Machu Picchu is one of the most visited places in the world. Almost 1,5 million people stream up to the ancient Inca sites every year. Still, it’s not easy to plan this trip on a budget. We’ve met travelers asking the same question over and over again:
“What’s the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu?”
First, if you’ve never been to Peru you might not even know where Machu Pichu actually is. Be aware that it’s high up in the Andean mountains and quite remote. Getting there is quite burdensome.
Our little travel tribe figured out this itinerary for Peru:
- Paracas (Famous Lines of Nazca; bus arrived at Ica)
- Huacachina (Sand boarding in the desert)
- Cusco (bus left from Pisco)
- Machu Piccu
→ take bus to Bolivia: Copacabana (Titikaca Lake)
We did it all by bus! If you wanna avoid 12h bus rides you might want to look for cheap flights. However, buses are cheap, high-standard and flexible. We made very positive experiences.
So jumping directly to the question. We arrived in Cusco by bus after our sandboarding adventure in the desert oasis Huacachina. The bus left from Pisco, the closest town. We combined it with a short tour exploring the famous distilleries and wineyards around Pisco.
The bus ride took about 18 hours. There are a lot of different companies offering the service. I think we went with Cruz del Sur. Be sure to ask whether the bus ride includes food and be prepared to be asked whether you prefer Cama or Semi Cama seats. How to survive the 18h ride and get prepared against altitude sickness? Mareol will be your best friend. Ask for these tranquillizer pills in one of the pharmacies or even directly in the bus terminal. Take one or two pills and sleep up to 12 hours.
Wake up in Cusco! Don’t forget your stuff on the bus (we forgot our camera and got it back… → another story)
But from Cusco it’s still quite a long way to Machu Picchu
- From Cusco you neeed to get to Hidroelectrica (4hours drive through the mountains)
- From Hidroelectrica you need to get to Aguascalientes (4 hour walk or book the train)
- From Aguascalientes you can access Machhu Picchu; it’s either a 2hour tiresome hike or you can book a bus
So now the actual Machu Picchu trip…
Cusco is charming!! A beautiful city high up in the mountains and the place to start your Machu Picchu adventure. Then in Cusco we looked for the cheapest place and ended up in a place called Pisco hostel (20 Soles/night = 5 USD).
It’s a decent hostel & the staff was extremely helpful in organizing our trip.
We spent a whole day wandering around Cusco and comparing prices for the cheapest way to explore Machu Picchu. This will normally be “By Car” (yes, that’s what they call it). There are a number of agencies that offer you to take you there. You can choose whether you wanna rush through (1 night) or do it with a 2 night stay. Normally prices range from 78 to 90 USD (around 355 Soles). Be sure you have an international student ID (indicating a date)!!Otherwise they might charge you more.
We finally booked with the hostel owner and the whole package cost us about 50 USD (180 Soles). You won’t get it cheaper if you do it completely on your own as you will need to calculate the bus, accomodation for one night and entrance to Machu Picchu, which is the biggest portion. Currently the price is 62 USD for adults & 37 USD for students. If you’re from the Comunidad Andina (Peru, Colombia, Ecuador etc. ) the prices are 37 USD and 27 USD. We paid the 27 USD (90 soles).
- The bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and back (about 4h in a small bus with about 15 people); (leave your backpacks in the hostel in cusco! Everything you carry you need to carry up Machu Picchu if you do it the cheapest way
- One lunch on the way to Aguascalientes
- One night accommodation in Aguascalientes (the village from where you can hike up to Machu Picchu)
- Lunch package for Machu Picchu
- Entry fee to Machu Picchu & guide through the ruins
So that was our trip:
6am: We got up early in the morning. Left our luggage in the hostel and got picked up by a small bus to go to Hidroelectrica. It’s a 4–5 hour ride through the mountains. Make sure you bring mosquito repellent!!!! You’ll know why… Prepare to get altitude sickness (get Mareol!). Bring warm clothes but don’t overdo it (Machu Picchu is not as cold as Cusco). We had a lunch break in Hidroelectrica; food was included.
14pm: We got off the bus in Hidroelectrica. That’s where you can take a famous train to Machu Picchu/Aguascalientes. We chose the cheaper option and walked. They told us it’s a 3 hours walk — it took us more than 4.
18pm: We arrived in Aguascalientes/ Machu Picchu village. It was already dark and what a surprise: it’s a whole tourist city, full of hotels, restaurants and hostels. It wouldn’t have been a problem at all to find a place to sleep just by ourselves directly on the location. However, we’d already booked a cheap place and got picked up by the hostel owner. We picked up our entry tickets to Machu Picchu and went to sleep (after a few beers and dinner).
4am next day: We got up for the hike up to Machu Picchu. You can pay for a bus to take you up. However, we walked up the stairs. It’s a tiresome 2hour hike!! It’s REALLY not an easy walk but doable. The great thing: you’re gonna be up there at the ruins before the really big stream of tourists that come by bus.
7am: We had a tour through the impressive ruins.
11am: We hiked down 1h & directly hiked back the 4hours to Hidroelectrica.
From there we took the bus back to Cusco (4hours). !! That’s where we had an accident & a flat tire. So our bus had to stop, we all got off somewhere in the middle of nowhere and the driver changed the tire. In the end it took us almost 6hours to get back to Cusco but we still wanted to get the bus to Bolvia the same night. So we just picked up our luggage and went off to the bus terminal. We left to Copacabana/Bolivia on one of the last buses that night.
It was quite of a hurry but definitely the cheapest way.
So here again summed-up:
“What’s the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu?”
Short answer: 180–250 Soles (70–90 USD) minimum for 2 days-1 night package Machu Picchu “by car”. Includes entrance to Machu Picchu (130 Soles for students; 90 for local students), bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and back, 1 night accomodation (20 Soles min.), 1 lunch & 1 lunch package (20 Soles)
That’s the absolute minimum & leaves the agency with almost no profit.
We hope this article will help you plan your trip to Machu Picchu! Anything to add? Let us know and we’ll add your experiences!