Why Visit Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu are two of the most sought-after tourist destinations in South America, and for good reason; the Galapagos Islands are an incredible wildlife viewing destination, with endemic wildlife species that aren’t afraid of humans, and Machu Picchu is one of the most fascinating historical sites in the world. Both probably are, and definitely should be (!), on your bucket list.
Read More About Traveling to the Galapagos Islands Here: Guide to Traveling To The Galapagos Islands
Read More About Traveling to Machu Picchu and Peru Here: Peru Travel Guide
View Galapagos and Machu Picchu Trips Here: Galapagos and Machu Picchu Trips
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a chain of volcanic islands straddling the equator, 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Due to their location and volcanic origin, all of the life there has traveled from the mainland in some way, and then has evolved into unique species of endemic animals. The Galapagos had a profound impact on Charles Darwin when he visited there in 1835, as he noticed that the animals on one island were different from those of the same species on another island.
These unique wildlife species are still on the Galapagos Islands in great numbers, and because they have never learned to fear man, they are very easy to see. Where else in the world can you see giant tortoises, blue footed boobies, penguins, and swimming iguanas all in one place?
98% of the Galapagos Islands are set aside as a National Park, and where you can go and what you can do are highly regulated. The traditional way to visit the Galapagos is on a 4-15 day cruise on a small yacht, going ashore in different sites each day with your trained and licensed naturalist guide. A newer type of trip is the island hopping trip, staying in one or more of the 4 inhabited islands, and taking day excursions to view the wildlife, although much of it is in or very near the towns. Also popular are multisport adventure tours where you kayak, hike, snorkel, and even bike each day to recreate and view wildlife.
Machu Picchu sits on a remote mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, about 50 miles northwest of Cusco, Peru. It was built by the Incas around 1450, most likely as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. At the time, the Incas had expanded their territory to cover most of Western South America. They ruled this region in the 15th and 16th Century, before their defeat at the hands of the Spanish.
Machu Picchu had long been forgotten when it was "discovered" by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. Much of the site has been reconstructed, and it is a magical place to visit, replete with great views and ancient mysticism. It is the best known and most recognized symbol of the Inca Empire.
Machu Picchu itself is not a big site and can be experienced in half a day, but it is remote and takes time to get to. Additionally, Cusco, the jumping off city for trips to Machu Picchu, and the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas are both incredibly interesting and worth visits themselves.
You can get to Machu Picchu from Cusco either by taking the train to the valley below the citadel, then taking a bus to the site itself, or on foot by hiking the Inca Trail
Why Visit Both In One Trip
If you are interested in seeing and experiencing both the culture and history of Machu Picchu, and the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and if you aren't likely to take another trip to South America, combining the two destinations into one trip makes a lot of sense as they are relatively close to one another on the western side of South America. But, you need a minimum of 10 days to even slightly begin to experience both destinations adequately, and we recommend at least 14 days to give yourself time to really enjoy your trip. In addition, there is additional cost to visiting two destinations as it requires more flights and hotel times.
Why Choose Only One Destination on Your Trip?
Assuming you are interested in both destinations, you may decide to choose to only visit one on your trip if your time (or budget) is limited so that you wouldn't be able to adequately experience both destinations fully. We firmly believe in traveling more slowly to allow yourself to experience the true nature of a destination, rather than rushing to lots of destinations to get stamps in your passport and checkmarks on your dream destination list, but really only experience planes, trains, and automobiles wherever you go.
Keep in mind that combing the two destinations adds time and cost to your trip, as it requires additional flights and enough time to see both destinations properly. See more about this below. Machu Picchu is in the highlands of southern Peru near the town of Cusco, and the Galapagos Islands are 500 miles west of the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. You cannot fly directly between the two destinations as you have to enter and depart Peru from Lima, and Ecuador from Quito or Guayaquil.
From Quito it is a 4-hour flight to the Galapagos Islands, and from Lima it is an hour by air, but then takes another 3-4 hours by bus and train to reach Machu Picchu. You will need to overnight in either Lima or one of the Ecuadorian citifies (Quito or Guayaquil) in order to combine the two destinations.
How Much Time do I Need To Visit Both Destinations?
You can theoretically combine the two destinations in as little as 8 days, but frankly that would be a horrible trip as that is too fast to do anything other than be able to say you've been there (although you won't have really seen or experienced either one). At a bare minimum you need 10 days to even start to experience the two destinations, but you won't find many organized trips that are that fast as it really is too much travel and note enough time in either destination. Trips of 12 to 14 days are generally long enough to have a great experience in each destination.
To have a decent trip you need a day to travel to either Peru or Ecuador, at least five days in the Galapagos, at least four days in Peru, and another day to arrive home, for a total of 11 days. In four days you can visit Machu Picchu, see the ruins in and around Cusco, and that's about it. We highly recommend spending more time in this area, as there is so much to see and do you could easily spend more than a week here. One more day in Peru, for a trip total of 12 days, adds greatly to your Peru experience.
Five days is really the minimum trip length for a Galapagos trip, as the first and last days of your trip are spent mostly getting to and from the islands, leaving only 3 full days to explore. For years the traditional Galapagos yacht trip was 8 days, while the traditional multisport adventure trip is 7 days. Plus you need one night before you fly to the Galapagos in either Quito or Guayaquil, as flights to the Galapagos depart early in the morning. That means you should really plan at least 6 days for the Galapagos portion
If you have less time than this we highly recommend visiting only one of the two destinations on this trip, so as to really experience it, and then plan a separate trip to visit the other. This may sound disappointing, but both sites deserve the time to really explore them, and you could easily spend 10 days to two weeks in either destination alone.
Best Ways to Experience The Galapagos and Machu Picchu
Types of Galapagos Trips
The traditional Galapagos Islands trip is a naturalist cruise on a small yacht that visits a number of islands, with passengers going ashore twice a day at different sites with their naturalist guide for slow moving nature walks, panga (small boat) rides, and snorkeling excursions.
A newer type of Galapagos trip is an island hopping journey, where you stay in hotels on several of the 4 inhabited islands, and do day trips to nearby sites from there. Finally, there are Galapagos multisport adventures that, like island hopping trips, base out of hotels on different islands, but rather than taking slow-moving nature walks you spend your days hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and biking to view the iconic Galapagos wildlife.
Types of Machu Picchu Trips
Machu Picchu itself is a relatively small site that can be seen in less than a day, but it is remote and hard to reach, making a visit there take at least several days. Best is to spend time exploring the Inca history and highlands culture in Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, both of which you must pass through on your way to Machu Picchu.
There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu itself: Hike the Inca Trail and enter Machu Picchu via the Gate of the Sun on foot, or take the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo and then take a short bus trip up the mountain to visit Machu Picchu.
Most people arrive by train, as they will can take cultural tours of Cusco and Sacred Valley Inca and colonial sites, or do a multisport adventure (hiking, biking, horseback riding and rafting to remote cultural sites) or a non-permitted trek, and still visit Machu Picchu by taking the train.
The Inca Trail is a 1, 4, or 5-day hike, that requires permits issued by the Government of Peru. Permits can sell out many months in advance (usually May and June hikes sell out in early January, followed by April, July, and August), so if you are considering this option you will need to plan way in advance.
New for 2016 there are separate permits for hiking the 1-day, or Royal Inca Trail, which is the last day of the Inca Trail and allows you to arrive into Machu Picchu on foot via Inti Punku, or the Gate of the Sun. Permits of this option are not selling quickly, so if you want to arrive to Machu Picchu on foot this is a fabulous option that can be combined with another trek, a multisport adventure, or even a more cultural trip, even when permits are sold out for the full Inca Trail Trek.
How To Combine the Galapagos Island and Machu Picchu Into One Trip
Combining the two destinations involves a number of flights, but it really isn't that complicated. Ideally your international flights will fly from home to Peru and then from Ecuador to home, or vice versa, as you can easily start in either destination.
Can I Combine the Two Destinations Myself Or Do I Need To Book A Trip That Already Combines the Two Destinations?
There are quite a few pieces to a combination trip to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu, but you it is quite possible to arrange everything on your own. It really depends on you - do you have the time to and do you enjoy researching logistics and finding trips for both destinations, or do you prefer to spend your time choosing between various trip styles and itineraries and letting a tour operator arrange everything for you?
You can save money if you arrange as much a possible yourself, but keep in mind that you will need guides in the Galapagos to see any Park sites outside of a town, and arranging the train to Machu Picchu can be a challenge.
If you don't plan to do it yourself in both destinations it probably makes sense to book a combined tour, as that will simplify everything and the tour operator will make sure the logistics all fit together.
Which Destination Should I Visit First?
It really doesn't matter very much which destination you start with, unless you are traveling in March or December or January (see the weather section below). If traveling in March we would recommend that you start in the Galapagos so you go to Peru as late in March as possible, and if traveling in December or January we recommend going to Peru first so that you are in the Galapagos when the weather is most likely worst in Peru.
Where Do I Fly To and From For A Combination Trip?
To do a combo trip you will need to either fly from home to Lima, Peru, and then return home from either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, or do the trip in reverse and fly from home to Ecuador, and then from Peru to home.
Obviously you will need another international flight to connect Peru and Ecuador in the middle, but flying in a triangle like this saves time and usually doesn't cost any more than buying a round trip ticket to either Peru or Ecuador, and a round trip from there to the other country for the middle portion.
And finally, you will need to fly round trip from Lima to Cusco in Peru, and round trip from Ecuador (either Guayaquil or Quito) to the Galapagos Islands.
Weather and When to Visit
Best Times to Visit Machu Picchu
Generally the best time to visit the Machu Picchu region of Peru is from April or May to November. The rainy season starts in late November or early December and runs into March or even April. January and February are the rainiest months, so while you may get some rain in December or March, it generally won't rain all day or even every day. The Inca Trail is closed to trekking in February.
Best Times to Visit the Galapagos Islands
It is generally said that there is no bad time to visit the Galapagos, and this is true. as any time of year is good. The seas are roughest from June - December, when the skies can be overcast and the temperatures are cooler, but there is little rain. At this time you will want to wear a wetsuit if you like to snorkel and plan to stay in the water for long periods of time. Mid December until June can be hot, with brief showers, and calmer seas. You may not need a wetsuit for snorkeling at this time of year. September generally has the roughest seas.
March and late December are the busiest times for tourism in the Galapagos Islands, followed by the northern summer vacation months of June, July, and August, so these dates can sell out in advance, with December holidays selling out over a year in advance on some boats.
Best Times For a Trip Combining Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands
Combination Trips to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu are best from April to November so as to avoid the rainy season in Peru. Combination trips really are possible all year round, but we really recommend avoiding the month of February, as that is the rainiest time in Peru and floods can wash out roads and make travel difficult. The Inca Trail Trek is closed for maintenance during the entire month of February. December and March generally don't get too much rain in Peru, and even January usually is better than February.
How to Get There and Get Around
Your Galapagos and Machu Picchu trip may start in either Peru or the Galapagos Islands, and then it would end in the other destination. Your international flights would need to be like this:
Home - Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador - Lima, Peru - Home
Home - Lima, Peru - Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador - Home
In Peru, you would also need to fly Lima - Cusco - Lima, and in Ecuador you would fly from Quito/Guayaquil - Galapagos - Quito/Guayaquil.
Getting to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
International flights to Ecuador arrive and depart from either Quito or Guayaquil. These cities are also the jumping off spots for flights to and from the Galapagos Islands. You will fly to the Galapagos from either Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador early on the first morning of the Galapagos portion of your trip (flights depart between 7 – 11 a.m.), so you will need to arrive in mainland Ecuador by at least the night before your trip starts in order to make this flight. If coming from Peru, you can connect to Ecuador, most easily through Guayaquil, on the day you depart Cusco.
Getting to Peru and Cusco
International flights to Peru all go through Lima, so you will need to fly into Lima and then connect on to Cusco in order to get to Machu Picchu. There are flights every hour during the day between Lima and Cusco, and the flight takes about an hour. Exito Travel has great rates on these flights. If starting your trip in the Galapagos Islands, we suggest connecting to Lima and staying in the airport hotel on the night you leave the Galapagos.
Connecting Peru and Ecuador
To connect the Galapagos and Machu Picchu you will need a flight that connects Lima, Peru, with either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador. This is a flight of just a few hours, and it is possible to connect to the next country on the day you leave either Cusco or the Galapagos Islands.
International and domestic flights are not included in the cost of the trip (except for any flights between islands within the Galapagos if indicated in your itinerary). We don't sell airfare, although we work closely with Exito Travel, a company that specializes in flights to and within America, and they can take care of all of your flight needs. We can give them your trip itinerary and then they match flights up with your trip to make the process simple and easy. You are welcome to arrange your own flights as well, and we suggest checking the following websites: Kayak.com or LAN.com.
Hotels in Lima or Guayaquil (or Quito) When Traveling Between Countries
If starting your trip in Peru, you will need a hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on the day you travel from Peru to Ecuador. This will be included in the trip price if this is a set Galapagos and Machu Picchu package trip. Either way, this can be arranged for you as you plan your trip.
If your trip starts in Ecuador, you will need a hotel in Lima, Peru, on the day you depart the Galapagos Islands. This will be included in the trip price if this is a set Galapagos and Machu Picchu package trip. Either way, this can be arranged for you as you plan your trip. You will also need at least one night's hotel in Ecuador (either Quito or Guayaquil) before the trip begins. This is not included in the trip price but we can arrange it for you.
We highly recommend not buying international flights or Galapagos flights before confirming your trip, as this can severely limit your trip options and we'd had to have you purchase flights but not be able to get a trip that fits those dates.
Sample Popular Galapagos and Machu Picchu Trips
Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu after acclimatizing with off the beaten path hikes to some of the best ruins and sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The unique 5-day Inca Trail Trek itinerary allows you to hike and camp apart from most of the crowds and gives you extra time to explore ruins and at Machu Picchu. Hike, sea kayak, bike and snorkel your way through the Galapagos. By joining onto shared tours (but with your own top-notch guide) you save on logistics while not skimping on quality. This trip offers an ideal mix of active excursions into the park and chill time to explore on your own. Trip Length: 17 Days Destinations: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island Accommodations: 3-star and 3-star plus hotels & comfortable tent camping on the Inca Trail Activities: Trekking, Inca ruins, wildlife viewing, biking, sea kayaking, snorkeling, cultural experiences
The Letty Galapagos Cruise and Machu Picchu trip offers the best of each destination: great wildlife viewing in the Galapagos, and amazing culture and history in Peru. The First Class Letty has two naturalists on board, one for every 10 travelers, so your nature walks have fewer travelers to each guide than other cruises. The Machu Picchu portion visits the best Inca ruins and markets, culminating in the exploration of Machu Picchu Ruins. Trip Length: 14 Days Destination: Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, & Cusco, Peru / Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Lodging: Boutique hotels / First Class Yacht Activities: Inca ruins, indigenous markets, wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding
For the adventurous family this is the ultimate active Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu adventure. Designed with families in mind, you will experience the best of Machu Picchu and the Cusco area by hiking, stand up paddle boarding, chocolate making, traditional barbecues, and Inca ruins, including arriving on foot into Machu Picchu on the 1-Day Inca Trail trek. Next you'll hike, sea kayak, and snorkel your way through three different Galapagos Islands, seeing all of the incredible wildlife up close. Trip Length: 14 Days Destination: San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island and Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, and Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the 1-day Inca Trail in Peru Lodging: 3-star and 3-star plus hotels Activities: Day hikes, sea kayaking, snorkeling, biking, Inca ruins, stand up paddle boarding, wildlife viewing
View More Galapagos and Machu Picchu Trips Here: Galapagos and Machu Picchu Trips