How to do Machu Picchu Right
Just a few weeks after my college graduation, my childhood friend and I took off on a flight into Buenos Aires, Argentina, out of Lima, Peru. We had booked tickets a week prior and had given ourselves five weeks between entry and exit with no concrete plans for the interim. Experiences on that trip remain some of my favorite memories and I always wished we'd given ourselves more time. Now I am hoping to return one day, and when I do, I will follow the advice below.
Specifically, I'd like to share my thoughts on the Machu Picchu portion and how I might change our approach if I could do it again.
We did not book anything prior and I believe that for the most part that made the trip more fun. Unfortunately, due to our lack of planning, we did not have all of the gear nor the time to do a guided trek on the Inca trail. Rather, we spent a few nights in Cusco before departing on the train (Rail Peru) that took us through Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the base of Machu Picchu. We woke up at 3:00am, to hike up to the park and line up outside the gates before opening so that we would be able to hike once within the grounds of Huayna Picchu. We returned from Machu Picchu very worn out in a wonderfully satisfying way and felt we had seen a great deal.
What I would recommend to future Machu Picchu/ Sacred Valley visitors:
Spend more time in Ollantaytambo: a wonderfully peaceful, quaint, and historically rich village on the way to Macchu Pichu. A great accommodation option is El Albergue.
No set trekking plans: I liked not having set plans prior for the trekking portion. This may not be everyone's style, but if you are comfortable with embarking without any commitments, there are plenty of options once you arrive. I believe it is useful to see the various guiding companies in person, talk with representatives, etc. before booking.
Allow more time for historical sights/hikes: I did not realize how much there is to do in the Sacred Valley even without participating in a trek. Just by walking around, you will find myriad information on day trips and backpacking adventures, easy to undertake independently, that will take you to all of the fascinating ruins. There are also many trips that don't require much walking or hiking.