You can’t visit Peru and not check out Machu Picchu. Getting there by hiking the Inca Trail is a popular option, but only up to 500 people can start the trail each day. I wanted to do this but you have to book it like 6 months in advance to secure a spot. Since I didn’t even know when I would reach Peru, this wasn’t an option for me.
So I decided to just take the train instead. To avoid the hassle, I thought about booking a tour with a travel agency. But when I found out that it costs almost $400 dollar for a 2-day tour to Machu Picchu (overnight in Aguas Calientes), I decided to just do it myself.
It was actually pretty straightforward: take a train from Poroy station near Cusco or from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, buy the ticket to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes, then take a bus or walk to the site (make sure to bring your passport with you).
Here’s what I did:
1. Since I wanted to check out the ruins at Ollantaytambo, I decided to spend the night there. A bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo would cost about $2 (Cusco -> Urubamba for S/.4, Urubamba -> Ollantaytambo for S/.1.50). I bought a ticket to Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes at the Peru Rail station in Ollantaytambo the next morning. I chose the Expedition train for $47. This is a lot cheaper than the Vistadome train which goes for over $70. It’s still comfortable and it was only a 1.5 hour ride anyway.
You might want to purchasea return ticket to Ollantaytambo or Cusco at this time as well if you’re going during the high season. I was thinking of buying it the next day but when I checked Peru Rail’s website, most of them were already fully booked. I bought a ticket for the Vistadome train for $86 back to Cusco, the only option that was left at the time.
2. I didn’t book any hotel/hostel in advance but I had one in mind. I went to Hostal Pakarina as I read on Trip Advisor someone only paid $15/night for a private room. But when I got there and asked the owner he told me S/.30, which is roughly $11 for a private room with private bath and TV. I was very surprised to find a private room at this price in Aguas Calientes as I heard most of the things here are overpriced. There’s a hotel near the entrance to Machu Picchu that charges over $800/night!
My only complaint with my room was the hot water wasn’t working when I took a shower at 3:30 AM the following day. Not sure if there was a schedule for the hot water. I was forced to take an icy cold shower which really woke me up but actually felt quite nice after.
3. After I checked in at the hotel I went to the office that sells the tickets to Machu Picchu located downhill near the plaza. The ticket to just Machu Picchu was S/.128 or about $48. I ended up buying the Machu Picchu – Montaña S/.142 or about $53.50. This allows you to climb Machu Picchu Mountain which I actually ended up not doing as I didn’t feel like climbing 2 hours uphill. The tickets to Huayna Picchu were already sold out. Check out the official Machu Picchu website for availability: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
4. Woke up really early the next day. Left the hostel at around 4:00 AM, the owner actually just woke up at that time. I asked him if I could leave my big backpack and come back later to pick it up and he said sure.
I walked straight to the bus station near the plaza to buy a bus ticket and no one was there yet. The ticket window opens at 5:00 AM. So I decided to get some breakfast first. One of the stores near the bus station was just opening up. I bought a big ham and cheese sandwich for S/.10 ($3.77). Once I finished that, I bought another to take with me to the park as I heard food prices are very expensive there.
Around 4:30 AM, I saw a bunch of young people in groups coming out ready to take a long walk uphill to Machu Picchu instead of taking the bus. I thought about doing it but I heard it was very steep and takes about a couple of hours. I figured I probably should save my energy to explore the park. It was still very dark at that time so you’ll miss out on the views either way. I figured I’d walk downhill on the way back which should be a lot easier and you could actually enjoy the views.
5. I ended up waiting at the wrong ticket window and didn’t realize there was one already open just a few meters behind me until I saw people lining up with tickets in their hands. So I had to give up my spot and bought a one way bus ticket for $9. There were about 4 or 5 buses lined up ready to go already so it’s really no big deal where you are in line. We started boarding the buses at around 5:30 AM and reached the park entrance at around 6:00 AM.
If you want guides there are plenty of them you can hire at the park entrance. Not sure how much they cost but I don’t see them costing more $30. If you can find a group of people to join then this will be a lot cheaper as you can split the cost.
6. It was really nice to get there that early as you could still find plenty of spots in the ruins where you could have it all to yourself. After about 10:30 AM it started to get really packed. On the way back, to save myself $9 for a bus ticket, I decided to hike down. There’s a trail by the restaurants near the park entrance to get back to Aguas Calientes. The trail was mostly made up of stairs so they’re pretty hard on the knees. After hiking down this trail I was glad I didn’t hike up here earlier.
7. I went back to the train station to take the train back to Cusco. I had a Vistadome train ticket which I bought back in Ollantaytambo for $86. The train ride back to Cusco took about 3 hours. The Vistadome train was a little more comfortable and they provided some entertainment, such as a guy in a mask doing some type of dance and a fashion show of the train attendants wearing vicuña clothing, which they will try to sell you later.
In my opinion, it’s not worth taking the more expensive Vistadome train. Save your money and take the cheaper Expedition train if you can.
8. The Peru Rail train doesn’t actually stop in Cusco. It stops at the Poroy station near Cusco. There will be plenty of taxis waiting for passengers at the entrance when you get there. A shared taxi costS/.10 ($3.77) per person. All the shared taxis were already full when I got out of the station so I ended up taking a private taxi for S/.15 ($5.66) to my hostel in Cusco.
So there you go. For less than $220 you can do Machu Picchu on your own, way cheaper than the $400tour. Still expensive for visiting some ruins, but Machu Picchu is a must-see if you’re in Peru. It really is a pretty incredible site to see. Make sure to take pictures!