Trekking Solo or in group ?
I believe it all depends on your trekking experience and your organisational skills.
Without a tour
You can do the trek independently from a tour group. However, you will need to do a lot of the extra preperation on your own, like book your own trains, busses, excursions and Machu Picchu entrance (and a guide for Machu Picchu, see the new requirements here). You will also need to prepare the meal plans for your trek, the itinerary, and be good with negociating with the locals.
Without a tour, either you opt to carry all of your gear by yourself, or you can also hire a guide and porters to carry your larger items, so you can only keep your day bag during the hike.
If you are not very experienced with high altitude trekking, if you don’t want to be part of a group, I would definitely recommend going with a guide, so he can “coach” you during your hike, especially if you experience High Altitude Sickness.
With a tour
The benefits of trekking with a tour are that you won’t have to worry about the organisation of the trek, the tour operators will take care of it for you. You would therefore get more time to enjoy the trek and you will also have other people to complete the challenge with.
I personally went with a private tour organised by Choose a Challenge because it was part of a fundraising challenge. They partnered up with a local tour operator.
During the trek I slept in tents on the campsites. The tents were already set up by the porters who travel ahead of us, when we arrived at the campsites which was nice !
If you are traveling solo, or without an organised tour, the easiest would be to bring a tent
But you can also stay in lodges located in different areas of the trek, although generally more expensive.
When to go ?
There are 2 trekking seasons :
- During the dry season : between late April and early October
- During wet season: between late October and start of April
The peak season is between May and September. (I went beginning of September)
The thing to note though, is even if there will be more people during this period, you will never feel cramped during the trek as the distances and paths are quite large.
I personally have not seen many people during the trek, only at the Salkantay Pass (because people stop to take pictures and rest) and around the train tracks/ Aguas Calientes area.
However avoid trekking from December to February as the trail will be really wet and low visibility.
Note that during the trek the day will be warm and the night cold so bring a range of layers !