Everything you need to know about how to see Machu Picchu the BEST way possible! Whether you’re a backpacker, or like to stay in hotels, I have a solution to fit every traveler’s needs!
Most tourists spend hundreds of dollars to see Machu Picchu, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe because they think spending a lot of money is their only option, maybe they think it’ll be the easiest way, or maybe they just didn’t research enough beforehand, and then when they get to town, they just do what the people trying to sell tours tell them to do… I’m really not sure or even understand this mindset of “traveling.” But however you like to travel, I have pretty much all options listed below.
Important Info’ Before You Go
- Most tourists buy Machu Picchu tickets online, but they do sell tickets in the town once you’re there.
- Aguas Calientes (nick named “Machu Picchu Town”) is the closest town to Machu Picchu.
- Cusco (aka Cuzco) is the closest big city to fly into.
- Hostels will run around $18 per person…
- Hotels even more…
- However, there is one campsite directly under Machu Picchu that is only 15 Soles ($5) per tent (not per person)
- The train is different prices depending on the time of day (cheapest is still $58). Schedules do not have the prices, but I made the woman at the office tell me all of them and are listed below.
Most tourists buy Machu Picchu tickets online (I guess to guarantee that they’re getting in). I’ve heard a lot of stories about this website rarely working, but feel free to try. To see if tickets are available for the date you want, you’ll see a number under “availability”. only 2500 people are allowed each day, so this number shows you how many tickets are left.
Via Aguas Calientes
However, they do sell tickets in Aguas Calientes (so you can buy a ticket as soon as you get there) – and I’ve never heard of someone not getting a ticket (for Machu Picchu archaelogical site, see below). Once you’re in town, ask for “Aguas Calientes Cultural Centre,” open from 05:30-21:00.
Which Ticket to Buy?
There are a few choices:
- Just Machu Picchu archaeological site ($45)
- Machu Picchu archaeological site + Machu Picchu mountain ($50)
- Machu Picchu archaeological site + Huayna Picchu ($53)
In my opinion, the archaeological site is what you want and all you really need to get the full experience of Machu Picchu. The archaelogical site has the best pictures (98% of all Machu Picchu pictures that you find on the internet, are taken from the archaelogical site).
Your passport! You MUST have your passport in order to buy a ticket!
Interesting To Know
I bought a ticket in Aguas Calientes on 19 August. Later that day I noticed that the date on the ticket said 30 August. I went back to the office and said “No, I want a ticket for TOMORROW, 20 August.” They said “Si, the ticket is good from now until 30 August. You can use it once any day you wish.”
I was very curious about this because when you buy tickets online, there are very specific dates and only a certain number of people (2500) are allowed per day. There is no expiration date – it’s just the one date you purchase it for.
After asking around, I heard that basically they sell tickets* to tourists for future dates to guarantee that they will have exactly 2500 people each day and so that they can report to UNESCO that they’re getting the maximum number of people every day… This is a bit shady on their part because it’s like lying for statistics and allowing more than the agreed number of people set by their government into the site each day (which will erode the site at a faster rate)…
But nevertheless, if you go to the town, you will get a ticket* for whatever day you’d like – no stress on your part about having t buy a ticket months in advance and having to be there, ready to hike, on that exact day.
*please note, that this information is for Machu Picchu archaeological site only. They did tell me that the mountain and Huayna Picchu were sold out.
Getting To Aguas Calientes (from Cuzco)
Cheapest (about $12 and 12 hours)
What you’ll need for this option: Time, water, a tent, sleeping bag, snacks.
Most backpackers also trek in some food (knowing how expensive the town is).
Leave as early as possible from Cuzco – it’ll be a very long day!
20 Soles ($7) > Cuzco to Santa Maria (about 5.5 hours via bus)
Take the bus from the “Terminal de Quillabamba” (the other bus stations in town only have buses that go to other destinations)! They leave about every hour, but you want to leave as early as possible because this will be a very long trek! (I left at 8:30am and wish I had left earlier when I was hiking in the dark later that night)
10 Soles ($3.50) > Santa Maria to Santa Teresa (about 30 minutes via car)
As soon as you get off the bus at Santa Maria, walk across the street to where a tiny street intersects with the main street. Here, you’ll see a bunch of cars parked – these cars are waiting to tourists to drive them to Santa Teresa… Most likely, the driver’s will approach you and ask if you need to get to Santa Teresa (can’t get much easier than that)… If not, just ask someone when you get off the bus, and they’ll point in the right direction.
5 Soles ($1.75) > Santa Teresa to Hidro Electrica (about 30 minutes via van)
Hidro Electrica is not a town – just an area where there is a power plant and a small strip of shops by the train tracks to sell water and food to tourists… nothing more…. this is just the farthest you can possibly go via car, so…
Free > Hidro Electrica to Aguas Calientes (about 2 hours via walking)
You’ll get dropped off at Hidro Electrica, where it’s basically just train tracks (and a few little places selling water)… Follow the train tracks until you see signs for a trail to Machu Picchu (the signs will says “Camino Machu Picchu.” There are few along the tracks within about 20 meters of each other, and it doesn’t matter which one you follow – they will all lead to the trail above). After you follow the signs, you’ll be at another set of train tracks above where you just were – THESE ARE THE TRAIN TRACKS YOU FOLLOW FOR ABOUT 2 HOURS!
15 Soles ($5) > Camp Site (per tent, not per person) Directly under Machu Picchu
After about 2 hours of following the upper tracks, you’ll see what looks like a very small train station and the road slightly forks to the right (train tracks continue straight). If you’re heading to the camp site, veer to the right for the most direct route. If you accidentally miss this, it’s not really a big deal, you’ll just end up in town instead of the camp site… Then just ask someone which direction Machu Picchu is, they’ll point, and you’ll want to walk that way for about 10 minutes to find the campsite on your left.
Fastest (about $150 and 4.5 hours)
What you’ll need for this option: Money.
40 Soles ($14) > Taxi to Poroy Train Station (about 20 minutes)
The train doesn’t go directly into Cuzco, for some reason… The closest it gets is a station right outside the city.
About $106 > Train from Poroy to Aguas Calientes (about 4 hours)
The train is only priced in US dollars. Also, the price of the train varies depending on the time of day.
$18+ per person > Accommodation in town
If you don’t want to do either of these options all in one day, or perhaps a combination of the two, there is a town that is pretty cute called “Ollantaytambo” that is about 1.5-2 hours north of Cuzco. Perhaps a night or two there, and then…
- Either continue from there via bus (cheap way)
- Or take the train directly (fastest way)
- Or (like a friend of mine did), you can walk the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (about a 6 hours trek, for $0) – it’s a more direct path, but more hours of walking…
Skip the Tours!
No matter which way you like to travel (cheap or fast), I would recommend that you SKIP THE TOURS that they try to sell you in Cuzco. Why? I got some prices when I was in town (just for fun, because this is what I do, right?)… Tours were $240 per person and the itinerary is something like this:
1 day Tours > Leave Cuzco at 3:40am, arrive at Aguas Calientes at around lunch time and eat, go up to Machu Picchu for a few hours, leave that night, arrive back to Cuzco at 11pm.
2 days, 1 night Tours > Leave Cuzco at 10am, arrive in Aguas Calientes at around dinner time and eat, sleep that night at a $10 hostel (included)…. 5am the next morning, go up to Machu Picchu, leave late afternoon, arrive back at Cuzco that night…
Does any of this rushed itinerary sound appealing to anybody? Well, it must, because the tourist offices are jammed packed every time I walk by! Why, why, WHY?!!!
If you read above, you can do the same thing, for 10 days, for less money than you can do with these tours! TRUST ME, this is not a 1 day thing!
Machu Picchu is in the middle of no where, and the roads to get there are insane. Do you really want to be hiking around after sitting on a bus for 6 hours through crazy mountain roads? Do it the relaxing way, and do it on your own, on your own time… It will be a MUCH more enjoyable experience for you, I promise.
Below are my pictures of a little nook of Machu Picchu that I found to be a great little napping area. You see, when you’re not on a tour, you can do whatever the hell you want – including taking a nice nap where ever you’d like. Pretty nice and relaxed, wouldn’t you say?
See above for complete details
$12 there (bus/car)
$12 back (bus/car)
Free to walk up
$7.50 camp 3 nights
and at your own leisure
Fast, Easy, Leisurely
$120 there (train)
$120 back (train)
$19 bus to top
$75 hostel, 3 nights
but at your own leisure
bus there (included)
bus back (included)
$19 bus to top
1 night hostel (included)
and not leisurely at all
Aguas Calientes (nick named “Machu Picchu Town”) is the closest town to Machu Picchu. It’s VERY expensive compared to the rest of Peru (of course).
Shop around. Get a few prices for accommodation and food before you decide on a place.
I would recommend looking at a view different restaurants as options before you settle on a place to eat. Check prices and even negotiate with them before you enter (they stand outside with menus, so you can take a look before you sit). For example, if a meal comes with coffee and juice, I usually ask if they can swap the regular coffee for espresso and if instead of juice, I can have a bit more food (for the same price)… I haven’t been told no yet! There are a ton of places, so you have options – and they know this, so they will be very accommodating.
Hotels, Hostels, and one Campsite – that’s it.
Prices may vary depending on seasons: Low Season (February), Standard Season, & High Season (July & August)
Usually priced per room, and extra beds can be put in the room for around $30 per bed.
Low Season: around $41
Standard Season: $69
High Season: $83-$150
Usually priced per person” and dorm rooms are the norm (in a room with 5-15 other travelers)
Around $15 per person
The campsite is the cheapest option, by far ($5 per tent), and is about 10-15 minutes outside of town (directly under Machu Picchu). For the exact location and how to get there, see the above section “Getting to Aguas Calientes (from Cuzco)” for the cheapest way possible.
Don’t worry about getting there late and having to check in… just set up your tent, and the lady the runs the place will find you in the morning – trust me. At 7:30am I woke up to my tent shaking and someone saying “Hola! Hola!” I then paid her for 3 nights in advance so that the “Hola” alarms was permanently off.
The camp, in my opinion, is the best option. Not only because of the cheap price, but because of the stars at night (that you can’t see as much from town), and in the morning, you’ll wake up to Machu Picchu from your tent window. I mean really, you can’t get any better than that!
Getting to Machu Picchu
Via Bus (from Aguas Calientes)
$19 round-trip, and $10 one-way – the bus goes from town, all the way up the mountain just steps away from Machu Picchu. Most tourists take the bus because the hike is very steep…
Hike Up the Mountain (from Aguas Calientes)
If you don’t feel like paying $19 to get there, then just walk up! The hiking trail follows the same road of switch backs that the bus takes. The hiking trail consists mainly of steps that can be quite steep in some places (however, if the steps are too steep and you really want to walk up, I guess you can just walk the same road that the buses drive – just be careful of the buses coming around each corner).
Hike the Inca Trail
All hikers must be accompanied by a tour guide. The government strictly controls this, so it is not possible to hike the Inca Trail independently.
A 4-5 day trek that can be done independently (although you may book a tour for this trek as well)