Machu Picchu, ah, I know! I still can’t believe it. I made my way to Machu Picchu 2 years after I set my bucket list. It was breathtaking. I hiked up at 5:30 am and when I arrived at the top, I was so proud of myself.
Machu Picchu is the most expensive tourist site in Peru. Transportation is expensive and the entry ticket is also way more than other places in Peru. Is it worth it? Hell Yeah! The cheapest way to do it is to walk along the train track to Aguas Calientes and the other way is the most common one, by train.
I was planning to walk along the train track since I heard the cheapest train ticket is 40 USD ONE WAY, HOW CRAZY. But I couldn't walk all the way due to there not being transportation from Ollantaytambo to the beginning of the walk (at Hydroelectrica), and it was getting late. And, I only had 2 days free. But I didn't want to miss my chance since it was one of my main reasons to visit Peru.
So I took the train and stayed in Aguas Calientes for a night, then did the hike in the early morning. My total expense for Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo was around 95 USD. That includes transportation, entry, accommodation in Aguas Calientes, bus down to town, and food. Let me tell you more about it.
Everything about the train
As I mentioned, I couldn’t do the train track walk to Aguas Calientes due to the reasons I mentioned above. My best friend did it a year ago so he didn’t join me on the trip. So I decided that it didn't matter what, I have to do it. I remember that the owner of a health shop in Cusco told me that there is a local train which only costs 5 USD and we can take it too, but just not many people know about it. I was double confirmed with him and he was really sure about it. But it turns out it wasn’t true.
The trains are only for locals or people who are residents in Peru. I didn't meet either of the requirements, but I was still trying to go to the train station and talk to the workers at the counter. So, I did it. I went to the train station and told the person who was on shift at that time what I heard from the shop owner and asked him about it. He told me that there is a train but it’s only for locals and it has limited seats and it was full at the moment. So, even locals who want to take the 5 USD train have to wait for the next open seats, which was almost 2 weeks after that date. Then I asked for another cheaper option than the train I saw online. The worker was really kind and told me that he could offer me the cusqueño (People from Cusco) round trip ticket for 35 USD in total.
But it only had 2 departure options, one leaving at 18:34 and another one leaving the next early morning around 2:00 AM (I don’t remember exactly). And, there was only one return option, 14:25. And he even told me there is a social train later (it’s around 8-9, I don't remember the exact time) for locals. I was really surprised and also curious, and I tried so hard to ask him to sell me the ticket but he said he couldn’t because it’s local only. I wanted to hike up by myself and I did want enough sleep to enjoy the day so I chose the 18:34 train.
During Covid, they required you to have a mask and face shield on. Yep, you didn’t read it wrong - Mask plus Face Shield, face shield!!!! I hate that thing. For me it doesn’t work at all and it hurts my eyes so bad, I could go to a doctor, because of it.
The train departed on time, and I got on the train and tried to rest since it was dark by then already. There was nothing to see. The train I took was almost full even during covid. I could tell how crazy it would have been before it.
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes
I heard that there was a hostel named Supertramp in town. I visited one of them in Cusco and it was a dope hostel. So I looked it up on booking.com and it had good reviews online. And it was super cheap when I booked it, includeding breakfast or lunch boxes. They were very nice since I needed to wake up super early for the hike. I talked to them and they prepared it for me right away. Then I had it before I went to bed. Based on what I heard, it was a party hostel before the pandemic. When I was there, I was the only guest. It would have been nice to meet some people and do the hike together, but it was ok. I went to bed very early and got enough sleep for the hike.
Things you need to know before you visit Machu Picchu
For Machu Picchu, I think most people wonder how much it costs and where to buy your ticket.
For the price, please check the photo below.
For the ticket, there are a few ways you can get it. I booked my ticket online (official website) and it costs 152 Soles (about 40 USD). I read online that you need to reserve as early as possible, but I booked it at the very last minute, just the night before I went. It was low season due to the pandemic, so I suggest you buy it a bit earlier and if you already know when you are going then what are you waiting for?
You can also buy your ticket in person in Cusco at Ministerio de Cultura (Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco) and Aguas Calientes at Machu Picchu Cultural Centre (Ministry of Culture). Please check the maps below.
And, you also can buy the ticket through a tour agent.
Remember you need your passport for booking the ticket (Make sure you enter exactly the information as shown on your passport) and also you need to bring it with you to enter Machu Picchu.
Start the hike
As I mentioned before, I got up around 4:50 AM and got ready. I cleaned my bed and headed out for the hike. I was super excited but it was still dark out which made me a bit worried. I walked towards the entry and past the shuttle station. So I decided to go there for some information. The shuttle from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is a 30-40 mins bus ride, costing 12 USD/way.
The first bus started at 6:00 AM, which meant that I needed to wait around 45 mins if I wanted to take it. I decided to just hike up.
So I continued and walked along the way, then I reaching the intersection. I got confused and it was still dark out. There wasn't any sign and I didn't want to risk it if I took the wrong one. Then it might take me forever and I might have missed the hike. So I decided to stand there and see if anyone would pass by. Several minutes later a runner came and I asked him about the direction. He told me to take the left one and walk along the road. Then probably 5-10 mins later he said will see a bridge on the left side and a booth at the entry of the bridge. There is the one. Go there. At this place you need to show your ticket and also your passport!
And people working there told me that I'm the first Chinese person since the pandemic started which began more than a year ago. How crazy!
After that you just cross the bridge and follow along the way and you will see the stairs. Then just hike all the way up. It wasn’t a difficult hike since it was just stairs but it was very tiring. The sun started coming out and you could see the view change which was magical.
After almost a 1.5 hour hike up the countless stairs I reached the ticket check-in point. I wasn't the first one because the bus arrived before me. But it was really early, so there weren't many people. But I was the only one who did it on my own without a tour. So I talked to a group and asked if I could join them, they were super nice and accepted me. So I followed them to the viewpoint.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t nice that day. We couldn’t see anything but the clouds. The tour guide said we could wait for 30 minutes to see how it goes and meanwhile he explained things. As time passed by, we could see a bit of Machu Picchu, but still, a lot of clouds, and the guide asked the security people about it. They said lately it had been very cloudy in the early morning, but after around 9-10 AM you will be able to see it better. That meant we needed to wait for 2 hours. They couldn’t stay that long, but this is a once in a lifetime experience, so I decided to stay and wait.
More and more people came and the viewpoint was getting packed. There was a big group taking photos like crazy and they occupied most of the space, taking jumping photos which weren't allowed and because of this the police even came to talk to them. Anyway, I was there for a long while and got to see the Machu Picchu a bit clearer. It wasn’t cloudless but good enough, so then I continued the rest. It was amazing. It looked different from different angles and I had to stop for photos every 5 minutes.
I got to talk to some people while walking around and listened to some guides’ explanations and I met a very knowledgeable tour guide who was doing online touring on a travel platform and I was following him for a bit to listen to his guidance about Machu Picchu. When I checked the time, I saw I was in the park for more than 4 hours. I am glad that I didn’t do any tour at that time, I wouldn't have been able to see it if I did. But I think a tour is definitely good to understand the history better. I did listen to some information from some guides but I didn't hear all they were saying and so I did some research after leaving.
After the hike
After I hiked down to the gate I was exhausted, so I decided to take the bus back to town - 12 USD/way, Here is the photo of the prices.
When I got to the town it was about 12:00 PM and my train was leaving at 14:25, which meant I still had about 2 hours in the town. I walked around trying to find an ATM but had no luck, so please bring enough cash just in case before you go to Aguas Calientes. I gave up then tried to find a cheap spot for lunch. On the main street, most restaurants were kinda pricey, so I decided to walk back to my hostel to pick up my stuff first and then I found a restaurant on the way back which only costs 8 Soles for menu del dia. It isn’t the best quality but I would say it’s decent.
After that, I still had plenty of time, so I walked around the town a bit, sat next to the bridge and relaxed a bit. I needed to use a bathroom but there wasn't any public bathroom (or I couldn’t find any), so I decided to go to a cafe and found a cheap one with good reviews about their cakes. I went there for a rest before heading to the train station. The cake was good but it wasn’t what I was looking for. It was a bit too sweet for me even although I chose the less sweet one.
Then I headed to the train station 30 minutes ahead of my train, which was very smart because there was a long queue.
On the Train back to Ollantaytambo
I was really happy that I finally got to see the view since on the way to Aguas Calientes it was late and I couldn’t see any. I also heard this is one of the most beautiful train rides in South America. It sure surprised me. I couldn't stop taking photos. You can see the snowy mountains, some non-famous ruins, and nice streams along the trail way.
*I just realized that I forgot to mention how long the train ride is, it is about 2 hours one way.
More about a cheap way to Machu Picchu
There are some famous treks you can do, one of which include going to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay is the most popular one. My friend found a really good deal and I was about to do it but it would have taken at least 4 days (which costs 185 USD including food, accommodations, and the tour for Machu Picchu with a guide) and up to 5 days (which costs 170 USD including food, accommodations, and the tour for Machu Picchu with guide). I didn't have time so I couldn't do it.
There is another option also, and it is the cheapest one, which I mentioned at the beginning of the blog --- bus and walk, which my best friend did last year. He took a tour Colectivo (TOURISTIC VAN that you can book directly with a tour agency or check them out online - Book here.) Then he took a Van from Cusco directly to Hidroelectrica (the bus ride is about 5.5 hours), then walked along the side of the railway to Aguas Calientes which is a 10 kilometers walk. It's gonna take you from 2.5 hours up to 3 hours or even more based on your body condition. I also found a blog from Along dusty roads talking about doing the walk in different ways, from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then taking a collective from Ollantaytambo to Kilometer 82 (Kilómetro Ochenta y dos), and from there starting the walk which can take up to 9 hours. Please check out their blog for more details.
I think you should get most of the information you need for Machu Picchu if you read this blog, but you are always welcome to comment or message me for more information if I forget to mention anything. Things like this happen all the time to me. I’m definitely not the kind of person who has great memory.