machu picchu guide

Machu Picchu

Going to Machu Picchu? Want to get to Machu Picchu cheaply? Hopefully this info helps you plan your trip!

Routes : Cuzco – Machu Picchu

Although there might be other ways, we believe the majority of tourists leave for Machu Picchu from Cuzco, like we did.

Here we will show you routes between Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Getting to Machu Picchu can be easy or hard, depending how much money, time and effort you want to spend getting there.

We only tried 2 of the paths detailed below so we cannot really go into detail details about the ones we did not try. For your reference, we took route #3 to get to Aguas Calientes and took route #2 (train) back to Cuzco.

There are 3 major routes:

1) Ask tour companies to arrange a tour – EASY+PRICEY

Budget:

  • depends on tour agencies and days on tour, but a couple of hundred USD.

Routes:

A couple of nights/days Inca trail trekking(popular and can be expensive), alternative trail trekking (cheaper), or more sporty tours with rafting, biking and trekking.

Also possible for them to arrange 2) below for you.

How to plan:

If you have not booked any tour, don’t worry. Just walk anywhere near Plaza de Armas in Cuzco–lots of agencies will come talk to you.

2) Bus/collectivo + Train

  • This takes approx. 4-5 hours.
  • Cheaper classes on trains get sold out quickly–make sure to get tickets at least a day before.

After the big landslide occurred in January, 2010, the railway company has been working hard to restore the damaged rail tracks.
According to Peru Rail, the full train service between Cuzco and Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) will be restored 6/30/2010.
Read the announcement here.

Budget:

  • 10 soles for bus/collectivo Cuzco to Ollanta y Tambo
  • $34 USD new backpacker train (Ollanta y Tambo – Aguas Calientes)
  • Much more expensive options also available

Routes:

  1. Take a bus between Cuzco – to Ollanta y Tambo, (Change to a collectivo in Piscachucho, prepared by the railway company, fee included in train ticket)
  2. Take a train between Ollanta y Tambo – Aguas Calientes
  3. Probably after finishing the railway restoration, you can take a train directly from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes

How to plan:
2 companies that run trains. Perurail and Incarail
You can book tickets online ahead of time. (We only tried Perurail, though, so not sure for Incarail)

3) Bus/Collectivo + Trekking – CHEAP!!!

Popular among backpackers. This route takes about 10-12 hours, but adventurous and cheap!

Budget:

  • 45 soles (Cuzco – Santa Maria: 25-30 soles for collectivo, Santa Maria – Hidroelectrica: 15 soles for collectivo)

Routes:

  1. Take a bus/collective to Santa Maria, then
  2. take a collectivo to Santa Maria -> Hidroelectrica via Santa Teresa, then finally
  3. walk to Aguas Calientes along the train tracks

Usually people will tell you to take a taxi/collectivo from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa (10 soles) then change to another cab from Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica (5 soles). However, we asked the driver in Santa Maria to take us directly to Hidroelectrica for the same price.

Until the bridge is reconstructed, actually you cannot get to Hidroelectrica directly by a vehicle–they drop you off about 3km before the actual Hidroelectrica.

BEWARE ACROPHOBICS!!

If you are acrophobic like I am, you should know that once you get off the cab to start your trekking before Hidroelectrica, you will have to cross the river with a cable car (more like a cable + metal basket)!!

How to plan:

You can leave the night before or in the morning. We did the latter–we left the hostel in Cuzco at 6:45am and got to Aguas Calientes at 6:00pm.

Go to trourist information office to get up-to-date route information.

If you are taking a bus from Cuzco, you can get a ticket at a bus station called “Santiago bus station” (but the locals seem to use different name. Ask your hostel) the day before.

We just took a cab to the bus terminal at 7am and got a collectivo (and waited 1 hour before the car filled up). Try negotiating. We got a 25 soles offer.

Once you get to Santa Maria, you will be hassled with other collectivos to take you to Santa Teresa / Hidroelectrica. So no planning necessary.

General Tips

  • To get up-to-date information, go to the tourist information office near Plaza de Armas in Cuzco.
  • Many hostels allow you to leave your big backpacks there for a couple of days, so pack light and leave whatever is unnecessary in Cuzco.
  • Many tourists leave Machu Picchu around 3pm, since you can see both the ruins and Wayna Picchu by then and catch a train back to Cuzco. If you have time, though, don’t rush to hop on the train on the same day–stay in quiet Machu Picchu and enjoy the day, napping on the grass, or walking in other parts of ruins that the tours don’t cover.
  • Good to buy snacks and mineral water in Cuzco and carry them all the way, otherwise you will be paying the overpriced food in Aguas Calientes. Goods are especially overpriced when you are waiting for the morning bus.
  • You CANNOT BUY THE ENTRANCE TICKET ONCE YOU GET TO THE MACHU PICCHU ENTRANCE, SO MAKE SURE TO GET ONE BEFORE LEAVING AGUAS CALIENTES.
  • Get the Machu Picchu entrance ticket in Aguas Calientes — the office is open early in the morning to the late evening (5am to 10pm?). You could buy it in Cuzco as well, but the ticket is only valid for 3 days.
  • There are loads of accommodation options in Aguas Calientes, prices ranging 15 soles to $700 USD per night. The further you are away from main square, the cheaper it gets (duh!).

Going to Wayna Picchu? — Specific Tips

  • It is pretty steep, and steps all the way to the top. 45min – 1hr climb. However, the view from the top is definitely rewarding!
  • Only 400 people / day are allowed to climb up Wayna Picchu, 200 at 7:00 and another 200 at 10:00. Although it is often said that at 10am that the view is clearer, for us it was clear around 7 and it rained around 10. Decide which time to enter depending on the weather.
  • Tickets to Wayna Picchu are free, but it is first come first serve based at the Machu Picchu entrance, every morning. That means, you have to get there, lining up in the long queue before the Machu Picchu gate opens at 6am. When the gates open and people start pouring in, keep your ears pealed for staff saying “Wayna Picchu?” and head in their direction. You’ll be mobbed by tour guides at the same time. Our MP ticket was punched with the WP stamp before we realized what was going on.
  • If you are planning to get up to Machu Picchu entrance by hiking from Aguas Calientes, make sure to wake up early (as early as 3am?!) and start your hike. It should take about 1.5 hours, but bear in mind, it is pretty steep and dark.
  • Get bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu entrance (approx $7USD) the day before, if you are plan to take a bus up instead of hiking up (i.e. waking up early)
  • If taking a bus, make sure start lining up the line as early as possible. The first bus leaves at 5:30am. When we got to the bus station at 5:10am, already 200+ people were in line and we were very close to the 400 cut for Wayna Picchu (we were #390!)
  • If you are acrophobic, keep in mind, going up is not too much trouble but coming down is pretty scary–I had to hold my husband’s hand whole time!!

What to bring

  • enough cash / credit card (sometimes the ATM in Aguas Calientes run out of money)
  • mineral water!! (very expensive at Aguas Calientes)
  • camera (duh)
  • T-shirts (MP is in a jungle, not like the dry, cool climate in Cuzco)
  • enough sleep (you will be waking up early if you try climbing Wayna Picchu)
  • flash light, if you are trekking at night or up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes early in the morning
  • sunscreen, there is no shade up there
  • mosquito repellent, there were some annoying sandflies and black flies on WP
  • a rain jacket unless you don’t mind getting wet

Have a great journey!!

Have additional tips or hints on going to Machu Picchu? Leave a comment.

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