How to go to Machu Picchu on your own and cheaply
I’m going to start this section of travel tips with something that everyone who is or will be in Peru could ask themselves at some point: what’s the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu? Well, as it often happens, the less expensive way to go there is to go on your own. We did so and in this post I’ll explain how.
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The first thing you should know is that there’s an unavoidable expense: the entrance to the holy city. In any case, you’ll have to pay for it. There are different prices depending on what the ticket includes: only the holy city, or the holy city + Wayna Picchu (an exhausting but highly recommended option). You can get them on the official website of Machu Picchu.
- If you’re a student, you can receive a 50% discount with your International Student Identity card. It’s important to know that you’ll only get a discount if your card includes the expiration date.
- If you aren’t a student, you’ll have to pay the total price of the ticket. When we travelled to Peru, the cost was 126 soles for tourists, about 45 dollars and half the price for peruvians.
With this ticket you can spend there the whole day (from 6:00 to 18:00h), and if you leave the area, you can access to it again anytime you want.
There aren’t any more services included in this ticket: no guide, no food, etc. Even the usage of the toilet costs one sol. The ticket can be bought on the Internet but if you´re student is better to do it in the office of Cuzco, because it’s easier to get the discount. If you have any problems with the link to Google maps, this is the direction of the office: Av. la Cultura No. 238 Condominio Huascar, Cusco, Perú. Apart from the obligatory price of entry, the rest of them are negotiable.
You can found several ways to go to Machu Picchu:
- Train: the simplest but also the most expensive way. The railway companies of the area work as a monopoly and the price is very high. The cheapest roundtrip ticket exceeds $ 70. I can’t provide more info about it because obviously we didn’t go by train.
- Inka Trail: the walking trail which the ancient Incas built to get to Machu Picchu is now conceived as a tourist route. The traditional Inca Trail (there are new routes continuously appearing) involve the 40 miles between Piscacucho (starting point) and the holy temple. In short, there are different versions but all the tours usually last from 2 to 4 nights.
- Option adventure: there are many travel agencies that offer alternative ways to go to Machu Picchu which include elements of adventure: cycling, zip lines, bungee jumping … But the truth is that although they offer the complete package, it doesn’t include everything. For example, it includes the bike but if you also want to do bungee jumping you have to pay it additionally. This tours are very interesting, but most of what they offer is easy to get on your own and cheaper. If you don’t want to rack your brains, it’s a good choice, but it also involves schedules and lack of freedom.
- Nada Incluido trail: as well as everyone invents his own trail name, we’ve baptized ours. Its name suggests the realization of the full trip on your own, with the advantages of flexibility and saving.
First of all, I’ll show you a map of the area which we used as a guide. Although it’s not too accurate, it’s useful:
To make the route easier to understand, I’ll organize it in different stages:
– First Stage, Cuzco – Santa María (6 hours): daily, there are several buses that take you from Cuzco to Santa Maria, the first stop on your way. The bus trip takes about six hours (less in theory), which can be exhausting. Travelling with a Peruvian bus company (we did it with the company Selva Sur) is the cheapest way, between 15 and 20 soles per person ($ 5-7). It’s important that you leave early in the morning (8:00 is fine) in order to avoid setbacks along the way. These buses don’t depart from the main bus station in Cuzco, but from the bus terminal Antonio Lorena Street.
– Second stage (1 hours), Santa María – Santa Teresa: when you get to Santa Maria, you’ll have thousands of taxi drivers and other drivers offering transportation to Santa Teresa or Hidroléctrica Station. We chose to go to Santa Teresa because we wanted to spend a night there and visit its thermal baths. I strongly recommend you visit this town whose entry only costs five soles (two dollars).
The trip costs about 10 soles ($ 4) per person. If you go directly to the Hidroeléctrica, you can sleep in Aguas Calientes that night and the next day walk up to Machu Picchu. Instead of this, if you decide to spend a night in Santa Teresa, you can see loads of interesting things. In Santa Teresa there are a lot of hostels and we paid 10 soles per person per night. Eating out there isn’t expensive, but we prefered to prepare some sandwiches in Cuzco to eat them during the day.
– Third stage (1–3 hours), Santa Teresa – Hidroeléctrica: if you’ve decided to spend the night in Santa Teresa, the next thing to do is going to the Hidroeléctrica. You can go both on foot and by taxi, in whose case it will cost about 5 soles per person. If you do it on foot, make sure not to carry a very heavy luggage or you’ll get very tired.
The track is nice, but if the day is sunny it can be a tough experience. This stage ends at the hydroelectric station, where you can get the cheapest train (not cheap though) to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village). There are a few market stalls to buy some drinks and provisions to continue the adventure. It is relatively expensive, but being dehydrated has a higher price.
– Fourth stage (2-4 hours), Hidroeléctrica – Aguas calientes: the duration of this stage depends on how tired you get here. The way to do this stage is to follow the railway line to Machu Picchu village. It’s truly a beautiful journey because you’re in the middle of the jungle. You find yourself in the middle of the jungle.
If you have time, I encourage you to do it calmly, stopping to admire the scenery, taking pictures, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
After a nice long day of walking, you will arrive to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu.
– Fifth stage, the climb of Aguas Calientes: it’s not a joke, Aguas Calientes is a very steep place and unless you find a hostel as soon as you arrive, you’ll have to walk up the village to find somewhere to stay. It may seem silly but after the cumulative fatigue, it can be exhausting. Aguas Calientes is a nice touristic town, totally devoted to Machu Picchu tourism, so the number of lodgings and restaurants that you can find there is infinite. The prices are somewhat higher than in the rest of Peru, but not excessive. For 25 soles (nine dollars) per person, we found a good accommodation with (scarce) breakfast included. In the village there’s a market to do your shopping which will save some money, but eating in restaurants around the area is affordable. For 15 soles (cinco dollars) you can get a pretty decent menu.
– The penultimate stage, the ascent to Machu Picchu (0,5h – 2h): if you’ve come this far, the best is still to happen, but this day you’ll have to get up up soon. To The Lost City of the Incas you can go by bus or on foot. The bus is quite expensive, about ten dollars a trip, but walking up the road can wear you out. So what everyone recommends is to catch a bus and walk down. And so we did. In Machu Picchu you need a guide and hire one up there is more expensive. We hired him in the same hostel we stayed for 15 soles (five dollars) per person, a really good price.
– The goal, Machu Picchu: you got it, you’re in the holy city and you have not spent all the money on the way.
It’s important to go with your own supplies to the place, unless you want to spend your money at this time. Machu Picchu is the only place in Peru that has the same expensive prices than in Europe. Be very careful if you eat or drink here. It’s better to make some purchases in the market in Aguas Calientes (sandwichs and cookies) and have a good dinner when you return to the village. It is also important to carry a raincoat (because of the frequent rain), insects repellent, sunscreen and a hat. If the day is clear, the sun will be accompanying you during the whole journey.
– The return, Machu Picchu – Cuzco: the usual route implies the return to Cuzco, and if you get up early (because that night you will have had to sleep in Aguas Calientes) you can get there in the same day. You’ll have to walk back from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica (there isn’t another choice if you don’t take the train), Hidroelectrica – Santa Maria by taxi (15 soles per person) and Santa Maria to Cuzco (25 soles per person). Good luck with rock falls, because it’s not uncommon that a rock blocks the road. In this case, you’ll have to wait until the area is cleared.
If we add up all the expenses during these three nights and four days:
- Bus Cuzco – Santa María: 15 soles.
- Taxi Santa María – Santa Teresa: 10 soles.
- Accommodation in Santa Teresa: 10 soles.
- Food, day 1: 20 soles.
- Santa Teresa – Hidroeléctrica: 10 soles.
- Accommodation Aguas Calientes: 25 soles.
- Food, Aguas Calientes: 40 soles.
- Machu Picchu ticket: 65 (young) – 130 soles (adults).
- Machu Picchu guide: 15 soles.
- Bus to Machu Picchu: 30 soles.
- Taxi Hidroeléctrica – Santa María: 15 soles
- Taxi Santa María – Cuzco: 25 soles.
You get a total cost of between 280 soles for students and 345 soles for adults. This is between 100 and $ 123 in four days, a price infinitely smaller than any of the other options available. This is what we did and although the trip was exhausting, it was a fulfilling experience. . In fact, if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to read our trip to Machu Picchu. If you have any questions, comments are welcome. Sure we can help you = -).
I read your post, it seems an amazing trip to do in your own, just wondering how many days u need to do it in your on, the minimal i mean.
im by myself, is easy to find people that are also doing this on them own therefore is it easy to find company in the way?
thanks a lot
Sergio Otegui Palacios
Hello, Joana! I did it in three days, but it’s enough with two days. And yes, Machu Picchu is the most important place in Perú, you will find a lot of people doing this way. Enjoy it!