Trekking Machu Picchu without a Guide? Can you do it? Is it safe? All will be revealed in this article, but first a little about Backpacking around Peru.
Backpacking around peru can be a fulfilling experience, it invites a unique opportunity to explore all of the natural richness and culture from this vast South America Sweetheart!
From the raw natural beauty of the Nazca desert to treks along the Gigantic Andes which descends into the vibrant and colourful Amazon Jungle! So can you really trek around Peru and up Macchu Picchu without a guide & Rainbow Mountain without a guide! This answer is yes but you must follow certain tips and rules.
Part 1: Trekking Machu Picchu without a guide/tour. - Extensive guide.
Part 2: Trekking Rainbow Mountain without a guide/tour.
Part 3: The Ultimate 3 Week itinerary for Peru.
Part 1: Can your trek Machu Picchu without a Guide or Tour?
My advice is yes you can, I myself have back in 2017! However, be aware that you will not be hiking up the classic "Inca Trail". On the Inca trail, a guide is mandatory.
You need a permit, and only licensed agents can buy permits. However, you can go with a private guide, you'll just have to pay more.
An alternative is to hike one of the other trails. You have a few options one is to see Machu Picchu via a day trip from Cusco (Although can be a bit of a rush!). Another option is to stay in a town close to Machu Picchu then walk or take the bus up to the great ruins.
A popular place for this option is by staying in Aguas Calientes. For some people the Inca trial is just too overcrowded and touristic, also it is significanty cheaper to do it without a guide! This is especially important for those on tight budgets such as those whom are backpacking for longer period 4,6, 12 months etc.
Benefits of "going it alone" without a guide.
- Massively cheaper, to trek Machu Picchu without a guide.
- Perfect for those with limited time and unable to correctly acclimatise to the altitude.
- A great option for those not wanting to hike or who have mobility issues
- Gives you more flexibility with regards to time of travel allowing you to have free from as many tourists! For example, we left very early in the morning!
- It's a great experience trekking Machu Picchu without a guide, as you feel more of an adventurer and less a standard tourist.
Packing for Machu Picchu...without a guide.
Like my mother used to say... "Make sure you layer up". Machu Picchu is known for unpredictable weather. One minute it can be snowing then raining and the next sweltering heat!
Pants: Breathable and light is the key! Comfy with waterproof's over the top as needed.
Top Layers: Quick-drying and light. Plenty of vest, t-shirts and thin thermals. I personally always pack my Nike pro thermals which i use for the gym, these are light, tight (so trap a layer of air) and breathable.
With a long sleeved light shirt for layering up. This is better than brining a massive bubble coat which could be restricted and only has two choices Hot or Cold! A waterproof jacket which is light is a much better option.
Compact Lunches: Grab foods stay fresh at room temp. Tuna, peanut butter, wraps, avocado, apples, nuts, and granola bars. If your on a budget purchases from "Orion" grocery store in Cusco is a great option as Machu pichu and Aguas Calientes have there prices firmly jacked up for tourists!
Sun Screen: A must have, especially if fair skinned.
Scarf & hat: These will keep you warm if cold and block the sun if needed.
Shoes: Waterproof shoes with a sturdy gripped bottom are ideal. If your space conscious running shoes can be a good option, or smaller hiking shoes.
Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu. - What you MUST Know?
Tip 1 - To visit Machu Picchu, it's vital to have an entrance ticket and passport.
Tip 2 - You MUST have a ticket beforehand. Don't go right up to the entry gate at Machu Picchu thinking you can buy your entry ticket there. You must get it it the near-by town of Aguas Calientes (where your train will stop, if that's how you get there), in Cusco, or in advance on the internet.
Tip 3 - There are a limited number of tickets available per day. In the high season (June to September) tickets can sell out fast! So booking in advance is advised.
Ticket prices for Machu Picchu.
Ticket Type 1 (Standard) - Entrance to main grounds.
Adult: $47 USD (152 Soles)
Student (up to 25 years old): $24 USD (77 Soles)
Child: $24 USD (77 Soles)
This provides entry to Machu Picchu which includes the main ruins, terraces, and temples.
Tip 4 - This ticket does not allow entry to either of the mountain peaks including Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. You will need a different ticket for that.
Ticket Type 2 - Machu Picchu and Montana mountain included.
Adult: $62 USD (200 Soles)
Student (up to 25 years old): $38 USD (125 Soles)
Child: $38 USD (125 Soles)
With this ticket you will have entry to climb the taller mountain, Montaña Machu Picchu, which is 3,082m (10,111 ft). This mountain is usually not as busy but has no ruins.
You must choose between 2 time slots to climb, either 7-8AM or 9-10AM.
Ticket Type 3 - Includes Machu Picchu, Huyna Picchu & temple of the sun.
Adult: $62 USD (200 Soles)
Student (up to 25 years old): $38 USD (125 Soles)
Child: $38 USD (125 Soles)
This provides entry to the smaller but busier mountain peak, Huayna Picchu (8,923ft/2,720m). Here you'll find panoramic views and entry to the Temple of the Sun and ruins at the top.
Tip 5 - You must choose between 2 time slots to climb, 7-8AM or 10-11AM.
Tip 6 - According to the Ministry website, children require a passport in-person for proof of age, including on arrival at Machu Picchu. Students must have a valid student ID card issued by the university that is valid within a year of the date of visit.
Man on Macchu Picchu | By Paulo JC Nogueira via Wikimedia Commons
Which ticket should I buy for Machu Picchu?
If you would just like to explore the main ruins of Machu Picchu, then the Type 1 standard ticket will be ok. You will still have a chance to capture great photos, so no need to worry! However, if you fancy a challenge and would like a climb, then check out Ticket Type 3 (Huaynu Picchu).
If your a professional photographer who is traveling in peak time, try Ticket type 2, as it will be less busy up the mountain, however no ruins...so keep that in mind. As you will be hiking up Machu Picchu without a guide, it's useful to know this.
Machu Picchu without a guide, costs.
Accommodation: ~$12+ USD hostel dorm, $35+ USD private staying in Aguas Calientes,
Meals: $15+ USD if packing own food, $8+ USD per meal in Aguas Calientes, $40+ USD at Machu Picchu restaurant (buffet – this is the only restaurant at Machu Picchu)
Train cost: $140+ USD return to Cusco
Machu Picchu entry tickets fee: $47 USD
Bus ticket to Machu Picchu: $24 USD
Other: Money for paid bathrooms (~30 cents), souvenirs, snacks , museums, etc.
TOTAL COST: ~$238+ USD (based on 1-night dorm bed stay, bringing own food)
Where to buy a ticket for Machu Picchu?
Option 1: Buying at Aguas Calientes:
In Aguas Calientes, tickets can be bought at the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre (Direccion Regional de Cultura Aguas Calientes Office). The address is: Av. Pachacutec (just off the main square), and hours are Mon-Sun, 5AM-10PM.
Tip: Cash ONLY and Bring your passport.
ATMs in Aguas Calientes do charge higher fees, so it's best to bring extra cash beforehand. Espeically if hiking up Machu Picchu without a guide.
Option 2: Buying in-person: Cusco
In Cusco, tickets can be bought at the Ministerio de Cultura which is open Mon-Sat, 7AM-8PM. The address is Casa Garcilaso on Calle Garcilaso, which is just before the Plaza Regocijo. You should have your passport and cash. (Card can be accepted here but it's best to be safe!)
Option 3: At TownandTourist, we can help you to organise and book a custom package included, flights, hotels and inside travel info. Use the contact tab to drop us an email.
Machu Picchu without a guide. [From Aguas Calientes]
This is the closest you can get to Machu Picchu without hiking.! Aguas Calientes is the final stop of the PeruRail line, so it is easily accessible via train from Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Urubumba.
Tip: I recommended staying at least 1 night in Aguas Calientes, so you won't have to rush!
Hotels can be booked up pretty fast and prices can increase at peak season...so book well in advance. Take the PeruRail train from Cusco. The following morning you have two options, take an early bus or walk up to the ruins.
Tip: Purchase return bus tickets to Machu Picchu to avoid lines the next morning.
Aguas Calientes Peru | By MM via Wikimedia Commons
Option 1 - Taking an early Bus up to the Entrance of Machu Picchu.
Ask a hotel or local which way to the “Venta Oficial de Ticket de Bus” (Bus ticket office). It's just over the bridge from the train station and pretty easy to find. You will see a small booth with plants painted on the outside.
Prices as of 2017:
- $24 USD return for adults,
- $12 USD return for children.
Buses depart every 10 minutes starting at 5:30AM .
Tip: Get there as early as possible as lines begin to form from the morning.
Option 2 - Walking from Aguas Calientes up Machu Picchu.
The walk to Machu Picchu without a guide from Aguas Calientes, takes around 1 hour - 1hour & half! You must be physically fit as it's a strenuous, difficult trek with a 2000 meter incline!
You start the walk from the town, I suggest asked a local the way and marking it on a map, there are also signs along the way, so you need not worry. Here are some landmarks you will see on your route while walking along the river.
- A Bus repair station
- A Campground,
- Bridge over the river
Cross over the bridge. After that you'll see signs on the road which indicates the correct path to follow . From there the route twists and turns up the hill until you finally arrive at the site entrance! (Phewww! )
Traveling to Machu Pichu from Urumbumba or Ollantaytambo - [without a guide]
Another option is to stay in either Urumbumba or Ollantaytambo then head to Machu Picchu the following morning by rail. These towns are located on the PeruRail train line, closer than Cusco, but further away than Aguas Calientes.
Which town Ollantaytambo or Urubumba?
Urubumba is a small country town and a little more high end in nature, with more luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, but pretty quiet.
However, i personally prefer Ollantaytambo as it has some fantastic Incan ruins which are definitely worth the visit! In addition, it is a little busier with it being the start point for the famous "Inca Trail", also expect more accommodation and dining options.
However as you will be heading to Machu Picchu without a guide, you won't have to worry about the busy "Inca trail".
Peru Ollantaytambo Fortress. Ancient ruins. Source: anywhere.com. Machu Picchu without a guide.
Ancient Ruins in Macchu Picchu | By Ricardo Migliani via Wikimedia Commons
Part 2: Trekking Rainbow Mountain without a guide/tour?
The Rainbow Mountain, also goes by the name of 7 color Mountain or "Vinincunca" located 100km away from Cusco. The Rainbow Mountain has shades of pink, yellow, purple, red and even gold!
What causes the rainbow color on rainbow Mountain?
Due to the melting and erosion of rock, the variety of minerals causes a vast array of shades and colors.
- Rainbow Mountain is located 5,200 meters above sea level.
How to buy a ticket for Rainbow Mountain?
Entrances to the 7 Colour Mountain can not be booked online!
They also can't be obtained in an agency in Lima or Cusco. There is only one way to purchase a ticket, you must head to the district of Pitumarca, at the foot of the Ausangate mountain.
In this Andean town there is a small hut that allows entry to this wonder. The distance from here to the rainbow mountain is approximately 5 kilometers. If your feeling adventurous some of the locals offer horseback rides to the top!
How to get to Rainbow Mountain on your own?
To get to Pitumarca and purchase the tickets you must follow a few steps:
1. Book a taxi through your hotel or take a bus from Cusco city to Pitumarca town.
The buses leave the Coliseo Cerrado on Huayruropata Avenue (cost 5 soles). The trip lasts between 3 to 4 hours.
2. Head from Pitumarca to Anchipacha.
There are ‘collective’ taxis that do this service (cost 10 soles). The trip takes just a few minutes.
3. Purchase Tickets in Anchipacha.
While in Anchipacha you can purchase tickets to the Mountain of the 7 Colors. Or even book a horseback ride up!
4. Start the Trek up!
The trek to the rainbow mountain takes around 2 to 3 hours depending on your physical fitness! It's not easy but the view from the top is spectacular.
How much does a tour to Rainbow Mountain cost? Without a guide.
The entrance to the Mountain of the 7 Colors has a cost for Peruvians and another for foreign tourists. You must bring an identity document or passport.
Entrance price to the rainbow mountain:
- National Tourist (Peru) - 5s or ($2 USD)
- Foreign Tourist - 10s or ($3 USD)
How much does the journey to Vinicunca cost?
Traveling to rainbow mountain is cheaper than you might think! Substantially cheaper than Machu Picchu.
Transport Costs, without
- One way trip: Cusco-Pitumarca - 5 S ( $2 USD)
- One way trip: Pitumarca-Anchipacha - 10 S ($3 USD)
- Return trip: Anchipacha-Pitumarca - 10 S ($3 USD)
- Return trip Pitumarca-Cusco - 5s ($2USD)
Food for Rainbow Mountain.
- Local breakfast - 10s ($3 USD)
- Local lunch - 10s ($3 USD)
- Snacks - 10s ($3 USD)
Ticket Cost for Rainbow Mountain.
One Ticket Foreign Tourist: 10s ($3 USD)
Transfer on horseback up rainbow mountain for 100 S ($31 USD)
Total Cost for Rainbow Mountain without a guide/tour.
170 soles or just $53 USD . (Includes horsback ride!)
Hiking Rainbow Mountain with a tour?
So you've seen how to do it on your own and think that is too much hassle, so would prefer head up as part of a tour!
No problem, if you enquire at Town and Tourist, one of our travel experts can help you out without booking. We work with all major airlines and have great connections in south America. To enquire send a booking email, using the "Contact us" tab.
Tours include direct transportation to the control booth, food, tickets and tour guides.
Hiking Rainbow Mountain | By Michaelbrawn via Wikimedia Commons
The tours to the rainbow mountain begin in the city of Cusco at dawn (3 or 4 a.m.) and conclude at night in the same place (7 or 8 p.m.).
Tip: Try to get up the mountain on a clear day which isan't foggy, check the weather before! I've heard stories of people getting up there and can't see a thing! Don't let that be you!
Should I book a Package Trip or Flights & Accommodation Separately?
Firstly, this depends on the type of person you are! If you are the sort of person whom doesn't mind spending a little extra and prefers everything already done and planned so they don't have to think about it!
Then book a Tour! (Town and Tourist offer great ones enquire for details). However, If you would like to have more of an adventure, save money and have increased flexibility then definitely booking everything separately is the way to go!
This can be a little more time consuming to organise but often it can be more fulfilling being in the driving seat of your trip!
I personally like this method and have travelled Asia and South America with this style! So i'm going to reveal the best ways of getting deals and the do's and don't's to have a fulfilling experience.
So let me take you back, a few years ago I did a Tour in Cambodia and although fun I found myself being rushed through cultural and historic areas which were just too amazing to deserve such little time!
Tight schedules and itineraries of tours can be very restricting at times, the tour also cost me a whole lot more! So that's a couple of reasons why I now prefer a DIY style of trip mainly cost and flexibility!
For Hotels I use HotelLook as they compare thousands and give the best prices.
So here are my tips: Firstly have an good Itinerary!
Having a well thought out, planned and fun packed itinerary is proven to save you time, stress and expenses, while giving you the most out of your experience!" ....Independent Tourism Study (ITS) (2019)
A goal without a plan is just a wish....Town and Tourist.
Outlining approximately how long you would like to spend in each area. If you don't know for sure, that is fine...just make a guess for now.
Here is my 3 week Peru itinerary which includes the Amazon, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and Cusco.
Note on transport: Bus travel is easy and cheap in Peru although some can be crowded. Many local tour companies offer private transfers if you don't like this.
Another option to maximise your time for exploration and can the most out of your three weeks is to fly when you can! For the best flight deals I use JetRadar.
Part 3: The Ultimate 3 Week Itinerary for Peru
1. Flight to Lima (Capital City) of Peru.
City of Lima | By James C. via Wikimedia Commons
2. Spend one night in Lima. (Day 1)
Here I spent just one night at the start and then a couple of day's before flying back home to do some shopping/gift shopping and actually see the city. I stayed at Costa del Sol Wyndham Lima Airport Hotel, just opposite from airport to allow me to catch the easy flight to Iquitos in the morning.
If you can time your flights closer, even better then you won't even have to stay a night. Or alternatively spend 2 days in Lima at the start of your trip.
3. Flight from Lima to Iquitos (Amazon Rainforest) (Day 2)
Flight: Flight from Lima to Iquitos (approx. 2 hours)
Although usually if visiting the Amazon you would head to Brazil which has a massive 60% of the amazon on it's land! Peru by comparison only contains 13%, even though it does cover a large portion of peruvian land.
However, as i was heading to Peru and didn't have a Brazil trip planned in the near future this seemed like a great opportunity to see the worlds largest rainforest! One of the most amazing and colourful places on earth! - It was definitely worth it!
The Peru portion of the Amazon has two main access points via Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado. I decided to head to the further point of Iquitos.
The portion here has another one of worlds wonders, the Amazon river running through it which is another amazing wonder! Renowned for diverse wildlife from pink dolphins to Piranhas!
4. Amazon Rainforest (Days 2-4)
A great place where I stayed was the Amazon Muyuna Lodge. This is just a 3-hour boat trip up the Amazon River from Iquitos and a nice place to unwind & get your home comforts before heading back to the crazy jungle!
Here I do recommend getting a local guide as heading into the amazon without one is pretty crazy it is the largest rainforest in the world!
Amazon Rainforest | By Neil Palmer via Wikimedia Commons
Also, guides have a wealth of experience and knowledge, they know the best places to spot the pink dolphins and the best parts of the rainforest to take you!
5. Flight to Arequipa (Days 5)
Flight: from Iquitos to Lima (approx. 2 hours) - Flight from Lima to Arequipa (1.5 hours)
6. Arequipa (Day 5-6)
Arequipa is sometimes solely thought of as a gateway to Colca Canyon. However, it is a special and subtle place despite being peru's second largest city.
The "White city" as commonly called has vast and beautiful historic buildings made out of (Sillar, white volcanic rock) . Santa Cantalina Monastery, embodies this! This is a high altitude city (at a whopping 2328 metres in altitude) with alot to offer!
7. Colca Canyon (Day 7-8)
How to get there?
Take a Private bus from Arequipa to Colca Canyon as part of a 2 days/1 night tour with a local tour guide organised by Mtravels. (Enquire for details)
Colca Canyon a Vast canyon, twice as deep as the "Grand Canyon" in the U.S.A!
Colca Canyon in Peru | By Tydence Davis via Wikimedia Commons
Safety Tip: When heading through Aguada Blanca National Reserve and up to the Patapampa Mountain pass, you will be around 4900 metres above sea level! Such high altitude can make you feel dizzy and even sick!
So drink water, stay hydrated and even try the local "Coca Tea" it's what it's for!
Bird Spotting? The Cruz del Condor is the perfect location for spotting soaring majestic condors!
8. Head to Puno (Day 9)
How to get there?
Take a Tourist bus from Chivay to Puno Travel time approximately 6.5 hours!
This is another high altitude are at approximately 3810 metres or 12,500 ft! So stay hydrated! Puno sits on the edge of Lake Titicaca, which is the reason why most travellers pass through this port city as it's not the most classically beautiful place. One night is enough usually.
9. Head to Lake Titicaca (Days 10-11)
How do i get there?
Take a Tour boat from Puno to Amantaní island (3 hours)
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world! Located on the edge of the Bolivian border. Renowned for it's floating islands of the ancient Uros people and lake excursions!
Recommended By Town & Tourist - If you would like to really get a feel of the local culture and island life, some backpackers like to organise a homestay with a local family on the Amantani island! For further details enquire with Town & Tourist
10. Fly from Julica to Cusco (Day 12)
This flight takes approximately 1 hour
11. Cusco (Days 12-13)
Cusco is considered the gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley! This is a hub for tourists however that has not affected it's charm! There is so much to do in this city that you will wan't to stay longer! I nice place to stay is at Hotel Rumi Punku boutique hotel cultural and artistic San Blas area.
Cusco Peru | By Diego Delso via Wikimedia Commons
12. Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (Day 14-Day 19)
Machu Picchu one of the only reasons people travel to Peru! There are a few options to getting up there one is to take a train up to the Inca or hike along the "Inca Trail".
Another option is the Salktantay trail, If you Take this trial with one of Town&Tourists partners, you can take advantage of their inside knowledge and use lodges along the trail rather than camping areas! Enquire for further details on how to book. This will Depend upon how much you wan't to ruff it!
Luxury Lodges - Offer a Jacuzzi and massage to relax and comfort you after a harsh days trekking on difficult terrain!
13. Flight from Cusco to Lima (1.5 hours) (Day 19).
Kārlis Dambrāns via Wikimedia Commons
14. Back in Lima (Days 20-21)
Back in the capital city now, this is a great time to unwind, head to the beach, taste some exquisite food at top restaurants and of course do some gift shopping for friends and family before flying back home! One restaurant is called : "Astrid y Gasto'n" -
This is on the world 's top 50 best restaurants but a reservation must be made before hand! If you would rather something more low key but still gorgeous then try a delicious homemade meal with a local Peruvian family. Contact Mtravel's for details on how to arrange.
15. Fly Home!
Fly home from Lima with many great memories or onto your next country if your lucky enough!
The Bottom Line...
Peru with a tour or without is a fantastic and eye opening place to travel. I personally am not a fan of "Package" holidays and prefer to book my hotels and flights separately to save money. However, when it comes to local tours such Macchu Picchu it can be easier with a guide to benefit from their local knowledge.
Would you like to save money on your next Hotel in Peru?
Use the helpful tool below, to compare thousands of hotels across south America to get your the best quality and price.
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