Machu Picchu Hike:
Facts, tours, budget, how to get to
Machu Picchu which mean the "Old Peak", is undeniably one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. It is one of the world wonders (architectural) which holds a very important part of world history and it is one of the oldest cities in the world as well.
Many tourists head to Machu Picchu to see one of the remaining Inca cities that was built by the Inca Empire. It's a magnificent location, in the middle of the Andes mountain gives a great view of the Lost City matched with mountains surrounded by the clouds. The view is indescribably beautiful and very out of this world - definitely a must-see.
During my adventure in Latin America, I've decided to head to Peru and see for myself what Machu Picchu is like before I head back to Southeast Asia. I spent three days there while I spent four weeks in Cusco. I found a lot of information that I am so keen to share with you.
WHERE IS MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu is located in the Andes Mountain in South America, in the country of Peru. The closest city with an airport is Cusco and the nearest town is Agua Calientes.
Machu Picchu can only be reached by heading to Agua Calientes, which can be reached via a 3-hour train, a 4-day hike, or a 6-hour bus plus 2-hour walk from Hydro Electrica all coming from Cusco. The distance between Cusco and Machu Picchu is about 75 kilometres (46 miles).
MACHU PICCHU FACTS
Here are some Machu Picchu facts that will help you understand about Machu Picchu and how things work around it that many tourists including myself get confused about.
Machu Picchu discovery
Machu Picchu was built in 1450 as a royal estate for the Inca Rulers but was abandoned 80 years later due to the fear of the Spanish conquest. It was only discovered in 1911 by an American archaeologist Hiram Bingham III.
During the Spanish colonisation of Peru, many Incas or the Peruvian natives went to Machu Picchu to hide and take refuge. During the Spanish Era, they destroyed many towns that are built by the Inca Empire, however, they never found Machu Picchu which many historians believe that's why it has survived and left untouched.
Machu Picchu visitor limit
Machu Picchu is a popular destination and brings millions of tourists, which makes tourism industry as one of Peru's strongest part of the economy. The Machu Picchu receives about 1.2 million visitors annually in 2013 which lead to UNESCO stepping in and had an agreement with the Peruvian government to set a limit of 2,500 visitors a day to keep Machu Picchu preserved.
This is the reason why many travellers who are planning to visit Machu Picchu should start their plan and book the tickets months before their arrival especially during peak season.
How high is Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. Which some tourist find hard to breathe due to its altitude. It is advised to stay around the area for a few days before you start to hike the Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña: 3,082 meters or 10,111 feet) and Waynapicchu mountain (Huayna: 2,693 metres or 8,835 ft).
Best time to visit Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is open almost all-year-round. The busiest time or the peak season in Machu Picchu is between June to August. While November to March is the rainy season which is also the low season. If you are planning to hike the Inca Trail, remember that it is closed on the month of February due to the heavy rain and maintenance.
I went there at the end of November until starting of December for three days. I was lucky enough to have two sunny days and one cloudy day but without rain.
According to the people I've talked to who went there during the peak season, the best time to visit Machu Picchu is either April to May or September to October.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING MACHU PICCHU
Many tourists who are coming from the other side of the world are often unprepared and disappointed simply because they failed to do their research resulting in not able to visit the Machu Picchu. Therefore, I compiled all the information that you need to know before booking your flight to Peru and do the Machu Picchu hike.
Tickets to Machu Picchu
The tickets are limited to be sold for 2,500 people daily, which mean that if you are planning to visit during the peak season, make sure to buy your ticket as soon as possible.
The ticket prices for Machu Picchu Citadel, Machu Picchu Mountain, and Huayna Picchu are all different. If you don't want or planning not to hike either of the mountains, simply get the Machu Picchu Citadel ticket only.
If you are planning to hike one of the mountains, get the right ticket. The tickets include the entrance for the Citadel and the mountain you choose. Both mountains are only accessible through the Citadel. There are guard houses in the mountains who will check if your ticket says you can enter the mountain or not.
If you are worried about getting the common photo you see, you only need the ticket for Machu Picchu Citadel and need not to get a ticker with a hike. The hiking is an extra fun to those who love an adventure.
Every ticket has different entrance times. Here is how to understand them:
If your ticket says 7 AM - 9 AM or other times (for the hiking one of the mountains - it means that you must enter the mountain within this period of time. You can enter the Citadel anytime until 16.00 (4 PM), the Citadel closes at 17.30 (5.30 PM). It opens at 6.30 AM. You can enter twice on the same day.
The best way to use your ticket if your hiking is to enter the mountain first then explore the citadel after. Since the mountains are only open until noon (12.00).
The tickets are divided into three parts; Machu Picchu Citadel only ($44), Citadel plus hike to Machu Picchu Mountain ($59), Citadel plus hike to Huayna Picchu ($59).
NOTE: Students (max 25 years old) and 17 years old and below can avail a discount. The student ID must be valid. The discount is applied both to foreigners and locals.
If you are citizens of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia, it's cheaper. Machu Picchu Citadel only ($19), Citadel plus hike to Machu Picchu Mountain ($33), Citadel plus hike to Huayna Picchu ($33).
NOTE: To my observation, the ticket prices change once in a while. Some of my friends told me the price for the ticket that I want a few months before I arrive but when I checked, it looks like there was a price hike. I'm not sure if this is based on the season or the price changes yearly. If you are coming during peak season, you should buy your tickets in advance (either online, in Lima or Cusco).
Cusco vs Agua Calientes vs Machu Picchu
If you are as confused as me about these three places that you will constantly read when researching about Machu Picchu, here is the best way I can differentiate these three:
Cusco is a city is where the nearest airport to Machu Picchu is located. Machu Picchu is still about 75 kilometres (46 miles) away. Most travellers will head to Cusco and take either a day trip from here, start the trek from here, or take the bus from here to Machu Picchu. Think about it as the town that you have to stay or go before being able to reach Machu Picchu - you can't get to Machu Picchu without passing by Cusco.
Agua Calientes is the town proper on the base of Machu Picchu. From here, Machu Picchu is still 2 kilometres / 1.2 miles (1 to 1.5-hour hike) or 20 minutes bus ride. The train station is located here and is called Machu Picchu station. Agua Calientes can only be reached by train, trekking or walking.
NOTE: The bus company that can take you from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu entrance is called Consettur (monopoly company). This is their actual pick up and office location but it's under construction. Therefore, you should head here to buy the ticket and here to get on the bus.
Machu Picchu is the actual place you want to go. There is no train directly to here, the closest train station is in Agua Calientes. This place can only be reached by bus or hike ( from Hydro Electrica).
You cannot stay overnight in Machu Picchu, the nearest accommodations and hotels are in Agua Calientes.
Machu Picchu Citaldel vs Machu Picchu Montain vs Huayna Picchu
When I was looking up about Machu Picchu, I was very confused. Some pages contradict the other while other articles are simply incomplete. One of the confusing parts is the difference between Machu Picchu Citadel, Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu. In this part, I'll try my best to explain the difference between these places.
Machu Picchu Citadel is the place you want to go. From here, you can already take photos of yourself and have the entire old city as your background. Here is where you can study the stones, see the Llamas, and explore the area.
Machu Picchu Mountain or Montaña Machupicchu is a mountain that you can hike which is only accessible from Machu Picchu Citadel. It is a 1.45 to 2-hour hike up and about 1 to 1.5-hour hike down. It is about 700 metres (.5 miles) very steep and uphill from Machu Picchu Citadel. This is the less popular hike but harder and higher. The peak is 3,061.28 msmn, take note that the air will be thinner and will be harder to breath.
Huayna Picchu or Waynapicchu is the popular hike which is about 1 to 1.5-hour only and the path is easier compared to Machu Picchu Mountain. You can also find the Moon Temple here. This mountain is the one you see in the photos in front of the Citadel. Also, only 400 people are allowed to hike Huayna Picchu every day.
What to pack for Machu Picchu
Due to its location, the weather is hard to predict while because of the number of people that Machu Picchu receives, there are many rules that are laid out and must be followed. Here are the things you should bring when you visit Machu Picchu:
- Your passport - you can get the famous Machu Picchu stamp by teh exit gate or before you enter
- A bag not bigger than 40 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm (15.7 inches x 13.7 inches x 7.9 inches)
- Poncho - remember to bring a Poncho (buy a cheap one in Cusco, about $1.5)
- Snacks - make sure to bring a snack especially if you are planning to hike the Montaña and Huayna
- Water - bring at least 2 litres if you are hiking - there are no shops inside the Citadel but there is a snack bar at the entrance/exit gate
- Comfortable walking shoes - there will be a lot of getting up and down the stairs
- Camera - don't miss the chance to get your own Machu Picchu shot
- Sunscreen, scarf, and Sunglasses - it can be very hot and there is no way to hide from it
- Clothes for all weather - you might arrive in Machu Picchu with the sun shining hot, don't trust this, the weather can change very fast, make sure you packed not just poncho for the rain but also a long trouser, jumper or jacket for the cold weather
Here are the things you CANNOT bring (these are stated by Machu Picchu's entrance gate:
- Umbrella - although I've seen some people who use an umbrella, it's better to bring a poncho, hat, and sunglasses
- Meals - you are only allowed to have some snacks; biscuit, candies and must be eaten in the designated areas
- Walking sticks, selfie sticks, and tripods - although many people are using walking sticks
Rules while inside the Citadel and Mountains
I've read many articles about visiting Machu Picchu and all of them contradicts the other. While I had the pleasure to visit the official office of Machu Picchu in Agua Calientes, they also provided very unclear rules.
I will simply write them down and you can decide for yourself:
- You can't bring a meal but you can bring a snack - which was a little confusing since if you are planning to trek either one of the mountains you will need food for energy, my advice to pack energy bars
- Bringing a pet or animal is not allowed - apart from guide dogs
- You can't enter when under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs
- Musical instruments are not allowed
- You can't be half-naked or shirtless
- Making loud noises; scream, whistle, etc are not allowed
- You can't bring pointed objects and kitchenware
- Baby strollers or prams cannot be brought inside
- The area is not wheelchair accessible
- You are not allowed to wear pointed heels or hard sole shoes
- Climbing and leaning on the walls/stones
- Smoking or vaping is not allowed
- Littering is prohibited; bring a bag to place your water bottle and snacks
- Drones are not allowed
- Follow the arrows; the area is filled with one-way street
- There are many staffs walking around (mostly wearing brown uniform and hat) who can assist you inside and will tell you that you cannot counterflow on one-way areas
Always check the weather and temperature
Before you fly to Peru, always check the weather and temperature first for each place you are going to. Cusco is normally cold all-year-round, pack appropriate clothing. You have no idea how many tourists arrive here and had to spend money on a jacket, trousers, and a hat to stay warm.
HOW TO GET TO MACHU PICCHU FROM CUSCO
There are plenty of ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, however, most of them can be expensive. You either have the time and energy to do the cheap way or the money to do the fast, easy, and convenient way.
You can either take the train, bus or hike to reach Machu Picchu. Here is the information about each way:
Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu
I personally took the train to Machu Picchu from Cusco. There are only two train companies that are operating today for this route. One is PeruRail which the older company and runs often throughout the day and even at night and the other one is Inca Rail it is newer but has a fewer schedule.
There are two stations you can take the train from; one is called Poroy which is 8 kilometres (5 miles) or 20-minute drive from Cusco and the other is Ollantaytambo which around 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Cusco.
I took the Peru Rail and here's my experience
I've decided to take the PeruRail from Poroy station to Machu Picchu station (Agua Calientes) with Expedition train (they have different types of trains) which was about 3.5 hours, the ticket prices is $75 one-way. Poroy station is half an hour away from Cusco town proper, I took an Uber but you can also just hail a taxi for about $10 (30 PEN).
Make sure you arrive in the station 30-minutes before the departure, the train leave on time and if you miss it, you'll be in a lot of hassle. You can bring your big luggage which can be placed on the luggage rack right next to the hallway entrance, you are allowed to bring a small bag on your seat.
After arriving in the small but cosy station of Poroy, a personnel from PeruRail checked our tickets and passport, a few minutes later, we started boarding based on our assigned carriage. Remember to print your ticket. There are also comfortable benches and a few fire stands to warm yourself in the station. While there are clean bathrooms for you to use and WiFi.
Everyone has their designated seat number in the train. There are no WiFi or power plugs. However, they have a large comfortable seat which I really enjoyed and a table between chairs. They also have a very clean bathroom which I was super impressed because most trains that I took either doesn't have a toilet or has a very filthy one.
There are no overhead compartments to place your bags. Instead, the ceiling of the train have glasses which will let you see through the roof. I find it really cool, I've never seen something like that before. The Expedition train also has large glass windows which will give you a great view of the countryside of Peru.
And of course, my favourite, the super friendly and accommodating staffs of PeruRail. They make sure everything is in place and are ready to help you if you need anything. They speak English very well and of course Spanish.
One of the things I noticed was the voice over on the speakers who give you some information about Peru, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. The train slows down along the way to show some incredible views. You will also notice the beautiful interior design of the train especially the drawings on the walls showing the Inca history and Peruvian culture. Along the way, if you get lucky, you will see the travellers who are doing the hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
If you forgot to buy snacks for the journey, don't worry, there is a food trolley that offers small snacks and drinks for reasonable prices.
Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Machu Picchu station which is located in the town proper called Agua Calientes which is the town base for Machu Picchu. From here, all accommodations and restaurants are walking distance. If you have a lot of luggage, simply ask the PeruRail staffs to get you a luggage porter.
Type of trains with PeruRail
There are three types of trains from PeruRail that run the Machu Picchu route. The economy option is called The Expedition, the other one is called VistaDome which is a little fancier and Hiram Bingham II is the fanciest option. They both start in Poroy station stops in Ollantaytambo, but VistaDome stops in Urubamba as well.
Van or Bus from Cusco to Machu Picchu - the cheapest option
If you want some adventure and save money at the same time, take the bus from Cusco. The bus is $12 each way, you can book one-way or two-way for $24. The bus journey takes about 6-hours. However, remember that this will be a wild ride, so if you have a weak heart, you might want to skip this option.
The bus leaves a few times in the morning from Plaza Del Armas, you will see white vans lined up with a sign Hydro Electrica. You can either book the van in advance or just show up. In peak season, it's better to book one in advance.
When you arrive in Hydro Electrica, this is the best place they can drop you off because there are no roads from here to Agua Calientes. From here, you need to walk for about 1.5 to 2-hours. It's not a hike, it's mostly flat through a trail.
Hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu with a tour guide
The most exciting way to reach Machu Picchu but also the most expensive. The hike takes the classic Inca Trail, shorter Inca Trail, or Salkantay trail which are all from Cusco to Agua Calientes then to Machu Picchu.
Normally, this hike takes 2-4 days. Most travellers get on a tour which is between US$450-$1,000, including the guide, cooks, porters (who will carry most of your luggage), and accommodations along the way. Most tours include three meals, drinks (water can be limited), and the entrance to the Citadel (plus a tour guide in the Citadel).
If you want to hike either the Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Mountain, you can also do that but without a tour guide (you won't really need a tour guide on the hike for these mountains)
Hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu without a tour guide
A few years ago, the hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu by yourself was very popular. However, today, it is believed that you cannot do this anymore. I can't find a reliable source, some sites say it's still possible while others say it's illegal.
The explanation of why it's illegal is because those (who did this a few years ago) who want to hike without a tour company simply follow the train tracks. Apparently, this is now forbidden due to safety issues. While taking a different route can be hard due to the lack of information on the internet and guidebooks. The trail is quite long that only the licensed local guides are the ones who know the safe side of the trail. Only the guides know where you are allowed to camp, walk on, etc.
MACHU PICCHU COST AND BUDGET: Day Tour Vs Hike Vs Do It Yourself
There are different ways to reach, see, and explore Machu Picchu depending on your budget, energy, and time to do it.
If you are on a limited holiday, you might want to the fastest way and also convenient which is taking a day tour from Cusco - this is perfect for those who don't have the energy and time to hike for days.
While if you have the time, budget, and the energy, nothing beats a few days hike to see the countryside of Peru and explore the places that not many get the chance to see.
If you have a restricted budget, you can take the bus and do a little hike to save some money. This is one is suitable for budget backpackers who don't mind the long journey if it means saving money and doing some adventure at the same time.
Cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu: Do-It-Yourself
Before I decided to take PeruRail to Machu Picchu, I did a massive and long research about the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu. Since the hiking from Cusco without a guide sounds too risky (I don't want to end up in the jail if it's true that it's now illegal to hike without a licensed guide), I tried to look for the alternative option.
It was not easy to find the information since more than 80% of tourist either take the train or do a hike with a tour company. With some luck on the internet and talking to the locals and tour agencies, I've found the solution.
The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes is to take the bus or the van. This is how it works:
Either book the bus or van for $12 for one-way or $24 for two-way. The vans or buses will be waiting at the Plaza de Armas in the morning, the journey is about 6-hours. The earliest departure is 6 AM. The bus/van drive mostly on the cliffs which many travellers find a little dodgy and scary (just an FYI).
You will be dropped off at Hydro Electrica where you will have to walk for 1.5 to 2-hours, there is a trail don't worry, or of course, you can simply follow the other travellers. The trail is easy, it will take you to Agua Calientes, the main town of Machu Picchu.
Remember to let the driver know when you will be taking the bus/van back to Cusco, so they can count the seats (if you booked a round-trip ticket).
In Agua Calientes, there are accommodations for you to stay. You can still take the bus/van on the same day but it can be very exhausting and you will be in rush.
From Agua Calientes, you can hike up to Machu Picchu main entrance. The hike is uphill and takes about 1 to 1.5-hours. You can also take the bus up if you can spare $12. The drive is about 20-25 minutes.
TIP: Many tour agencies in Cusco offer PEN95-105 ($28-$31) includes two-way transportation and one night in a hostel in Agua Calientes.
Total cost per person
Bus/Van from Cusco to Hydro Electrica
$12 / one-way
Accommodation in Agua Calientes
$9 / per night
Entrance Ticket to Machu Picchu Citadel
Bus/van Hydro Electrica to Cusco
$12 / per person
$77 / per person
Prices if you prefer other type of ticket or take a bus up from Machu Picchu to Agua Calientes or vice versa
Ticket to Machu Picchu with hike to Montaña
$59 / per person
Ticke to Machu Picchu with hike to Huayna Picchu
$59 / per person
Bus from Agua Calientes up or to Machu Picchu Entrance or vice versa
$12 / per person / per way
Machu Picchu tour cost: Day trip from Cusco
As I mentioned before, if you have a limited time and don't have the energy for hikes or treks, taking a day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu is the best for you.
The day trip can either be arranged by yourself or book a tour. Either way, your itinerary will look like this:
- Take the earliest train from Poroy station or Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu station (Agua Calientes): 3-hour ride
- Get on the bus from Agua Calientes: 20-25 minute drive
- Tour the Machu Picchu Citadel: 2-4 hours
- Bus ride down to Agua Calientes: 20-25 minute drive
- Hop on the train from Machu Picchu station back to Cusco: 3-hour journey
If you do it yourself, the cost will be about:
Taxi/Uber from Cusco to Poroy station
Train from Poroy to Machu Picchu station
Bus from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu entrance
Bus from Machu Picchu exit gate to Agua Calientes
Train from Machu Picchu station to Poroy station
Taxi/Uber from Poroy station to Cusco
Tour guide for Machu Picchu Citadel
TOTAL COST FOR DAY TRIP: Do-It-Yourself
While if you plan to go through a travel agency which I highly recommend for those who want a hassle-free trip, you might have to spend a little more, however, it saves you so much time from planning. The tour company will arrange everything, you only need to be on time for the pick-up from your hotel and enjoy the day.
NOTE: The Peruvian government only allow 2,500 visitors daily, therefore, planning ahead of time (months ahead if you are coming during the peak season) to book your ticket is VERY important.
CHECK MY RECOMMENDED TOURS BELOW
Machu Picchu hike cost: 5 days
Now, let's talk about one of the most famous hikes in the world. Machu Picchu hike normally takes 2-4 days which is 40 kms (25 miles) or more depending on the route you will be taking. As of now, since I can't find a concrete information if you can hike by yourself and without a licensed tour guide, I will only talk about a hike with a tour company.
The hike starts in Cusco, most of your bags will be carried by porter while you carry a personal bag. The porters and cooks will be hiking with you together with the guide. In between, you will be stopping by a small village to spend the night or camp somewhere and then leave the next day to continue the hike until you reach Agua Calientes/Machu Picchu.
There are three different trails, the most popular is the classic Inca Trail, while there is also the shorter Inca Trail, and the Salkantay trek.
There is only a limited number of people are allowed to enter these trail to preserve its condition. Therefore, if you are planning to hike either of these trails, you should book at least 90 days in advance if you are coming during the peak season (April-August).
The slower season October-January, you can book at least 30-60 days in advance. The rain season starts in December while the trails are closed the entire February.
Depending on your budget and the tour company you are going with, the inclusion varies.
However, the ones that are always included are the tour guide (2 guides if the group is more than 10 people, porters, cooks, entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel or up to Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu, a guide inside the Citadel, meals, drinks, and a transportation back to Cusco.
If you want to stay in Agua Calientes for a few day, make sure to ask your tour company to book your train back to Cusco a day or two later.
While some tours include the pick up from Lima or transportation from Lima, accommodation in Cusco, accommodation in Agua Calientes, transportation back to Lima or Cusco, and a small souvenir (a shirt or hat).
Machu Picchu hike prices
The price depends on the number of days you are planning to hike. The 2-day hike normally between $400-$600 while the 4-day hike can be between $650 and up to $1,500.
You need to know that the most expensive is the train ticket (back to Cusco), however, if you choose a cheaper class, you can save some pennies too.
Machu Picchu hike through the Inca Trail is not the cheapest option however, it is an experience that you don't want to miss if you can afford it. I took the train, even with that, the view along the way and the main destination was already such an experience. I can't imagine what more if I did the hike.
I didn't do the hike because my travel buddy teaches English online, which means he cannot be offline for too long while we are also not keen on spending a lot of money.