With so many options to choose from, picking a tour to Machu Picchu can seem like a daunting task. A trip to the Inca Citadel is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for many travelers, and booking the best tour for your needs can make all the difference. Here are some tips to bear in mind as you weigh all available options to arrive to Machu Picchu Citadel, treks and tours.
Tip 1: Decide When to Go
The tourist high season in both Cusco and Machu Picchu runs from May to September, with June, July, and August being particularly busy. This is the dry season, with clearer skies and the lowest averages of daily rainfall but it´s also the coldest time of the year at night but warm in the days. It´s a good time for photos, but not so good if you want to avoid the hordes of tourist. Low season carries a greater risk of cloud and rain, warmer at night but there will be fewer people at the Machu Picchu itself.
Tip 2: Consider Your Tour Options
The next step is deciding what type of tour you want. There are various options available, so you should be able to find something to suit your schedule and your style of travel.
Here are some key areas to think about:
- Where to Start Touring? – Do you want to join a tour group when you arrive in Lima, or do you want to travel to Cusco independently and take it from there?
- Trek to Machu Picchu: Do you want to trek the 1 or 2 Day Inca Trail or the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu both of which hike through the Sun Gate directly into Machu Picchu Citadel or an Alternative Trek Route such the Lares or Salkantay Treks that visit Machu Picchu on the last day?
- Tour to Machu Picchu by Standard or Luxury Train which goes to Aguas Calientes the city below Machu Picchu. From there, there is a bus to Machu Picchu Citadel.
- By Bus: for a very limited budget which is a combination of a bus ride of 5 to 6 hours and 3 hours of walking to Aguas Calientes? From Aguas Calientes you need to take the bus or walk up to Machu Picchu. This is a long trip with dangerous roads to travel and 3 hours of train trek hiking.
- Economical or Luxury? There are some luxurious Machu Picchu tours to choose from, but maybe you are happy with a simpler, more economical option? The main difference is the train choice and hotel options, 3* or above.
- All-Inclusive Tour? Some tours include airport pickups, accommodation in Cusco and some meals with your tour group. These are tours for those that want everything taken care for them with no worries. They can be designed for a budget or as luxurious as you would like.
- Extended /Customized Tours: A standard short tour will take you straight to Machu Picchu by train and then back to your hotel. Alternatively, you can book an Customized Tour Package which includes all of the place you want to see. It is for those that want to explore more of the numerous sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Tip 3: Choose a Tour Company
There are two main types of tour companies, the big international outfits, and the local Peruvian agencies based in Lima and Cusco. Both types have good and bad options, so size alone is no indicator of quality.
- Authoritative Independent Recommendations: Check the latest editions of well-respected guidebooks for reviews and recommendations. You should also look online, but make sure the information is current and the source is reliable. For a list of our own recommended tour companies, read The Best Inca Trail Tour Operators in Peru (all of which offer alternative treks to Machu Picchu and other tours in the Sacred Valley).
- Peru Travel Forums: Popular travel forums have plenty of recent Machu Picchu tour reviews and recommendations. Remember that one person’s idea of quality may not match your own, and keep in mind that tour agencies sometimes write the posts themselves. Use forum recommendations as a starting point only. Don’t rely on one glowing write-up alone.
- Ask Other Travelers: If you are already in Peru, ask other tourists for recommendations. You’ll come across plenty of people who have already been to Machu Picchu, especially in tourist hotspots like Lima, Arequipa and, of course, Cusco.
Tip 4: Check What Each Tour Includes
By this point in the selection process, you should have a good variety of Machu Picchu tours from which to choose. Before making your final decision, check the finer details of each tour to see what you get for your money. What is included and what is not included. Make sure there are no hidden fees that you will need to pay later on, such as the bus to and back from Machu Picchu Citadel. Some pay for the trip up to the site but you have to walk back down.
For single-day excursions (direct to the site, no trekking), check the tour details for the following:
- Do they professional licensed English/Spanish-speaking guides?
- How many people are in each group (less than 10 is ideal)?
- What type of transportation, private van or large bus?
- Are there any meals included and what is the quality of those meals?
- Do they include hotel pick-ups?
- Are train and bus tickets to Machu Picchu included in the price?
- Is the Machu Picchu entrance fee included in the price?
- Is Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain included in the tour (and if not, is it an option)?
- How much time is spent at the site (three to four hours is standard)?
For the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks, check for the following:
- When you book and pay are you guaranteed to go (only require 2 person to trek)?
- Verify the company you are booking with has a license for treks on the Inca Trial.
- Who is providing the trek services – company you booked with or another?
- Are there professsional licensed guides that speak English-Spanish?
- How many people are in each group (less than 10 ideal)?
- If more that 10 persons, how many guides are being provided?
- What equipment does the agency provide (sleeping bags, tents, stoves, etc)?
- Are daily meals and drinks included?
- Are the meals cooked by professional chefs from fresh fruits and vegetables?
- Are porters or pack animals included?
- Estimated arrival time in Machu Picchu (the earlier the better; ideally to catch the sunrise in Machu Picchu)
- Time spent on site (and access to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain)
Extra Tip: If you are booking your tour in advance, contact each potential agency with a question or two. The urgency and type of response given, might give you an insight into the standard of customer service and the agency’s overall attention to detail. Also, make sure the company that is booking your trek or tour is the company providing the service. Otherwise you will be transferred to an unknown third party company with other trekkers. There is no guarantee of the quailty of service at that point. Finally, is there a guarantee if 2 persons book that you will go! Some companies have a minimum of 8 or 10 persons. If they do not get enough persons, they may cancel at the last minute.
Tip 5: Booking Your Tour/Trek
With your search narrowed down to two or three reputable tour agencies. All that remains is to compare the prices, verify what is included, check availability and book your tour of choice. Booking your Machu Picchu tour in advance is always a good idea. Tickets to Machu Picchu Citadel are now selling out up to 2 months in advance or more. If you want to be assured you get to see Machu Picchu be sure to book in advance. Even the best hotels in Machu Picchu can be booked out.
If you want to trek the Classic Inca Trail (4 or 5 days), reserve a space at least six months in advance and 2 Day or Short Inca Trail 2 to 3 months in advance. For booking an alternative trek that goes to Machu Picchu and you want to see Machu Picchu Citadel on the last day you must book it 2 months or more in advance because the tickets to enter Machu Picchu Citadel are selling out a minimum of 2 months in advance. Even if the alternative trek you want does not go to Machu Picchu it is still good to book in advance and not wait until the last minute.
Only for one day tours such as the Cusco City, Sacred Valley, and Rainbow Mountain you can wait until you arrive in Cusco if you prefer. Note, due to the altitude of Rainbow Mountain trek, it is best to schedule it at the end of your stay when you are adapted to the altitude. Overall, it’s easier, more secure and more reassuring to have your tour or trek booked and confirmed before you arrive in Cusco.