Tested Itinerary: Inca Trail and Machu Picchu – 12 days

Is hiking the Inca Trail (or just seeing Machu Picchu) on your bucket list? This tested Inca Trail itinerary will take you to Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and finally to Machu Picchu, the great city of the Incas, with minimal planning and maximum fun.

We did this trip with 3 kids from 9-14 years old. If you want to trek the Inca Trail, you’ll need two weeks to make this trip comfortable given the necessary acclimatization.

This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the tested itinerary section below into an e-mail to a local agency (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals.

The Tested Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Fly to Cusco. Relax for at least 24h, you are at 3400m/11,000ft above sea level. If you arrive in the morning, arrange early hotel check-in. Get a hotel in walking distance to the Plaza de Armas.
  • Day 2 – Hang out around the Plaza de Armas. Keep taking it easy. Maybe day trip to the Sacred Valley.
  • Day 3 – Head to Puno by Bus. Keep taking it easy.  Spend a few days at 3800m/12,500ft.
  • Day 4/5 – Uros Island, Homestay on Amantani, visit Taquile
  • Day 6 – Head back to Cusco by Train. You are now properly acclimatized to get ready to hike.
  • Day 7-10 Hike the Inca Trail.
    Alternatively, book a 2-day tour by train/bus.
  • Day 11 – Recover and shop in Cusco
  • Day 12 – Fly home
  • If you do this over Christmas plan around the following
    • 12/24 Santurantikuy – possibly the biggest crafts market in Latin America
    • 12/31 Christmas Eve – awesome new year party on the Plaza de Armas
  • If you have additional time (do this after the trek):
    • Spend a night at the Skylodge
    • Visit the Salt Mines
    • Spend a few days in the Peruvian Amazon

Getting There

From SFO and other US cities, it’s likely a red eye on United through Houston.


Unless you know that you acclimatize fast to elevations over 3500m, assume you will need a week to get comfortable. The Inca Trail is hard enough without high altitude symptoms (head ache, nausea, or worse…). You will climb a 4200m high pass. Spend a few days in Cusco or – as suggested above – in Puno, which is even higher.

Inca Trail Itineraries

Tl;DR; book the Inca Trail with Llama Path. They have a good itinerary, and are a responsible tour operator.

Different tour operators prefer different itineraries. If you do private tours, they may accommodate changes to it, but it will not be their regular way of doing, which may complicate things. Here are some options

  • 4 days/3 nights Llama Path: You will leave Cusco at ~4am. You will hike more than other groups on day 1 and 2, but less on day 3, which allows you more time in the ruins of the third day. On the 4th day, you will get up at 3am, wait 2 hours in the dark, and arrive at Machu Picchu around 7:30am. It’s hard core.
  • 5 days/4 nights APUs Peru: You will leave early on the first day, too, but then have slightly shorter hikes. On the 4th day, you will hike the last 2 hours to Machu Pichu and arrive in the afternoon. Then you spend a night in a Hotel at the bottom of Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) and go back to Machu Picchu the next day.
  • 2 days/1 night Llama Path. You hike the first day, visit one beautiful Inca city in the morning, and reach Machu Picchu in the afternoon. Then spend a night in Aguas Calientes and go back.
  • Skip the pain – take the train to Aguas Calientes. Stay in Aguas Calientes and take the first bus up to Machu Picchu.


You have two options:

  • Winter (June/July), when it’s colder, but the weather is a lot nicer. It probably won’t rain (but you are in the mountains, the weather is unpredictable…)
  • Summer (December, e.g. over norther hemisphere winter break), when it’s warmer, but it will rain. We hiked 2 days in the rain! It was awesome, although some might disagree.

Travel Agencies

Your desired itinerary will decide which travel agency you will be using for the Inca Trail. If you go with the recomended Llama Path, then you likely want a different agency for the rest. I recommend APUs Peru, especially if you are into cultural travel.


My wife – a textile artist – found APUS Peru because they organize textile tours. They have multiple cultural offerings, and everything we did with them was good. I kept changing our plans, but they were very easy to work with. Also, their pre-trip documentation on how to behave on treks was outstanding, and better than what we saw from Llama Path. They have their own Inca Trail offering, which is a bit less hard core than the Llama Path 4-day one, so it’s worth consideration if you are so inclined. We especially liked our guide Arturo. He was super competent, and had some interesting perspectives.

Llama Path

Llama Path is not only a responsible operator, it championed many of the improvements for porters and the environment. They introduced uniforms and working as a group and are the only one with a porter house. They also don’t make porters carry toilets (you have to use the campground restrooms). You can read about their commitment on their site.

With Llama Path, the food is amazing and plenty (click on that link!). Their food handling was safe enough that nobody got sick on the trip, and we ate pretty much everything (of course one never knows, you decide what to eat).

Our guide Rosalio, or Lio was super experienced and everything went smooth. He did the Inca Trail 800 times, and he run it once (as part of the Inca Trail marathon) in under 4h – the local porters are totally crushing the world elite in that event.


Get a local SIM card from Claro or Movistar. The message boards are full of people pointing out that global roaming is very limited in Peru. Local SIMs are cheap and you likely have much better coverage. It takes half an hour to get one in any Claro store in a big city. You can recharge it in small stores anywhere.


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General Travel Tips

Every person and family is different, and every trip is different, but there are some general tips that apply to most trips:

Book Early

Book early, at least 6 months in advance. You get better everything: lodging, flight connections, rental cars, show tickets, entry times, etc. Some of the most exciting hotels have 2-3 rooms only. Some local flights have 20 seats only. Last minute prices may be cheaper, but it normally is for the rooms and attractions that fill up last.

The best part? The trip may only be a week or two, but now you have 6 months of excited anticipation, reading travel guides and trip reports and watching movies on the topic. You just added so much value to your trip for free!

Book Local

Remember fax and paper vouchers? Long time ago, you had to work with a home country travel agency, because having the home pro’s talk to the destination pro’s was the only way to make it work over fax. That creates jobs at home, and increases your trip cost. But they all have destination partners who deal with anything that may come up.

Today you can book directly with the local destination agency. Chose one that is personally recommended to you, or has high ratings on sites like tripadvisor. They all speak English, and they will all go the extra mile – because good reviews is the number one driver of their business. And they know the local region very well.

If you are more adventurous, you can book almost everything directly from the provider these days. But it will be a lot more work for you, and the connections in-between may or may not work. If you book through a local agency, they will make the itinerary work, and deal with anything that comes up during your trip.

Travel Light

There is very little value from taking everything with you. Pack light. Even if you have drivers and porters carry your baggage most of the time. Make sure everything you bring has multiple uses, and dress in layers. Get quick drying fabrics, so you can launder them over night in the sink if needed.


Install Whatsapp (or WeChat for China). It’s the most widely used messaging app, and all the guides and drivers will have it on their phone. If you want connectivity beyond WiFi, you need a data plan. If you have T-Mobile in the US, you have global roaming which works in most places. If not, ask your carrier to give you global roaming (may be ridiculously expensive, e.g. with ATT). Or get a local SIM. In most places, it will take less than half an hour. Don’t do it at the airport, do it after you checked in at the hotel, at a local place.

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Tested Itinerary: Bhutan – Visit the Magical Buddhist Mountain Kingdom – 12 Days

Is visiting Bhutan on your bucket list? This tested Bhutan itinerary will take you to see the highlights. And if it’s not on your bucket list, you should add it (photos here and here). Below is how to do it with minimal planning and maximum fun.

We did this trip with 2 adults (kids 8+ ok). I recommend 10 days at least, and it will take you two days each to get there and back. Book as early as you can, as domestic flights sell out fast (see below why you want those).

This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the itinerary section below into an e-mail to a local travel agent (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals. Book the flights yourself, or through your home agent.

The Tested Itinerary

  • Day 1/2 – Fly to Paro (PBH) – the one international airport in Bhutan.
  • Day 2-10 – Fly to Jakar/Bumthan, then slowly make your way back to Paro. Make sure you visit.
    • Taktsang Gomba (Tiger’s Nest). Do it on last day when acclimatized. The operator will plan to be back in Paro a day early anyway, in case of delays because of road closure etc.
    • Do a home stay. We stayed in Ngang Lhakhang Manor, but there are plenty.
    • Stay at Ogyen Choling. This was our best hotel. Shift your dates if you must :-).
    • Stay in town in Timphu, so you can walk the town and shop in the evening. This is where you want to shop.
    • Trust the operator and guide. They have done this many times. Small changes to the itinerary are no problem if you are in a small group, so if you want to see one more temple, or say the textile museum, you can easily arrange that after arrival.
    • Visit a big Festival if the timing works out.
  • Day 12/14 – Fly home.
  • If you have extra time, visit the Taj Majal and Delhi on the way in/out.

Getting There

You have to use a Bhutanese airline to fly to Paro, Bhutan. We flew from Delhi. Bangkok is another good option.

Delhi is awesome because you can visit the Taj Majal during the layover. But in DEL you have to go through immigration (no transfer) and it is slow, both entering and leaving the country. Expect to spend up to three hours both arriving and departing. Going out there is nothing you can do to accelerate, but going in will be easier with a proper visa from the embassy. Don’t use an Indian e-visa until they decrease processing time. If you do anyway, know that the second time entering (on the way back) you can go to the regular, faster line.

You also need a visa for Bhutan. Your travel agency will take care of that and any other permits you will need.


As a Westerner, you need to book through an approved local tour agency, and it will cost $250/day (minimum). There is no benefit of adding an intermediary who takes a cut, so just book directly with the local agency.

The $250 will cover everything but drinks other than water and tea, souvenirs, and donations at temples (unless you want unnecessary high-end hotels). This is true whether you are in a big group, a small group or even single. Thus just do your own tour. Which, if you are just 2 people, will give you a very comfortable SUV instead of a van or bus.

For your money, you will be accompanied by a guide and a driver every day. They are not a minders. After they drop you at the hotel, they will hang out with friends and family and you are free to go explore on your own.

Bhutan has one major east west road. You can drive the road both ways, but it will take you at least an extra day (i.e. $250). You can safe yourself pain, time, and money by flying to Jakar, and just drive back. It’s a no-brainer. Some agency don’t fly the guide with you to save money, so you get two different guides. Make sure your agency flies your guide with you (the poor driver has to drive the car, though). Note: This flight has only 20 passengers due to high altitude, so seats sell out quickly. Book as early as you can!

You can trek in Bhutan, but at $250/day it’s a bit pricey. Consider trekking in Nepal and spend your time in Bhutan on a cultural visit instead. You still have plenty of opportunity to walk, either on a dedicated hiking day, or just around town at the various stops. Tell the operator and the guide that you like to walk, and he’ll send the driver ahead to the hotel, while you walk around town.

Dress Code

Bhutanese have their own national dress (Gho/Kira), and most of them wear it most of the time. As a tourist, you need to be properly dressed, too. This means a long sleeved shirt (full length, no 3/4). It seems for men, a polo with collar is ok, but a t-shirt without collar won’t get you into the administrative buildings, which means most castles. Jeans and a shirt would work, but you may be better off with the standard westerner hiking pants/shirts from your outdoors store. Leave your shorts at home, you cannot wear them. You will have to take off your shoes in temples, so wear socks.

Travel Agency

We used Firefox – Google for [Firefox Tours Bhutan]. They are super responsive. Send an e-mail to Firefox, with your dates, and the above itinerary, and you’ll get a few suggestions back.

Firefox Tours: info@firefoxtours.com


Get a local SIM card. Local SIMs are cheap and you likely have much better coverage. It takes half an hour to get one in a city (Paro, Timphu, even Bumthang). You can recharge it in small stores anywhere.

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PSA: Gate 16J, or what to do when Stevens Creek Trail is closed at 101.

During heavy rains Stevens Creek floods Stevens Creek Trail at 101. As a result, the trail gets closed, and it often stays closed for the beautiful days after the storm.

There are three detour options (scroll down for an aerial view).

Stevens Creek Detours when it’s closed under 101 (the green Stevens Creek Trail marker on the map).


  • East on Moffet
    If walking/running, cross to the South side – there is no sidewalk on the North Side. Be careful on the 101 crossing. They are controlled intersections, but they are huge.
  • Left before the Moffet Field entry gate
    Google Maps calls this MT Jones road, and as of February 2017, Google Maps will not route you on this road. It will send you into the Moffet Field guarded perimeter. You so not need to go into Moffet Field.
    There is a lot of construction going on. Remove ear buds and head sets, and watch for heavy equipment that may not see you. Especially during the week.
  • Left at the end of the wind tunnel
    That would be the huge building on the right. There is lots of construction going on, but you may see a sign for PG&E. It’s a narrow passage on the left, after the National Guard.
  • Follow the packed earth/gravel path along Steven’s Creek.

The gravel road on the east side of Stevens Creek


  • West on Moffet
    Under the 85 overpass
  • Right on Middlefield Road
  • Right on Shoreline
  • Right on La Avenida
    Just before the Computer History Museum. You could also continue on Shoreline all the way to Shoreline Park.

Looking back. On the right is Stevens Creek Trail. On the left is the gravel road, and in the distance, the wind tunnel

Permanente Creek

  • West on Moffet
    Under the 85 overpass
  • Right on Middlefield
  • Continue on Middlefield at Shoreline
  • Right on Siera Vista
  • Right on Rock St
  • Left on Permanente Creek Trail

Below is a satellite view of the three routes.

Stevens Creek Detours when it’s closed under 101 (the green Stevens Creek Trail marker on the map). The big building on the right, at about 3 o’clock, above the (B) marker is the wind tunnel. You cannot miss it.

It normally takes a few days to clean the trail before it opens up again. As you can see below, they open it up quickly…

Stevens Creek under 101. Just a bit more water, and the trail floods, leading to closure.




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PSA: The Great American Eclipse of 2017


Book your travel this week. Accommodation and Transportation is filling up fast.

If you don’t want to do the research, book a flight to Portland, OR (PDX) on Saturday or Sunday, back on Tuesday. Get a rental car and book a hotel in Portland or close. On Monday, get up at 5am, check the weather, and drive to the closest area inside the path of the eclipse that promises a cloud free sky.

What’s going on?

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 is happening August 21st. The moon will completely cover the sun for a bit over 2 minutes. If you want to see it, you may need to plan ahead.  It will be like this:

The next one in the US mainland will be August 21st, 2017, around 10:30am. 12M Americans just have to s step outside and hope for a cloud free sky. If you are one of them, block your calendar from 9am to noon. The rest of us has to travel. Check now if you can take the day off. Your kids may already be back to school.

1. Decide Destination

Find out where you want to go first. Distance to where you live, and expected weather are the main criteria. Madras, OR is a good location if you live in Silicon Valley, as it’s close and typically has good weather in August. (If your company has an office in Portland, a visit there is worth a shot, too. The visitor desks will be busy.)

2. Book Accommodation and Flights – now

Hotels are sold out out along the path. Expect to have to drive an hour or two on the day of the eclipse, and expect traffic jams.

But there is an opening coming this week (week before 2/19) for Federal Campgrounds that take reservations 6 months in advance. These sites will go fast. Portland still has some reasonable priced flights, mostly because there are so many flights from Silicon Valley to Portland. But flying to, say Redmond, OR, costs $800 already…

More Information

For Geeks

This guys computed the irregular shadow using elevation models of the Earth and the Moon and created an amazing video. The practical impact of this level of details is minimal, as you want to be in the middle of the shadow anyway, not at the edge. But it’s awesome.


Solarfest is the local even in Madras, OR. Their Facebook page has more updates than their Web site.

National Eclipse

They have some background information and some nice maps on their site.

Next Chances


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