If you’re one of the approximately one million people planning a trip to Machu Picchu this year, you’re probably wondering how to get to this secluded ancient Inca city.
There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu:
- By train
- By bus
- Or a combination of the above
Below, I’ll detail my Machu Picchu itinerary, including how much my trip to Machu Picchu cost.
I hope this makes your trip planning easier!
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How Much Does a Trip to Machu Picchu Cost?
It depends. But below is a breakdown of how much it cost me. I visited Machu Picchu with my mom, but below I’ll detail the prices just for me.
January 2019 Update: I have updated the table below to reflect that the roundtrip bus ticket from Aguas Calientes has increased from $19 USD to $24 USD. As of 2019, the Machu Picchu entrance fee is still 152 Peruvian Nuevo Soles (about $45 USD).
|Private taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo||$23.21|
|PeruRail train tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: Expedition (lowest class) $56+PeruRail train tickets from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo: Vistadome (one step up from lowest class) $80||$136|
|Double room in Hospedaje Veronica in Aguas Calientes||$30|
|Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu||$45|
|Roundtrip bus ticket from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu site||$24|
|Two-day private tour guide||$140|
|Private taxi from Ollantaytambo to Cusco||$23.21|
Now, if you plan on hiking the Inca trail, you’re going to be adding significantly more costs. You also have to factor in plane tickets to Lima and Cusco from wherever you are in the world.
The nearest airport to Machu Picchu is Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ). If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu from outside of Peru, you will almost certainly book a flight to Lima (LIM) and then another short flight (it’s about an hour) to CUZ.
For more details, read my post on how to get to Cusco from Lima.
How to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco
To clear up any confusion: There is NO road that takes you directly from Cusco to Machu Picchu. To get to this ancient Inca citadel, you must take a combination of transportation methods. There are four main ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco: hiking, train, bus, or a combination. I will go into detail about those options below.
When people say they are “taking the train to Machu Picchu,” they actually mean they are going to Aguas Calientes, which is the closest town to Machu Picchu and sometimes called Machu Picchu Pueblo.
To make matters more confusing, a lot of guidebooks and websites lump Machu Picchu and Cusco into one place. That’s because Cusco is a region as well as a city, and yes, Machu Picchu is in the region of Cusco, but it is NOT in the city of Cusco.
Getting to Machu Picchu By Trail
There are several hiking options to get to Machu Picchu, the most popular being the Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail
Length: 26 miles. 4 days, 3 nights
Approximate cost: US$500-600/person
The Inca Trail takes four days, and you must have a licensed guide and a permit to hike the trail (there is a limit of 500 people per day). When you book your trek, be sure to ask what is included in the price. Usually it includes the Machu Picchu entrance ticket, Inca Trail permit, return transportation from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, porters, cooks, and tents. Any gear you will need can be rented in Cusco. High season is May to September, and permits tend to sell out months in advance, so if you have a date in mind, book the trek as soon as you can. Tour companies often recommend booking the Inca Trail three to six months ahead of time.
To check the availability of Inca Trail permits, visit the following website and click the “Availability” button: www.incatrailreservations.com/tour/inca-trail.
Length: 4 days, 3 nights or 5 days, 4 nights
Cost: Varies widely. I’ve seen it priced from US$230-600/person
Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek does not require a permit, so it is an alternative many travelers choose to take when the Inca Trail permits are sold out. The Salkantay Trek is an intense hike leading you up to extremely high elevations (15,200 feet at the highest) and ending at Machu Picchu.
Partial Inca Trail
You can opt to hike only part of the Inca trail; prices for this vary widely depending on how much of it you want to trek.
Insider’s Tip: Don’t book treks and tours online if you can help it. The cheapest prices can be found once you are in Cusco and can contact tour companies in person. It is widely known that businesses in Cusco advertise higher prices online. The huge exception here is the Inca Trail; since high-season dates must be booked months in advance, you will likely need to book this trek online before arriving in Peru.
Taking the Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu
There are two train companies that bring foreigners to Aguas Calientes. I’ve taken both, and I prefer PeruRail.
There are three levels of service: Expedition (formerly known as the Backpacker train), Vistadome, and Hiram Bingham.
There are four levels of service: Economic, Executive, First Class, and Presidential (by request only).
There is a separate train for the locals that is less expensive—but you are not allowed to use it. If you try to purchase tickets for this train, they will check your ID.
Important notes about taking the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu:
- From January through April, the train to Machu Picchu does NOT start in Cusco. If you book tickets through PeruRail during this time period, you first must board a bus at Wanchaq Station in Cusco, which will then take you to Ollantaytambo. From there, the train will take you to Aguas Calientes train station (the closest train station to Machu Picchu). This is known as a “bimodal service” with PeruRail.
- For the rest of the year, the train to Machu Picchu begins at Poroy Station in Cusco.
- A any time of the year, you can choose to book your own bus or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and then purchase a train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu), which is what I did.
If you want details on what it’s like to take the train to Machu Picchu, check out my review of PeruRail vs. IncaRail.
Getting to Machu Picchu By Bus to the Hidroeléctrica
This is a lesser-known Machu Picchu transportation option. It is cheaper—but many say the roads are dangerous. If you are afraid of heights or prone to motion sickness, this is definitely not the route to take. It also takes several hours longer than the train, so it’s not ideal if you’re pressed for time. Two advantages of this option: It allows you to see some amazing scenery, and it is a very affordable way to get to Machu Picchu.
To begin, you must first take a bus from El Terminal Santiago in Cusco to the town of Santa Maria. This road is winding, often unpaved, and hugging a cliff the majority of the time. From Santa Maria to Santa Teresa, the road narrows to one lane; avoid this road in the rainy season, as there are landslides. When you arrive in Santa Teresa, you must switch to a taxi or combi/colectivo to the hidroeléctrica. The ride takes about 15 minutes. From the hidroeléctrica, you must walk a little over nine miles along the train tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes, which takes about three hours.
Want to combine all three modes of transportation?
You can take a taxi or colectivo to Ollantaytambo, and from there, a train to Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, instead of taking the bus, you can hike your way up to the Machu Picchu entrance, which will take about one and a half hours. When you’re done exploring Machu Picchu, you can take the bus down the hill (about a 15-minute ride).
My Machu Picchu Itinerary
Note: I flew into Lima, then took a flight to Cusco and stayed in Cusco city for 7 nights before heading to Machu Picchu.
A Note About Altitude Sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu
Part of the reason my mom and I stayed in Cusco for so long was to acclimate to the high altitude (11,152 feet) so that we would feel well enough to hike around Machu Picchu. Now, there are many different opinions about this.
Since Machu Picchu is located at a lower altitude (7,972 feet), some argue that you should go to Machu Picchu first, so you can gradually acclimate by working your way up to Cusco. It’s really up to you.
For me, it took a full four days before I felt “normal.” I didn’t get altitude sickness that badly, but I did have a throbbing headache, fast heart rate, low blood oxygen level, and dizziness, but I was fine by the time I got to Machu Picchu. To monitor my heart rate and blood oxygen levels (to ensure they didn’t go into “emergency” ranges), I brought a finger pulse oximeter like this one with me. On my second trip to Cusco, I also brought chlorophyll drops like these, which are said to help prevent altitude sickness.
For more info, check out my detailed post on how I avoided altitude sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu.
- Once we arrived in Cusco, my host took me to the PeruRail office, where my mom and I then purchased our train tickets. We had to pay in soles because their machine wouldn’t accept our credit card. There is an ATM nearby where you can withdraw soles or dollars.
Cost: $56 for one way via Expedition train (lowest class; includes small snack and drink) + $80 one way via Vistadome train (One step up from Expedition. Has huge windows, more leg room, plus a small meal)
*A Note on Purchasing Tickets from PeruRail*
I tried to buy tickets on perurail.com before leaving the U.S., but both of my credit cards were rejected several times. I emailed their customer support for help, but never received any assistance. This seems to be a common problem for travelers to Machu Picchu, which is why my mom and I ended up paying for our train tickets in person at the PeruRail office once we arrived in Cusco. Even then, we had problems with our credit card.The issue is PeruRail’s offices are located in England. Because we had alerted our bank that we were traveling in Peru, when the charge went through from England, our bank blocked it. To get around this, we withdrew dollars from the nearby ATM and paid in cash.**If you prefer convenience, you might be interested in this tour package which includes roundtrip PeruRail Vistadome train tickets, Machu Picchu entrance fee, roundtrip bus from Aguas Calientes, and a tour guide.**
- My host’s father is a tour guide, so we hired him for a two-day tour. This included having him ride with us in the taxi to Ollantaytambo, give us a tour of Ollantay, and then give us a tour of Machu Picchu the next day.
Machu Picchu Itinerary Day 1: Cusco to Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
9 a.m. – Took a private taxi to Ollantaytambo Cost: $23.21 Length: 1.5 hours
- At around 9 a.m., we went to the bus station in Cusco, where Daniel, our tour guide, got us a private taxi to Ollantaytambo, where we would catch the train. The taxi ride took about 1.5 hours.
*Note about travel by roads in Cusco*
While the road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is well-maintained, it is VERY curvy and it changes altitudes drastically. If you’re prone to car sickness, you might consider taking motion sickness pills or eating ginger candy. I got pretty nauseated during the ride.
- Once in Ollantaytambo, Daniel took us to the La Esquina Café for lunch, where I had the best breakfast meal of my life, the “el mauro.”
- After lunch, Daniel gave us a short tour of Ollantaytambo.
12:30 p.m. – Took a private taxi to the Ollantaytambo train station.
- We took a taxi to the Ollantaytambo train station, where we caught the 12:58 p.m. train to Aguas Calientes.
12:58 p.m. – Took the PeruRail Expedition train (cheapest class) to Aguas Calientes
Length: 2 hours
- At this point, Daniel split from us because he had to take the train for locals. It’s cheaper, but not as nice, and you can ride it only if you are a Peruvian citizen—no exceptions.
- When we got to Aguas Calientes, we went to the tourism office in the main square by the Pachacutec statue and bought our Machu Picchu entrance tickets. Note: You MUST present your passport to purchase tickets; no photocopies accepted.
Cost for one Machu Picchu entrance ticket: $46 (Must be paid in US dollars)*A Note on buying Machu Picchu Entrance tickets* There are three ways of purchasing your Machu Picchu entrance tickets
1) Online at http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe. If you purchase it online, it’s 152 Peruvian Soles, or about $46 USD.
2) In person at the tourism office in the main square of Aguas Calientes
3) Through a tour guide/tour company. If you want to save time and hassle, you can have a tour company buy Machu Picchu tickets for you. It does cost more, though, but it might be worth it to save the stress. Please check the official government website (http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe) to see how much tickets cost, and how many are available for the dates you’re planning to go. Also, if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, you need to book it weeks in advance–these tickets sell out fast.
- After that, we went to the bus station on the main road and bought our bus tickets for the next morning.
Cost for one round-trip bus ticket between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu: $19, or 52.82 soles**Update January 2019** The round-trip bus ticket is now $24 USD (Must be paid in Peruvian soles)
- Then we checked in to our hotel, the Hospedaje Veronica, right next to the train station. Cost: $30
(You can find Cusco hotels here)
Stayed in Aguas Calientes for one night at the Hospedaje Veronica
Click here to find more hotels in the Cusco region
Machu Picchu Itinerary Day 2: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo to Cusco
6 a.m. – Took one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu.
Length: 15 minutes
I had my heart set on watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu, so we set out extra early. The bus journey takes about 15 minutes.
6:30 a.m. – Went on a private guided tour for 2 hours.
Our tour guide’s name was Daniel, and I highly recommend him. He is the father the Airbnb host we stayed with, Manuel. To contact Daniel, send Manuel a message on his Airbnb listing here.
Otherwise, here’s another option. A GetYourGuide-certified full day tour of Machu Picchu that includes roundtrip train tickets from Cusco, roundtrip bus ticket from Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu entrance ticket, and a professional tour guide. I have not taken this tour so cannot personally vouch for it, but check the reviews.
8:30 a.m. – Explored the ruins on our own for about an hour and a half
11 a.m. – Took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes
3:30 p.m. – Walked to the Aguas Calientes train station and took the 3:48 p.m. PeruRail Vistadome train to Ollantaytambo
Length: 2 hours
5:30 p.m. – Took a private taxi back to Cusco
Length: 1.5 hours
What would I do differently?
- I would hire a tour guide only for the two-hour tour of Machu Picchu, nothing more. **Update 2019** I’m not sure I agree with this statement anymore (I wrote it back in 2014). I visited Machu Picchu a second time 3 months after my visit with my mom. This time, I went with a friend, and we did a short group tour and then hiked to the Sun Gate. I don’t think the tour length matters so much as the tour guide. My group tour guide on my second trip was not very good; she told folklore about Machu Picchu that wasn’t based on facts.
- I would take a shared minivan/colectivo/combi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, instead of a private taxi. It is much cheaper, about 10 soles in a shared minivan versus 65 soles in a taxi.
- I would stay one night in Ollantaytambo, which is on the way to Machu Picchu. It’s a beautiful town with many ruins to explore. I would’ve liked to have stayed longer than two hours.
- I would walk up to the Machu Picchu site from Aguas Calientes (about a 1-hour hike), instead of taking the bus. There’s just something more special when you’ve had to work to earn something. I’m not much of an outdoorsy hiker, but I think I would enjoy the one-hour trek up to the site.
- I would have researched more about the history of Machu Picchu BEFORE getting there. I’m terrible about things like this; I often find out the significance of a place only after I’ve visited it.
If you want to know who I stayed with in Cusco, his Airbnb listing is here. I highly recommend staying with Manuel and his family. His father, Daniel, was actually our tour guide to Machu Picchu! Click here to book your stay with Manuel in Cusco (tell him I said hello!).