Perched among the mist-soaked mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu is a centuries-old fortress steeped in mystery. The Inca site attracts over a million travelers each year, but its location makes for a complicated, time-consuming, and often expensive journey.
Although there are certain costs you can’t avoid, there are plenty of ways to save a few dollars on your trip to this Peruvian wonder. Here are a handful of tips — and a bit of motivation — to help you plan a cheap (but no-less incredible) adventure to Machu Picchu.
Booking a tour is easy, but costs can quickly add up to around $600 per person — and that’s in addition to a standard entry ticket to the site. If, instead, you choose to forge your own path, book your tickets yourself, pack some snacks, and do a lot of walking, you can easily cut that down to one-sixth of the price. Additionally, you’ll have to say goodbye to the Inca Trail and reach Machu Picchu through the town of Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. If you don’t, you’ll likely pay up to $1,000 for the hike.
Getting to Machu Picchu is expensive, especially compared to travel within the rest of Peru. Although Aguas Calientes is located just 50 miles outside of Cusco, the area’s mountainous terrain and lack of roads yield limited transportation options. The easiest way to travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is by train, but it’s far from cheap — in fact, it’s said to be the most expensive train ride per mile in the world.
Instead of spending a large chunk of change on a train ticket, travel along the back roads via van or bus until you reach Hidroelectrica, which will only cost you 40 soles ($12 USD). Keep in mind that the drive will take approximately five to six hours, though the scenery will make up for lost time. Once you reach Hidroelectrica, you will then walk two to two-and-a-half hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. The walk is easy, with very little elevation change, and you’ll have plenty of other backpackers to keep you company. Walking is a nice way to truly take in the area’s surroundings, but if you do opt for partial train travel, note that it will cost you approximately $30 USD to get from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes.
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, you’ll need to find somewhere to stay for the night. There are plenty of hotels and hostels in town, and you’ll be able to find accommodation that meets every budget. For example, you can expect to find a private room with a double bed and private bath for about 40 to 50 soles ($12 to $15 USD), though it may require some investigating and asking around. If you’d rather have your room booked in advance, peruse your options at booking.com.
Next, you’ll need to visit the ticket office in Aguas Calientes to secure your entry to Machu Picchu for the following morning. If you avoid high tourist season (July through August), you can plan on buying your tickets the night before you visit the Inca citadele — this is the best option, as it allows for a bit more flexibility in case you have any travel delays or change of plans. Just to be on the safe side, before leaving Cusco, venture to the ticket office downtown (near the Plaza de Armas) and ask if ticket demand for Machu Picchu is high, or if they have plenty of tickets available for the following days. If you can, wait to purchase your tickets until reaching Aguas Calientes, but if you can’t, buy them in Cusco.
The cheapest ticket to Machu Picchu is 152 soles ($47 USD), but if you want to add a hike to Montana Machu Picchu (located at an elevation of 9,843 feet/3,000 meters), it will cost you 200 soles ($61 USD) in total.
HIKING TO MACHU PICCHU
Although there’s a bus that runs from the town center up to the entrance of Machu Picchu, it costs 40 soles ($12 USD) each way. Again, it’s one of the most expensive bus rides per mile in the entire world. If you don’t want to incur the additional cost, you’ll have to walk 15 to 20 minutes to the base of Machu Picchu (which is a flat and easy stroll) before hiking up approximately 2,000 steps. The steep ascent typically takes about an hour to an hour and a half, but it’s a straightforward hike that’s nicely outfitted with stone steps.
WHAT TO PACK
All in all, you’ll want to pack lightly — especially if you’re going to opt for all the hiking. That said, you should bring plenty of snacks and water. It won’t save you millions, but it will definitely help keep your budget intact. Note that, as a tourist hub, Aguas Calientes is a very expensive place, with prices typically triple the amount of those found in the rest of Peru. So, your best bet would be to stock up on food before you leave Cusco.
TO SUM THINGS UP
- Avoid the trains at all costs.
- Avoid the buses in Aguas Calientes.
- Bring your own food.
And enjoy! That’s really all there is to it.
To learn more about what to do at Machu Picchu, check out our guide to the Inca citadel.