One of the most valuable things to know before starting your Machu Picchu adventure is that there are dozens of ways to get there. You can rush there and back as quickly as possible (potentially in as little as a day) or spend weeks exploring the region (combining buses with hiking independently). In this blog we will outline three routes. First, the route we would recommend (because there’s a better way to do it than how we did). Secondly, the route we took. Third, the fastest and absolutely cheapest routes. All of these routes are subject to multiple changes/additions depending on how you would like to spend your time and what you would like to see. Let’s get started!
NOTE: This blog is intended for independent travellers. There is no information on the Inca Trail (or it’s alternatives).
Recommended Route to/from Machu Picchu
Time frame: 4+ nights (5+ days)
If we were to go again, this is the route we would take. Give yourself plenty of time. Machu Picchu and the surrounding region are as incredible as you would expect (if not more). Be sure to really soak it all in. DO NOT rush this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
STEP ONE: From Cusco, catch a bus to Ollantaytambo (pronounced oh-yan-tay-tam-beau). Settle in at any of the many hostels and grab a bite to eat before exploring the magnificent ruins! All of this is doable in one day, but feel free to linger in Ollantaytambo for a couple of nights. It’s an adorable little town with lots of great food, a farmers market and beautiful scenery (obviously).
NOTE: We recommend having your MP tickets before setting out, just to avoid any stress later. Go to this website for everything you need to know. We were able to buy our tickets in advance and pick them up conveniently at one of the many locations in and around Cusco
Ollantaytambo Traveller Information:
Catch a minibus from the Urubamba/Ollantaytambo station (see map). The ride is about an hour and a half with a brief stop in Urubamba. For hostels, we recommend El Gato as a lovely family run place with comfy beds piled with warm blankets (40 Soles/night). Friends of ours had wonderful things to say about Andean Moon which is typically a more expensive boutique hostel. There are lots of food options around the main plaza. For something a little cheaper find Estacion Ollanta Sandwich Shop (tucked behind the south side of the central plaza); they serve big portions of great sandwiches and mains with a unique twist on the typical cuisine.
STEP TWO: Take a minibus to Hydroelectrica. Minibuses leave the main plaza in Ollantaytambo taking you directly to Hydroelectrica. They will not leave until full. We were in the plaza around 9:00am and the minibus left around 11:00am (30 Soles each). This ride was a highlight of our adventure. The roads snake around mountains offering gorgeous panorama views. On a clear day you will be able to see the snow-covered mountains of Villacabamba! The ride will take 4.5 to 5 hours.
STEP THREE: Hiking to Aguas Calientes. This is straight forward. Aguas Calientes or “Machu Picchu Town” is about 10km down the train tracks from Hydroelectrica, it took us about 2 and a half hours with our full packs. The walk is an easy one. Once in town, find a hostel and buy your bus ticket for the next morning.
Aguas Calientes Traveller Information:
Again, there are tons of hostels and restaurants so choose whatever you’re comfortable with. We found a hostel for 40 Soles/night no problem. Most restaurants have menu economico for about 10 Soles that they don’t advertise so ask around. The bus tickets to MP are $12USD (about 40 Soles) one way. You can either buy one way or round trip tickets. Buses leave whenever they are full, we waited about 15 minutes for our bus to leave around 6:30am. The hike up would be grueling but the trek down isn’t too bad and you likely won’t be too tired after a few hours at MP. Completely up to you!
STEP FOUR: Machu Picchu! You’ve made it (either by climbing or busing the last stretch)!! Get a map at the front gate and wander all you like. We spent 4 hours – walking around, sitting in unbelievably picturesque spots and catching our breathe – but you could easily spend much more time. Multilingual guides are available at the front gate if you would like a guided tour. Bring water and snacks. Food is allowed in. Water bottles are allowed in. Walking sticks are allowed in. Large backpacks are not allowed in, a checked-baggage room is available. Once you’re done, find your way back to Aguas Calientes by either hiking down or taking a bus. Treat yourself to some happy hour drinks (4 for 25 Soles, yes please) and maybe wander around the markets and shops to buy something to remember this day by.
STEP FIVE: Waterfalls, a hot spring bath and a night in a little known town. Santa Teresa is another quaint little town that no one really talks about. Depart Aguas Calientes first thing in the morning then head back down the tracks. At around km 116 there is a hostel with a trail to waterfalls. It’s about a kilometer off the tracks. Enjoy your late breakfast or lunch at their restaurant before walking the tracks back to Hydroelectrica where buses and taxis will be waiting. Catch a ride to Santa Teresa and either head right for the hot springs or check into a hostel for the night. We unfortunately did not take advantage of this extra day as we had not prepared a long enough itinerary. This is why we urge you to leave lots of time for Machu Picchu and surrounding area so you can act on a whim and not miss any of the hidden gems your guide book doesn’t mention.
STEP SIX: Getting back to Cusco. It should be about 6 hours and no more than 40 Soles. Make sure you catch a bus that will take you closest to wherever you’re staying (e.g. Plaza de Armas). And now you’re done. You’ve seen Machu Picchu and you got a quick look at Ollantaytambo. Now it’s time to take advantage of your boleto touristico and see more of the Inca architecture and way of life.
COST: Our cost breakdown noted below ended up at about 550 Soles each but did not include a night in Santa Teresa and visit to the waterfall/hot springs. For another nights accommodation, another days food plus the site seeing it would likely add 60-80 Soles (per person) to your budget.
Time frame: 3 nights/ 4 long days
If like us, you had no idea what it actually requires to get to and from Machu Picchu and are short on time, take this slightly shorter route compared to the recommended route above. Basically do everything the exact same but eliminate step 5. On your final day, walk from Aguas Caliente to Hydroelectrica and catch a minibus that will take you all the way back to Cusco (see step 6).
COST BREAKDOWN (for two people):
- Tickets for Machu Picchu 128 Soles each = 256 Soles
- Bus to Ollantaytambo 10 Soles each = 20 Soles
- Boleto Touristico 130 Soles each = 260 Soles (this is the 10 day pass that we highly recommend you buy and see as many sites as possible. A one day ticket to just see Ollantaytambo would be 70 Soles each).
- Night in Ollantaytambo = 40 Soles
- Bus to Hydroelectrica 30 Soles each = 60 Soles
- Two nights in Aguas Calientes = 80 Soles
- Bus back to Cusco 40 Soles each = 80 Soles
- Food and drinks = 300 Soles
- TOTAL = 1,096 Soles (approximately $220USD per person)
Time frame: 1 – 2 nights
This route is for people who are extremely limited on time and only want to see MP.
Find a hostel in Cusco that will sell you a return ticket to/from Hydroelectrica. It should be 60-70 Soles. This will give you either one or two nights in Aguas Calientes (depending on what ticket you buy). Check to see what time the bus will be in Hydroelectrica to take you back to Cusco so you don’t get stuck waiting unexpectedly for hours at the train station. From Hydroelectrica you will hike the tracks to/from Aguas Calientes and from there you can either hike or bus to/from MP.
COST: (As a guesstimate) 70 Soles for your Hydroelectrica return ticket + 20 Soles for one night in Aguas Calientes + 128 Soles for Machu Picchu ticket + 40 Soles for one way bus up to MP + 50 Soles for food/drink = 308 Soles (approx. $125USD per person)
An intriguing alternative is this route we found as we were researching how to get to Machu Picchu. If your budget is tiny (this route costs 10 Soles each way) and you are ambitious enough to walk about 30km, check out this blog!