[ANNOUNCEMENT: This post was ORIGINALLY published with research and not first hand experience. I have since visited Machu Picchu and am now updating this post to reflect a more accurate guide.]
A friend of mine recently asked me how I booked our upcoming trip to Machu Picchu and I thought it would be an excellent topic for a bonus post (aside from the ones I post every three days). I am going on the assumption that you already know what Machu Picchu is, but if you don’t, go here. Here is a guide on how to get to Machu Picchu.
Considering that it is one of the most famous sites in the world, it is surprisingly not as straight forward as you would assume. Here are the steps that you should follow:
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Step 1. Getting into Peru:
While Peru is an average sized country, the main airport hub is in Lima, the capital. You will most likely, whether you like it or not, have to fly into Lima to start your journey to get to Machu Picchu.
Step 2. Getting to Cuzco:
->Option 1: By Airplane
An airplane ride to Cuzco is 1 hour and 20 minutes. Airplanes fly about every hour from Lima on a number of airlines. I went through a lot of research, checking every airline name in Peru (through wikipedia), and cross refrencing the prices I saw on their local websites with airline search engines (Kayak, Orbitz, Fly, Vayama, etc). In the end, I booked a one way ticket through cheaptickets.com for 145 USD. It was twice that for a round trip, but our stay time is tentative, so this was better for us. I am flying with TACA, a recommended (and cheaper) Peruvan airline.
While tickets are cheaper for locals, all my research points to strict rules and ID checking, making sure only locals use these services. I even looked on all sites in Spanish, and it was the same price as the English site. From what I have read, 145 is a pretty good price, but I reserved it 2 months in advance.
->Option 2: By Bus
A bus is 21 hours from Lima to Cuzco. Even though the price is cheaper (65-85 USD), to me, it wasn’t worth wasting that much time. However, if you are going to stop in some places along the way (Oasis Huacachina, Ica, Nazca) this is a viable option. I don’t think that these get fully booked, and while you might get a cheaper price if you buy once in Peru, Cruz Del Sur buses (here is their website to book) and Go2Peru (Here is their Site) are places where you can book in advance. I will use this method upon my return from Machu Picchu.
[Update: It was WAY cheaper to just buy it when you get there. A million companies go to and from Cuzco and reserving in advance is not required AT ALL. Also, Cruz Del Sur is the most expensive bus line. I used a number of other cheaper alternatives and found them quite fine. Maybe I am not as picky as most, as I even found the ultra cheap Soyouz bus pretty comfortable.]
Step 3: Getting to Machu Picchu Village (Formerly known as Aguas Calientes, Peru):
[Update: No one really calls it “Machu Picchu Village” yet.]
There are four ways of doing this. I will personally be doing option 1.
->Option 1: Take a taxi from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, then a train to Machu Picchu Village
Out of the airport, or in the main city, there will be lots of taxis. I am told that the going price for a taxi from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo (AKA ‘Ollanta’) is around 10-15 USD per person. The taxis don’t leave until they have a full cab, but it doesn’t seem to take long (10-15 mins). The ride from Cuzco to Ollanta is around 1 hour and 30 minutes, so keep this in mind when booking your train from Ollanta to Machu Picchu Village.
[Update: For more safety, you can even book the taxi inside the airport. Ours cost 100 soles for two people.]
From here, take a train from Ollanta to Machu Picchu Village. There is NO ROAD that leads to this village, and train is the ONLY OPTION without a guided hike. Furthermore, Perurail (link here) is
the only company that runs a train to this village. The prices are expensive, but they have a monopoly, and you either take it or leave it (look below). The options on times and class (some are too expensive) also fill up in advance and there are many cases where people can’t get a train for days in high season. You should definitely reserve in advance. I paid 110 USD per person round trip from Ollanta to Machu Picchu Village.
[Update: There is another company that runs a train in the area, Inca Rail. They are a local company, which is a tad bit cheaper than Peru Rail (foreign owned). However, Inca Rail has less scheduled trains to Aguascalientes. I had incorrect information from other blogs about Peru Rail’s supposed monopoly.]
-> Option 2: Take a direct train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu Village:
This option skips the Ollantaytambo stop. However, it is twice the price, at over 200 USD round trip. Furthermore, I tried to book 2 months in advance, and this option was already sold out. If you are in a hurry, you can do this option, but there are also Inca ruins in Ollanta, so you could miss those.
[Update: I couldn’t reserve this online. I got conflicting stories. Some people told me that the train station in Cuzco is incomplete. Others told me that it is actually complete, and pointed out a train that stopped at Ollantaytambo and continued on to Cuzco station. The whole ordeal is still confusing. The views on the taxi from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo however, made it well worth the long ride.]
-> Option 3: Take two buses to Ollantaytambo and then a train to Machu Picchu Village
This is much like option 1, with the exception of taking public buses from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. This option runs at about 2-4 USD a person, which to me wasn’t worth the trouble of figuring out the transfer midway, but if you have the time and want to save a few bucks, by all means! This option takes 1 hour 30 mins to 2 hours, depending on waiting times for the transfer. Again, at Ollanta, take the train to get to Machu Picchu Village, which was discussed in option 1.
-> Option 4: The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is a four day hike from Cuzco, and one of the most iconic and sought after experiences on the planet. For more info, check out Peru Treks (link here), a local company out of Cuzco. WARNING: This hike is so famous, it was booked 6 months in advance for the 2013 Jan-September season. Another option to book (or more information), is the Official Government Site on Machu Picchu (Peruvian Cultural Ministry). [Their site doesn’t seem to work well with Google Chrome, so try Internet Explorer]
Step 4: Machu Picchu Village to Machu Picchu, Huaynapicchu Mountain, and Machu Picchu Mountain:
If you are confused by those options on step four, good thing you read this post. Even with extensive research, I had to contact the Peruvian Ministry of Culture directly to clear things up.
Machu Picchu is the site of the main ruins. This should be the #1 thing you want to see. [Limit 2500 people a day]
Huaynapicchu is a mountain next to Machu Picchu. It has a ‘hidden temple’ which is inaccessible unless you have this ticket. The most famous reason why people book this along with Machu Picchu is because here is where you can get that iconic view of the ancient city from a distance.
Pretty much every picture you have ever seen of Machu Picchu is taken from here. [Limit 400 people per day]
[Update: Actually, this is not where you get the view you see in every picture. The view from Wayna Picchu is much rarer than that as very few climb it.]
Machu Picchu Mountain is another mountain which is taller than Huaynapicchu. If you ever see pictures from really far away looking down on Machu Picchu, they were taken from this mountain. [Limit 400 people per day]
Personally, I trust government sites more than any broker, so I would recommend booking any of these options through them directly at:
Option 1 – Just Machu Picchu
This would be a ticket for just the ruins. ~47 USD [Limit 2500 people a day]
Option 2 – Machu Picchu + Huaynapicchu
You can climb the mountain first, then go to the ruins. This option is early in the morning, requiring at least one overnight stay in Machu Picchu Village (hostels from 10 USD a night). ~53 USD [Limit 400 people a day]
Option 3 – Machu Picchu + Montaña (means Machu Picchu Mountain)
You can climb the other mountain (the farther one) and then see the ruins after that. ~53 USD [Limit 400 people a day]
Option 4 – Machu Picchu + Both Mountains
For this option, I am told by the Ministry of Culture themselves, you have to go on TWO separate days. You are not allowed to do both mountains on the same day. This means that, because of the time, you would have to spend the night twice in Machu Picchu Village. I would have loved this, but I only have two weeks in Peru. ~53 USD [Limit 400 people a day]
Option 5 – Machu Picchu + Museo
There is apparently a museum near the ruins. The ruins themselves don’t have a lot of explanation, so if you don’t know the history, you can’t put it into context. Again, I don’t have the time for this, but if you do, by all means! ~ 56 USD [Limit 2500 people a day]
A bus leaves from Machu Picchu Village to Machu Picchu every 30 minutes or so.
[Note: While you can purchase any of these options while in Peru, starting a few years ago, they limit the amount of people that can enter, so if you want to make sure that you have a ticket reserved, book in advance. Furthermore, many people have been caught stuck in Machu Picchu Village without an available train back to Ollanta for days. To avoid this, book your train in advance]
[Update: Wayna Picchu was sold out for 2 weeks when I got there. Many people missed out because they didn’t book in advance.]
Step 5: Getting Back!!!
While amazing, I assume you don’t want to live in Machu Picchu. You can reverse your steps to return back to civilization. If you are going through the Inca Trail on step 3, they can provide info, as I wouldn’t know the logistics of that.
Plane to Cuzco 145, Taxi to Ollanta 10, train Ollanta to Machu Picchu Village rountrip 110, Machu Picchu + Huaynapicchu Entrance 53, Overnight Hostel 15. Total price: 333 USD (it’s the price of a trip of a lifetime)
Hope you enjoyed this guide to Machu Picchu. My trip is scheduled for June 27th, 2013, so if I encounter anything new, I’ll update this post.