you will be running into a LOT of people, especially during the peak season in July/August.
Salkantay Trek - 5D/4N ($230USD+) The trek I chose. You'll trek through entire mountain passes, climb up snow capped mountains, pass through rainforests, Martian looking territories and sleep beneath the stars. We barely ran into people along the way and it was the most amazing sightseeing I've ever done. Also has an option to go zip lining + visit the hot springs. My package came out to $300 including rentals for 2 walking sticks, a sleeping bag, zip lining, Machu Picchu Montana ticket, and an earlier train departure.
Jungle Trek - 4D/3N ($200USD+)I've heard mixed reviews about this one. It involves biking, walking + zip lining. Some have loved the trek, but some have felt this was lackluster and totally missing. More often than not, I've heard bleh from people so I had no qualms about skipping it.
BEFORE YOUR TRIP:
Probably two of the biggest fears that we are warned about when it comes to hiking Macchu Picchu are:
A. Physical Stamina / Can I really do this?
Ok, so maybe you shouldn't have spent the last week and a half Netflixing mid 2000's comedies in bed all day. (School of Rock,duh) But, when it comes to physically hiking the 5 days to Macchu Picchu, you can do it. This hike is one of the most popular treks in the whole world, ( seriously, National Geographic named it one of the most beautiful hikes in the world) so clearly a lot of people have done it. Unless you need a bulldozer to get you out of the house, I'm pretty sure you'll be fine. Parts are easy, parts are extremely difficult, but it's definitely not impossible. And once you do finish the hike, it's really an amazing feeling because you feel like you can accomplish anything.
The people I saw on this hike were mainly 18 -40's, and while there were some very experienced hikers, there were a lot of first timers + casual hikers. So when you think of it, there's a huge variety of people coming to this hike, and succeeding. However, one thing you have to think about is altitude sickness.
B. Altitude sickness
Make sure you acclimate. Stay in Cuzco for a few days (at least 3) before you go on the hike to see if you get sick. Some people don't get affected at all by the altitude and some do, but If you do get sick, make sure it's in the comfort of a place with a working toilet, excessive amounts of toilet paper and a real mattress. There was one girl on a different hike of mine in Huaraz, Peru (higher altitude than Macchu Picchu) who got so sick, she had to sit in one spot while we all went off. It was a 5 hour hike. She came unprepared, wearing sneakers, a PURSE, and didn't acclimate, so she ruined her trip.
If you can, go see your doctor BEFORE your trip and ask for a prescription for altitude sickness pills. I didn't know anyone who had to use it but it's better to have them just in case you do. I had the Diamox prescription but I never used it since I'm invincible.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP:
Fly straight to Cuzco. Skip Lima. Make Lima a trip for after you are done hiking Macchu Picchu. It will be really rewarding to be in a city again and have a hot shower AFTER you've shit yourself in the mountains 3x. Landing in Cuzco allows you to acclimate since it is HIGHER in altitude than Macchu Picchu.
PACKING FOR YOUR TRIP:
Basically when you go on one of these hikes, you will be carrying a daypack with you the whole time. The rest of your things (a max of 7kg bag) will be given to the porters/donkeys to carry. (with the exception of the last day where you will need to carry your things) These are also dependent on the type of tour package you bought - so check with them. You'll only have the things from this bag at nighttime when you camp, so pack your daypack accordingly.
Here's what I brought during rainy season in mid March. And I OVERPACKED. You don't need to bring so much and you sure as hell don't want to load these poor donkeys + porters with any pointless weight. I ended up wearing the same clothes for 3 days straight. (And they ask me why I'm single?) But alas - here's a list of what to bring.
If you don't have all your gear (walking sticks, boots, sleeping bags, jackets), you can rent it for a low rate in Cuzco.
Book, Notebook? Hah, funny. With what light will you be reading or writing? At the end of the day you'll be so exhausted from hiking you won't want to do anything but go right to bed. Alcohol? You won't want to drink until the 3rd night where they sell alcohol at the camp. Cut those out! I also barely used my gloves or yeti hat.
THINGS YOU'LL NEED
Notice I have all my clothes in ziploc bags? I went during rainy season , and they place all the bags on top of the donkeys, so when it rains, the donkeys still have to walk through the rain and so might your stuff. Some agencies will give you a duffel for your things, but mine didn't. I put my things in 1 big sturdy plastic garbage bag, and re bagged it 3x. Then they put the things in another tarp like bag before putting it on top of the donkey. So my stuff was dry, but I recommend ziploc bags.
GOOD Hiking Boots - Mine are Kean + they kept my feet DRY, comfortable and blister free! You can also rent a pair if you don't have good ones.
GOOD Hiking Socks - This will be the main thing you want to change, and you want to pull them up so you don't have to worry about ticks or branches cutting you. Also, you want to invest in some good socks that won't slip and give you blisters - which would really ruin your whole trip.
GOOD Poncho - For real, a legitimate Poncho - not the shitty ass plastic saran wrap they try to pass off as ponchos. I bought mine the first day at the store before we started the hike and it held up really well.
Down jacket - Best are ones you can condense like the Uniglo one and stuff in your daypack or hang off with a carabiner.
Rain jacket - mine was another condensed North Face one.
Sunglasses - The sun, bro is strong in the mountains. Protect your eyes!
Baseball cap - I bought a shitty one in Cuzco, and it came in handy for A - keeping the sun out of my eyes and B - when it rained to keep the rain from getting in my eyes.
Pack of cards - fun for the group at night
Bathing suit/ flip flops for when you visit the lovely Hot Springs
Towel - Highly recommend you get a quick dry condensed towel from Sea and Summit. I really could not tell you how much of a spacesaver and how amazing this is for any trip.
Passport - You can get this stamped at Macchu Picchu!!!
Camera- I had the iphone 6 + gopro 4 with a selfie stick. I also brought an external battery for charging, but I just kept my cell phone on airplane mode, and shut it off at nights and it lasted for 3 days.
Sunblock, bugspray - You'll be needing a LOT of these both.
Clip on Hand Sanitizer
Snacks + Nunuu Energy Tablets - Energy snacks are CRAP in Cuzco. There's all these weird, grainy puffy rice things. So if I were you, I would bring a bunch of CLIF or KIND energy bars, I don't really recall seeing any around Cuzco. I was also obsessed with mini packets of Oreos for some reason. You'll want some snacks/sweets to pick you up too. You can pick up Peruvian corn (yummy), nuts and FRUIT. Make sure you buy some fruit for the trip- it is so good in Peru. Try to find some Granadillas, which are like Passionfruit but sweet. Nunuu energy tablets are my favorite. it's like Gatorade in Alka Seltzer form. I like to add it to my water, once a day just so I can have that extra energy. Also, I've given them to others when they were feeling weak and it helped them a lot.
Cash / Soles - For tipping the guide, porters + buying various snacks/WATER along the way. Keep in mind you'll have to keep buying bottles of water throughout the trek which are sold at each campsite.
Walking Sticks + Sleeping Bag - My package stipulated that on the 4th day, we would have to carry all my own things because the porters would be leaving. So for everyone who rented their things from an outside agency, they had to carry their stuff the whole time. BUT, since I rented from my agency, I was able to conveniently leave them behind with the porters and only have to carry my own bags. Also, you should know that no walking sticks are allowed on the actual premises of Macchu Picchu - so it's best you rent from your agency, not an external renting co or you can find a stick on the road and throw it out as opposed to having to fold up walking sticks and put some dirty walking sticks in your daypack. **Walking sticks are imperative and highly suggested - they will save your knees and help so much when walking downhill or through rocky, slipper slopes.
Shampoo/Bodywash - There was a grody shower in my campsite the second day, and only one guy of our group of 10 dared to shower in there. The 3rd day, you will have an option to go to the hot springs and they have really beautiful, outdoor showers there.
Toilet paper / one sole coins for the bathroom - Outhouses and nature baby. You'll notice that everyone here carries their own toilet paper and you will too. I also brought baby wipes too. And whenever you do get to stop for a bathroom (campsite for lunch) you will have to pay 1 sole (peruvian currency) to use the bathroom, so make sure you get some small coins or bills.
Layers - It starts off cold in the AM, and blistering hot mid day. So I would regularly start off in the mornings wearing a tank top, my under armour zip up turtle neck, my uni glo down jacket, my rain jacket over that and then stripping down to just a cami as the day wore on. I wore leggings the whole time and jean shorts over those for the pockets.
Ideal Clothing Packing List: 3 Camis/tank tops, 1 t shirt, 2 bras, 5 underwear, 2 yoga pants, 1 pair of jean shorts, 3 pairs of hiking socks + 2 regular socks, 1 long sleeve, 1 Under Armour type turtle neck, 1 condensed down jacket, 1 condensed rain jacket, 1 good poncho. (You'll want a clean pair of clothes especially after your shower on the 3rd night in the hot springs + the 4th night in your hostel in Aguas Calientes.
It gets cold at night, but the sleeping bags they give you are warm. Make sure that if you rent a sleeping bag - you put it in really good covering. If it rains, it might get wet.
Arduous yes, but not unbearable. Your days will consist of spouts of weather more unpredictable than a teenage girl's emotions listening to a Dashboard Confessional CD. Rain, mist, wind, perpetual sun, hot, sweltering days and cold, chilly nights. You'll experience all of this in one day. You will be in altitude so high on Salkantay Mountain (Day 2) that you will feel out of breath with every 3 steps you take. From a scale of 1- 10, the feeling you get once you reach the top would be Beyonce vis a vis Superbowl 2013. Fabulous. I was the last in line a lot of the time, but mainly because I was taking pictures and enjoying things. I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than I felt that I was unable to do parts. I thought it'd be lonely doing the trek solo, but there were a few other people in my group who were solo as well. I had a great group and we all got along and had a great time trekking together.
I think that you'll be so amazed by how beautiful your surroundings are, you don't even notice if it is difficult or not. Walking Sticks helped a lot for me. No one in my group of 10 got sick, and one had arrived in Cuzco just the night before the hike.
Each day that I hiked, I found myself in awe of the world around me more than I noticed any physical stress. And before, I had never really hiked before. I did a few practice hikes in Colombia and Peru beforehand, but they were max 3 hours and nothing near the extent of what Salkantay would be. But, really, when you are there and hiking in the moment, you'll be having so much fun you won't even notice. I became close with all the people in my group and got to learn and see so much. There are so many parts of the hike that are lovely, casual, even walks, and you will really, truly get to feel, as Joseph Conrad put it, "a wanderer on a prehistoric Earth".
-Surprisingly pleasant! In Peru, you're not allowed to flush toilet paper into the toilet due to their archaic plumbing system. There are wastebaskets right next to them which is still kind of gross. They are outhouses, but once you go inside - you'll find a really new, clean and up to date toilet, albeit missing toilet seats, but flushing, running water...the works. There are toilets in every campsite - at lunch places they tend to charge 1 sole per use so keep that in mind.
PS- One of the side effects of altitude is nausea. It doesn't affect everyone, but I knew of some people who had some stomach pain.
Make sure you get a ticket for either Huanya Picchu or my personal favorite...Macchu Picchu Montana. These are about $10 and you must book in advance when you buy your package. Huanya Picchu is the more popular one and is a very, steep climb. There's a point where you need to hold onto a rope and climb up. Tickets were sold out when I booked my trip, so I went with Macchu Picchu Montana which is directly opposite, still overlooking Macchu Picchu just much, much higher. Be warned... I literally hated stairs after climbing that Montana and only took elevators for the next week when I was in Lima cause I hated stairs so much.
So should you go? Hell yes! And I suspect that if you go you could definitely make your trip under $800. Your money goes pretty far in South America. Read about my travel hack here on how to get a cheap tour to Macchu Picchu!
Read "Right Turn at Macchu Picchu". I hear it's good and from what I can tell (I read the first 7 pages for free on Amazon) it sounds really good.
WHO I BOOKED WITH
-I went with Jaime at Vertigo Tours. I walked out of my hostel and just started walking to find different agencies, there's about 100 in the town of Cuzco. But I went with my gut and he made me feel the most comfortable, and I had a great time. The best part is that if you go to Cuzco, you can just see for yourself all the different agencies and decide for yourself. More often than not, they will all offer the same thing because they use freelance tour guides - and all use one trekking company which is usually KB trekking.
-I stayed at Pariwana Hostel. It was right in the town square and conveniently located, great place to meet people and socialize, whether you are on your own or with friends.
-Make sure you don't get a train ticket for too late. If you are able to book your tour for very cheap that means they are most likely cutting costs in your zip lining ticket or your return train ticket home. Generally, the train back will be for 6:15pm from Macchu Picchu, but I had friends who paid less and had to take the 8 or 9pm trains back, which means a 1/2am arrival in the city. You will arrive at Macchu Picchu at sunrise - so there will be a lot of time for you to kill until 9pm.
-I was told by many that the hot springs in Aguas Calientes (town of Macchu Picchu, 4th night) are disgusting and smell of Sulphur, so we skipped it. We went to the hot springs the night before and they were amazing, so try to go.
-GO ZIP LINING!!!!!