Travel Hacking: The Best Alternative to the Inca Trail

If you’re planning a trip to Peru, chances are you’re going to visit Machu Picchu. But if you’re not a fan of hikes or camping, the idea of spending three uncomfortable nights in a tent and four long, long days trekking along the Inca Trail could be enough to put you off seeing one of the most amazing wonders of the world. But did you know that you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of the Incas to see Machu Picchu?

No need to spend over half a week hiking to Machu Picchu. Inca Trail
No need to spend over half a week hiking to Machu Picchu

If you’re always up for travel hacking, check out this (much faster, easier and cheaper!) alternative to the Inca Trail.

A great travel hacking alternative to the Inca Trail

Start off by flying into Peru. The country’s capital is Lima which has great connections with airports all over the world. Spend a night in a cheap hotel in Lima close to the airport and in the morning catch a flight to Cusco.

There's loads of awesome stuff to see in Cusco. Definitely worth staying. Inca Trail
There’s loads of awesome stuff to see in Cusco. Definitely worth staying.

Fly to Cusco

Loads of travel experts say you absolutely must spend a few days at Cusco before travelling to Machu Picchu to help you to acclimatise to the high altitude. Cusco stands at around 3,400 m above sea level, while Machu Picchu is at just 2,430 m above sea level. The idea is that your body gets used to the very high altitude at Cusco for 2-3 days, so by the time you get to Machu Picchu, the lower altitude is no big deal and you don’t get sick.

But altitude sickness takes about two days to kick in. So if you don’t really want to spend any time in Cusco (I definitely recommend you do – Cusco’s amazing) you can land in the city in the morning then in the afternoon, take a taxi to the Poroy train station and catch a train to Aguas Calientes, the small city that sits at the foot of Machu Picchu.

Augas Calientes is a fantastic place for shopping
Aguas Calientes is a fantastic place for shopping

Train to Aguas Calientes

This train journey takes around hours, but the scenery is so stunning you won’t mind the lengthy trip. I travelled on the Vistadome train, which is the cheapest option with dome-like windows in the ceiling so you can admire the view from all angles. If money’s no object to you, take a ride on the Harold Bingham train. This luxury mode of transport has an Orient Express feel and although it comes at a hefty price, it includes a luxury stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge just steps away from the wonder and exclusive early access before anyone else. If you get on the ordinary train, you’ll need to stay overnight somewhere in Aguas Calientes, so plan your accommodation beforehand.

The view of Mach Picchu from the Sun Gate is incredible. Inca Trail
The view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate is incredible

Bus to Machu Picchu

The train will get you into the village in the early afternoon, which is early enough to catch the bus straight up to Machu Picchu (it’s only a 30-minute ride) the very same day. If you could do with a rest, you can wait until the next day and have a full morning and afternoon exploring.

One of my favourite things to do at Machu Picchu is to walk up to the Sun Gate. This walk is around 60 minutes uphill and gets you to a lookout point you’ll instantly recognise as the famous one from the photos. This walk is technically part of the Inca Trail, so although you won’t have done the whole walk, you will have done a little snippet of it.

About Nicola Quinn


Nicola is a travel and food writer living in the Canary Islands who loves exploring far-off places, pushing herself to the limit and trying local eats wherever she goes.

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