How hard is it to get to Machu Picchu? It sounds pretty difficult when you read about it online… “You must buy tickets three months in advance… The only way to do it is to hike the Inca trail… If you don’t book in advance, don’t expect to go.”
Lame. Firstly, this hasn’t been true for us, we bought entrance tickets the day before, and secondly, why so complicated? It might have something to do with us going in the off season (March), but it was easy peasy getting to Machu Picchu. Here’s a simple breakdown. There are four ways to get there. We chose option four. Following this list is a breakdown of how we took a train to Aguas Calientes and hiked to Machu Picchu. At the bottom of this post is a picture the summarizes the steps.
- Trek with a guide to Machu Picchu (Inca Trail, Salkantay Trail, Laras Trek, etc.). 3-7 days. $$$
- Hike the railroad from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. 3-6 days. $
- Drive to Hydroelectrica then hike to Machu Picchu. 2-3 days. $$
- Take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes then hike to Machu Picchu. 1-2 days. $$
1.BUY TICKETS: Buy train tickets from Perurail in Cusco (you can also buy tickets from Ollantaytambo where the train departs). Tickets were advertised for $120/person. We bought them for $90/person because of the promotion they had going on. It ended up being cheaper for us than driving because we have a gas guzzler of a car. There are various times of the day the train leaves and returns… our train left Ollanytambo at 1:20pm and returned the following day at 11:30pm (hence the promotion).
2. BUS to OLLANYTAYTAMBO: Take a bus from Cusco to Ollanytaytambo for 10-15 soles per person ($3-4). Ask Perurail where the buses depart and they will give you a map. The buses leave every ten minutes so you will not have a hard time finding one. The bus ride form Cusco to Ollanytaytambo is about 90 minutes.
When we started, we didn’t know how to get to Machu Picchu!
3. TRAIN: You’ve arrived in the city of Ollantaytambo where the train departs! The train departs here and arrives in Aguas Calientes, Peru. We were lucky enough to have the glass dome train, so fancy! All trains on Peru rail offer you coffee, tea, soda, or water and a snack (we had carrot cake, yum!). The view from the train is pretty cool, with glass ceilings and a view of the roaring river to left of the train.
4. AGUAS CALIENTES/Entrance tickets for Machu Picchu:
Aguas Calientes is the small city where the train stops. There are hostels for about 30 soles per person ($10/person). We did not book our hostel in advance, but we found one very easily, possibly because of low season. We got our entrance tickets for Machu Picchu from the ticket office in the town center (easy to find, ask around). The tickets are 150 soles/person ($47). You can choose to buy the 7am-12pm ticket, or 12pm-5:30pm ticket. We’ve heard that you can buy the earlier ticket and stay as long as you want, but we bought the later one so we could sleep in and enjoy Machu Picchu with fewer people at the top.
5. HIKING TO THE ENTRANCE OF MACHU PICCHU: From the city of Aguas Calientes, locals will point you in the right direction of Machu Picchu. You walk about 20 minutes (past a butterfly sanctuary) to the bridge. At the bridge the officials will check your tickets and passport and let you pass. After the bridge there are about 1,800 steps to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The elevation, depending on where you’re from, might get you winded easily, so take your time and enjoy the view on your way up. Note: you can opt to take the bus for about $15/person to the entrance and bypass the stairs; it departs from Aguas Calientes.
6. MACHU PICCHU:
From searches online, Machu Picchu receives approximately 3,000+ visitors each day. Yikes! In low season, this number seems significantly less. The later in the day, the less tourists. When we arrived at 1pm there were a bunch of other tourists, but by 4:30pm there were only about 50 other people in the park. Just us and the llamas (the best!). We brought snacks and water to enjoy at the top. If you’re in rainy season like we were, it’ll likely be green and beautiful, but it also might rain (bring rain jackets). On your way out you can get your passport stamped, there is a little wooden kiosk close to the bathrooms…. who doesn’t want a fun stamp? A parting thought, Machu Picchu is definitely a tourist destination, one we almost purposefully skipped, but it is wonderful and better in person. We hope this information encourages you, and helps you get to Machu Picchu!
- Go in low season; low prices, easy to get tickets, less tourists, mountains are green (rainy season).
- If you plan on hiking Hauyna Picchu mountain that gives you a birds eye view of Machu Picchu, we were told by Perurail that you need a ticket reservation two months in advance.
- Get the entrance ticket for Machu Picchu for 12pm-5:30pm, there are less people later in the afternoon.
- Bring snacks!
- Don’t take a jumping picture. We did a mini cliche photoshoot (hence that picture of David above) and got scolded for jumping, “It is forbidden!”
I hope this has helped someone because the whole “How to get to Machu Picchu” was something we couldn’t figure out for some reason until we showed up, lol. I think the main reason is because there are a lot of ways to do it, but the tour companies may stretch the truth to persuade you to book with them.