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…
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.