Every year, more than half a million people travel to the amazing world wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. That being said, it’s definitely not the cheapest attraction out there. Visiting Machu Picchu on a budget is definitely possible, just slightly less convenient. In this article, we discuss the cheapest ways to visit Machu Picchu from Cusco. We won’t, however, discuss the multi-day Inca Trail hike as an option since the cost of hiking to Machu Picchu is much more expensive than visiting from the base town of Aguas Calientes. For each option, we will give the absolute cheapest way to get there as well as what we think is most convenient (which we will be labeling the ‘Cheap-ish Way’).
Here are the cheapest ways to visit Machu Picchu on a budget:
Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu involves two main routes, one stopping in Ollantaytambo and the other stopping in Santa Teresa. Both of these routes end up in the base town of Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Part 1: Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
Step 1: Cusco to Santa Teresa via Bus
Leaving from the town of Cusco, you can get on a bus to bring you to Santa Teresa. This bus ride takes about 6 hours and will cost you 30 Soles (about $10USD).
Step 2: Taxi from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectric Station
Once in Santa Teresa, you can get a taxi from Santa Teresa to the Hydroelectric Station. The taxi ride should cost around 5 Soles, and will last approximately 30 minutes. You can find taxis easily and almost everywhere, but if for some reason you can’t find one easily look for taxis by the supermarket.
Step 3: Getting from the Hydroelectric Station to Aguas Calientes
From the hydroelectric station you can either walk or take a train.
Note: Please don’t get this confused with the Ollantaytambo train station (the train station most commonly used to take the train to Machu Picchu). The Hydroelectric station is much closer, 3 hours walking closer to be exact.
Walking from the hydroelectric station to Aguas Calientes is FREE! The walk itself should take you around 3 hours to complete. The route follows along the railroad track. Overall it is pretty safe. The most dangerous part of the walk will be when approaching the two tunnels which the trains pass through. It is advised not to wear headphones during this part as you need to be able to hear approaching trains.
You can also take the train at the Hydroelectric Station to Aguas Calientes instead of walking. The train will take just under 45 minutes and will cost you about $31USD. Peru Rail is the only company that offers this route.
Total cost getting there walking is $12 vs $43 on the train.
The Cheap-ish Way
Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
Taking the train from Ollantaytambo works quite well if you do a tour of the Sacred Valley that day. The tours themselves are usually quite cheap and include transportation, so you don’t need to pay extra to get yourself to Ollantaytambo. Otherwise, it’s only 15 Soles ($5) to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in a Collective Van.
From Ollantaytambo you’ll then take the train to Aguas Calientes.
There are two companies that offer train rides from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. The absolute cheapest combination of train tickets that I’ve seen (and taken) that also work with this schedule cost $140 ($80 there, $55 back + $5 minivan ride). Please keep in mind that we departed at a later time in order to get cheaper tickets, but the average round trip price for more “convenient” times will be around $160.
When booking be sure to look at ALL of the time options as different departure times will have different prices. You can check timetables and prices on the Peru Rail and the Inca Rail websites. The prices we quote are the cheapest available that we were able to find. We ended up booking with Peru Rail.
Part 2: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
The walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu isn’t necessarily that long, however, it is almost completely vertical climbing. It’s a grueling walk for sure so only take it on if you are acclimatized and in a generally fit condition. From the center of town, the walk should take you about 1 hour to reach the entrance, a bit longer if you have not acclimatized or struggle with stairs.
The Cheap-ish Way
The bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu costs $12 each way. The trip will be a slow 20 minutes via bus, and the buses leave approximately every 30 minutes. You can buy the tickets on the spot at the bus station (just next to the train station). Once again, there will be misleading signs that the tickets have sold out, but don’t worry and just head to the office. You should be good to go!
The first bus goes up at 5:30am and the last bus heads up at 3:30pm.
Note: Student discounts are not available for foreigners. I tried.. they check.
Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets + Tour Guides
If you’ve made it this far on your own, you absolutely DO NOT need a tour guide for Machu Picchu. At the entrance you’ll be approached by a few different guides saying that it is mandatory to enter with a guide, but that’s just not true. We went in on our own with no problem at all. No tripods will be allowed in however.
Cheapest & Cheap-ish Way
Unfortunately, there’s no real way to make this one cheaper. The Machu Picchu entrance ticket will cost you 152 Soles ($45USD). There is also an option to visit Huayna Picchu for an extra $15, but these are limited in quantity and not guaranteed. Generally, you will need to book them online weeks in advance to reserve your spot. We weren’t able to go due to these being sold out, but doing just Machu Picchu was perfect for us.
Note: I WAS, however, able to use my Student ID to get a discount on the Machu Picchu entrance tickets. The original ticket price is $45 and the student price (up to 25 years old) is about $23.
The entire town of Aguas Calientes is basically one main street filled with accommodation and restaurants. There are plenty of housing options for every budget and comfort range.
While you only need to stay in Aguas Calientes for one night when visiting Machu Picchu, if you are planning your visit during rainy season I would suggest possibly staying a second night as the weather is extremely unpredictable. The people who visited the day before and the day after us were unable to see anything past the fog and clouds. Thankfully, as you can see from the pictures, we got lucky and it was a sunny, clear day!
(Shared Hostel Room)
There are plenty of hostels in Aguas Calientes. Depending on your search engine, you’ll have to search for properties in “Machu Picchu” instead of Aguas Calientes, but they are the same place! With Booking.com, you can find a bed at a hostel starting from $7. Aguas Calientes is small so all hostels will be walking distance from the train station.
Note: If traveling with more than one person, sometimes getting a private/semi-private room ends up being cheaper than getting a hostel bed for each person. I also know people who have successfully negotiated hostel prices down a few dollars.
The Cheap-ish Option
(Private room for 2 in a hostel or cheap hotel.)
You can find cheap private rooms in hostels or hotels at the base of Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes quite abundantly. When traveling in groups of 2 or more, this option sometimes ends up being cheaper than booking individual hostel beds. A few good options that will give you the best bang for your buck and are walking distance from the train and bus stations are:
The options for getting back are the same as getting there, except most people head straight to Cusco (skipping Ollantaytambo) on the way back. The same advice holds for looking at the different times and prices of the trains, and keep in mind it would only cost you an extra $5 to get from Ollantaytambo to Cusco via a collective minivan.
How much does the total trip to Machu Picchu cost?
Other Options - Machu Picchu Tours
If you’re short on time or want someone else to organize all the details, you can actually take a 1-day Machu Picchu day tour including a guide and hotel/airport pick-up for only $260 with Exploor Peru.
(Originally $275 but you can get $15 off using discount code ‘SANTOS15’)
This really is pretty good value considering doing it all yourself without a guide would only cost a couple of dollars less but would guarantee much more of a headache.
So there you have it! Now you know exactly how to do Machu Picchu cheap and on a budget! While everyone might have a different opinion on what the best way to visit Machu Picchu is, we hope we’ve given you a few options on ways you can save money when you do visit. Happy travels 🙂
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