Machu Picchu is amazing.
You really can’t argue with that. It is this of course which makes it so expensive.
If you want to see Machu Picchu but don’t want to spend much outside of the entrance fee, here is my suggestion of what to do and how to do it:
Buy a return minibus ride to Hidroelectrica from Cusco for approximately 70PEN/21USD. A significant saving on the roughly 140USD you’d spend to take the train in both directions.
This journey will terrify you as it winds along some very scary mountain roads BUT it is worth it for the cheapness. Just keep your eyes firmly shut during the scary parts!
Once in Hidroelectrica you need to walk along the railway track for about 2hrs to reach Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village). The walk is very easy and flat and it runs next to a lovely river so if you bring your swimmers you can stop for a paddle if you fancy it!
Bring your lunch with you from Cusco and avoid having to buy something from the rail-side shops which are fairly expensive. Bringing some snacks from Cusco is a good idea generally.
I believe the cheapest option would be to camp in Aguas Calientes if you have your own gear but if you don’t or if you can’t think of anything worse than camping, the good news is that there are plenty of hostels and they’re not that pricey. I’d recommend booking in advance because it can get busy and you’ll probably want to spend two nights in Aguas Calientes unless you’re very much part of the “been there, done that” crowd. Machu Picchu is big and you’ll want plenty of time to look around. It is also worth booking your Machu Picchu entrance ticket and ticket for Montaña Machu Picchu or Wayna Picchu ahead of time – you don’t want to waste time in Aguas Calientes because all the tickets are sold already.
We arrived at Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise and stayed until about 3.30pm. If you were only spending one night you would only be able to stay at Machu Picchu for the morning because the buses from Hidroelectrica head back to Cusco around 3pm and you’ll need to leave enough time to walk all the way back down the hill and along the railway to catch the bus (approx. 3hrs). It is definitely safer and more enjoyable to take a little bit more time and spend a whole day at Machu Picchu.
You can save the price of the shuttle bus up to the Machu Picchu entrance (I think this was about 20USD) by walking up the hill from Aguas Calientes. However, be warned that the walk is straight uphill for about an hour. If you plan to climb either Montaña Machu Picchu or Wayna Picchu (which you definitely should) you may want to splash the cash a little and take the shuttle bus so that you are not tired before starting the walks up these mountains. To do that and make it for sunrise you’ll need to be in the queue at 4am – I recommend huddling for warmth! It all depends how tired you think you’ll be, but do remember that you are still at altitude and it can be very hot during the day. It is nowhere near as tough as trekking in the Colca Canyon though!
The cost of entrance to Montaña Machu Picchu is an additional cost on top of the entrance fee so a lot of people don’t bother to do it. I am here to tell you that it is more than worthwhile doing. Probably my favourite part of the entire trip. The views from the top looking down on Machu Picchu after an arduous 1.5hr uphill climb were magical. Pick and choose your moments!
My stance on money and travelling is that you save money where the experience wouldn’t enhance your enjoyment significantly. Only you can decide which elements you’re prepared to cut to make your trip work but, rest assured, you can visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site relatively cheaply without compromising your experience.
If you take your lunch and water in with you in a small bag; if you eat street food in Aguas Calientes; if you walk up the hill to the entrance and walk to and from Hidroelectrica, you will be doing Machu Picchu about as cheaply as it is possible to do without walking and camping all the way from Cusco and foraging for mushrooms to sustain you…
Total Costs over 3 days: Entrance Ticket - 70USD Montaña Machu Picchu or Wayna Picchu Ticket - 15USD (optional) Return trip to Hidroelectrica - 70PEN/21USD Bus to Machu Picchu entrance - approx. 20USD (optional) 2 Nights in Aguas Calientes - Less than 15USD per night Food - depends on how hungry you are. = 120USD + food + optional 35USD
Once you’ve made it back to Cusco you might want to spend some time in the city. Here are some suggestions for how to spend your time there – Culture Hunting: Things to do in Cusco
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide. If you know someone heading to Peru soon make sure to share this with them!