Jan 28

The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu (Machu Pichu), Peru

$3 white-knuckle Collectivo ride towards Machu Picchu<

Machu Picchu is probably one of the finest Inca archaeological sites in all of South America.  The problem is that because it’s in such high demand, many people (myself included) are willing to pay exorbitantly disproportional prices (for Peru) to visit the site.  Someone is charging and making a lot of money here.  To put things in perspective, when we visited the almost-as-spectacular archaeological sight of Kuelap in less-visited northern Peru, the entry fee was 12 soles, or $4 per person ($1 = 3.10 Peruvian Soles).  Machu Picchu currently costs 124 soles for a three day pass, which is about $40.  For Peruvians and students with an International student ID card, the cost is half (62 soles).  A typical salary in Peru (restaurant waiter, security guard) is 45 soles per day ($14.50).  That means that for a Peruvian with a steady job, you need to pay a day and half’s salary to visit the sight.  If you work but your income is a bit less regular (taxi driver, bus driver), you make about 30 soles per day.  If you’re an indigenous person making a lot less per day, forget about ever visiting the premier archaeological sight of your ancestors.  For the foreigner price, I wouldn’t mind paying so much money if I knew the funds went back to the Peruvian people or to other archaeological conservation efforts, but I really doubt this is the case.  Someone is making a lot of money off Machu Picchu and it isn’t the Peruvian people or the indigenous descendants of the Inca site.

With that being said, here’s how we found to get to Machu Picchu as cheaply as possible, avoiding the equally expensive tourist train.  Take the 0530 or 0730 bus from Cusco to the town of Santa Maria.  The bus is a comfortable coach-style bus and takes about 5-6 hours and costs 20 soles per person.  The morning we went, anyone who showed up before the bus departed could buy a ticket.  If you’re concerned about the bus being full, you may want to buy the ticket the day before.  The bus station is located in Cusco about 2 km southwest of the Plaza de Armas, across the railroad tracks in the Santiago neighborhood.  It’s the bus station with buses headed to Quillabamba as it’s final destination.  The station is in a slightly sketchy part of town so you’ll probably want to take a taxi there in the morning.  A taxi from the Plaza de Armas at 0430 in the morning should cost about 6 soles total (not per person, 4 soles during the daytime), more if you’re located further away.  The day before you leave on the bus, stock up on snacks and maybe a meal you can bring to Aguas Calientes.  Food prices in Aguas Calientes and at Machu Picchu are “disproportionately high.”

The bus has lots of storage underneath and initially follows the same railroad tracks that the tourist train takes from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.  The considerably more expensive tourist train is half-owned by an international company and costs $48 or $71 each-way, depending on the time, for the 4 hour journey between Cusco and Aguas Calientes.  After 1 ½ hours the bus stops in Urubamba, and at 2 hours it stops in Ollantaytambo.  Both of these towns looked really cute, with lots of surrounding archaeological sites, attractions and tourist accommodations.  You might consider staying for a night or two here and continuing later on the bus towards Santa Maria.  Continuing on though, from Ollantaytambo, the road splits off from the railroad tracks and starts a steady climb northwest into the mountains to get you nearer to Aguas Calientes from the west side.  The bus ride has some pretty spectacular scenery, and although it will take you a full day to get to Aguas Calientes this way, it’s a lot cheaper and was a good experience.

Ana with some of the bus passengers Bus making a rest stop between Cusco and Santa Maria, Peru.  Note: the person holding a machete is a farmer, not a robber! Inca ruins above the town of Ollantaytambo Town plaza of Urubamba or Ollantaytambo as viewed from bus window Great views of the mountains from the bus windows Great views of the mountains from the bus windows

5-6 hours after departing Cusco, you’ll get off the bus at the small town of Santa Maria.  Don’t worry about missing your stop – the conductor announced the stop for us and probably half the bus passengers got off there.  In Santa Maria, you’ll be met by a group of collectivo van drivers who are waiting to take Machu-Picchu seekers to the Hydroelectrico plant on the road beyond another town named Santa Teresa.  The collective van trip takes about 2 ½ hours and costs 10 soles.  If a smaller car is going that way for the same price – take it.  We took the 0530 bus out of Cusco, but then had to wait until the 0730 bus from Cusco arrived so that our collectivo driver could fill his 15 seats and depart.

The collectivo trip to the Hydroelectrico winds its way up a narrow, dirt, single-lane mountain road.  If you have motion sickness or a fear of heights, you might want to take the train from Cusco instead.  The scenery was great however.  Remember that the driver has a vested interest in not driving over the edge also, and he drives this road all the time, so even though the road is a lot sketchier than what you may be used to, it’s probably “relatively safe”.  In the collectivo, you’ll pass through the small town of Santa Teresa, where there are a few small hostals to stay at if you’d like.  Most people stay with the collectivo, and then another 15 minutes up the road you’ll arrive at the Hydroelectrico plant.  You now have two options.   You can either walk up the railroad tracks for 2 ½ hours (it’s free), or take a $7 each way train from the hydroelectrico plant to Aguas Calientes.  We walked up the railroad tracks and it seemed pretty safe as there were a lot of other backpackers walking down from Aguas Calientes.  It’s not a hard or steep walk, but it will take about 2 ½ hours.   If you walk up the tracks make sure you have an umbrella or some rain gear handy.  It rained the last hour we were hiking up the tracks.

Fleet of collectivo vans waiting in Santa Maria to take bus passengers to the Santa Teresa Hydroelectrico Driving the mountain road between Santa Maria and Santa Teresa Santa Teresa Hot Springs a few miles before town Last stop: Collectivo arriving at the hydroelectrico plant Ride the train or walk up the tracks, the choice is yours. Ana and me posing at a railroad trestle on the 2 1/2 hour walk up the tracks You'll probably talk with some nice fellow travelers on your walk up the tracks.  These 5 girls where college friends from France Some big caterpillars we spotted while walking up the railroad tracks

If you took the 0730 bus from Cusco, you’ll probably walk into Aguas Calientes right about the time it gets dark.  You’ll walk through 2 short railroad tunnels before the tracks lead you right into town.  If you want to go back by train, I suggest getting your return ticket right now, or even better, before you left Cusco (most tickets were sold-out when we went to buy our return ticket for the next afternoon at the train station in Aguas Calientes).  The train station closes its ticket office at 7 PM.  We purchased the still quite expensive “backpackers train” from Aguas Calientes back to Ollantaytambo.  It cost $34 per person which is the most expensive 2 hour “backpackers train” I’ve ever been on.  The train ticket office doesn’t even list prices in soles which is somewhat telling.

I researched the Cusco-Aguas Calientes train after returning from Machu Picchu and here is what I found.  The train is operated by Peru Rail, which is owned approximately 50/50 by the Peru government, and Orient Express Hotels – a self-proclaimed high-end luxury hotel and travel experience company.  According to Orient Express Hotels’ website, they “own or part-own and manage, 51 businesses operating in 25 countries.” (source: http://www.orient-express.com/web/luxury/investors/investors_corporate_overview.jsp).  Furthermore, they operate 41 deluxe hotels, two restaurants, six tourist trains and two river cruise businesses.  Orient Express Hotels trades under the stock ticker OEH on the New York Stock Exchange and last year they had total revenues of $550.7 million USD.  Their corporate headquarters is conveniently located in Bermuda.  At least Orient Express is a publicly-traded company adhering to rules of transparency.  You can at least see where your money is going.  The other train half-owner is the Peruvian Government, which doesn’t have quite the same set of fiscal reporting requirements.

I think it’s great that the rail line employs mostly Peruvians.  However, the problem is that almost all of them earn a normal Peruvian salary.  There is a large gap between what the ticket probably should cost and what the standard tourist must pay.  Once again, someone is making an awful lot of money here, and it’s probably not your train conductor, ticket seller, or track worker.  There are several ATMs in Aguas Calientes if you need more money for the “backpackers train”.

The other thing you’ll want to do right away in Aguas Calientes is buy your entry ticket to Machu Picchu for the next day.  There were no lines at the ticket office the night before – I’ve heard the line can be long the next morning however.  The ticket office is located just uphill from the town plaza on the pedestrian street.  Prices are 124 soles for foreigners, 62 soles for Peruvian citizens with ID, and 62 soles for students with the official International Student ID card.  The office only takes cash (no credit cards).  Note: the cost of your ticket doesn’t include the bathroom located at the park entrance.  You’ll have to pay an additional 1 sole each time you use the bathroom.  Paying to use the bathroom is pretty common in Peru.  However, if the Machu Picchu businessmen are going to charge me “Gringo” prices for entry, then they better give me “Gringo service” (aka: a free bathroom).  Anyway, having to pay even a small amount for the bathroom was pretty insulting considering every-last dime was already being extracted from my rapidly thinning wallet.  The bathroom attendant almost sounded apologetic explaning that it was because the bathroom is owned by a different company.  Maybe the Machu Picchu mafia could subsidize the use of the bathroom?

Next up you’ll want to buy one of the $7 (each way) bus tickets to take you from Aguas Calientes in the morning up to Machu Picchu.  We walked the free 1 ½ hours trail the next morning so I’m not sure where you buy the bus tickets.  The 1 ½ hour climb up is somewhat strenuous, so don’t attempt it unless your physical state allows.  It had nice scenery, was well marked/maintained, and lots of people where on it in the morning.  The trail starts at the bottom of the switchbacks that the bus takes on its way up to Machu Picchu.  To get to the trail, just walk down the road that heads towards the river directly below the Aguas Calientes town plaza.  After about 10 minutes, the road crosses the river via a bridge.  Walk across the bridge and you’ll see a trailhead sign pointing to the right.  It’s all uphill from there.  If you choose to take the bus, keep in mind that the 6 hour bus ride from Cusco to Santa Maria costs less than the 20 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu.   Once again, someone is making a big stash of money.   I guarantee it’s not your Peruvian bus driver.  Ask him how much he makes per day and you’ll probably be shocked.

< Dawn across the valley on the trail leading up to Machu Picchu Ana on the well-marked and maintained trail climbing up to Machu Picchu

For budget lodging in Aguas Calientes, I recommend the “El Tumi Hostal.”  The El Tumi is located about 5 blocks up the pedestrian walkway from the main square, on the right side.  Our friends John and Lesley gave us a heads up on the El Tumi.  They stayed 2 people, private room with private bath and hot shower for 40 soles total (20 soles each).  We told the desk clerk at the El Tumi that our friends recommended we stay there and that they were charged 40 soles.  We asked if we could get the same price and the clerk immediately said no problem.  The El Tumi is located towards the top of the pedestrian street where a lot of hostals are located, so I think they’re just happy to get your business at a price that still works for them.  Our room was basic but actually really clean and orderly.  There weren’t too many other people at the El Tumi when we stayed but the hot water worked great and it was quiet in our room that night.  You can also leave your luggage in a room near the front desk the next morning if you don’t need it while you’re at Machu Picchu.   We heard stories of people making reservations for $60 for a hostal in Aguas Calientes.  Don’t do that, even in the high season I’m pretty sure there are more rooms in Aguas Calientes than bodies to fill them. You can always show up and bargain.

Main plaza in Aguas Calientes Pedestrian walkway above the main Aguas Calientes plaza.  Walk uphill about 5 blocks and the El Tumi Hostal is on the right

The next morning we left our hostal by 4:20 AM in the dark to make sure we could hike up the mountain in time to be in line for a 0600 Machu Picchu opening.  We made it to the Machu Picchu entrance around 5:45 AM, and there were probably 20-30 people ahead of us.  At 5:50 the first two buses showed up and added their passengers to the opening queue.   At 5:58 the gates opened and we all got our ticket stamped as we entered the park.  Most of the early crowd is there to get one of 400 tickets given out for the day to climb Wayna Picchu.  Wayna Picchu is the mountain on the far side of the Machu Picchu park grounds.  It has some temples on top but most people do the 1 hour climb to see the view back towards the main part of Machu Picchu.  The tickets don’t cost anything, but you probably need to be at the Machu Picchu entrance right when the park opens if you want to have a chance of getting one of the 400 tickets.

Once the park opens, you need to walk directly through the park to the far side where the gate to Wayna Picchu is located.  There you’ll wait about 20 minutes until a park guide comes by and attaches one of the 400 tickets to your main Machu Picchu ticket.  The number of people on Wayna Picchu is limited to 400 each day because the trail is steep and narrow.  I think they are trying to limit wear and tear on the trail, and avoid congestion or people getting hurt maneuvering around each other. There are 200 tickets for a 7:00 AM climb, and 200 for a 10:00 AM climb.  Regardless, you have to wait in line right after the park opens to get one of the 400 tickets.  Once you get your ticket you can walk around the grounds at your leisure until it’s time to climb at 7:00 or 10:00.  Ana and I walked across the park for a Wayna Picchu ticket along with everyone else as soon as the park opened.  We then waited for about 20 minutes at the Wayna Picchu entrance until a worker came by and stapled a little numbered ticket onto our big Machu Picchu ticket.  We then walked around the park until 10:00 AM when we climbed Wayna Picchu.  If you don’t get a ticket or don’t feel up for the climb, don’t sweat it.  Wayna Picchu was nice, but I think the classic views you get inside the normal Machu Picchu park are actually better than what you see when you get to the top of Wayna Picchu.  Do it if you have the time, but don’t feel bad if you don’t get to.

The line outside the entrance to Wayna Picchu at 6:10 AM, just after the park opened The line for Wayna Picchu a little bit later at 6:37 AM.  The line stretched around the corner with several hundred people. Trail climbing to the temples atop Wayna Picchu The trail is steep, but the views are oh so nice!

At 1230 we started walking down the trail to get back to Aguas Calientes for a 1400 train departure.  It took about 1 hour and was considerably easier going down the trail.  We boarded the train at 1400 and off we went.  2 hours later the train stopped at Ollantaytambo where we got off and joined the throng in the parking lot looking for a bus or taxi back to Cusco.  Here are the prices:

Big bus back to Cusco: 5 soles per person
Collectivo van back to Cusco: 10 soles per person
Taxi back to Cusco: 12-15 soles per person

Getting on the Backpackers Train in Aguas Calientes, heading to Ollantaytambo Throng of buses and taxis in Ollantaytambo waiting to whisk train passengers away to Cusco

If you can, strive to be in the front of the throng getting off the train in Ollantaytambo.  You’ll be able to get one of the cheaper 5 soles tickets back to Cusco on the big bus.  If you miss one of these cheap seats however, the other options are only a little more expensive.  When we got off the train, there were more taxis than passengers, so you should always have an available ride back to Cusco.  The 12-15 soles per person cost for a taxi was based on 4 people in the taxi.  Maybe make some friends on the train and pair up if you want to take the taxi ride option.  Regardless of your method of travel back to Cusco, plan on about 2 to 2 ½ hours travel time.

Nice scenery on the taxi ride between Ollantaytambo and Cusco<

I hope this post was helpful for anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu who wants to save a little money.  My goal isn’t to cheat the people of Peru out of any revenue they might earn from tourists visiting Machu Picchu.  I do however want to provide information on other forms of transportation so that travelers on a reduced budget can also get to Machu Picchu.  By skipping some of the high-priced transportation options where the main profiteers are non-local companies and individuals, my hope is that you might have a few more soles left to buy a lunch, some handicrafts, or a souvenir from a local person who can directly pocket that money.  Hopefully you’ll get to interact a bit more with the local population, and they can see that tourists also care about saving some money, just like them.

Our total costs for getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco for 2 people were:
Taxi to the Quillabamba bus station at 0430 in the morning: 9 soles
Bus Cusco to Santa Maria: 40 soles
Food at bus stops: 14 soles
Collectivo Santa Maria to Santa Teresa Hydroelectrico: 20 soles
Walking from the Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes: free
Food in Aguas Calientes: 54 soles
Private room with bathroom in Aguas Calientes at the El Tumi Hostal: 40 soles
Walking from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: free
Entry tickets into Machu Picchu: 248 soles
Bathroom 2x at Machu Picchu: 2 soles!
Train ride Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo: $68 (the station didn’t even post prices in soles, all prices were listed in dollars.  $68 is about 210 soles)
Taxi from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco: 26 soles
Total cost for 2 people was 663 soles or $214

For a photo gallery containing more pictures of the trip to Machu Picchu, click here: Trip to Machu Picchu

Interactive map of our trip to Machu Picchu. Larger map here


View Our Trip to Machu Picchu in a larger map
Author: chad

30 Comments

Steven Ramos
October 6, 2009

Thank you very much for the detailed information regarding traveling to Machu Picchu. I am planning a trip to the region soon, and really appreciated your insight into an affordable and more adventurous way of traveling there. Best wishes.

drpaultravel
April 14, 2010

Outstanding!
Thanks so much!!!!

:) Paul
drpaultravel@yahoo.com

Matt
September 5, 2010

Hey,
Excellent post, thank you! We’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu and this has come in very handy.
Thanks, Cheers,
Matt

Cris Cheel
February 24, 2011

I dont see tourist crying because they had to pay $5 for a $.50 bottle of water at Disney that is just the price we Pay for Exclusivity. I did not hear you say if this experience was well worth all the hustle. FYI in every island I have been to I had to pay in excess of $40 for a Cab ride. In Peru cab rides and Food are very cheap. Bathroom $1 but Machu Picchu Priceless. I would recommend you taking the Hiram Railroad worth every penny and staying at the Sanctuary Lodge worth every one of your 100000 pennies…..

Vanessa Ludlow
March 14, 2011

This is fantastic thank you so much for providing so much info, I am going to use this religiously.

Ellen
September 2, 2011

Thanks for all your help. I couldnt afford the Inca Trail but I wanted adventure and that is what I got. :D I will be attempting this in 3 days|

Chad says: Ellen, it looks like you’re got quite an adventure plannned to Machu Picchu! You’re going to have a great time. There might be a few small changes and hickups along the way, but if you keep a smile and a little bit of patience, things usually work out. The bus ride is beautiful, and the hike up the railroad tracks is also very scenic. Sometimes the train or tour people try to disuade you by saying it’s unsafe or there’s not enough room when the train comes by. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of room, it is basically a level 2 1/2 hour hike near the tracks. Also, there are always some other people heading in the same direction, so you’ll be around some new friends. Have fun, I wish we were back there with you!

Sharo
March 12, 2012

Hello!
I am interested in doing the 7 day trail… do you know of the cheapest way to get that done? Any names of companies? any tips?
any advice.

Thanks!

Chad says: Hi Sharo, I unfortunately don’t have much information on the 7 day trail. I met some other travelers who did it though and they said it was a great experience. If you have the time and resources, go for it. The only tip I have is to book it several months ahead of time, as I heard the treks fill up fast. If you don’t get to do one of the multi-day treks though, I think you’ll still be very happy with just going to see Machu Pichu – it’s amazing! Good luck!

krista
March 28, 2012

This is great! Thank you. Do you think it is still possible in May of 2012…?

Chad says: I’m sure the prices have changed a little, but other than that, I’m sure you can still get to Machu Pichu this way. Hope you have a terrific journey!

Josh
June 4, 2012

This was amazing! Thank yo SO SO SO much! I’ve been trying to figure out so many of the connecting details and you laid them all out.

Emmy
June 11, 2012

Thanks so much, very helpful and I agree with you completely- help the locals!

Deb
June 23, 2012

Excellent posting with all the details. Thanks so much. Would you please let me know which month did you visit Peru? I’m planning a late Oct. ’12 trip for about 3 weeks. Is it possible? Is Nov. too late to visit Machu Picchu?

Chad says: Hi Deb, glad you enjoyed the post. Machu Picchu is open year round. We were there the last week in January (part of the rainy season) and still had a great time. If there is flooding, some of the roads may be closed but it will have to be pretty severe for this to happen. If you want to get to Machu Picchu via one of the multi-day hikes on the Inca trail, I’ve read online that the trail only closes during the month of February. Hope you have a great trip!

Kathleen
June 26, 2012

Hello, Thanks for the info, we are going in one month. I’m so excited!
I just wanted to ask which camera did you use to do the panoramic pictures? It’s really beautiful.
Thanks for the info.
Greetings

Chad says: Hi Kathleen, thanks for checking out our website. You’re going to have a great time in Machu Picchu – it really is a beautiful and amazing place. For our photos, I used a Canon EOS 40D with the kit 18-55mm f 3.5-5.6 IS II lens. I also used a tripod and the Canon 430 EX I flash for the photos where Ana and I are together at http://www.chanatrek.com/machu-picchu-peru-inca-city-in-the-clouds/ The first lens I took on the trip broke in Ecuador but fortunately I was able to replace it at the Polvos Azules electronics market in Lima. I stitched the panorama photos together on Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) afterward. Have fun in Peru!

carine
July 4, 2012

excellent post
thanks a lot!!

Giulia
July 10, 2012

Thanks for your post. Going to Machu Picchu in a couple of days and didn’t want to pay so much. Now I have read your post I have lots of more reasons to doing it by myself.
Cheers

Ant
July 26, 2012

How many days will I need to do all of this? Did anybody tried to rob you?

Chad says: Traveling via this route from Cusco to Machu Picchu then back to Cusco took less than 48 hours. No one tried to rob us. We left from Cusco by bus around 5 AM, and walked into Aguas Calientes via the railroad tracks around 7 PM. The next day, we arrived at Machu Picchu when the gates opened, and then left by 12:30 in order to have plenty of time to make our 2 PM train to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, we arrived in Cusco via group taxi around 7 PM. If you have the time, I recommend staying a second night in Aguas Calientes so you can spend a full day at Machu Picchu, and maybe a night before or after in Ollantaytambo. With the possible exception of the hike along the railroad tracks, you’ll always be around other people. There will likely be other tourists in your collectivo that you can hike along the railroad tracks with if you prefer the company. If you take a few precautions like dress-down and avoid wearing flashy watches, jewelry, etc, I think chances are “extremely high” you won’t encounter any problems.

Zahida
August 22, 2012

Thanks for the info! My family and I are going in November and always travel on a budget.

Did you take any tours when you got to Machu Picchu? Is it mandatory or at least highly recommended?

Chad says: Hi Zahida, there is no requirement to take a tour at Machu Picchu. Ana and I showed up early in the morning and walked all over the grounds on our own. There were many tour groups going through at that time. Even though we didn’t use a tour guide, I think it would be beneficial to have one. The tour guide will do a better job of explaining the history and nuances that we didn’t get from just walking around on our own. Unless you will already arrive at Machu Picchu with a tour group, I wouldn’t worry about booking a tour guide ahead of time. If I recall correctly, the entrance is well organized, and I think you can pay to join a tour group or hire a guide that leaves from the entrance regularly. If you want to hike up Wayna Picchu though, remember that you must arrive at opening time. So it might be best if you give yourself a few hours to explore Machu Picchu on your own, and then go back to the entrance and pay for a tour guide later in the day. Even if you just end up walking around the grounds on your own, you will still have a wonderful experience. Hope you have a great trip!

Nathan Gray
September 1, 2012

This information is extraordinary!! Thank you so much so some extremely detailed and useful information! You have just made a trip to this beautiful land obtainable for a college student on a budget. Good luck in your future travels.

Najmae
November 6, 2012

Thank you very much for sharing your amazing experience and tips with us. Your pictures are fabulous! I cannot wait to see Beautiful Machu Picchu!Good luck in your future Happy travels.

Millie
November 14, 2012

Chad,

The images and information you provide on this post are remarkable! Thanks for such a valuable information!

Best regards!

Zoe
November 14, 2012

Heading to Peru soon and I’m so excited!
Out of curiosity – would it be easy enough to return to Cuzco from Aguas the way you came? Walk along the tracks, get the minibus in the reverse direction etc.?
Or does the infrastructure only really cater for the trip to Machu?
Thanks, this post is so amazingly helpful!

Chad says: Hi Zoe, it is definitely possible to do the trip in the opposite direction. The day we walked up the railroad tracks from the hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes, there were probably 20-30 people walking out to the minibuses. The only thing you may want to do is find out the times for the minibus drop-off. Then you can make sure to be there somewhat around the time they arrive. A few tour operators in Cusco, as well as some people near the train, told us that the walk-in option couldn’t be done. They want to sell you their package so just be a little guarded or get a second opinion if someone tells you it can’t be done.

After we got off the big bus in Santa Maria, the minibuses left in the order they were filled. I think ours waited about 2 hours until another big bus came in and dropped off some more travelers. So, if I was guessing how things work for the return trip, I bet the minibuses either a) wait until they have enough passengers who walked out from Aguas Calientes along the railroad tracks, or b) wait until the train makes a drop off there also. The minibuses will be waiting either at the hydroelectric dam (which is also the train start/stop) or in the small town of Santa Teresa, about 15 minutes away (by vehicle). Worst case, if you miss the minibus, you could stay in Santa Teresa. It’s tiny but it looked cute. I know there is at least one hostel there as well as a really nice hot springs outside town. Hope you have a great trip to Machu Picchu!

Sneca
January 1, 2013

Hi,
Great information for Machu Pichu.
I’m planning for MP at the end of Feb.
Your detailed informations and pricing are absolutely an opener for me.
Great job done!
Thanks.
Sneca

Tori
January 21, 2013

Hey Chad,

I really appreciate the effort you took to write down all the details for the budget-conscious traveler!
Just one thing- a lot of people say you should book 2 months in advance to do MP, but with this itinerary, can you confirm that I don’t need to reserve in advance, apart from a few days before to book train tickets etc?

Thanks again, Tori

Chad says: Yes, it’s possible to do this itinerary without any prior reservations. Making reservations 2 months before you arrive is recommended more if you are going to do one of the Inca Trail treks. The trip to/from Machu Picchu we describe can be set-up once you get to Cusco.

Ed
February 15, 2013

I have been researching trip to MP and this is the best information I’ve seen so far. Love your photos – awesome!
Thank you guys!

Valerie
March 26, 2013

Hi Chad, thanks for the detailed post, incredibly helpful! Love your pictures too.
I wonder if you know how easy it is for tourists to get the train tickets for hidroelectrico – Aguas Calientes (or the return journey). Were there tourists who were turned away? I’ve heard that priority goes to the locals?

Chad says: Hi Valerie, it seemed easy to get tickets on the hidroelectrica train for Aguas Calientes. The train wasn’t full when we walked past on our way up the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes. Several of the train staff called out to us, selling tickets. Also, Santa Teresa (town before the hidroelectrica), is pretty small so I imagine the train isn’t full with local commuters. If you get on the first bus leaving Cusco you should be okay. I imagine it’s even easier to ensure tickets for the return trip, because you can buy those tickets day(s) in advance upon arriving in Aguas Calientes. If anyone has any experiences riding the hidroelectrica train, feel free to post. Hope this helps!

Kelly
April 1, 2013

Hi. This is on my bucket list of things to do. This actually made me feel like I was there. Loved the story and the pics! Thank you!

Zagalona
April 10, 2013

We followed your excellent advice this week (April 2013). Thanks.

Here are some additional observations that might help others.

Upon advice from our hostel in the centre of Cusco, we paid S6 for the taxi to the bus terminal in Santiago at around 7 am.

Make sure your taxi takes you to the bus Terminal where the buses are S20 and not to his friends in shared minivans. They will tell you that all the buses have gone and will try to ask for more.

When you arrive in Santa Maria, take the first available shared taxi to Santa Teresa. It’s now S10 there. The drivers seemed to be refusing to take anyone straight through to the hydroelectric for S15. Don’t worry, just get to Santa Teresa for S10. There are continuous collectivos to the hydroelectric for S5 so you will still reach your destination even if you have to wait for the collective to fill up.

Do not be fooled if the Santa Teresa driver to whom you paid S10, drops you near his taxi friend, tells you that the buses have finished for the day and the taxi driver asks for S30 for a taxi ride to the hydroelectric. Just walk away and find the collective or he will find you because they circle the centre of Santa Teresa looking for fares.

We took 2 ¼ hours to walk the railway line at a brisk pace and reached Aquas Calientes around dusk. You can’t buy your Peru Rail tickets at the station where you arrive on foot. You must go to the office over the bridge and through the market. We were limited in choice to 2 train options so I would definitely recommend buying your ticket back in advance from Cusco if possible.

Unless you really want to be first to get in, a nice way to get to Machu Pichu and back is to buy a bus ticket up to the site (about S23, I think it was) and to walk back down at a leisurely pace.You can still get there for opening time

In this way, you’ll be less stressed and sweaty and can enjoy walking around the site more. The steep walk down the hillside in daylight is very nice and I think it’s probably more enjoyable than going up at dawn (unless you’re very fit).

Finally, I would absolutely not recommend El Tumi. It was terrible. Maybe the cost was OK, we didn’t compare that much to others but we paid S60 for a double. It was like a Peruvian version of Fawlty Towers. We had a bad room which included a smashed window with shards of glass hanging down. We were promised another room “within an hour” for the same rate but they later reneged on this promise until we held our ground. Then they wanted a further S20 for the second room because it was a “matrimonio” (that just meant it had one bed instead of two). We didn’t pay extra.

They complained because we had sat on the beds in the first room before we had discovered the smashed window hidden behind the curtain and, comically, even wanted us to complete some cancellation paperwork for the first room when we moved into the second one. We didn’t.

Breakfast was at 5pm but no one was around and they sleepily got up and put the kettle on when they heard us moving around in the reception. This is not the best service for anyone wanting to get to Machu Pichu as quickly as possible. The icing on the cake was that they couldn’t open their own front floor to let us out when we were ready to go (problems with the lock).

If you must stay there, take your sense of humour and make sure the Wi-Fi extends to your allocated room before you accept it.

I hope these updates are useful. Enjoy Peru!

Charlie O
April 11, 2013

Hey this is so awesome you put all this info up on here! I agree with you about some of the price gouging tourist sites haha. Anyways I was wondering if you need to get an incan trail permit before attempting to do this? I was going to try to go in a couple days and the 1st travel site I looked in to responded back that there aren’t any permits available until August. Are they just talking about their own site or in general? Thanks!

Chad says: Hi Charles, you won’t need an Inca Trail permit to walk up the railroad tracks to Machu Picchu. The permit is only if you are going to be walking in via the Inca Trail, which approaches Machu Picchu from another direction. You can do the trek we wrote about without any prior planning. You really just take the local transportation (buses and microbuses) and then walk up the railroad tracks for 2.5 hours to Aguas Calientes. Cheap and no prior planning required! When we were in Cusco, we heard that a lot of the Inca Trail treks do require you booking a few months out. But I wouldn’t give up if one tour operator tells you it’s not possible. I’d call at least a few of them and get a second or third opinion. Who knows, maybe someone cancelled and suddenly a permit becomes available. Whichever way you end up taking to Machu Picchu, I hope you have a great trip!

Rich
May 9, 2013

You are wonderful. My wife and I will put this guide to the test on Saturday and report back on if anything has changed.

Alex
May 9, 2013

Thanks for the info! I am going to Machu Picchu this June. You mentioned that travelers could consider staying a night in Ollantaytambo or Urubamba on the way to Santa Maria. Does this mean that you would be able to get on another bus/transportation the next day if you wanted to stay in one of these towns a day or two?
Thanks!

Chad says: Yes, the bus makes stops in both Ollantaytambo and Urubamba on the way to Santa Maria. The bus stops at the town square, and travellers get on and off in both towns. Ana and I just passed though on the bus, but we saw the ruins from the window and wish we’d stopped. If anyone has stayed in either of these 2 towns and has a recommendation, please feel free to leave a comment Thanks!

Stef
June 22, 2013

This was absolutely incredible! Thank you so much for such detail, whilst keeping it entertaining. Love the pics too – cant wait to follow your advice and see MP!

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