Whether you’re an adventure lover or you simply seek experiences that are spiritually enlightening, then you might find yourself at a crossroads, deciding on travel between Machu Picchu or Patagonia. Both offer incredible landscapes, awe-inspiring multi-day hikes and plenty of space for self-reflection. But which one fits your travel style?
Machu Picchu is located in Peru, tucked away in the Andes Mountains, home to the Inca Trail that has travellers hiking up the Andes daily to view the ancient ruins. The ruins of the 15th-century Incan city are laid out in properly planned terraced formations, with loads of buildings and structures still well preserved.
Machu Picchu facts:
- Location: Andes Mountains, Peru
- Area: 325,9km2
- Landscape: Mountains, plains, rivers
- Known for: The Inca Trail, 15th-century Inca city ruins, spiritual retreats
The absolute highlight was the 360-degree view of the entire valley atop Montaña (the Machu Picchu mountain). It was well worth the effort of the steep climb. Of course, the view is spectacular. But more than the beauty, it gives a sense of how well hidden Machu Picchu really is. Looking down at Machu Picchu from that height gave us a sense of its place in history as the only Incan city that the Spanish couldn’t touch and why. It was a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get the tickets for Huyana Picchu. Montaña is much higher and the views are much more stunning.I would advise first-time travelers to Carry lots of insect repellent is an advice that should be taken in grave seriousness! Also, try to carry some USD. All the prices (including the bus that goes atop the Machu Picchu) the were quoted to us in USD. They weren’t sure they could accept the local currency of Soles. We ended up paying in the local currency at a much higher conversion rate!Highly recommend the walk to Aguas Calientes from Hidroelectric. It’s a beautiful walk (on flat ground, almost everyone can do it) and some of the hostels/eateries are in a fairy tale like setting – enjoy a breakfast or lunch there. A visit to Machu Picchu can feel like an overdose of tourism. The only local feel was a small market in the base town of Aguas Calientes. After a long day of visiting Machu Picchu, cool down in this Mercado with a glass of Chicha Morada. – Sandeepa and Chetan, Sandeepa Chetan’s Travel Blog
Generally, most people doing the Inca Trail will fly into Cusco in Peru. It’s advisable to spend a day or two here so that you can recover from your flight and also get used to the change in attitude before heading off on your trek.
If you’re hoping to do the Inca Trail on a certain date, then you need to book a permit beforehand. The permits only allow for 500 people to do the trail at a time, and they need to be booked at least four months in advance.
The main Inca Trail route is a four-day trek with three nights staying over in campsites. There are other routes that can be taken, ranging from two days to up to seven. It depends on which you book. With the standard route you are looking at about eight hours of trekking per day to cover a distance of 42km.
Machu Picchu is one of the few destinations that truly live up to its hype. No words can describe the excitement you get when that first big, gray cloud moves away and exposes the beauty of Machu Picchu in its entirety. That was the highlight — the moment I caught the first glimpse after getting to the top at 6AM, sweaty and exhausted. Machu Picchu simply can never be overrated.
Plan out your days leading up to Machu Picchu to truly make the most out of your time. I loved riding Peru Rail into Machu Picchu village (Aguas Calientes) the day before, giving me ample time to rest and wake up early to start the walk up to the top. Bring lots of water and long-sleeved, but light clothing, as you will sweat and freeze on and off walking to the top. Bring snacks to enjoy while you’re up there and truly take in the moment! – Gloria, The Blog Abroad
Travel to: Machu Picchu
Best Time To Visit Machu Picchu
The trail is closed every February for maintenance, and the dry season is from April to October. Attempting the trail in the rainy season is arduous and best left to the brave, so try and plan your trip outside of the rainy season.
In saying that, the peak tourist season for Machu Picchu is June, July and August. The area is overcrowded during this time, so it can detract from the sheer beauty of the place, but if it’s the only time you can travel there you will just have to try a little harder to snap some photos without anyone photobombing it.
If you can opt for travel in April, May, September or October, then you can expect to be in for an absolute treat of an experience.
I’ve been to Machu Picchu twice. The first time I was with my mom, and I would say the highlight of that trip was being able to share a “once in a lifetime” experience with someone I love so much. The second time I went with a friend, and we hiked to the Sun Gate with very little equipment, water, or preparation. With the noon sun beating down on me, no water left in my bottle, and scary cliffs to my left, I remember thinking there was no way I’d make it—but I did! The view was beautiful, and we met interesting travelers from other countries.
Many people dream for years of going to Machu Picchu and will only ever get to go once; this causes them to feel extremely stressed out because they think the trip has to be “perfect.” A great example of this is how many people want to see the sunrise at Machu Picch. Well, the gates open after sunrise, and even then, mornings are usually foggy up there. So you probably won’t see the sunrise. Relax. It will be beautiful anyway. Even when things don’t go according to plan, feel grateful and try to soak in the experience (put down the camera every once in a while!). – Amy, The Wherever Writer
Machu Picchu Hidden Treats
Hike up the Machu Picchu Mountain after you’ve done the Inca trail. It’s a treat afforded to few, as it’s very often overlooked. The views from up there are positively breathtaking, and you’ll be treading on land where Incan priests performed special rituals on selected days of the year.
Split between the southern areas of Argentina and Chile is a sparsely populated yet vast piece of land called Patagonia. The Torres del Paine is a popular route in Chilean Patagonia that offers the most memorable multi-day hikes.
- Location: South Argentina and Chile
- Area: 1,043,076 km2 – half of each country
- Landscape: Mountains, plains, glaciers, icefields
- Known for: Torres del Paine National Park, dinosaur fossils, temperamental weather, whale watching and numerous hiking trails
On all of my trips to Patagonia, what I love the most and can count on every time I go, besides all of the external beauty, is that it meets me exactly where I am internally. Being in the raw, beautiful wild of Patagonia is like hitting the reset button on my soul. I have fallen in love with Patagonia for more than what I see, it’s what I feel that keeps me coming back.
Remember to pack only what you absolutely need, and plan to spend a lot of time on the trails. It’s where all the magic happens. Also, if you plan to camp, bring your gear with you, as it is very expensive down south. – Jackie, The Budget-Minded Traveler
Getting to Patagonia is easiest if you fly into Buenos Aires. From there you can take a short distance flight to the Patagonian area you wish to visit. Chilean Patagonia is probably the most popular end point, in which case you would fly from Buenos Aires to Punta Arenas, which is the airport in Chilean Patagonia. From there you will travel to Puerto Natales to really begin your journey.
It’s best to decide upfront which trails to use as you’ll need to book your campsites along the way. The most popular routes in Chilean Patagonia are the W trek and O trek (named after the shape each route follows), in the Torres del Paine National Park. The W route is approximately 50km in length, whereas the O route is 120km. This is usually what helps people determine which is best for them.
Once you’ve booked your campsites, you can pretty much take the trails as they come and hike them at a pace that suits you. The scenery is beautiful and you’ll want to take time to absorb it all along the way. Camping is free in the national campgrounds, or there are refugios, which are a little more well kept and come at a slight fee.
Hiking Glacier Grey ranks up there as one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done. It’s incredibly humbling to hike on a glacier, with rivers and waterfalls rumbling under the ice beneath us and deep crevasses all around. It’s an incredible experience, with jaw dropping views from the top of the glacier looking out across Lago Grey!
Rent a car and explore the region on your own. Torres Del Paine National Park is an amazing place with hiking, climbing, and trekking for every skill level. I’d also recommend exploring some of Torres Del Paine on horseback if you can. It’s just a fun way to explore the Park and get a feel for the baqueano (cowboy) culture that’s such a part of Chilean Patagonia. -Lori, TravelinMad
See Also: Do You Need A Visa To Go There?
Best Time to Visit Patagonia
The best time to embark on your trek through Patagonia is between October and April. This is peak season so there will be many tourists doing the same thing, but it’s also Summer and the prime season for comfort and safety.
Patagonia Hidden Treats
Patagonian treks are like walking along the ends of the Earth, sometimes seeming like you’re on another planet. The entire journey is a hidden treat waiting to be explored!
For me, Patagonia’s absolute highlight is the Carretera Austral. Although Torres del Paine National Park in the south is known as Patagonia’s ultimate adventure, Ruta 7 or the Carretera Austral is even more so. Expect to be enthralled by the scenery, which passes from ancient Valdivian temperate rainforest in the north at Parque Pumalin, through the shimmering powder blue of the Queulat Hanging Glacier and the icy peaks of Cerro Castillo to the remote village of Villa O’Higgins at the road’s southernmost tip. The Carretera Austral is an adventure you can take by local bus, rental car or even hitchhiking and few places in Patagonia feel as remote, undiscovered and magical as this simple stretch of road.
If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia for the first time, I always recommend that you consider the season, as summer (December through February) is always packed with tourists, meaning prices are higher, hotels and hostels are fully-booked and you need to plan your itinerary well in advance. Alternatively, travelling during the shoulder seasons (October-November and March-April) still mean reasonable, if temperamental weather and fewer other visitors, allowing you to be more flexible with your plans and able to enjoy the region – not worry if you’ll find a room for the night! – Steph, Worldly Adventurer