Machu Picchu was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. In the past decade or so, the number of tourists who visit the ruins has increased to approximately one million people per year.
There are many different ways to get to this secluded, ancient place. If you are feeling adventurous, you could spend four or more days hiking the Inca Trail or trekking through the jungle. There are also many taxis, buses, trains and private tours. The many options can get confusing to decide what to pick and how to go about arranging everything.
Be warned, getting to Machu Picchu is not cheap no matter how you go, but you don’t need to pay top dollar for escorted tours. With some research and the guidance below, you can navigate your way there according to your preferences and time constraints.
After weighing all available travel options, here are the steps my wife and I took to travel to Machu Picchu independently in September 2016.
Steps to Get to Machu Picchu From Cusco
1) Check availability of entrance and train tickets
The Peruvian Ministry of Culture limited the amount of people who can visit Machu Picchu each day back in 2011. There are 2,500 permits for tourists and 500 more for anyone traveling the Inca Trail.
The reason I mention this is to make sure you check availability at least 4-5 days in advance of the day you wish to go to the ruins. Check even further in advance if you are going during the high season (June to August)…like months in advance.
To check, go to this website and choose the date you wish to go. The site is in Spanish but you can convert it to English.
Depending on when you travel, you may not be able to show up in Aguas Calientes (town closest to Machu Picchu) and buy a ticket for the day you want. Don’t leave Cusco without having tickets in hand or knowing there is ample availability.
It’s important to note that while you can purchase tickets in Aguas Calientes, you cannot buy a ticket at the gate of Machu Picchu.
Once you confirm that the date is available to enter the ruins, go to the Peru Rail website to check the available trains. It is cheaper and easier to go through Ollantaytambo vs Cusco, plus you get to see the ruins in Ollantaytambo. Choose the round trip route from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.
We choose the Expedition train not the more expensive Vistadome or the insanely priced Hiram Bingham trains.
Now that all your dates have been checked and available, time to buy the tickets.
2) Reserve Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets
I will go through the steps to reserve Machu Picchu tickets online since the site Peru has set up isn’t very straightforward.
Continue from where you left off earlier when you checked to see if the date was available for entrance tickets. On the same screen the available tickets show up (Step 1) then you chose the number of tickets you need and you can proceed.
Chances are you are a foreigner so make sure you choose the tickets under “Foreign Category” or you will not be able to enter your country in the next step!
Next (Step 2), the site will ask you for a bunch of information from your passport. After this is entered correctly you will be able to proceed to Step 3.
Next (Step 3), you will be prompted with a pop-up of ToCs that you can skim through and close out of. Make sure you enter a valid email address and tick off the two boxes and click BOOK.
You will get another pop-up. Do NOT close this pop-up. This is your reservation number for your tickets. Save this as it is important. Note that you have only reserved the right to pay for tickets. You do not officially have them just yet.
3) Pay for Machu Picchu Tickets
The reservation of your ticket lasts about three to six hours depending on where you look but err on the side of caution and use three hours as the deadline. You must pay for the reservation in this timeframe or it will expire and you will not have any tickets reserved that you can pay for.
You can try to pay online, however, the site is unlikely to take your credit card. If you are booking from home in advance enter your reservation code and click to pay. If your payment is rejected multiple times like it was for us, then you will have to research other payment options.
We arrived in Cusco in mid-September and were able to reserve online and pay in person. Be vigilant about checking availability, however, as the number drastically changed overnight a few days before the date we wished to visit.
If availability allows, wait until you arrive in Cusco to reserve and then take your reservation number to the Ministerio de Cultura. It is located right outside of the Plaza de Armas at Casa Garcilaso on Calle Garcilaso (look for the glass doors). Bring your reservation number, passport and credit card (or cash) to the office and they will take your payment and print the tickets out for you.
-Ticket office located right off the Plaza de Armas in Cusco-
4) Reserve Peru Rail Tickets
Continue from where you were checking the dates on PeruRail’s site. Their site is super easy to use and self-explanatory so I won’t go through it all. The only hitch is you have to go to one of their office’s to pick up the tickets after you pay for them on their site.
The office is located right on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco so it is very convenient. Make sure to bring your passport and the credit card you used on the site to book the tickets.
5) Getting to Ollantaytambo by Colectivo
Now you have your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu, PeruRail tickets and hotels/hostels booked…onward to Ollantaytambo. The trip from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is approximately 1.5-2 hours.
We arranged a colectivo in Cusco on Pavitos & Grau for 20 soles (~$6USD) per person in a sedan (4 total passengers). There was an even cheaper way at ~10 soles (~$3USD) per person but we were not able to get one of the minibusses on the day we were traveling.
You can also use a colectivo to get back to Cusco from Ollantaytambo. They are plentiful and right outside the station after the train arrives back in Ollantaytambo. To get back to Cusco plan on paying 10-20 soles (~$3-6USD) or arrange a private sedan type car back to your hotel for approximately 30 soles (~$9USD) per person.
-The colectivo station on Av Grau & Pavitos is ~10 mins from the Plaza De Armas and easy to get to via Av El Sol.-
Ollantaytambo is a nice little town and worth staying a night or two to visit the Ollantaytambo ruins, though it was a bit expensive to enter the ruins at 70 soles per person (~$20USD). We had to purchase a combo tourist ticket called, Boleto Turistico, that allowed entrance to four archeological sites (Chincero, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Pisac). We weren’t able to visit the other sites in the two-day time limit of the ticket due to a strike but I would suggest planning to see some other sites around the Sacred Valley while you are in Ollantaytambo.
-View of the ruins in Ollantaytambo-
6) Getting from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) by Train
The train station in Ollantaytambo is a short walk from the center of town. There is a Peru Rail office there in case you needed assistance or if you wanted to store your luggage. Mind the luggage restrictions on the train and plan on only bringing a small overnight bag or backpack on your journey.
Take note of the carriage number on your train tickets and queue up 15-20 mins before your train is due to leave. You will need to show the tickets that you previously obtained from the Peru Rail office and your passport to before boarding the train. It takes about two hours to travel to Aguas Calientes.
7) Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by Bus
The train station is right in the middle of town and close to the office where you buy the bus tickets to go up the mountain to Machu Picchu. If you are staying in Aguas Calientes for the night (which I recommend), drop your bags off at your accommodation before heading to the bus ticket stand. You do not want to talk around Machu Picchu with a bulky backpack.
Round trip bus tickets are $24USD and you will need to present a passport. Expect to wait a bit as the bus queue can get quite long. The ride is about 30 mins in duration on a fairly narrow, windy road.
If you wish to avoid paying for the bus you can choose to hike the mountain from town which is free, however, this would be a strenuous climb up a very steep terrain. I would not recommend.
-That line that starts behind the bus goes up the street for quite a long way.-
8) Arriving at Machu Picchu
Once you have arrived at the entrance gate, you will see some guides dressed in white. We hired one for $10USD per person for a 2+ hours group tour and it was well worth it. They take you around to the main points of interest and give you a brief explanation at each stop.
And after walking around for a few hours, you make your way to the top by the Guardian House and you see the classic Machu Picchu postcard view.
After your day at the ruins, I recommend hanging out in Aguas Calientes for the night and enjoy the town. Some people rushed to get back to Ollantaytambo and Cusco the same day they toured Machu Picchu but we decided to stick around town. After a long day of sun and steps, refuel at a four-for-one happy hour at one of the many restaurants.
In The End…
We got to see one of the New Seven Wonders of the World…and it was breathtakingly awesome. Our method to getting there may not have been the most adventurous but it worked with our budget and comfort level. We got all our tickets without a problem, found our way on our own, and we didn’t feel rushed at any point along the way. I hope this article helps you get there too!
Total We Spent on Machu Picchu (without accommodation)
Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets
Roundtrip Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Callientes
Colectivos to/from Ollantaytambo
Guided Group Tour of Machu Picchu
Bus from Aguas Callientes to Machu Picchu
Total for 2 People:
If you are planning a Machu Picchu adventure of your own and have any questions or want advice leave a comment.
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