For many travellers to Peru, the trek to the inca site of Machu Picchu is the highlight of their trip to Peru. Many prepare it many months in advance, but many arrive without anything booked. In Cusco, the old capital of the inca empire and departure point for the mythic ruins, trying to choose a tour operator for what shoud remain as a once in a lifetime experience can be quite overwhelming. Hundreds of agencies are lined up on the streets and where you can’t walk around without being shout at by some dynamic “Machu Picchu? Tourist information?“. The situation gets even more tricky once you realize that, for what seems to be the very same experience, prices of a trek can vary from $195 to $600 (or even $2000 if you don´t want to camp). In this jungle of offers, how to choose?
cost of a trek to machu picchu
Differences in prices can be explained by last minute offers (up to 30% if the agency wants to fill in a group), low season price but can also hide some low quality services.
When shopping around, making a quick calculation with the price that the agency is offering you. For example, the entrance to Machu Picchu itself costs already $50 and the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo -that almost all agencies include- has prices fluctuing between $50-$65. Calculate the remaining amount that will cover: your accomodation for the time of the trek (camping/hostel), 3-4 meals a day, camping equipment, services of guide and cook. $90 to make you live during 3 days? No miracle with these margins, the agency needs to have a bigger group to make the economics work.
If the intimate ambiance and the flexibility of a small group is important to you, remember that privacy has a price: you will notice a big price difference between agencies running groups of 12 or more or agencies that guarantee you a maximum of 8 people (around $400 in low season).
The ugly side of some cheap treks
Tentation can be huge to go cheap for your trek. But by going too cheap, you take the risk of getting a few bad suprises along the way. Watch out for:
- things that are not included: make sure you have a clear idea of what´s included/what´s not and get it in writing (transfers, water, first breakfast, last dinner, sleeping bag, porters…).
- low quality of what´s provided: leaking tents, small basic meals
- indecent treatment of the staff: very low salaries, starving guides and horsemen is not uncommun… It´s easy to understand why some are not in their best disposition to give you an unforgettable experience.
However, going expensive is not always the solution as some agencies take advantage of the system and just increase their margins. So how can you know? In general, your common sense would advise you to avoid “agencias” that are also outdoor gear shop, money exchange bureau and souvenirs merchants. With these, you know you are negotiating with a re-seller just interested in cashing in his/her commission. Word of mouth and resources like Tripadvisor are helpful but above all, don’t hesitate to ask many questions and to trust your gut feeling!
This situation is not unique to treks to Machu Picchu and if you have been travelling a bit independently, you will notice them everywhere. Did this happen to you? Share you experience below!