A Backpacker’s Budget Guide to Machu Picchu

As I began to plan my trip to Machu Picchu, I quickly realized that getting there was not going to be a walk in the park. But let’s face it, anything worth seeing is not going to be easy to get to, especially a world wonder like Machu Picchu.

There are travel agencies that will book the entire trip for you, but I’ve taken a great deal of pleasure in DIY travel. It doesn’t take too much time once you know how much time you have and have decided what you want to see.

How to Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu

First things first, you’ll have to decide how many nights you’ll stay in Aguas Calientes; the town 15 mins below the base of Machu Picchu. Regardless of how many you choose, you’ll either have to book 1 night to stay in Cusco upon your arrival, (which is easy considering that’s the city where you’ll be arriving to) or you can arrive to Cusco early in the day, and head straight to the Poroy train station.

Trains to Machu Picchu depart from Poroy, a station located about 20 minutes from downtown Cusco.

This train has a 3 hour duration, and drops you off in the town of Aguas Calientes, where you will then take a 20 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu. If you are planning to hike Machu Picchu right after getting off the train, you’ll have to take the earliest train out of Poroy – departing around 5:30 am in order to get to Machu Picchu at a decent hour.

The visiting hours of Machu Picchu are from 7 am – 4 pm, but if you want to do any of the longer hikes besides just wandering around at the base, you’ll have to get up to Machu Picchu by 10 am.

Arriving in Aguas Calientes

Depending on the time of year, lines form at the bus stop in Aguas Calientes starting as early as 5 am. This means that if you leave Cusco in the morning and want to hike in the same day after the 3- hour train ride, you’ll have quite a long wait before getting up to the citadel at Machu Picchu.

If you spend the night in Cusco the night before heading to Aguas Calientes, I recommend leaving Cusco at a reasonable hour (I departed the Poroy train station at 8 am, taking a taxi from my hostel in Cusco at 7:30 am.) This gives you time to enjoy the day of travel, explore Aguas Calientes, get dinner in town and relax before your big day at Machu Picchu.

As I said above, I suggest spending the night in the town just below the ruins known as Aguas Calientes. This will leave you with a full day to explore Machu Picchu the following morning.

Note: Aguas Calientes, is about 8,000 feet above sea level as opposed to Cusco which is 11,500 feet above sea level. I was affected by altitude sickness in Cusco more so than in Machu Picchu, so I suggest starting your trip off in Machu Picchu initially and then spending 2 or 3 nights in Cusco afterwards.

Check out my full guide on what to do and where to eat in Cusco here.

Where To Stay

I stayed at Machu Picchu Land, which is an affordable hostel about a 5 minute walk from the train station. The town is very small; you can walk throughout all of Aguas Calientes in about 30 minutes. The cost of the hostel was $30/night for a private room with a bathroom.

Many hostels offer breakfast to take with you, as most people’s mornings are starting as early as 4:30 am. Keep in mind that the buses to Machu Picchu and back down operate from 6am to 4:00pm.

The bus costs $12 each way per person from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu and back. We bought a one way ticket, and decided to walk back down. I was advised that this walk is very easy and takes 40 minutes (which was a little bit of a stretch.)

It took about an hour and a half to walk down from the entrance of MP to the hostel in Aguas Calientes. Granted, it is downhill, but there are many steep steps, and after hiking up and down Huayna Picchu, my calves were burnin’! It was an experience, so I would still recommend it – just bring plenty of water.

To make the most of your experience, I’ve rounded up a few quick tips for you to keep in mind.

Tips & Costs for Machu Picchu Trekking

1.) Bring rain protection. Be prepared for the weather to fluctuate unexpectedly. It could be clear and sunny one minute, and pouring rain the next.

2.) Bus. The only way to the base of Machu Picchu is to take the bus, unless you want to do the steep, 90-minute walk from Aguas Calientes and back (as I explained above.) Lines can be long and boarding the bus is on a first come, first serve basis. Give yourself an hour or more to get up to Machu Picchu, and plan accordingly if you have tours booked.

3.) Coins. You’ll need them to use the bathroom and there is only one bathroom at the entrance. The cost was $2 a person, with no re-entry. You’ll have to pay this amount every time you need to go.

4.) Passport. Don’t forget to stamp your passport with the official Machu Picchu stamp! It little station is just outside the entrance gates where you can stamp your own passport.

5.) Alternative hikes:

If you don’t have time to hike the Inca trail, there are other hike alternatives that are comparably as fantastic.

Huayna Picchu:  You must purchase tickets in advance as entry is limited to about 400 people per day in 2 groups. The first group’s time slot started the hike at 8 am, and the second at 11 am. This is so there isn’t opposing foot traffic, which you’ll be very thankful for. Arrive an hour early to the site.

The peak is about 1,500 ft higher than Machu Picchu, offering stunning views and a nice alternative hike to the Inca trail. Keep in mind, if you have a fear of heights, this hike is not for you. The path is very narrow and steep. It’s basically like a constant stairmaster all the way up. Coming down was quite difficult as well for some, although there are ropes to grab onto in the more difficult areas.

The Sun Gate: This hike takes about 3 hours round trip, and it’s free! This is also where the hikers from the Inca trail enter the citadel.

The Inca Bridge: 1 hour round trip, fairly easy hike – free.

There are many tour guides at the entrance of Machu Picchu offering their services at a negotiable rate. These guides can be very helpful and will take you through the ruins explaining the history.

Most guides could charge anywhere from $40-$100 depending on your group size and how much time you want to spend.

The admission fee for anyone entering Machu Picchu is $45, with or without a guide or package tour.

I used Viator – a booking agency where I purchased my ticket for Huayna Picchu (along with the admission base fee) which came to a total of $80.

All in all, there are many different ways to seeing this wonder of the world. You can make it as difficult or simple as you like, and as detailed and lengthy or quick as you choose.

Whatever route you choose, you won’t regret taking the time and effort to making Machu Picchu a “must” on your travel bucket list. Enjoy!


The Traveling Yogi

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