If you’re travelling to South America Machu Picchu is probably on your bucket list, and so it should be. Thousands of people visit the site every year, but being a wonder of the world the trip can become quite costly. If you’re doing a long trip and need to be careful of the cash or you just want to visit the wonder but don’t have a great deal of money, we discovered one of the cheapest ways to get to Machu Picchu.
Our journey started in Cusco, we decided to spend 2 days there before starting our journey to Machu Picchu not only to acclimatise to the altitude but to see the other sites the city has to offer. Machu Picchu sits at 2430m above sea level but Cusco is even higher at 3399m, luckily both of us haven’t suffered with altitude sickness having visited some cities located pretty high before hitting Cusco we were well prepared. If you are struck with the sickness most hotels offer complimentary coca leaves that supposedly help.
If you’re looking for great location and a secret paradise in Cusco we found the perfect hotel, read more.
How to get there?
We would have loved to walk the Inca trail or jump on the direct train but we had to be careful with our cash flow. So how else could we get to Machu Picchu’s pueblito, Aguas Caliente? We walked the train tracks. So where did we begin…
Originally we were planning to do the whole journey on our own starting with getting a bus from Cusco to the hidroelectrica where we would begin the walk, this return journey would cost 140 soles per person (£33 or $41), then booking a hostel and the cheapest we could find at last minute was around £40 and we were happy with this until we accidently found a better option.
We were in a tour office booking our Sacred Valley tour when we discovered another option. The tour operator was offering the transfer to hidroelectrica, a night in a hostel, a guide at Machu Picchu and the return transfer back to Cusco for 160 Soles (£38 or $47), a bargain!!! So we booked it and so our adventure began. In the main square, Plaza de Armas you will found plenty of tour offices that will offer a similar option.
Our transfer picked us up at 7am and it was a 6-hour drive to hidroelectrica, possibly one of the worst drives we have ever had. If you normally have a nap on coach journeys forget it, the roads are bumpy and windy; not comfortable at all especially when your joined by a hungover girl who projectile vomits over the entire bus!
So then the walk began, we were told it would take us 2-hours but we aren’t the fastest walkers and the views along the way were beautiful so we took our time and it ended up 3 hours. You will find lots of other explorers along the way, so expected lots of hola’s. Daniela being the adrenaline junkie loved some parts of the walk, Danielle not so much, as we already said the walk is beautiful but along the way you will walk through pitch black tunnels and cross bridges which walking along the track is the only option but most of the walk is flat and easy. Trains will pass by during your walk but they let you know they are coming and there is plenty of room for you to stand aside.
This small town is where most of the tourists will stay before heading off the Machu Picchu. It’s a pretty town surrounded by beautiful mountains but it’s expensive as the tourists only have the options available in the town, you will find increased prices everywhere.
We chose a restaurant that decided to add on a ‘tax’ when questioned why they were adding a tax of 30 soles we were advised ‘oh no you don’t have to pay it it’s a service fee’ so be wary, we weren’t the only ones questioning this ‘tax’.
There are many hostels and hotels to choose from but you’ll only be there two nights’ max so we didn’t see any reason to go grand.
Buying your ticket
You have a few options with regards to buying a ticket. You can order it online before you travel, you can buy it from a tourist information centre in Cusco or you can buy it in Aguas Caliente. Whichever you choose bear in mind you cannot change the date once it has been purchased and the ticket can only be used on the date shown on the ticket. We bought the ticket from the office in Aguas Caliente is cost 128 soles (£30 or $37) you need to take your passport with you and they only accept cash.
If you want to climb Hauyna Picchu you need to plan in advance, they only allow 400 people to climb daily and when we were buying our Machu Picchu tickets there were signs stating they had sold out of Hauyna Picchu tickets for the next six weeks.
From Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu
You have two options, first you can trek 90minutes up to the site entrance most tourists start this walk at 4.30am watching the sunrise along the way. The second option is taking the $12 each way bus to the entrance. We regret it now but we took the bus up, we bought a one-way ticket up the day before so we didn’t have to queue in the morning. So during our planning we were told to get to Machu Picchu as early as possible to watch the sunrise; the first bus leaves at 5.30am. Most hotels or guides will tell you to be at the bus station at 5am; it’s too late. We arrived 4.30am and the queue was already half way up the street by 5am we couldn’t see the end of the queue. The organisation of getting hundreds of tourists on their way at 5.30am was amazing, by 5.35am we were already on our way up the mountain.
After a 20-minute drive and feeling like we cheated our way to the top we arrived at the park entrance where we were advised to meet our guide. Here is where we wish we had spent the more money, yes you could walk around with a guide book or a downloaded app but whilst we were sitting around enjoying the views we heard some amazing guides that had many more stories to tell than we heard with our guide. The site is big and it has a lot of history and you will likely only visit the once so enjoying and understanding the wonder is something you should splash a bit of cash on.
We had to catch a transfer at 2.30pm and having taken 3 hours to walk we had to leave Machu Picchu at 11.30am that gave us 5 ½ hours which now we know it isn’t enough. With meeting the whole group and the tour that took us around 3 hours which only left us with two hours.
So what can you see when you there…
Huayna Picchu Mountain, this mountain is located behind the Machu Picchu site. They only allow 400 people to climb a daily and the treks are divided into two groups, one at 7am and one at 10am. The 2 hour walk up the mountain is supposedly difficult because of the altitude. We would go back just to climb the mountain; the views have to be incredible.
The Guards House is where you can take the famous facebook/Instagram photo. The views are amazing from here and you can grab that unspoilt shot easily.
The Inca Bridge is a 30-40-minute trek from the main site. The bridge is known as the ‘secret entrance’ to Machu Picchu, this entrance its built into the cliffs which made the entrance easy for the Incas to guard from unwanted visitors.
The Temple of Sun, is one of the most famous buildings in the site. Located in the urban section the only way into the temple is through a large access gate.
The Intihuatana Stone is located at the highest point of the Mach Picchu site. This stone is used as the Incas calendar, like a modern day sundial.
Alpaca’s, no there aren’t part of Machu Picchu’s historical structure but they are beautiful, we loved them. Want the perfect alpaca shot just rustle a sweet or cookie packet, it gets the alpaca’s attention and they will look up for that perfect photo.
Our Journey back
Aguas Caliente is an additional 30-minute walk in the wrong direction for Machu Picchu so there was no reason to get the bus back into town. So instead we walked down the mountain along the Inca trail, it was so high and the views were beautiful. It’s a steep walk so watch your step, some people were running past us, no idea how that is even possible especially as Dani managed to fall walking at the pace of a tortoise. Once we were back on the tracks it was another 2 ½ hour walk to hidroelectrica. Little did we know what was waiting for us during the drive home. A 6-hour drive that turned into 16 hours, but that’s for another article.
What we learnt
Spend the extra cash on a recommended tour guide
You don’t need to get up at 4am to catch the sunrise as it will rise when you in the line waiting to get on a bus.
You should do the 90-minute trek up to Machu Picchu if you can.
You don’t need to go early morning, if you visit around 10am you will miss the crowds
Spend two nights in Aguas Caliente to make the most of the time at Machu Picchu without rushing back for your transfer on the same day.
Check around for prices, don’t jump at the first offer. In some places we heard them selling the exact same tour for $70 more.
Wear long pants to avoid the mosquito bites.
What to take
A rain coat
Long sleeve top
A small bag (you don’t want to be carrying a backpack around, Cusco hotels will store your big bags)
Layers, in the morning and nights its cold but it’s also really hot when you’re walking around in the day.
Comfortable walking shoes.
Watch the video our our journey...