MACHU PICCHU ON A BUDGET
The ultimate travel guide to Machu Picchu on a budget
When you think about Peru one place will automatically come into your mind: Machu Picchu – the world-famous Inca ruins. It was on our to-do list for South America because travelling through Peru without visiting this unique place is impossible. BUT there was a point when we almost decided to skip this tourist attraction because it can become soo expensive. In the end we decided to do it and in this post I want to show you the different possibilities how you can get to Machu Picchu on a cheap. And why? Because it’s worth it!
HOW TO GET TO MACHU PICCHU
From Lima to Cusco
Before going to Machu Picchu you have to go to Cusco first. Most travelers come from Lima and have the choice between bus and plane. As always it depends on how much time and money you have.
The airline Star Peru usually offers the best deals starting from US$98 (US$126 including taxes) per person (one way) for the one hour flight.
We took the bus as we have much time but a limited budget. The most famous bus company amongst travelers in Peru is Cruz del Sur. They have very modern busses equipped with Wi-Fi but usually have the highest prices. The 22 hours bus ride starts from 127 Soles (US$42) per person for the 2nd floor and 175 Soles (US$58) per person for the 1st floor. A great alternative is Movil Tours. They also have very modern busses however you will be offline during the ride. Prices start from 110 Soles (US$36) per person for the 2nd floor and 140 Soles (US$46) per person for the 1st floor.
From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
For your trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the village that is below Machu Picchu and therefore also called Machu Picchu Pueblo, you have a variety of different transportion options – from “cheap” to really expensive.
Cusco – Hidroelectrica – Aguas Calientes
A quiet cheap way is by minibus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica. You can book this tour easily in one of the many travel agencies in Cusco. The bus takes off at 8:00am and brings you from Cusco via Ollantaytambo, Santa Maria and Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica. It is a 6 to 8 hours drive on paved and unpaved road, depending on the weather conditions. The road from Santa Maria to Hidroelectrica is unpaved and has 200m drops. There are many blind corners and it’s an exciting trip especially when you are afraid of heights. From Hidroelectrica you walk along the train tracks for 1,5 to 2 hours until you arrive in Aguas Calientes. Usually you meet other travelers when you arrive in Hidroelectrica so you are not the only one who hikes the 10 kilometers to Aguas Calientes. The scenery is very nice and the hike doesn’t feel too long. The minibus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and back to Cusco costs 80 Soles (US$27) per person. Most agencies are flexible with the return date. You can take the minibus back to Cusco on the same day (which doesn’t make any sense), the next day or on the 3rd day. The price is the same, just let your agency know before you make the booking.
Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes /
Cusco – Urubamba – Aguas Calientes
A more expensive but also more comfortable option is going by train. Two train companies, Inca Rail and Peru Rail, offer rides for various prices. Both companies run different trains from basic/economic to luxurious. Even the “cheapest” trains are very modern and comfortable. It is absolutely not necessary to go for the expensive ones.
Inca Rail trains do NOT start from Cusco. Their trains leave from Ollantaytambo, a 45 minutes drive from Cusco. It is very easy to get there by minibus (“collectivo”) which only costs 10 Soles per person. You find them in Calle Pavitos in Cusco. Take a minibus at least 2 hours before your train departs from Ollantaytambo. To be on the safe side we even recommend to be there 2,5 to 3 hours earlier. They wait until the minibus is full and you never know how long it will take and how much traffic will be on the street. We were too relaxed and arrived at the train station just a few minutes before departure and already expected to miss the train. You don’t want that! It would be super frustrating!
The cheapest Inca Rail train starts from US$53 /US$55 per person one way (Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes). The most expensive trains cost around US$70 per person. You can find the Inca rail timetable here.
The Inca Rail train
Peru Rail offers trains from Cusco or Urubamba (also called Sacred Valley). Tickets start from US$70 per person for one way from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and go up until US$460 per person. You can find the timetable and prices of the low and high season here.
Inca Rail and Peru Rail both have really good websites in different languages where you can easily check prices. Depending on your timeframe you should decide if an online reservation is necessary. If you just have one or two days available then you should secure your train ticket and book in advance. If you have more time, an online booking won’t be necessary. Both companies have ticket offices in Cusco where you can pay in cash or with credit card. For more information on the ticket offices and the opening hours have a look here:
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Try to be at Machu Picchu in the early morning when the gates open at 6:00am. This is the best time as there are hardly any people in the ruins and you can enjoy a very relaxed atmosphere. Around 10:00am the first tour groups arrive from Cusco and it gets very very busy.
There are two options how to get to Machu Picchu:
At 5:30am the first shuttle busses leave in front of the bus ticket office (on the main street next to the river) in Aguas Calientes and for US$10 per person one way (US$19 per person return) they bring you to the gates of Machu Picchu. It’s clever to buy the ticket the day before because you don’t waste time in the morning. Instead wait in the queue for the bus. We arrived at the queue at 4:45am and were not the first ones. Don’t be there later than that.
Long queue at the shuttle bus at 4:45am in the morning
You could save the money for the shuttle bus and walk up to the gates. 20 walking minutes from Aguas Calientes, behind a bridge, are the stairs located that bring you up to Machu Picchu. The bridge opens at 5:00am. You have to bring a torch or headlight as it’s still dark in the early morning. Every traveler tries not to waste too much time and to climb up the stairs as fast as possible. The hike up takes around 1 hour. (We needed 1 hour for the way down so you can imagine how quick they are.)
The Hiking Trail up to Machu Picchu
TICKETS FOR MACHU PICCHU
The best shot ever!
In the beginning we were very irritated because some people told us we should have bought tickets to Machu Picchu in advance while other travelers said that it’s no problem, you don’t even necessarily have to buy them in Cusco as there are always tickets available in Aguas Calientes. After some running and asking we realized that both statements are right.
The official number of tickets that is sold per day is 2,500 for the entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu (opening hours: 6:00am-5:00pm) , 400 tickets to Huayna Picchu/Wayna Picchu (200 tickets each for the entrance from 7:00-8:00am and 10:00-11:00am) and 400 tickets to Machu Picchu Montana (for the entrance from 7:00-11:00am).
The ticket office in Cusco is located outside the touristy center in a very inconspicuous building. There used to be another ticket office close to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. The tourist office still exists but it no longer sells any Machu Picchu tickets.
You can find the ticket office in Cusco here:
Av. La Cultura N°238 Condominio Huáscar. Monday-Saturday,7:00 am-18:30pm
For purchasing entrance tickets online visit: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
I heard a lot of people had problems to continue in step 3 when they tried to book on the English version. In case this happens, try again on the Spanish site and everything should be fine.
Machu Picchu ticket office in Cusco without any signs above the door
The number of tickets to Huayna Picchu (also called Wayna Picchu) and Machu Picchu Montana is definitely limited and when they are all sold you don’t have any chance to get to these spots. BUT when it comes to Machu Picchu itself, there is an EXCEPTION: When we were in Cusco all websites said that no tickets are available anymore for the day after tomorrow when we planned to visit the ruins. Then we learned when you buy a train ticket and go to the Machu Picchu ticket office in Cusco, they will give you the entrance ticket of the next officially available date. They just cross the wrong date, put in the date you want to go and sign the whole thing. And suddenly you have a ticket for the next day although it’s officially sold out. They don’t want to disappoint any visitors when you have already booked your train ticket.
When you go by minibus most agencies say that you should buy your Machu Picchu entrance tickets in Aguas Calientes (in Avenida Pachacutec, close to the square). They will sell you a ticket even though all 2,500 tickets are sold out. For travelers it’s a good feeling to know that there is always a possibility to get tickets but for the ruins it’s the worst… but this is a totally different topic.
If you don’t get a ticket for Huayna Picchu/Wayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Montana, don’t worry! Another great spot to see Machu Picchu from higher above is the sungate. This spot is included in the Machu Picchu entrance ticket and from there you will also enjoy a fantastic view of the ruins and the surrounding mountains.
WHERE TO STAY
Super Tramp Eco Hostel in Aguas Calientes
Cusco as well as Aguas Calientes is full of hostels and hotels. Both places offer every type of accommodation – from basic to luxurious. These are our recommendations:
Cusco: Atawkama Hostel: Dorm rooms from US$7 per person including breakfast, very clean and hot showers, and small kitchen. The taxi from Cusco’s bus terminal to the hostel normally costs 15 Soles. When you are good you can reduce it to 12 Soles.
Aguas Calientes: Super Tramp Eco Hostel: Dorm rooms from US$10 per person including breakfast (4:30 -9:30am), nice rooftop bar. Aguas Calientes is so small that there is no taxi needed when you arrive at the train station. It’s all in walking distance.
WHERE TO EAT
Aguas Calientes is full of restaurants
Of course both spots also offer a variety of restaurants for every budget.
Cusco: As our hostel (see above) was equipped with a small kitchen, we cooked there.
Aguas Calientes: Here you find everything… International dishes as well as local food. We tried two restaurants that offer “menus del dia” with 3 courses. These are much cheaper than single plates and start from 15 Soles (US$5).
Visiting Machu Picchu is an unforgettable adventure! Of course, it is a very busy place as the #1 tourist attraction in Peru. BUT you have to go there when you have the chance. Even when you are not that much interested in ruins, like us, it is very impressive to see where the Incas decided to built their estate… In the peaks of the Andean mountains where the sky seems to be closer than the valley.
Have a fantastic time and if you have any more questions on our Machu Picchu on a budget tips, just leave a message below.