Every year, millions of tourists get to “The Lost City of the Incas” through different routes. The best way to get to Machu Picchu depends on the time and budget constraint of each one.
The royal retreat of the Inca’s, Machu Picchu, was so well hidden that the Spanish Conquistadores never managed to find its location. It wasn’t until 1911, when the American archeologist Hiram Bingham initiated a scientific study of Machu Picchu, that the historical site became known to the world.
Today it is the most visited place for tourism in Peru and there are different ways to get there. These are the best ones:
Getting to Machu Picchu by treks
Hiking to Machu Picchu is a very popular choice, especially for trek lovers who have plenty of time and enough money. In general, the treks last from three to four days, and cost between $180 and $800 US dollars. The three main hiking routes that will lead you to the Machu Picchu ruins are the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek and the Inca Jungle Trek.
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU BY THE INCA TRAIL
The Inca Trail is certainly the most popular, and for good reasons: it takes you on the original Inca pathways, which enables you to visit several ruins along the trek. It’s popularity, however, makes it mandatory to reserve months in advance. We recommend you to book six months in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on it. The prices vary between $450 and $800 US dollars, and the length of the Inca Trail can be completed in two, four or five days.
It is often recommended to take the five days trek in order not to miss anything of the 40-km-long journey, but good physical conditions are required. Here’s an article about the Inca Trail, and what you can experience along the way.
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU BY THE SALKANTAY TREK
This cheaper alternative to access to Machu Picchu is also very popular. With a price that varies between $200 and $400 US dollars, the Salkantay Trek lasts from four to six days and there’s no need to book it months in advance. Be ready to see a wide array of Peru’s terrains as the trek takes you to lagoons, mountains and even to the jungle. This option is recommended for adventurers that want to see breathtaking landscapes while hiking up to the Machu Picchu.
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU BY THE INCA JUNGLE TREK
Are you as interested in biking, motorcycling or rafting as you are in trekking? Then this route is perfect for you. As the price goes from $200 to $350 US dollars, the length of the trek is usually of four days. The Inca Jungle Trek is not only about doing a trek until the Machu Picchu. It’s also about going on an adventure, experiencing hiking and biking in the mountains, going through the jungle, and seeing the Santa Teresa canyons from the zip-lines above. This option is recommended to those who wish to try out something new every day on their way to the Machu Picchu.
Ready to hike up to Machu Picchu? Here are 7 tips to make your hiking as easy as possible.
Getting to Machu Picchu by train
This is the easiest way to get to Machu Picchu. The train will take you to Aguas Calientes, the closest city to Machu Picchu, where you can spend the night if you have more time and want to enjoy every minute of your trip to the famous ruins.
The cost is on average $70 US dollars one way, and the trip takes between 30 minutes and 3 hours, depending on where you start from. The train station of Poroy, in Cusco, is the first stop of the train. The station is 13km from Cusco’s city center, which means it takes about 30 mins by taxi. The second stop of the train is Ollantaytambo, a town 2 hours (72km) from Cusco. Finally, before stopping at Aguas Calientes, the train stops at Urubamba, a small town in the Sacred Valley.
Taking the train is recommended for travelers that are out of time or simply are unable or unwilling to make their way to the “lost citadel” by foot.
Getting to Machu Picchu on your own
Using combis (buses) in order to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is the cheapest, but also the longest, option. It is recommended for people that have real budget constraints, such as students, and that have planned at least two days to visit Machu Picchu.
In order to get to Machu Picchu, you have to pass by Aguas Calientes, a small town right under Machu Picchu that has several hostels and restaurants. Before getting to Aguas Calientes, you have to pass by Hydroelectrica, the last town accessible by road before Machu Picchu, and six hours drive from Cusco.
FROM CUSCO TO AGUAS CALIENTES – PASSING BY HYDROELECTRICA
If you want to do the entire trip on your own, you can take different buses from Cusco in order to get to Hydroelectrica. First, you have to take a collective bus (combi) from Cusco to Santa Maria, which lasts for about 5 hours and will cost between 15 and 30 soles ($5 to $10 US dollars). Then, from Santa María, you have to take another combi until Santa Teresa, which takes approximately 1h30 min and will cost around 6-7 soles ($2 US dollars). Finally, from Santa Teresa, you can get a taxi until Hydroelectrica, which is a 20-minute ride and shouldn’t cost more than 10 soles ($3 US dollars).
Another option to get to Hydroelectrica is booking a tour in a tourism agency that will take you from Cusco to Hydroelectrica and that could even wait for you in Hydroelectrica the next day to get you back to Cusco. Depending on the number of persons you are booking the tour for, and how good you are at bargaining, the round-trip Cusco-Hydroelectrica will cost between 70 and 150 soles (between $20 and $40 US dollars). This option is recommended if you want to have a cheap but not too complicated route.
Once in Hydroelectrica, the only way to get to Aguas Calientes is by following the train tracks. It’s a 12 km long walk next to train tracks (so not the best road), but it’s very beautiful as you walk along a river and in the middle of the jungle. Depending on your physical conditions and speed, this takes between 1h30 min and 3 hours. You can also catch a train from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, which will cost around $20 US dollars, and takes approximately 30 min.
FROM AGUAS CALIENTES TO MACHU PICCHU
As you might know, since 2017, there are time slots to enter Machu Picchu: the morning slot (6:00 am to 12:00 pm) or the afternoon slot (12:00 pm to 6:00 pm). As the route from Cusco to Machu Picchu is long if you’re not taking the train, it is often recommended to spend at least one night in Aguas Calientes.
To reach Machu Picchu once in Aguas Calientes, there are two options: walking up 1,000 steps (which takes between 1 and 2 hours) or taking the bus. Walking up the stairs is the cheapest option, but also the most physical-demanding one as the stairs are very high and the heat can make it difficult. Also, if you’ve booked a ticket to do the Machu Picchu Mountain, keep in mind that it includes another 2,760 steps to reach the top of the mountain. As for the bus, it costs $12 US dollars one way for a foreign adult and takes 30 mins to get to the destination. However, you need to be at the bus station at least one hour in advance as everyone will be waiting in a queue to get on it.
Exploring Machu Picchu
It is entirely possible to explore the ruins by yourself, yet we would always recommend you to take a guided tour of the site. A little while ago, a team member from Traveling and Living in Peru visited the ruins and encountered many aimless tourists who had wished they had paid the minimal fee for a guided tour.
You can either go for a group tour by contacting one of the numerous agencies in the nearby towns or you can ask your hotel to arrange a group tour with a private guide. Moreover, you will find lots of guides waiting outside the entrance, most of whom are fairly proficient in English. Make sure to bargain with them to get a decent rate.
As for what to visit once in Machu Picchu, we strongly recommend to get up to the top of the Machu Picchu mountain, where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the site and what’s around it. However, you need to be ready to get up 2,760 steps. It’s physically difficult, but fortunately, you can stop whenever you want and just enjoy the view.
Highlights of the Ruins
Some of the more fascinating highlights of the ruins are the Temple of Condor, the Sun Gate, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana rock.
Wrapping it up
Now that you know how to get to Machu Picchu, check out how much it will cost you to travel there. Keep in mind that the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu are one of the most spectacular ruins on the globe, so make sure to get your tickets well in advance since only a limited number of tourists are allowed each day.
The weather here tends to be damp and misty so the ideal time to visit the ruins would be around late May-August which is also the peak season. Keep in mind as well that there are not a lot of restaurants before entering the site, and they are very expensive, so don’t forget to bring a little something to eat!