How to visit Machu Picchu on a Budget
There are tons of ways to visit Machu Picchu and a dizzying array of tour companies offering different activity combinations to the ancient Inca city from Cuzco. Other than the famous Inca Trail (which must be booked weeks in advance), there are trips from 3-7days that may include other Inca ruins, lots of hiking, cycling, whitewater rafting, zip-lining and even visits to hot springs.
They all sound pretty exciting to me, but as I was time strapped and really wanted to visit the ruins early in the morning, I thought it’ll be interesting to find out how to visit Machu Picchu on a budget. (if your’e just interested in Machu Picchu pictures, scroll towards the end!)
Pro-tip: Beat the crowds by staying in Aguas Calientes the night before your visit
The most direct route typically begins with an expensive train ride (from USD144 round-trip, 3hrs) from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu. That is followed by a bus ride (USD28 round-trip, 20mins) up to the entrance of the ruins. Machu Picchu tickets cost $131soles (~USD48) inclusive of tax and has to be purchased beforehand, either from a tour agent in Cuzco or Aguas Calientes. This adds up to at least USD220 excluding food and accommodation.
Let me show you how to do it with ~USD72.5 ($196soles), a third of the standard cost.
(1) Cuzco to Hydroelectric Plant
There are two main ways to do this.
- DIY Method: Take a public bus (3hrs) from Cuzco to Santa Maria in the direction of Quillabamba. Change to the smaller minibus (1hr) to Santa Teresa. Get a taxi (35mins) from Santa Teresa to the Hydroelectric Plant.
- Recommended Method: As this route is getting more common among backpackers, many tour agencies now offer round-trip transport to the Hydroelectric Plant at just $65soles. It is easier and cheaper to do this, and you’ll meet other travellers on the shared transport there! It starts at 8am in Cuzco and you’ll arrive at the Hydroelectric Plant around 230pm, slightly earlier than if you were to DIY. It’s a very scenic ride too as you’ll drive past the Sacred Valley!
You’ll pass by some breathtaking scenery on the way to the Hydroelectric Plant
Start of your hike from the Hydroelectric Plant. If you’re really tired you can take the train to Aguas Caliente.
Pro-Tip: Buy your supplies in Cuzco cause the prices at Aguas Calientes is 20-30% higher
(2) Hydroelectric Plant to Aguas Calientes
Walk for 2-3hrs along the train tracks. Along the way, you will pass by bridges, walk along the river, and even get a glimpse of Machu Picchu from a far! It is an easy walk and you won’t get lost because there are many travellers along the way. Good opportunity to make friends before the morning hike!
(3) Overnight at Aguas Calientes
Take your pick at the numerous accommodation options at Aguas Calientes. It’s a pretty touristy town so it should be easy to find a place that fits your budget.
(4) Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Leave town by 445am and begin your 1-1.5hr hike to Machu Picchu! It’s a short 15min walk to the control point by a bridge (opens at 5am), before a steep hike up a series of steps to the entrance. It shouldn’t be a problem if you are of moderate fitness!
Pro-Tip: Bring a headlamp/torch for the morning hike
Check point just before climbing to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Can you imagine how many more people there will be if you arrive with the tourist trains?
Welcome to Machu Picchu
Main plaza of the ancient Inca city
The famous 3 windows of Machu Picchu
Llama approves of this Machu Picchu budget option. There are a couple of them roaming the ancient city!
Total Cost: $65soles (return-trip transport) + $131soles (Machu Picchu entrance) = $196soles or USD72.5 :)
Need more information or know cheaper ways to visit the ruins? Drop a comment below!