The Cheapest Way to Get to Machu Picchu

llama at machu picchu

I’m not going to lie, Machu Picchu is cool but it’s also really expensive (and I’m not just talking by Peruvian standards.) Even for those with an exchange rate coming from the Euro or British Pound, you will still find this place extortionate to get to. However, there’s a reason why Machu Picchu is so expensive and that’s because this ancient city is so popular (and for good reason too.) With that in mind, what is the absolute cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu? Having visited this site this week I thought I’d give a breakdown on the costs and the cheapest way that I found.

First off, there is no road to Machu Picchu – you have to walk or take a train

First off, there is no road that connects Machu Picchu or Aguas Calientes (the town at the foot of the mountain which serves the ancient site) to any of the main towns nearby such as Cusco or Ollantaytamba. You have to either walk it, e.g. take the Inca Trail, or get a train for at least part of your journey. This is inevitably where things get expensive because the rail companies, Peru Rail in particular, know there is no other way for you to get there – especially if you don’t have a lot of time to take a trek for example.

Taking the train to Machu Picchu…

train ollantaytamba to aguas calientes peru rail

If you’re arriving into Cusco before your departure to Machu Picchu (as most people do) then you have two main options for taking the train; You can depart from Poroy or Ollantaytambo. Poroy is closer to Cusco but Ollantaytambo is (usually) cheaper. When I travelled to Agaus Calientes I decided to do so from Ollantaytambo and return via Poroy. Below is a breakdown of my transportation costs for this entire journey;

Breakdown of my transportation costs

  • Bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo train station (duration approx. 1.5 to 2 hours) = 10 Peruvian Soles (£2.20 / $3.50 / €2.60)
  • Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes train station (duration approx. 2 hours) = 52 US Dollars (£31.70 / €38.20)
  • Return bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to the site of Machu Picchu (duration approx 15 to 30 minutes each way) = 51 Peruvian Soles (£11.10 / $18.20 / €13.40)
  • Train from Aguas Calientes to Poroy (duration approx 3.5 hours) = 79 US Dollars (£48.40 / €58)
  • Taxi from Poroy to Cusco city centre (duration approx. 30 minutes) = 30 Peruvian Soles (£6.54 / $10.70 / €7.87)

Please note; I booked my tickets with just 1 week’s notice and so the cheaper fares for the trains (particularly the trains to/from Poroy) were not available. However, the cheapest I have heard them go for are 33 USD from Ollantaytambo and 55 USD from Poroy. You may also want to check fares too with Inca Rail, although I found their prices to be pretty much the same as Peru Rail but with less options.

Is it cheaper to take the Inca Trail?

Seeing as the Inca Trail is booked out several months in advance (and the fact the Peru was a spur of the moment decision in my itinerary) this was not an option to me personally. However, if you plan to take the Inca Trail specifically you should know that trekking the trail independently has been outlawed in Peru since 2002. Regulations state that each trekker must be accompanies by a professionally qualified guide – and this is again where getting to Machu Picchu becomes pricey.

For the 4 day trail you can expect to pay anything from 525 – 1270 USD including the return journey on the train. For the shorter 2 day trail it’s usually between 325 – 525 USD. I should also note these prices are based on booking from Peru. If you book through a company abroad you can expect to double that listed above.

Are there any cheaper alternative treks?

If you didn’t book in enough time for the Classic Inca Trail but you still have enough time for a trek then there are still many other alternative trails that you can take part in (that also happen to be quite a bit cheaper.) For example, here in Cusco I’ve seen prices for the Jungle Trek and the Salkantay Trek for around the 200 USD mark each. In the case of the latter the trek lasts 7 days and for the last 3 of those actually crosses into the Classic Inca Trail – so the value for money that you are getting is so much more. Typically these tours also don’t need several months pre-booking either like the Inca Trail does. You usually just need to book a day or two in advance. The alternative tours are definitely the best value for money in my opinion.

– So in summary, the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly to do it independently and take the train. If you book far enough in advance, and get the cheapest train tickets from Ollantaytamba, you’ll pay around 140 USD less than the next cheapest option. However, if it’s a trek that you’re after then taking an alternative trail is undoubtedly more value for money, costing around $125 – $1070 less than the Classic Inca Trail.

– If you liked this post you may also be interested in reading my top 5 things to do in Arequipa, Peru.

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7 Responses to “The Cheapest Way to Get to Machu Picchu”

  1. Robb says:

    I’m sure others will write in with better updates, but there is an even cheaper way to get there. You can take a bus over the mountains to a small town called (I think) Santa Maria, then a car to another small town called Santa Teresa. From there, you can get a car to the train station and walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. I did this a few years ago (2010) so the details are hazy, but I want to say it was something like a 20km walk, flat and easy. There are companies that will guide you, but we did it all on our own to save $$ and had no trouble at all figuring it out. Many people were calling it the “backdoor option”. And the scenery over the mountain is incredible. It is definitely a different kind of experience than hiking the Inca Trail, but if you want to save money (or if, like us, you come to Peru spontaneously and the tours you want are sold out), it will still get you there with a different kind of adventure!

  2. Jane says:

    Great addition Robb! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Megan says:

    I never even thought about doing a trek other than the Classoc Inca Trail hike- great suggestion! I have no idea when I’ll find myself in Peru, but hopefully it’s sooner over later 🙂

  4. Tracy says:

    There is an even cheaper way still!

    There are combis (buses for locals) that can take you from Cusco to Ollantaytambo for 5-6 soles. The combi station is within walking distance from Plaza San Blas, where most tourists stay. Just walk down Avenida Del Sol. This can shave off 10 soles round trip, which doesn’t sound like much, but can turn out to be worth a few meals in Cusco.

    I also recommend tacking on a detour to Salineras and Moray (both on the way to Ollantaytambo) to pack in more without adding extra transportation costs. Both sites are also included in the same Billeto Touristica that gives you access to Ollantaytambo.

    For more information about Machu Pichu and the Cusco area, check out my blog at brokeandbackpacking.blogspot.com

  5. Jonny Blair says:

    Great post and great blog here Jane BUT I have to disagree with you all slightly.

    It was always my dream to do the 4 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, do it properly – camp out – see the mountains – have no contact with the outside world and do the PROPER Inca Trail rather than the Salkantay Trek or any other way to get there.

    For me its a kop out and a cheaters way to just pay for a bus or train to take you there. It should be your reward after a 4 day hike to be confronted by the sight of this lost city.

    The one thing we both agree on however is that it’s worth seeing…

    Safe travels, Jonny

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  1. […] If you liked this post you may also be interested in reading the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu. Tweet Be Sociable, […]

  2. […] Whilst Peru did initially seem expensive coming straight out of Bolivia (South America’s cheapest country), the truth is Peru is actually very cheap. The average price of a hostel dorm bed in the country for me was around 26 Peruvian Soles per night (£6 / $9.66 / €7), and even then it was a bit cheaper in cities like Arequipa and Cusco where there is a lot of competition for hostels. A large beer was around 7 soles (£1.53 / $2.51 / €1.82). That said, Machu Picchu is incredibly expensive and there is no way of getting around it if you want to visit the ancient site. That said, if you do want to get there in the cheapest way possible here’s how. […]


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