Nitty Gritty:

  • Transportation: 60 Soles
  • Lunch (Santa Maria): 12 Soles
  • Lodging: 40 (2 nights)
  • Park entrance (US Citizen): 142 Soles
  • Dinner (Gluten free): 22 Soles
  • Breakfast (Eggs, coffee, juice, toast): 18 soles
  • Lunch (Machu Picchu Complex Snack bar): 50 Soles
  • Dinner (Gluten free): 15 soles
  • Breakfast: 18 soles
  • Snacks (fruit + water):15

Total: 400 Soles / 113.69 USD

Additional costs:

  • Bus from Aguascalientes to Park Entrance: 76 Soles / 24 USD (return)

Total: 476 Soles / 135 USD

For anyone traveling to South America, Machu Picchu is considered the crown jewel of touristic destinations. The popularity of this ancient Incan site has made it one of the most overpriced regions in the continent. In 2014, over 1.2 million tourists, mostly foreigners, visited the ruins. With this sort of demand, pricing has been raised considerably other the last few years. To fit this magnificent destination into our budget, we had to do a little planning to find the best deal.

The information we provide in this guide is based on starting your trek in Cusco, where we spent close to a month. The capital of the Inca empire is often used primarily as an overnight stop before heading to Aguascalientes, but this town (and the area in general) should keep you occupied for more than a few days.

In Cusco, there are a plethora of companies who will sell you anything from luxury packages to one-way bus tickets. It took a bit of time to arrange everything but at the end of the day, it was not as expensive as we were lead to believe.

For our three day getaway, we took only our daypacks with enough clothing for a long weekend and left our big packs in Cusco at La Boheme. After walking the 6-hour return from Hidroelectrica, the Machu Picchu Mountain, and the citadel, we strongly suggest taking a nice pair of hiking shoes with you. The jagged edges of the rocks alongside the train tracks, the slippery stones on both additional hikes and the Citadel will most definitely take a toll of your feet. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen are also a must.

Also, if you hike/walk with walking sticks, they are not allowed inside the Machu Picchu complex (it says so on the entrance ticket, most people don’t read the fine print), and you will have to check them in at their baggage storage for a three Soles fee.

Buying tickets for Machu Picchu can be done either online or in person at the Peruvian Cultural Affairs office on Garcilazo. For us, it was better to go in person since we used my Colombian passport to get a discount as part of the Andean community.  Discounts are applied only after showing proof of citizenship, so you have to show up at the office if you want to take advantage of the deduction. Unfortunately, only Andean community members (citizens of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) and students with a current student card get a discount, the other internationals all pay the same price. Ticketing for late 2015 was 128 Soles for just the Citadel, 163 for Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain, and 169 for Machu Picchu + WaynaPicchu.

There are a few ways of reaching Machu Picchu town, otherwise known as Aguascalientes, none of which are by motor vehicle as the town doesn’t have any roads in or out. The only two ways are by train (which is extremely expensive, costing about 85-300 USD depending on the class you go with) or walking. As an added side note, you cannot take the train directly from Cusco between January 2 and April 30th, 2016. You will have to go to Pachar, which is a two-hour drive from Cusco, costing you an additional bus fare. For more information on tickets, go directly to perurail.comTo hike to Aguascalientes, a few options are available: There’s the Inca Trail, which requires tickets to be purchased at least four months in advance (by far the most famous trek in all South America). This route takes you over 43 km/26 miles of beautiful scenery. The Salkantay trek, another five day/4 night trek with fantastic views of glaciers and snow-capped mountains reaching 4200 meters before descending into the jungle. Due to their popularity, these treks are sold out quickly and require a guide. Packages can run between $250-500USD, not including park entrance or lodging in Aguascalientes.An alternative to the treks is to walk along the railroad tracks. Some people do it from Ollantaytambo, a small town roughly two hours from Cusco, which will take you close to 8 hours to walk the 28 km to Aguascalientes. This option will require for you to spend a night in Ollantaytambo so you can head out early in the morning towards Aguascalientes.

In our case, we wanted it to be cost efficient yet comfortable.

We purchased colectivo (mini-van) tickets for 60 Soles/$17 USD return from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, a hydroelectric plant about 6.5 hours/220 Km from Cusco. It is the closest spot to Aguascalientes reachable by car. We left from the Plaza de Armas close to 8:30 am and started our walk at around 3:00 PM, after stopping for lunch in Santa Maria.

The scenery made for a very pleasant walk. We strolled alongside both the Vilcanota river and the railroad tracks with some breathtaking mountains towering over us. Little did we know that Machu Picchu was looking down on us as we walked.

While visiting multiple travel agencies in Cusco for quotes on bus tickets and lodging, several different agents told us it didn’t make much sense to book a hostel beforehand. The tourism companies would charge us over 40 Soles per person, and finding a cheap spot in Aguascalientes would not be difficult. They were not wrong.
We arrived in Aguascalientes shortly after sundown and after quoting a few different hotels (there are tons!), we found one that gave us a private room with three single beds and a bathroom for 60 Soles or 20 Soles per person.

This is an important touristic spot where foreigners bring tons of electronic gear and cash! While hiking in Machu Picchu, we had a break-in at our hotel room due to a window that didn’t lock. Luckily, nothing was stolen as the only valuables we had – camera, iPhone, passports, and cash – came with us inside the park. Proceed with caution!

Another instance where the economic principle of supply and demand played against us.
Throughout Aguascalientes, the food was mediocre at best and overpriced, costing between 20 to 50 soles for a basic meal.
The most overpriced spots are, obviously, around the Plaza de Armas.
We found the best deals on the road that leads up to the hot springs. Most of the restaurants there had pizza, sandwiches, and Mexican food. None of which were Danielle friendly and required for us to spend slightly more for a gluten-free dish. However, we were able to bargain for drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Most pricing displayed on their menus is usually lowered by five soles to lure you in. So don’t necessarily jump into a restaurant that offers you a discount, nearly all of them will.

Having lunch during our day at the Machu Pichu complex was an entirely different experience. There are two options for food: a 40USD/per person buffet (yes, 40USD) or their snack bar, a Disneyland-like shop where we spent 50 Soles for a burger, chips, and juice. Saving money would have been possible if we had taken a sizable non-gluten free snack such as a sandwich, but there were not many options for us.

For our hike up Machu Picchu mountain, we took an array of fruits to snack on at the top while waiting for the fog to clear up. We purchased all of them from the local market just a couple of streets off the Plaza de Armas. Again, we would have been able to buy a lot more snacks if it weren’t for Danielle’s allergy.

We woke up at 4:30 and ate breakfast next to the bus stop. People started lining up around 5:15; the first bus departs from Aguascalientes at 5:30ish to reach the entrance of the park just a few minutes shy of 6, the official opening time for Machu Picchu.By the time we arrived, the more intrepid travelers who hiked up from the town were already there. However, when we walked through the gates only about 20 people were in front of us. Our tickets for Machu Picchu mountain were for 7 am (they give you time slots), so we walked around in awe for that first hour with no particular direction.Close to 7, we walked back towards the entrance of the path for the mountain where our tickets were checked one more time. The ascent took close to 1.5 hours, arriving as the 10th and 11th person to reach the peak that day. The view at this time, around 8:30 – 9, was very limited with fog completely engulfing the mountain, so we waited for about 2 hours munching on snacks and chatting with people.

The citadel finally intermittently peaked through the clouds around 10:30. We began our descent at 11, and arrived at the bottom shortly before noon, just in time to head over to the snack bar for our overpriced burgers. We beat the lunch rush by getting there at 12. By the time we finished and started walking back to the Citadel, a huge crowd flooded the walkway to the entrance/parking lot heading for the restaurants.

We spent the remaining of the afternoon exploring the Citadel and taking photos. Around 4, the sun and the altitude had taken a toll on our bodies so decided to have a nap on the eastern terraces. We woke up to a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and a double rainbow, a perfect way to end our wanderings in Machu Picchu.