Machu Picchu is on every traveller’s bucket list but many – especially those who travel on a budget – cringe when they start planning their budget. Naturally, tour companies take advantage of the fact that getting there can be a hard challenge and since there is not a lot of information online – they charge sky high prices for a trip that can be easily done independently.
Many choose to not take a tour and go independently. Even so, the flight into Cusco and the train to Aguascalientes will leave your wallet empty. However, there is a another way to get there but do keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing comfort as well as a full day from your time in Peru.
Step 1: Getting to Cuzco
The first step to arriving to Machu Picchu is getting to Cuzco, the nearest big city to the World Wonder. Flying is the smartest option and any big airport in Peru and surrounding countries will have a direct fly there due to its popularity. From Lima, you can be looking into paying approximately $100 USD (sometimes a bit less) for the half an hour fly via Star Peru, Avianca or any similar airline.
For those who are truly in a tight budget – buses are also an option. Again, any mayor city is likely to have a bus line that heads to Cuzco. From Lima, buses take roughly 22 hours and the ride will cost you no more than $25 USD (it is important to measure whether saving a few dollars is worth losing a full day out of your trip). The upside to this option is that the views you’ll pass (the bus goes through the Andes) are truly spectacular and for those who love looking out their windows – it can be quite pleasant. Buses in Peru are extremely comfortable compared to those in many other Latin American countries and even European lines – Peruvian service is top-notch in this sense!
Step 2: Getting to Aguas Calientes
This is the tricky part. Aguas Calientes is a small village and the jump-off point to Machu Picchu. The problem is that from Cuzco to Machu Picchu there are no roads and there isn’t an airport in Aguas Calientes. The fastest and comfiest option is taking the train, but you’ll be looking into spending $300 USD or more for the round trip.
And $300 USD is truly a lot for young travellers and even older ones who aren’t carrying much. Compared to the rest of Peru, these prices really do not make sense but being pretty much the only option – they can charge that.
But fear not! There is another much cheaper way! (Beware: it involves some pretty bumpy rides and a pretty long walk. Gorgeous views inclusive.)
- Cuzco – Santa Maria
Be at Santiago Bus Station and take the bus to Quillabamba, which leaves daily at 8am. Ask to be left at Santa Maria. Time: About 6 hours / Cost: 20 Soles.
- Santa Maria – Maria Teresa
In Santa Maria, take another bus (or taxi for a about 5 soles more) to Maria Teresa Time: 1 hour / Cost: 6 soles
- Maria Teresa – Hidroeléctrica
From Maria Teresa, take a colectivo bus or taxi to Hidroeléctrica. Cost: 5 soles
Tip: It is possible to mix these three steps and take a direct colectivo or bus from Cuzco to Hidroeléctrica (see below for info on Hidroeléctrica) through an agency – ask at your hostel/hotel and they will likely “know someone” who does it. It should cost about 60 Soles one-way per person.
Take note: Please keep in mind that these bus rides are really not for the faint of heart. The bus goes through the Andes and it can be quiet scary to look down (at some points, there are not even handrails on the highway. It can also get pretty foggy. It is not for everyone and it is important to keep this in mind before booking.
- Hidroeléctrica – Aguas Calientes
Once in Hidroeléctrica you have two options – Take the train from here, which will cost you $26 USD or walk for roughly two and a half hours along the train tracks.The walk itself is quite nice as it is not steep at all and it goes through some amazing landscapes (waterfalls, rivers, mountains, lakes, etc). It is also safe as it is common for backpackers to do the hike and you will not be alone at any time if this worries you.
Step 3: Aguas Calientes
By the time you get to Aguas Calientes, it will be dark and you’ll need to find a place to spend the night before the grand day in Machu Picchu!
Aguas Calientes is extremely small and can be walked in back and forth in just a few minutes. Its economy comes almost exclusively from tourism and finding accommodation and a place to dine here will never be a problem, with a myriad of options available for people from all walks of life and all kinds of budgets.
Room prices here are varied, from $7 USD a night for a bed at a dorm to over $300 USD at fancier hotels. Low budget options include (but are not limited to): Pirwa Hostel ($12.70 USD for dorm / $38 USD for private ensuite), Supertramp Hostel (forms from $9 USD), Hostel Varayoc (Private rooms from $17 USD).
Step 4: From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
- Bus – You can choose to take a bus that will leave you right at the entrance door. This is a great option for those who plan on hiking Huayna Picchu at 7am and wish to embrace their sleep time before an adventure-packed day. The bus costs $19 USD for a return ticket (30 minutes each way).
Hike – Hiking is also an option that won’t cost you a dime. It is recommended to leave your hostel as early as possible as the hike is quite challenging and the added heat that starts around 9 am will not do you any favors. The estimated time it will take you to get to Machu Picchu is two and a half hours.
Indeed, it is a lengthy process getting here. But once you do? It’s worth every second. Machu Picchu is truly one of those places that everyone should go at least once in their lifetime and the views, my god, the views will simply leave you hypnotized – no picture I’ve ever seen does it justice.
Updated: April 27, 2015