How to reach the Inka ruins on a budget
Machu Picchu was built between the 15th. and 16th century by the Inkas, the ancient city is located on 2360m above sea level, between the two peaks Huayna Picchu (young mountain) and Machu Picchu (old mountain), around 75km north western of the Inka capital Cusco. According to the theory the construction of the city was commissioned in 1450 by the Inka emperor Pachacútec Yupanqui and was in its blossom time the home of up to 1000 people.
Actually nobody really knows what happened but the remains just got discovered again in 1911. In 1983 it got declared as UNESCO world heritage and in 2007 it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, which made it to one of the most popular tourist attractions of the whole world. Each day it gets visited by up to 2000 tourists.
But enough of that, you can read more history on Wikipedia or other travel pages. The really interesting question is how to get there without spending too much money. If you are going to book a 2 days tour including transport, accommodation, food with tour guide, you're going to pay at least 250€ with some other activities and hikes in between easily up to a 1000€. We went in August 2016 und kept it with less than 70€ including the hike to Montaña Vieja unexpectedly low.
- 140PEN (40€) - Entrance to Machu Picchu including Montaña Vieja
- 60PEN (17€) - Transport to Hydroelectrica and back
- 30PEN (9€) - two nights Camping (per tent) in Aguas Calientes
= 230PEN (66€) in total
The starting point to reach Machu Picchu is Cusco, a nice and old city with a very lovely center. Between Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Francisco in the street Garcilaso you will find the office of the Ministerio de Cultura, where you can buy the tickets for the entrance to the ruins. The regular entrance from 07.00am. is 128PEN (34€) together with the entrance to Montaña Vieja or Huayna Picchu its 140PEN (40€). If you plan to enter Machu Picchu after 11.00 you can buy the reduced ticket for 90PEN (25€) and for students with valid ISIC card there is a $20 discount. There is a second option to buy the tickets on the spot in Aguas Calientes but there is always a chance that the tickets are sold out for a certain day. So we recommend to buy them in advance in Cusco.
The next thing you need to arrange is the transport cause even though its only 75km, it takes quiet a while to reach it. You can go by public transport from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, from there to Santa Teresa and then take a taxi to Hydroelectrica, the closest point which you can reach by car to Machu Picchu. All in all around 30PEN (17€) one way. The easiest option would be to check the tour agencies around Plaza de Armas in Cusco. The most of them are organizing trips from Cusco directly to Hydroelectrica. With a bit of negotiating you also won't pay more than 60PEN (17€) for the way there and back plus you safe a lot of time. The way by public transport is a good option for the way back, if you want to see some more sights, like the Inka terraces of Ollantaytambo for example. We suggest to plan at least a stay of two days (only for Machu Picchu), otherwise it will be quiet stressful.
After all the preparations are done, your Inka adventure can begin. You will start around 07.00 from Plaza de Armas and reach Hydroelectrica around 15.00. From there you have two options, either you take the train (if you need to read this article to find the cheapest way to Machu Picchu, its not your way) or you walk in good old backpackers manner. Its a straight hike of 9km along the railway, with our luggage including tent, sleeping bags and food for the coming two days it took us around 2 hours. Its actually worth to walk the distance, its not too exhausting and you can enjoy beautiful views on the mountains, the jungle and the river Urubamba. You're going to reach Aguas Calientes between 17.00 and 18.00, it is quiet a lovely place just a bit too touristic and because of that quiet expensive. If you have a tent we can really recommend you to use the camping area ca. 1km before Aguas Clients, directly in front of the bridge which leads the way over the river Urubamba to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The night is only 15PEN (4,20€) per tent with hot showers and a great view on the old mountain and the Inka ruins. Without a tent you're kind of forced to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, but if you walk up the hill it gets less touristic and you may find a hostel for 30PEN (8,50€).
The transport of the agencies is designed for a one night stay, which means that you have to get up pretty early. In best case you are at the gates of Machu Picchu at 7 and start the way back at 11 so you're going to be in Hydroelectrica at 14.30 again to go back to Cusco. It just doesn't make any sense to travel almost 24 hours to spent barely 4 hours at one of the 7 new world wonders at a time where you're barely awake. So do yourself a favor and tell your tour operator to pick you up one day later. We started at 5 in the morning and reached the ruins a bit before 7.00, you can also take the bus for 10$ but if you go to Machu Picchu it kind of includes to climb that god damned mountain. As we entered the gate, it started to rain until more or less 11.00 during that time it was so cloudy, that you couldn't even see the surrounding mountains. If you have an additional day, you have pretty good chances for good weather since it's mostly sunny in the high season and even during the rain season the climate varies. You also don't have to get up that early in this case. Even though lots of people will tell you to be there very early to take pictures without other tourists, you can relax. The place is packed from the very beginning and you can’t really do anything about it. We even had the impression, that it got less crowded after eleven, since a lot of people are leaving to catch their buses, but the situation was still very far away from tourist free pictures. So even if your reach the top around 12.00 you still have more than enough time to see everything and take all the pictures you want until the closing at 17.00. After some point you will probably get bored, as there is pretty much no space to relax, since it is forbidden to enter the lawn as well as smoking, drinking and eating. If you plan to hike Montaña Vieja or Huayna Picchu to see the Inka town from above, you should plan additional 4 hours. After the closing you have all the time to go back to Aguas Clients, spent another night there and start your way back to Cusco way more relaxed.
- Bring your own food - its basically forbidden to eat anything in the area of Machu Picchu but nobody really cares. Most probably you're going to stay the whole day and the only chance to get some food over there is a Bistro and a Restaurant, which serve food for ridiculous high prices. The next thing is you're only allowed to leave and enter the place twice so it is good to have at least some snacks to bring you through the day.
- Bring enough water - the same applies for water, you can buy it there but it is three times the price like in Aguas Clients, where it is already expensive. To keep it as cheap as possible the best option is to bring your fare from Cusco.
- Leave your luggage in Aguas Calientes (or at least somewhere) - to walk up to Machu Picchu it takes 1500 stairs, yes I also have no idea if this is a high number for stairs, but its quiet steep and exhausting. We recommend to not take anything which you won't need during the day.
- Save your money for a guided tour, it doesn't matter where you are in the ruins but you have at least three tour guides around you, doesn't matter at which time. So you have good chances to receive all the information in English, Spanish and probably even in your native language, without paying.
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