Machu Picchu from Cusco: how to visit Machu Picchu on a budget

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Guest post by: @roney8star

The ultimate guide to going to Machu Picchu from Cusco

Cusco is traveler mecca that attracts visitors from many countries who come to see the world’s most mysterious wonder – Machu Picchu.
There are few steps you need to undertake while planning your journey to the famous Inca ruins and the information given on many websites and travel blogs is sometimes outdated and confusing. Hope this article will dot the i’s and cross the t’s!

Don’t worry, there is no lack of travel agencies offering their services to fellow travellers and the range of tours provided in Cusco can fit both backpackers’ and luxury travellers’ pockets.

SKIP AHEAD

How to get there

There are several options to reach Machu Picchu from Cusco.

By hiking:

Salkantay trek or Inca trail. Considered one of the most beautiful trekking routes in the world and the most popular trekking itineraries in Peru, they usually take 4 days/ 3 nights to accomplish. The price starts from 450 US$ which includes the entrance fee to Machu Picchu Archaeological site and train tickets on the way back. It is a costly but no doubt beautiful and unforgettable experience.

By train:

Another option is to take a picturesque train ride. You can easily check the availability and prices on perurail.com and incarail.com. PeruRail is more budget-friendly with prices starting as low as 39 US$ for a one-way trip. IncaRail offers several types of trains (the voyager, the 360”, first-class and even private carriages) so the prices vary from 57 US$ in the voyager class and 77 US$ in the 360” carriages. The trains depart from Ollantaytambo station a few times a day from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

If you travel on a lower budget and can’t afford paying for a roundtrip train tickets but dream about seeing the ancient ruins, then this article is for you! Here I will tell about the cheapest option for visiting Machu Picchu and share some useful tips.

Going to Machu Picchu without a tour

Visiting Machu Picchu on your own will consume some of your time for booking the tickets and planning the trip but it’s so easy and will save a lot of money.

READ ALSO: 10 Safety Travel Tips for visiting South America

Step 1: Book a ticket to Machu Picchu

You can do it in the office in Cusco’s centre or online on the official website: https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio. The office is located on Calle Garcilaso, 225. Type “Machu Picchu Tickets” on Google maps and you’ll find it, or tap on the map below:

Bring your passport or a copy in order to make a reservation.

Please note that the number of visitors is limited. You can see how many spots left on your desired dates online by the link I shared above. But in general, there is always availability, no need to book this ticket very early in advance.

For a fuller Machu Picchu experience, you can book the ticket with additional mountains: Wayna Picchu (Huayna Picchu) or Machu Picchu that allow you different views and outlooks of the complex. Please note that tickets to Waynapicchu are getting sold out pretty fast so you’ll need to book it in advance. 

Actual prices to visit Machu Picchu Archaeological site as of 2020

The full price for the basic ticket is 152 PEN ($45 USD) or 77 PEN ($22 USD) for students; it includes the viewpoint + ruins.
Basic ticket + Waynapicchu mountain is 200 PEN ($59 USD – full price) or 125 PEN ($37 USD) for students.
Basic ticket + Machu Picchu mountain is 200 PEN ($59 USD – full price) or 125 PEN ($37 USD) for students.

Machu Picchu Sun Gate View

– View from Sun Gate –

Step 2: Booking a minivan ticket

You can reserve a seat at almost any agency, the price is between 50-80 PEN for a roundtrip journey. I made my reservation just across the street from the Machu Picchu ticket center, the price was 60 PEN. Some agencies also include lunch in the price, it’s not necessary because you can have a meal in a restaurant without reservation in advance. 

By the way, they let you reserve your return ticket either on the next day, or the day after so you can opt to stay 1 or 2 nights in Aguas Calientes. You will get a bracelet with your agency’s name and phone numbers on it which serves as a ticket.
There is an option to experience both – the minivan and the train ride so you will get the most out of Machu Picchu adventure on a budget!

Step 3: Arriving in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a small town that was built with a purpose to serve as a base for all travelers visiting Machu Picchu. It is your final destination before entering the archaeological complex. But first you will have your 6 hours journey from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, arriving around 2-3 pm. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a restaurant and a toilet at the station. There are no more roads towards Aguas Calientes and a new adventure begins here: you will have a 2-3 hours walk in a jungle along the river. It’s not hard at all and you will basically follow the railway so the path is flat and it’s impossible to get lost. You will also pass several local shops, restaurants and WC’s on the way.

Where to stay in Aguas Calientes

I recommend booking your accommodation in Aguas Calientes few days in advance because budget hostels are getting full quickly. Since it’s a very touristy town, there are plenty of hostels and hotels for different budgets. The cheapest ones start from 6 US$ for a bed in a shared room, without breakfast.

Here are some recommendations for individual budget travelers:

  • H. Falcon hostel, 7 US$/night, no breakfast
  • Ecopackers Machupicchu  Hostel, 9 US$/night with breakfast
  • Supertramp Hostel Machupicchu, 10 US$/night with breakfast.
  • Private double rooms start from 18 US$ and can reach 500 US$/ night in 5-star hotels.

Where to eat in Aguas Calientes

Finding food in Aguas Calientes is as easy as in Cusco – you will see plenty of different options – Peruvian, Mexican, American cuisines, fast-food, bars, etc.

Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu

– Aguas Calientes –

Step 4: Hike to Machu Picchu early in the morning

There are 2 ways to reach the entrance – by hiking or by bus. The hike is not that long and wasn’t difficult for me at all, it takes from 40 minutes up to 1,5 hours. If you decide to go by bus, the station is right next to the centre and a ticket costs 12 US$ one-way. It will take about 15 minutes to reach the entrance by bus.
Once you’ve entered the complex, you have to follow a specific route and there are many guards controlling visitors. For example, if you’ve left the viewpoint and entered the area with ruins, you are not allowed to come back to the viewpoint anymore. 

The area is huge and there is so much to see there! If you have a basic ticket, don’t miss the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge (included in the price), take plenty of pictures at the viewpoints and head to the ancient city of Inca’s! You can spend a couple of hours wandering around the ruins.
Also bear in mind that hikes to Waynapicchu or Machu Picchu mountains are quite difficult and time-consuming, so if you want to visit both the viewpoints and the ruins, you have to be fast ☺ 

Plan your time well, – the minivan to Cusco will depart at 3 pm so if you don’t want to stay in Aguas Calientes overnight, you’ll have to leave the complex at 12 pm in order to catch your bus in Hidroelectrica by 3pm.
I highly recommend staying 2 nights in Aguas Calientes to be able to enjoy and explore the whole complex of Machu Picchu without rushing and come back to Cusco the next day.

Visiting hours are from 6 am to 5 pm.

Step 5: Going back to Cusco

Same as you did in the morning, come back to Aguas Calientes either by bus or hiking down. From there it will be a reverse way: walk back to Hidroelectrica (2,5 -3 hours) where your minivan leaves to Cusco at 3pm. You will arrive there around 9 pm.

Machu Picchu from Cusco

How much does it cost? Costs breakdown

There are many different options for going to Machu Picchu and the total amount will depend on your preference. But since the aim of this article was to encourage you to organize a trip by yourself, here we will calculate the total cost of the budget option and compare it with the price of a tour.

2-days guided tour:

The average price of 2-days tour to Machu Picchu from Cusco is 115 US$. It includes the entrance ticket, transfers, 1 night in a hostel, lunch and a guide. Not included: bus Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu and a dinner.

The big disadvantage of the guided tour is a duration of the tour: you’ll enter the complex at 7 am while it’s still dark and foggy and leave at 12 am, the total stay inside is 4-5 hours which is short and you will have to depend on the group and your guide. 

Going to Machu Picchu on your own:

Basic ticket to Machu Picchu $45 USD
The roundtrip transfer by minivan $17 USD
2 nights in a hostel, breakfast included $20 USD
Food (1 lunch, 1 dinner): approx $13 USD

Total cost: 95 US$.
Not included: a guide, bus Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu.

So, according to this easy calculation, you can easily do 3-days tour on your own for the price almost equal to 2-days trip with a guide which allows you to stay inside the complex longer and enjoy it to the maximum. 

More tips

  1. You can’t enter the complex before the time mentioned on your ticket. But it’s okay to be late ☺
  2. There is no WC inside the complex, the only restroom is before the entrance.
  3. You will have to leave your big backpack at the desk at the entrance.
  4. There are plenty of guides in front of the entrance offering their services.
  5. Don’t forget to get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport when you leave the complex.
  6. I’ve heard that food is not allowed inside the site but nobody checked us at the entrance.
Machu Picchu

What to pack

  • The way to Hidroelectrica is pretty long so don’t forget to take enough water and snacks for your trip;
  • Some parts of the road are curvy and if you get motion sickness easily, it’s essential to bring pills;
  • Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu are located lower than Cusco so the weather is usually hot and humid there. It might rain as well so a raincoat will save your mood there 😉
  • The sun is strong so definitely don’t forget to pack a hat and sunblock to protect you from the heat;
  • Mosquito repellent;
  • Your camera and charging cable because it would be devastating not to be able to capture these beautiful views!

Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of South America and surely will be the highlight of your trip. Enjoy the panorama, learn about the history, admire the nature around, respect the heritage and leave no trash. 

Sun Gate viewpoint

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