If you’re planning to see this particular wonder of the modern world, but you’re afraid it’s going to be too expensive, it doesn’t have to be! Below, you’ll find tips on how to visit Machu Picchu cheap. This trip involves taking a bus, van and walking; you’ll find plenty of agencies selling it in Cusco centre, but not much can be found online – the tour is called Machu Picchu by Car. We didn’t pay for the full tour, but just for transportation as we wanted freedom of choosing our accommodation and length of stay. To make this guide easy to read, I included short breakdown menu:
Before you book your trip to Machu Picchu
This is the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu, but before you start planning and booking your trip there are few logistic considerations. Here is all you need to know to get to Machu Picchu on a budget.
Cusco is the closest, major city to Machu Picchu and the one Tours By Car originate from. There’s an airport here, but you’re most likely arrive by coach from Lima or Arequipa. Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and it’s not accessible by car, only on foot or by train. Hydroelectric Station is where the road to Aguas Calientes ends and the van from Cusco leaves you (around 3pm). From here you’ll walk on and around train tracks to reach the town of Aguas Calientes. It takes around 8 hours on the van and 2 hours walking (3 hours if you count photo stops). The trek is mainly flat, but I recommend you take hiking boots, as it can be muddy; plus stomping on little stones around train tracks will be painful. You should reach the town around 6pm.
As I said, Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and the one you’ll need to book accommodation in, for at least one night (if you buy the entire tour, not just transport, accommodation will be included). From here, you’ll need to take a bus or walk up to the entrance of the site. Bus costs $12USD one way and takes around 10-15 minutes.
Drivers do not sell tickets; an office is located just around the corner from the bus stop and you can pay by cash or card. If you choose to walk instead, it is steep and will take around one and a half hours.
Is it safe to go to Machu Picchu by car
Accidents don’t happen often, but they do happen. Part of the road is unpaved and in some places very narrow (see video below). Paved part is a single carriage in both directions. Often, the carriage closer to the mountains has obstacles, like fallen rocks and mudslides. Most of the road is full of sharp curves and you’ll be told to take a motion sickness pill not to vomit on the way (buy and take the pill, trust me!).
Around 15 vans went on the day we did. We survived and I would do it again, but if you ask Sara, she probably wouldn’t. Undoubtedly, the train ride will be safer, more comfortable and much more expensive. The choice is yours.
When to go to Machu Picchu
During wet season (December – March), in very extreme circumstances when rain is persistent and heavy, the site may be completely closed. The risk of closure is really small, but nevertheless it can happen. We did it in January and our experience was a little scary – due to heavy rain, a bridge on part of the paved road collapsed a few days before and the van had to cross a river/waterfall. On top of that, we were asked to be at the meeting point to go back to Cusco an hour earlier than normally. The driver explained that the water on that river is “higher” later in the day and it may not be possible to cross, if we go as previously planned.
As you can see, there are some risks associated with wet season, but on the other hand, there are fewer visitors and that will add to the comfort of sightseeing and availability of tickets and transport. We don’t have the experience of dry season, but we read online that tickets are sold out months in advance and queues for Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu bus are so long, you need to wake up at 5am to be able to get there for 7am. The ride takes 10-15 minutes, so we’re talking about an hour and a half of waiting in line.
Again, the choice is yours.
How to buy tickets to Machu Picchu
Tickets can be bought online, directly via Peruvian Ministry of Culture’s website – https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio.
First you reserve your tickets and are given a number; after that you need to redirect your web browser to payment page, retrieve your reservation using the number you were given and finally pay. Tickets are date and name specific and you’ll need your passport to prove your identity at the entrance. You do not need to be part of a tour, nor do you need a tour guide to visit; everything can be done independently. The website is in Spanish only and we couldn’t pay with Mastercard (Visa only). I’m not sure if Mastercard isn’t accepted at all or this was just a problem we encountered.
Which ticket to Machu Picchu should I buy
There are three different types of tickets available:
Machu Picchu – single entrance to the site of ruins only. Once inside, sightseeing follows a circuit which leads outside the complex. You may take as much time as you wish, but going against the circuit’s direction will not be possible, so no coming back. Once outside you will not be allowed to re-enter.
Machu Picchu with Waynapicchu mountain – two entrances are allowed on this ticket, one to visit the mountain and the other to visit the ruins. When buying this ticket, you’ll need to choose entering Waynapicchu between 7-8 or 10-11 in the morning. Both slots are limited to 400 visitors. Earlier slot will not allow enough time to see the ruins before the mountain climb, so you’ll need to come back. Later slot will allow enough time to see the ruins before the climb, but it is said that the complex is more quite in the afternoon, so it may be a good idea to climb the mountain first and re-enter to see the ruins after. The climb and the view are truly amazing and well worth extra time and money.
Note: If you choose to add the mountain to your visit, it will be difficult (may be impossible) to go back to Cusco by car the same day – you may not make it back to Hydroelectric Station in time for pick up. Additionally, you’ll need to organize baggage storage. In this case it’s better to spend another night in Aguas Calientes and not rush your visit.
Machu Picchu with Machupicchu mountain – we did not get this ticket, so I can only assume that same rules, as in case of Waynapicchu, apply and you’ll be able to enter twice; however, this is only speculation. Entrance to this mountain is also restricted to 7-8 or 10-11 in the morning and 400 visitors per slot.
How much will it cost to go to Machu Picchu by car
Machu Picchu + Waynapicchu mountain ticket = US $60
Van from Cusco to Hydroelectric Station = US $23
Lunch on the way to Hydroelectric Station = US $5
Motion sickness pill = US $1.20
2 nights accommodation for 2 people, with breakfast in Aguas Calientes = US $34.48
1 way bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu = $12
1 course meal for 2 people with drink = $16.97
This is the cheapest way we found to travel and see Machu Picchu, but there are certainly other options available. Please come back to see what else we did on our 3 months trip around South America and if you have any questions, send us an email.