Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world is known to some as The Lost City of Incas. Machu Picchu is on every traveler’s bucket list. Though the icon of Incan civilisation can be visited on a guided tour, this is a complete guide on getting to Machu Picchu by yourself on a budget.
Getting there by public transport:
Cusco – Santa Maria
Busses to Quillabamba leaves from Cusco’s Santiago bus depot, a small terminal mainly used by locals. A taxi from the centre should cost about not more than PEN 5. The bus passes through Ollantaytambo, Urubumba and Santa Maria. It takes 07 hours and costs PEN 20. Alternatively, you can take a mini bus which departs regularly from the stop next to the bus station, it takes 4 hours and costs PEN 30
Santa Maria – Santa Teresa
The bus from Cusco would terminate at the bus station in Santa Maria, from where you would have to take a connecting bus to Santa Teresa. It takes 1.5 hours to Santa Teresa and costs PEN 6.
Santa Teresa – Hydro Electrica
From Santa Teresa you have two options to get to Hidroelectrica, you can either take a bus for PEN 5 or walk for 2 hours.
Getting to Hydro Electrica on a private vehicle:
Streets of Cusco are flanked by travel agencies selling different types of tours to Machu Picchu. You can walk-in to one of the agencies and book a transport straight to Hidroelectrica. Most agencies operates a mini van on this route. It takes 6-7 hours to get to Hidroelectrica from Cusco and costs between PEN 65-70.
From Hydro Electrica – Aguas Calientes:
From Hidroelectrica you can walk to Aguas Calientes or get a train.
The van terminates at the station next to the only restaurant in Hidroelectrica. From the point where the bus would drop you,just cross the bridge and turn left until you see the railway track. Walk along the railway track for 2 hours until you reach Aguas Calientes train station.
Train services are offered by Peru Rail. If you don’t have a ticket it is possible to buy one across the counter at the train station in Hydro Electrica. It costs USD 10.
From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (by train)
There are regular train services from Ollantaytambo, a town known for its ruins. Ollantaytambo is located 1hr 45 mins drive away from Cusco. There are collectivos from Calle Pavitos in Cusco every 30 minutes. From Ollantaytambo train station there are regular departures to Aguas Calientes and the price would vary somewhere between 55-85 USD one way each person.
There is also a possibility to take the train from outside of Cusco but that is even more expensive. The scenic train journey through the Sacred Valley takes about 1 hour 45 as well.
Its recommended to buy tickets well in advance through Peru Rail’s website or from the office near the main square plaza de armas in Cusco.
Aguas Calientes is a small town and the only access point to Machu Picchu. The town survives on tourism hence everything is exhorbidantly priced.
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes:
Pirwa Machu Picchu Hostel, offers shared dorms and private rooms. Prices normally includes continental breakfast,Wi-Fi, hot water, luggage storage.
Hostel Amaru has a coffee and a bar, a billiard table and internet access downstairs, the staff are very friendly and helpful, this hostel is great if you’re on a budget and is located just meters from the hot springs.
Camping Municipal is ideal if you carry a tent. Its located next to the bridge on the road to Machu Picchu and costs PEN 15 per tent.
Cheap Eats in Aguas Calientes:
There are plenty of pizzerias in town. Menu del dia Almuerzo (Menu of the day- Lunch) is a set menu which is priced from PEN 10. However, you can find budget options in the town’s Central Market located just a block away from the main square. Lunch menu’s are priced from PEN 8 and there are plenty of juice stalls as well.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu:
To get to Machu Picchu from Aguas calientes there are two options.
There are busses leaving from the bus station next to the main square every 10 minutes from 5 in the morning. It is better to buy the ticket across the counter in advance by producing your passport and Machu Picchu’s entrance ticket. The queue builds up much early in the morning so its better to queue up at 4:00 am. There are coffee stalls and fast food shops open during this hour so you can pick up some snacks while in queue.
One way ticket costs USD 10, it takes 25 minutes to get to the main entrance of Machu Picchu.
You can also go hiking to Machu Picchu from Aguas calientes. The gate to the bridge that links Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu opens at 5am. The bridge is 10-15 minutes walk away from the town’s main square. The trail is quite steep, ensure to carry enough water and a flash light.
At Machu Picchu:
Ticket to Machu Picchu would let you go in and out thrice during your visit on the same day as there are no toilets or restaurants inside the park. Food and beverages are much more expensive than Aguas Calientes.
At the entrance of the park every visitor gets frisked and the passport is verified against the ticket. It is prohibited to carry food inside the park however you can carry some snacks and protein bars to keep going whilst exploring the wonder of the world.
Getting Back to Cusco:
If you are planning on returning to Cusco from Hidroelectrica by the bus then ensure to be there before 1430 as busses leave by 1500 HRS.