Two other cheaper, but equally as good, options are the Salkantay Trek and the Inca Jungle Trek. Most, if not all, tour agencies in Cusco offer these. The Salkantay Trek is a 5 day trek through the Salkantay Mountain Pass. The scenery is amazing and if you go in the rainy season you will be rewarded with dozens of waterfalls. Though, at the same time, you will be wet for the most part anyways. The other option, the Inca Jungle Trek, is a three day trek that begins with a drive to the top of a mountain and then a bike ride down to the bottom. A full day of hiking follows the next day to Aguas Calientes.
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Both of these alternatives can be booked a couple days in advance when you arrive in Cusco and can be much cheaper options and good ways to stay away from the crowds before getting to Machu Picchu. Prices, as of December/January 2011 was anywhere from US$180-200 for the entire trek. Do your research in Cusco and pick the tour company you feel most comfortable with. Some groups will offer slightly more(sleeping bag included, etc) than others.
The Inca Jungle Trek is an agency tour, but the “backdoor” route they use is also an option for independent travellers wishing to go-it-alone. Minivans and buses are cheap (15-30) Soles from “Terminal Santiago” in Cusco and take you to either Santa Maria or Santa Teresa. Santa Maria is further away from Aguas Calientes than Santa Teresa but is a nice option for those wishing to hike an alternative Inca trail used locally. The walk takes you through the mountains and tiny villages, even people’s farms and offers impressive views of the valley. You can end up in Santa Teresa the same day and there are villages, such as Huacayupana and Quellomayo en route which offer an alternative view of local life and accommodation if you don’t make it to Santa Teresa that day. Walking on from here to Santa Teresa is along the river (May – November) and by road during rainy season, although it is advisable to get advice before taking this route between December and April due to severe weather. From Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica is a 25 minute taxi or minibus ride and from here you can walk the 2 to 3 hour flattish trek to Aguas Calientes which is one of the nicest parts of the journey.
Fees/Permits – The current fee schedule and online tickets are available at the official government website and from ticket offices listed on that website. As of March 2012, the entrance fee is 128 Soles, with discounts for children and students with an ISIC card. When preparing your budget, do not forget to include train tickets and bus tickets. Food at the site is US$ 36 for a lunch buffet.
Most hostels can sell entry permits and bus tickets. Don´t buy them at the travel agency at the Ollantytambo train station, as they don´t actually sell you tickets, but a receipt that you need to give to a person to get your tickets, you´ll end up running all around Aguas Calientes looking for this person. You can buy your ticket at the Aguas Calientes cultural center. 5:30AM-9PM.
Be sure to bring your passport, as it is requested upon entry. There’s a popular stamp booth as you exit where you can prove to your friends you’ve been there, though it is technically illegal to mark your own passport.
Only small packs are allowed in the park (no more than 20 litres), but there is a luggage storage at the entrance mostly used by Inca Trailers. If your pack is checked, any food you carry may be confiscated.
Only 2,500 people are allowed to enter Machu Picchu each day. The government website lists how many tickets are available for each day. Also, visitors must purchase tickets for Huayna Picchu in advance and there is now an additional fee to hike Huayna Picchu.
The Peruvian government has imposed a 500 person pass limit per day on Inca Trail traffic. Passes do sell out far in advance, particularly for the high season. Travelers must have a valid passport in order to purchase a pass at the time of reservation. Many local tour operators have since opened up alternate trekking options that allow for similar trekking opportunities in the area. Most visit other Inca ruins, not as well excavated, and finish with the train trip up to see Machu Picchu at the end. One such option is the Choquequirao Trek, which starts in Cacharo and ends in Los Loros or the Cachiccata Trek which starts in Racca and ends in Cachiccata.
Accomodations – Due to the fact that this is a protected park, further construction in the area is nearly impossible. Thus, there is currently only one very expensive hotel at the site itself. Almost everyone who wants to overnight near Machu Picchu books a hotel in nearby Aguas Calientes.
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. This hotel is the only option for sleeping at the park. There are two equally expensive restaurants on site, and 2 suites that have partial views of the ruins. It’s located just outside the ticket booth.
The Lost Inca Civilization • Locations & Activities