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How to get to Machu Picchu

Updated: Jan 24


(other than backpacking or hiking the Inca Trail)

I’d love to tell you its quick, easy, and cheap to see Machu Picchu. But it’s not. However, with that being said, I still think it’s a pretty amazing place and worth seeing. Below, I will try to describe the process, some options, and what you need to do to get tickets for trains, buses and entry. In my opinion, doing it all in one day is really pushing it, and you may find it exhausting. But if you are limited on time and budget, it may be the option you choose. So take a look. We just did this trip in September of 2018 so prices are reflective of our experience at the time. Check the websites I have listed for most accurate prices for the dates you are traveling. Similar to airlines, prices will vary a bit depending on date, time and level of service. Go here to see our complete 10 day itinerary for Peru.

I also need to let you know a few things that have changed about visiting Machu Picchu in the last few years, as well as some details that may impact choices that you make:

1. There are now two entries time periods per day, morning and afternoon. You will need to pay separately for one or the other, or both.

2. They limit the number of visitors per day. So you must buy tickets ahead of time if you want to guarantee a certain date. I didn’t see anyone buying them there. You can do this online at home or in Cusco. Go here to see how to buy Machu Picchu (MP) entry tickets online.

3. Nationals/Locals are not allowed to visit MP except on Sundays. Keep that in mind, as I am not sure how it affects the overall numbers allowed on that day of the week.

4. There are no bathrooms in MP, only outside the entrance. But you can leave and re-enter one time during your visit.

5. Camera tripods are NOT allowed. This is probably so you don’t hog the ‘perfect photo spot’ to yourself and allows others to take photos.

6. Only small backpacks are allowed.

7. It says no water allowed, but we brought in our bottles and no one checked or gave us a hard time. I really don’t see how they can enforce that.

8. There are no restaurants within the site. There is a small café outside the entrance and the Belmond hotel restaurant. That’s pretty much it for food. So you may want to eat before or after your bus ride in from Aguas Calientes or bring in snacks if needed.

9. No selfie-sticks allowed. This is so you don’t interfere with other people trying to take photos. We still saw people sneaking them in. If you must, just be polite and aware that others would like to take photos as well.

10. NOTE - HAVE YOUR PASSPORT ON YOU AT ALL TIMES!

I had my passport photo and number checked and rechecked at least 4-5 times in the process of getting to, and into Machu Picchu. Train stations, buses, ticket purchases, entry – they checked it every time and stamped your ticket only if the name and number matched.

11. Bus tickets can not be purchased ahead of time, they are paid for at the Aguas Calientes (AC) ticket office, in person. But you can purchase your Machu Picchu entry tickets either online with credit card before your trip or at the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre (Direccion Regional de Cultura Aguas Calientes Office) in Aguas Calientes or Cusco. Go here to see some more details about that, as well as how to purchase train and MP entry tickets online.

12. If you are fit and motivated, you can walk/hike from AC and avoid the bus lines. It’s a very steep hike up a trail or up the same road that the buses take. We talked to some people who did it. It took about an hour for the fittest hikers. But they looked pretty haggered when they arrived at the gate. I’ve also heard that there is a one-day hike

(~ 7 hours) from AC to MP via the last part of the Inca trail. So there is that option as well, if you have the time and want to get a feel for how the Incas arrived at MP.

13. A guide in not required to visit Machu Picchu. If you have an extra $50-$60USD, and enjoy learning history from a bi-lingual local, you will have plenty to choose from and they will no doubt give you excellent service for the money. But if you prefer to wander at your own pace and are content looking up details on your own, then walk right on in.

Train tickets can be bought online ahead of time. We used Perurail and experienced smooth and comfortable service.


NOTE- If you are wondering if the Vistadome train is worth the extra money (~$20-$30 per person more), I’d say it’s something you can sacrifice if you need to direct travel budget dollars to other areas. We took the Vistadome train out and the standard Expedition train back. Both have large windows, even the standard Expedition train that we took back had ceiling windows. The Vistadome train windows were just larger. With the Vistadome car you get a colorful table setting, a hot sandwich and a choice of drink with the ticket price. That’s the only service difference. The scenery is beautiful in spots, with a few dramatic mountain peaks showing in some sections (IF it’s a clear day, which is not guaranteed). But overall I wouldn’t call it ‘mind-blowing’. The train mostly runs along the river. In my opinion, the really good stuff is at higher elevation in Valle Sagrado.

The Takeaway – I probably would skip the Vistadome train if I repeated this trip, unless I had some extra money to spend. But if I had extra money to spend, I’d probably save it for something like a nice baby alpaca wool scarf!

So below are some different ways that you can get to Machu Picchu. It really boils down to money and time and how you prefer to travel.

Whichever route plan you choose, you will have a marvelous experience at Machu Picchu, regardless of or how much, or how little money you spend!


Option 1

Going directly to Machu Picchu from Cusco (train, bus) – 1 day

Train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (AC) , stops in Ollantaytambo to pick up more passengers, then continues(~3.5 hours).

Walk from the train station in Aguas Calientes to the bus ticket office, buy tickets, and walk down to bus stop, then actually get on the bus (15-60 minutes, depending on time of day and how long line is to buy tickets, how easily you get lost and then to walk down and get on a bus – but they have many buses and they run frequently)

Aguas Caliente (AC) to Machu Picchu (MP) via bus - 20 minutes each way

Pros

Cost and time effective, if you are limited on time and money, at least you got to see one of the New Wonders of the World.

Cons

Total time: 4.5 – 5 hours of travel each way. Unless you stay overnight, this a very long day that starts early and limits you to the afternoon entrance (1-5pm). The average traveler spends about two hours at Machu Picchu, then leaves. So this puts you back in Cusco probably between 6-9pm depending on your train schedule.

So basically a 12-14 hour day for a 2 hour tour of the site.

Costs - 1 day

Train - ~$145 USD RT per person (Expedition car)

Bus - $40 per person RT

MP Entry - $46 per person

Total – $231 per person + food expenses

Summary

Day 1 – 3.5 hour train from Cusco to AC, 20 min bus to MP, 2-3 hour afternoon tour, 20 min bus back to AC, 3.5 hour train back to Cusco.

NOTE - somewhere during this time, you will need to figure out where to stop and eat lunch, so factor in that extra time as well. So I am estimating about a 12-14 hour day.

Click here to see current prices for hotels in Cusco

Option 2

Go to Aguas Calientes, stay overnight, go to Machu Picchu the next morning - 2(or 3) days

Aguas Calientes is the bustling gateway city to Machu Picchu and looks like a really fun place to stay! We only passed through it but there are many restaurant and hotel options here.

Pros

Breaks up the travel time

You get to explore a new place in Peru

You can get your bus tickets on one day (1 line) and take the morning bus the next day (2nd line)

You have the option of the morning entry or the afternoon entry to Machu Picchu if you plan it well.

NOTE - the bus line in AC starts forming at 3:30 AM to get there for the 6am opening! If you don’t want to get up early and don’t mind more people, you can probably sleep in a little and get there by ~ 9am and still have several hours to explore the site.

Cons

Extra cost of a hotel room, 1 or 2 nights

Extra day(s) needed

Costs - 2(3) Day

Train - $145 per person (Expedition class)

Bus - $40 per person

MP Entry - $46 per person

Hotel room - depends on your budget

Total - $231pp + shared hotel room in AC

Summary

Day 1 - 3.5 hour train to AC, buy bus tickets for next day, stay overnight

Day 2 - 20 min bus ride to MP, AM (or PM), MP tour 2-3 hours, 20 min bus back to AC, 3.5 hour train back to Cusco (or stay another night in AC)

Day 3 (Option) 3.5 hour train back to Cusco (if you stay in AC a 2nd night)

Click here to see current prices and hotel options in Aquas Calientes


Option 3

Go to Ollantaytambo, stay overnight, train to MP the next morning - 2(or 3) day

This is a really nice option. The town is smaller and less crowded than Aguas Calientes, has some really good restaurants, affordable guesthouses and hotels/rooms and even has two sets of its own ruins to explore.

Getting to Ollantaytambo

From what I can tell there is not a separate train that only runs to/from Cusco and Ollantaytambo. You’d have to buy two Cusco <> AC train tickets and just get off early. That’s expensive. There is a bus system that runs from Cusco and is really cheap (<$5) but its not direct and I can’t comment on safety, as I didn't do this option.

My recommendation is to get a cab from the airport to drive you the two hours to Ollantaytambo for ~ $50 USD. There are also shared taxi services for ~ $10 USD per person but they won’t leave until the van is full. We arranged a private taxi via the guesthouse we were staying at in Ollantaytambo. Our driver was waiting at the airport when we arrived with a name sign in hand. I personally do not like dealing with haggling for price or finding my way around on the first day I arrive, jet-lagged, to an international destination. If you have the extra money, this is a good place to spend it.

Pros

Breaks up the travel time

You get to explore a new place in Peru

You get to explore another set of ruins

You have option of morning or afternoon entry at Machu Picchu depending on which train schedule you take.

Cons

Extra cost of hotel room

Extra cost of entry to ruins in Ollantaytambo ($35 USD)

Extra days needed

Costs - 2(3) Day

Private Taxi to/from Ollantaytambo - $50

Hotel room – $50-$80 We stayed in a nice large King bed room with private bathroom, including breakfast and strong wifi for $75 a night. Go here to see our complete 10 day Peru Itinerary, including where we stayed in Ollantaytambo.

Ruins entry fee - $35 pp

Train from Ollantaytambo to AC - $65-70 per person (Expedition class)

Bus to MP – $40 RT per person

MP Entry - $46 per person

Train from AC to Cusco - $70-$85 per person (Expedition class)

Total: ~$333 USD per person (shared cab and shared room)

Summary

Day 1 - Taxi to Ollantaytambo, see ruins, overnight here

Day 2 - Early train to AC, bus to MP, afternoon tour, bus back to AC, train back to Cusco.

Day 3 (option) At the end of Day 2, stay over again in Ollantaytambo or AC, train back to Cusco early on Day 3.

Click here for current prices and hotel options in Ollantaytambo

Option 4

Ollantaytambo, MP, with an overnight up at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge – 4 day

This was the option we chose for a few reasons:

1. My husband is a professional photographer and wanted to see MP at two different times of day, so we bought two entry tickets, one for afternoon and one for the morning.

2. We also wanted to climb Huaynapicchu – there are only two times you can do this each day: early morning (7-9), or late morning (10-11am). We decided to do the later morning time, because he was shooting sunrise the first part of the morning. The Huaynapicchu climb can take 2-3 hours RT to complete. So our bus departure from the site would need to be 1pm or later. And our train departure from AC would need to be ~ 3-3:30pm

3. We wanted to check out Ollantaytambo

4. We did not want to do Machu Picchu in one long day.

5. We were continuing onto the Sacred Valley after our MP visit. The hotel where we were staying included transfers from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. So why go all the way back to Cusco? Ollantaytambo was closer to the Sacred Valley.

Staying at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, a 3 minute walk from the entry, was terrific. Go here to read my Review of Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, why we thought it was worth the extra money, and why we would stay there again.

Pros

You are a three minute walk from the entrance, which means no long bus lines to wait in for early morning entry to site


Easy in/out site access for bathroom breaks, lunch or a nap at the lodge


You can easily go into Machu Picchu twice, both on the afternoon when you arrive and the following morning. We checked into our room, took a nap, had a late lunch and then entered the ruins around 2pm when the crowds had left.


On our morning entry day, we got up for sunrise, then went back to bed for an hour, ate breakfast and then walked back in to climb Huaynapicchu.


Even though we were checked out of our room, the hotel has a separate changing/ shower room for us to clean up after climbing Huaynapicchu.


Two meals were included in our room price, including wine, and they were fantastic.


At the Aguas Calientes train station, Belmond has a station where you can drop your luggage and they will transport it up and back from the lodge for you so you don't have to drag it around town or onto the bus.


Belmond has an exclusive, comfortable waiting area at the AC train station for your return trip to Cusco or Ollantaytamabo

Cons

Extra cost

Extra day

Costs- 4 DAY

Private Cab to Ollantaytambo - $50 (+tip) – 2 people

Ruins entry fee - $35 per person

Train to AC – Vistadome in ($95 per person), regular train back ($65 per person) - $160 per person

Bus - $40 per person RT

MP Entry day 1 - $46 pp

MP Entry day 2 + Waynapicchu climb entry - $60 per person

Overnight at Belmond Lodge (2 meals included) - $1100

Hotel in Ollantaytambo (1 night prior to MP, 1 night after MP) - $150 ($75/night)

Total: ~$991 per person (shared cab and shared hotel rooms)

Our Summary

Day 1 – Taxi to Ollantaytambo, stay overnight

Day 2 – 9:15 train to AC, bus to MP, check into Belmond, eat lunch, #1 entry to ruins ~ 3pm when crowds died down

Day 3 – 6am early sunrise entry #2 to MP, back to Belmond room by 8am, breakfast, nap, re-enter for Waynapicchu climb 10:30 am, bus back to AC 1:30 pm, lunch in AC, 3:30 train back to Ollantaytambo, stay overnight.

Day 4 – 11am car transfer to Sacred Valley Hotel

Go here to see which all-inclusive eco-lodge we stayed at in Sacred Valley. And watch for my upcoming review describing why we think it's the most comprehensive option in the Sacred Valley for Active/Luxury Travelers.

Hope this was helpful, have fun!

www.peruvianhearts.org


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