How to Prep for Your Peruvian Adventure to Machu Picchu - Part 1
So, you want to go to Machu Picchu? I did too and after lots of research online, calls with friends, Facebook statuses and hallway conversations, I successfully completed the Inca Trail trek on October 23rd, 2013 but the planning started months ago! Now that I've gone, here's some of the advice I would offer to others who are thinking about going. Planning Your Trip
When you're ready to translate your idea into action, here are some points to consider to help get your wheels in motion:
- When do you want to go? Only a limited number of people are allowed entrance into Machu Picchu everyday so there's some urgency around getting a permit to enter and planning your trip. When we started planning in April, September was available. Come June, mid-October was the earliest we could go. If you don't have a lot of flexibility, then plan early to get the dates that you want, but still have some flexibility around it in order to avoid disappointment. May - August are the popular months to visit Machu Picchu so if that's when you want to go, you'll want to build in some extra days to make sure you can get your dates as well as plan 6-8 months in advance. Ideally I wanted to go in September. Why? Because I told myself last year that I wanted to turn 27 either in Machu Picchu or in Toronto. I ended up being in Toronto for my birthday and Machu Picchu a month later so it was a win-win. I was a little hesitant to go in October because November is when the rainy season begins in Peru but after talking to different friends who went right around that time last year, I felt confident that we'd be ok. Note that this is a high altitude hike so you'll want to give your body a few days to adjust, if you're smart. (I had to make a tough call here--I was invited to speak at a conference and accepting the invitation gave me less than a day in Cusco to adjust. I did it and it's doable to "adjust" that quickly but it's not ideal. I'm sure having 2-3 days would have make the trek a little easier to do. Everyone else had a few days in Cusco and felt that the time helped me. Give yourself 2-3 days before the hike in a high altitude location like Cusco or Puno as well as a day after the hike to relax and get your massage on before you continue with your trip.)
- Who do you want to go with (companions)? This question applies in two ways--who do you want to travel with and who do you want to lead your trek. I literally had a note in my phone labelled, "Machu Picchu" with the names of people who at one point had told me they wanted to go to Peru. Maybe you already know who you want to go with. Maybe you're ok with going alone (I would have been but am grateful that I convinced people to go with me.) Be up front with your group about the kind of trip you want to go on, the dates as well as budget to make sure everyone is on the same page. Traveling with people can be tricky--you want to make sure that you go with people who you can stand for an extended period of time as travel, on its own, can be stressful and put you into situations where you need to make quick decisions. At the same time, don't sacrifice not going on a trip because you can't find someone to go with. Solo travel, though challenging, can be very gratifying. And regret (of not going) is worse than being uncomfortable in my opinion.
- Who do you want to go with (travel company)? Once you have your group decided, you'll want to decide how you want to visit Machu Picchu. I wanted to do the Inca Trail, there was no question about it, but you may be different and prefer to take the train. There are several options when it comes to the trek as well--we opted for the 4 day/3 night option but there are ones that are 2 days/1 night and 6 days/5 nights. Do some research and honestly gauge your personal comfort with camping, not-so-pleasant bathrooms and fitness level before you decide. For us to decide on a trekking company, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and a few of my companions did the same. We decided to go with Llamapath as we had several people from several of our networks recommend them. As a group, we'd highly recommend Llamapath to our friends as well. They were responsive, accommodating (I'm gluten-free, remember?), practice sustainability, treat their porters well and all around awesome.
Once you've answered the questions above you should have be able to answer the "Who?" question (x2) and "When?" question for your trip.
- Flying to Peru: Once you've booked your trek, use the trek dates to book your flights. For international travelers, you'll be flying into Lima, Peru and then taking a domestic flight to Cusco, Peru. Out of our group, 5 people were coming in from LA, 1 from Portland and 2 from Washington, DC. We were all arriving on different days. I think the only way to book a complete ticket from the US to Cusco would be through LAN airlines. I booked my flight on points and had a separate international flight roundtrip and separate domestic roundtrip. My international travel went from Portland to Chicago to Panama City to Lima and then on the way back went from Lima to Houston to San Francisco to Portland. It was long and tiring but I was determined to use my points. There are easier routes out of LAX on the west coast to get to Peru (direct flight). I flew into Lima on a Friday night, stayed the night (10 hours) in Lima and then took the first flight to Cusco on Saturday morning. I had a day in Lima before my return to the US and I felt that that was plenty. If you arrive into Lima early in the day, you could try to catch a domestic flight to Cusco later that same day (there's only one terminal at the airport) but build in time to account for a delay on your inbound flight that might cause you to miss your flight to Cusco as well as time to go through customs, get your bags, etc. To be on the safe side, I'd wait until the next day to fly to Cusco. Ditto on the way back. Our friends Tom and Gina actually spent the day at the Cusco airport after the trek because all of the flights on their airline were cancelled due to weather that day. They ended up taking a bus to Lima. We returned from the hike on a Wednesday, spent Thursday relaxing and flew back to Lima on Friday before returning to the US on Saturday. Tip: Organize a taxi through your hotel (when you arrive in Lima) if you can. My friends said that the airport was nuts the night they arrived and the taxi line took forever so I organized a shuttle through my hotel. It was pricier but after a long day of solo travel, it was worth the extra soles. And I've ALWAYS wanted someone to greet me at the airport with a sign!
- Where should you stay? I was spoiled. Traveling with not one but two people who work in the hospitality industry has its perks as they know the best places to stay. As a group of professionals, we opted to pay for comfort and stayed at hotels throughout our stay. Really nice hotels. In Lima, we stayed at the Sheraton because it was close to the airport but people have recommended staying in Miraflores if you'll be in Lima for longer. (We had a drink at the JW Marriott in Miraflores and it looked really nice!) We stayed at the Palacio del Inka in Cusco before the trek and decided to stay at Tambo del Inka in Urubamba after the trek as a nice treat to ourselves. The British girls who stayed in Cusco before and after the trek did say that the hostel they stayed at in Cusco was one of the nicer hostels they've stayed at--so there are lots of options regardless of your budget that will fit your needs.
Those are the big questions to ask to start planning your trip. In my next post, I'll go into how to prepare for your trek as well as what to pack. If you have any specific questions, leave me a comment!