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Dear Deal Detective:
My friend and I are interested in seeing Machu Picchu. We’re two twentysomething women, so we’d prefer to travel with a group rather than do it on our own. When’s the best time to go, and who offers the best prices?
Machu Picchu’s high season, also known as the dry season, runs from June through early September. The Easter and Christmas holiday weeks are also very busy. Generally speaking, the high season has the best weather, the largest crowds (up to 3,000 visitors per day), and highest prices. The period from November through March is collectively known as the rainy season. It has the smallest crowds and lowest prices, but also the worst weather. The shoulder season, which offers an attractive mix of reasonable weather, lower prices, and smaller crowds, is considered to be April, May, late September, and October.
Canada-based G.A.P Adventures consistently offers competitive prices and well-regarded trips. Its most basic package is the eight-day Inca Discovery for $595, plus a $200 local payment. Set aside another $100 for meals along the way as well. The guided trip begins in the international gateway city of Lima and includes airfare to Cusco, as well as the four-day Inca Trail trek. G.A.P also offers an alternative trek that follows the less-traveled Lares trail to Machu Picchu. It’s priced the same as the better-known route. The Inca Trail is closed during the month of February for annual maintenance, so the Lares trail is a good option for anyone interested in a February trip.
Intrepid Travel’s slightly pricier Inca Trail package follows a similar itinerary (actually, many guided trips do) and costs $760, plus a $300 local payment. Most meals are included, but Intrepid suggests bringing an extra $75 for the non-included meals. If you want the structure of an organized trip, but prefer to go it alone and trim a few hundred dollars from the overall cost, Intrepid’s Independent Inca Trail trip starts at $655, plus a $150 local payment.
For non-hikers, LAN Vacations’ Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu Overnight package is a good all-in-one approach to seeing the ancient city. Starting at $1,649 (not including airport taxes and fees), the seven-day package includes round-trip airfare to/from Lima and Cusco, hotel transfers, hotel accommodations in Cusco and Aguas Calientes, various local tours, and the round-trip “Backpacker Train Tour” to Machu Picchu. No camping required. LAN offers the same package without airfare starting at $809. Hikers can also arrange two-day or four-day treks through LAN Vacations starting at $449 and $649, respectively.
Before you finalize your plans, read my colleague Molly Feltner’s inspiring article about her own Machu Picchu experience. She offers some hard-won tips for planning a trip, as well as suggestions for choosing a local—and less expensive—tour operator instead of the non-Peruvian ones I’ve mentioned here.
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