Everyone says that you cannot visit Peru and not see the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. An UNESCO World Heritage site and declared one of the new wonders of the world in 2007, the majestic city of Machu Picchu receives over half a million visitors each year.
But the question remains, what is the best way to see Machu Picchu? Is it by trekking through treacherous mountains and ruins in the 4-day Inca Trail?, or is it by taking a no-frills one or two-day tour to the ancient city? Having visited the ruins both on a two-day tour and through the Inca Trail, here are my pros and cons for both options.
Why Trek It?
Seriously…why?!?!?! You put your body through an extenuating experience, going up mountains at thousands of feet above sea level. The views on the other hand are amazing, and it’ll be an experience that you’ll never forget.
- The views: Mesmerizing. Astonishing. Incredible. Amazing. Outstanding. There are just not enough words to describe the views you will see during this amazing trek.
Imagine walking through green mountains, green everywhere as far as the eye can see. Turn left: mountain; turn right: mountain; turn left again: possibly a cliff with amazing views. Nature lovers will definitely find their fix trekking on the Inca Trail.
- Walking through clouds: You read that right…you get to walk through clouds. You could be walking admiring the views when suddenly all you see turns white, and you’re going through a cloud. A surreal feeling for sure.
- The ruins: If seeing ruins are your thing, then you must do the Inca Trail, where you will get more than your dose. As you walk through the skies watching nature, it is easy to forget where you are until you arrive at a ruin sight. Not only are these beautiful to see, but the explanations from your guide will better help you understand the uses of the ruins and the history that comes with this amazing site.
- The people: I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the people you meet during your travels will make the experience more memorable. During the Inca Trail you will be sharing experiences with a group of like-minded people for 4 days. Bonds will be formed and friendships will be built. Don’t be surprised if at the end of it contacts are kept with many of the group.
- The reward: Imagine seeing the sun rise above these ruins, clouds disappearing right before your eyes to make room to the mountains and the sight. On top of all that, you very much have the site for yourself (and all other trekkers), but you arrive way before all other groups which did not do the Inca Trail.
- The weather: If you do the trek during summer, expect rain at least once a day. If you do the trek during winter, expect to be cold. In short, there is no way to predict the weather. While on my trek, day 3 was quite cold, cloudy with rain, so foggy I could not see in front of my eyes. While day 2 was a complete contrast with the sun hitting hard and making me regret the size of my backpack.
- Altitude sickness: Definitely not something you want to mess with. Before you start the trek, make sure you have given yourself enough time to acclimatize to the altitude (a minimum of 2 to 3 days is recommended). Also make sure you pack enough coca leafs with you, and possibly some meds. Many were unable to finish the trail due to altitude sickness, with a couple in my group not even being able to start (and no, no company will refund you). If you do get sick while in the middle of the trail you only have two options: keep going or go back the way you came.
- The abuse on your legs: Yes…your legs will get abused for 4 days. Day 1 is about 4 hours of walking, Day 2 is 8 hours, Day 3 is 6 hours, Day 4 is 4 hours. Some of it is up, some of it is down, all of it is in altitude. Make sure you book an extra day or two in Cusco once you finish the Inca Trail so you can relax. A massage is definitely not out of the question.
Why Not Trek It?
Why not??? After seeing all the pros from the list on Why Trek It??? You must be crazy to pass on the opportunity to walk this magic trail…or maybe not. There are many reasons why opting for a 1-day or 2-day tour might be best, depending on various points.
- Time: Depending on how long of a holiday you have, taking a 1 or 2 day tour might be best than doing the Inca Trail. Even if you have 5 days in Cusco and the Inca Trail takes 4, remember that the altitude will affect you and that you must make sure you give yourself enough time to acclimatize yourself. In this case, seeing the ruins might be best than not getting there at all.
- Budget: While walking the Inca Trail can cost over $300USD, the 2-day tour I took in 2013 only cost $100USD. This included visits to some other sites, including the Salinas Maras, the city of Chincheros and Ollantaytambo. Overall, we got to see more sights than the one Inca Trail for a lesser price.
- Visit Ollantaytambo and train ride: Something else we did not get to see during the Inca Trail is a visit to the beautiful village and archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. Well known for its ruins and its inca fortress, the visit to this site is an added bonus to the Machu Picchu ruins. On top of that YES there is a train ride from Ollantaytambo to the village of Aguas Calientes, where you will start the climb to Machu Picchu.
Although may be other cons to doing the 1 or 2-day tour option, most of the cons are the same as the pros for trekking the Inca Trail.
Which Do I Prefer?
So, do I trek or do I not trek? That seems to be the question.
Although both times were equally an amazing experience, I have to say that I prefer the trekking experience.
Why? – The people in my group. The group I had the chance to share the experience with was simply amazing! People from Argentina, Australia, Canada, USA, and Venezuela formed this crazy group of people who made the trek unforgettable. On top of that, we often kept crossing the same groups throughout the trek, which made building some friendships possible.
It has been a few years since I did the Inca Trail, but to this day I still maintain contact with a few people from my group.
And you, which do you prefer? Would you go for the 4-day Inca Trail trek? Or would you rather do a 1 or 2-day tour to the top?