How to see Machu Picchu for less than $30
Latin America, Peru, Travel

How to See Machu Picchu for Less Than $30

I wasn’t going to see Machu Picchu.

I’d travelled through Brazil and Bolivia, but I still wanted to see Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. And Machu Picchu was an expensive detour. I knew that the train alone would cost between $150 and $850!

In fact, I saw that some bloggers spend at least $400 or $500 on their trip to and from Machu Picchu – but most spend MUCH more.

But then I thought to myself: the “Lost City of the Incas” is one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the world, so why don’t I try to get there on my own terms?

And I did.

Besides the entry ticket, I managed to get to and from Machu Picchu – including an overnight stay – for less than $30. I also travelled through South America for less than £2300, so I feel qualified to give you the advice you need to see Machu Picchu on a budget.

In this post, I’ll share my cheat sheet itinerary AND everything else you need to know to plan your journey to the citadel. Read on for your Machu Picchu cheat sheet….

Machu Picchu

How NOT to see Machu Picchu on a budget

First of all, there are two things to avoid if you’re on a budget:

  • Don’t take the train. The jungle walk alternative is definitely worth it.
  • Beware the tourist traps around every corner. Aguas Calientes, the “Machu Picchu town”, is a complete tourist trap. You think you’re looking at different souvenir shops and restaurants, but they’re all selling the same stuff. I’m all for supporting the local economy but…I’d rather give a hefty tip to the girl working in the market all day than the cheeky restaurant owners who serve rice and beans for ten times her wage.

Aguas Calientes, The Machu Picchu Town

How I saw Machu Picchu for less than $30

Now it’s time to reveal my Machu Picchu itinerary (I have never shared this before)!

Note: My friends and I chose to stop off at the Santa Teresa Hot Springs – a secret paradise on the Urubamba River. These waters have medicinal properties to treat skin ulcers, bone pain and rheumatism, and damn do they feel good!

If you’re in a hurry, however, you can get a minibus or taxi straight from Cusco (or wherever) to Hidroelectrica – the super-cheap method I chose for the first cheat-sheet itinerary below.

But how can you spend less than $30 on transportation, food AND accommodation?

Well, accommodation is incredibly cheap (you can get a private room for ten bucks), and there are plenty of ways to get to and from the site.

This is the cheapest way to see Machu Picchu:

Machu Picchu Itinerary A (not including a trip to the Santa Teresa Hot Springs)

  • Purchased the Machu Picchu tickets from the Cusco office.
  • Early rise in Cusco the next day.
  • Shared taxi/minibus to Hydroelectrica = $8 per person, 4 hours

Note: There are over 100 bends, so prepare for motion sickness by taking a pill or these babies.

  • Walked 6 kilometres along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes = 2.5 hours

Woo! You made it to Aguas Calientes! Here’s what to do in the “Machu Picchu Town”:

  • Dinner at San Pedro market = $2
  • Night in a hostel = $6 per person
  • Walk to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning, 1.5 hours (you can get the bus, but a return ticket costs $24)
  • Leave by 11 am
  • Walk back down to Aguas Calientes
  • Walk back along the train tracks to Hidroelectrica, 2.5 hours
  • Minibus back to Cusco = $8, 4 hours

Machu Picchu Itinerary B (including a trip to the Santa Teresa Hot Springs – highly recommended!)

  • Early rise in Cusco.
  • Taxi or minibus to the town of Santa Teresa = $8, 5 hours

Note: There are over 100 bends, so prepare for motion sickness by taking a pill or these babies.

  • Taxi from Santa Teresa to the hot springs = <$1 per person, 10 minutes
  • Enjoyed the hot springs for a few hours ($4) and had a packed lunch.
  • Taxi from the hot springs to Hidroelectrica = $0.50 per person
  • Followed the train tracks to Aguas Calientes = 3 hours.

Woo! You made it to Aguas Calientes! Here’s what to do in the “Machu Picchu Town”:

  • Dinner at San Pedro market = $2
  • Night in a hostel = $6 per person
  • Walk to and from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu = 1.5 hours
  • Walk back down to Aguas Calientes and walked back along the train tracks
  • Minibus back to Cusco = $8, 4 hours

Walking along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes

Notes:

  • Take your passport for the checkpoint at Hidroelectrica.
  • Many people walk from Aguas (the Machu Picchu town) to Machu Picchu. However, there are regular bus services. The bus takes 30 – 40 minutes and the first one leaves Aguas at 5.30am. You’ll see the ticket kiosk when you get into town, so buy them the night before if you plan on taking the bus. The bus stop is next to the ticket kiosk, but you’ll spot the queue straight away (See picture below).
  • To avoid an additional night in Aguas, go to Machu Picchu early and don’t spend hours there like we did! That way, you’ll have enough time to walk back to Hidroeclectrica and grab a minibus to Cusco (or wherever you need to go). We arrived back in Aguas in the late afternoon, which meant that it was too late to walk back to Hidroelectrica (don’t walk in the dark!), the train prices had risen incredibly, and our hostel owner had pushed the prices up. No bueno.

Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu Town

How to buy Machu Picchu tickets

You might be wondering why I didn’t include the entry ticket in my <$30 cost calculations. My answer is that it’s impossible to give you a solid number – Residents and Peruvians pay $26 and foreigners pay $47.

With that in mind, you can aim to spend about $55 for your entire trip if you’re Peruvian (or a resident), or $75 if you’re a foreigner.

But, you must buy your entrance ticket in advance. You can buy your ticket online, in Aguas, Cusco or any major city with a Banco de Nacíon. I would recommend booking online or in a bigger city like Cusco, because they do sell out during the high season (June to September)!

Click here for more info on tickets.

When to go to Machu Picchu

When to fly

If you’re planning on walking to Aguas Calientes (the cheaper option), I would recommend taking your trip in April or May; the rainy season will have passed and Machu won’t be as crowded as it is in the Summer.

April and May opening times: 6 am – 6 pm

If you’re happy to pay for the train, however, go in February when the Inca Trail closes. This is the wettest season so it’s not safe to walk on the train tracks, but the site is much less crowded.

February opening times: 6 am – 5:30 pm

When you’re there

Skipping forward to when you’re in Aguas: the best time to visit Machu Picchu is first thing in the morning – to have a chance of getting your train out of Aguas Calientes. If you’re not in a rush to leave the same day, the times are up to you!

Where to stay

There are hotels in Aguas Calientes that charge $800 or more for one night. It’s no wonder that some tourists spend thousands on a trip to Machu Picchu!

Although I don’t remember the name of my hostel, I just checked out Booking.com and saw 6 options under $9.00. You can easily book a single room for around $11.

Note: If you book using the link above, I’ll earn a commission at no extra cost to you 🙂

Where to eat

In Aguas Calientes:

Eat dinner at the market. When you first arrive in Aguas, you’ll see a big building on the corner on the left-hand side. This is San Pedro Market and you can eat here for less than $2. This saved us a lot of cash! Although there are plenty of places to eat in Aguas, they all offer the same meals at inflated tourist prices.

At Machu Picchu:

Take a packed lunch. There are two places to eat when you’re at Machu Picchu: Tinkuy Restaurant at the Sanctuary Lodge Hotel and the Machu Picchu snack bar. The prices are extortionate, so it’s better to take your own food.

How to see Machu Picchu on a budget

Phew! It took a while to get all that down.

I hope I’ve helped you to plan your trip, but feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below 🙂 Have a great time in Aguas!

Flail with me

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