Hello there! :-)
I’m back with a little informational post about one of the most famous and most visited sites in South America, if not the most famous – MACHU PICCHU!
I still remember myself sitting in front of the laptop getting ready for Peru, trying to find some insiders or, you know, information so we would be able to make the most out of our stay in South America. It wasn’t that easy – different sites said different things and especially when it came to Machu Picchu things got super complicated as you need a ticket, a train, a guide, bla bla bla. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what to believe.
But now that I’ve been through all this mess myself I hope that I can help out some fellow traveler that is just as overwhelmed with all the information out there as I was just about a year ago. Here we go:
General Information About Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is in the middle of nowhere! And that’s what makes it so special. But that’s also what makes it so hard getting there. Nevertheless, it is a huge tourist attraction and Peruvians know how to make money, so the entrance ticket costs for Machu Picchu start at 70 USD for foreigners. New regulations have been introduced after we’ve been there, so now you need to decide if you want to go there in the mornings from 6-12 or in the afternoons from 12-5:30 and buy your ticket accordingly. Also soon, you will need to go with a guide which is not included in the ticket. Furthermore, there are different entrance tickets for Machu Picchu, the 1st one is to only visit the ruins themselves, the 2nd and 3rd ones include a hike up to the top of a mountain either Huayna Picchu or the actual Machu Picchu mountain. There you also have assigned times for your hikes. If you choose to hike up to one of these mountains it is very important to book your tickets at least 2-3 months in advance, as they sell out quite fast. We weren’t interested in the mountains and went only to see the ruins. As we were there in low season (April) we were totally fine with buying the tickets the day before in the office in Aguas Calientes. This might not be the case anymore/or in high season. But you can always check availability for all tickets and book them on this website. Check it out and you’ll understand my explanations a little better. :-)
Aguas Calientes also called Machu Picchu town is an accumulation of hotels and restaurants just at the foot of Machu Picchu. Most people sleep there the night before visiting the actual ruins the next day. So in the morning you still need to make your way up to Machu Picchu itself. You have two options: going by bus or hiking. If you are relatively fit the hike shouldn’t be a problem. It took us about an hour, it is basically just steep stairs but manageable if you leave plenty of time for the hike and don’t need to rush in order to not miss sunrise. The other option is to take a bus. There is only one company operating and they take you up for about 12 USD, or 24 USD both ways, if I remember right. But in any case you can check this in Aguas Calientes at the ticket booth, where I’d recommend you to buy your ticket the day before, if you want to be among the first people to go on a bus. Buses start taking people up at 5:15 am but people start queueing at around 4:45 am or so. (We started our hike when there already so many people queueing and made it up there at the same time at around 6 when the complex opens.)
This information is all the same for everybody that wants to visit Machu Picchu, but how to get to Aguas Calientes is a whole different story:
1. From Cusco by Train
This is probably the fastest but also most expensive option. There is a train that goes directly from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes. Train tickets are relatively easy to obtain – you can book them beforehand on the website of Perurail or at their office in the city center of Cusco. I checked the prices and it is about 100 USD one-way for the 3-hour journey. If you are short of time and still want to make it to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu this might be a great option for you as it is very convenient. I’ll tell you why in a second.
2. From Ollantaytambo or Urubamba by Train
This option is similar to the one before. Book your tickets before and safe a little bit of money on the train ticket by taking a cheaper colectivo from Cusco to either Ollantaytambo or Urumbamba in the Sacred Valley. This can also be a convenient option if you are interested to visit some sites in Ollantaytambo before or after your visit to Machu Picchu.
3. Take a Bus or Colectivo to Hidroelectrica and Walk to Aguas Calientes
This is a cheaper but much more time-consuming option. There are companies that offer transportation directly from Cusco to a place called Hidroelectrica which is about 10 km from Aguas Calientes. Hidroelectrica is the closest you can get towards Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu by car. Shop around in all the tourist offices around Cusco or maybe in your hostel to get the best price – sometimes you also find packages including the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu and your accommodation in Aguas Calientes. We took this option on our way back and paid 35 Peruvian Soles/11 USD per person one-way. Compared to the “short” train ride it takes about 7 hours, so to get back to Cusco you’ll want to catch the last buses that leave around 3 pm in Hidroelectrica. The walk to Aguas Calientes follows the train tracks, so it is always nice and flat and offers you a lot of biodiversity and you can see Machu Picchu from below. So also definitely worth your time!
4. Hike the Inca Trail
We heard so many good things about the Inca Trail but as it costs from 500 USD upwards we couldn’t quite afford that. If you are looking into this option I recommend you to be early with your booking as there is only a limited amount of people that is allowed on the trail every day, and it is closed for all of February for maintenance. There are many different companies that offer the complete package with guides, food, transportation, accommodation, mules and the entrance to Machu Picchu. The trek takes 4 days and passes many important sites before reaching the ruins of Machu Picchu itself. A friend of ours made the trek and she liked it very much – read about it here.
5. Choose a Different Trek
There are a bunch of different alternatives to the Inca Trail. Most of them are 4-5 day treks around the Salkantay mountain. There is a Jungle trek or one for people seeking for some adrenaline (this includes downhill biking and canopy). You can do these treks with a tour which similarly to the Inca Trail tours give you the full package of guides, food, transportation and in some cases also the Machu Picchu entrance ticket. We saw tours like that being advertised starting at around 270 USD, always ask what’s included! The good thing about these tours is that you’ll still be able to book them while you are in Cusco as there is plenty of spots available as long as it’s not high high season and you will be able to negotiate better prices. And of course you’re not really tied to a specific date.
We decided to go for the regular Salkantay Trek starting in Mollepata up to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu in 5 days. Some friends of ours completed the track by themselves, so we figured that we would also go without a tour guide. Don’t worry, I won’t go over all this in detail now, but if you want to know how we did with walking up to 30 km every day and getting enough food in a remote area like this, check out my next blog post!
I hope I could help the one or the other with this article, I feel like it’s way too long! :D Feel free to comment below if you have any questions, I promise I will get back to you as soon as I can!
Have a great weekend, guys!