Lonely Planet lists Machu Picchu as South America’s top attraction, and we can understand why. Our visit to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu was magnificent. But visiting this breath-taking sight does take a bit of planning and effort (and money). Here is how we were able to make this journey to Machu Picchu on a budget (kinda).
How We Got There
There are only two ways to get there: by train or on foot (there are no roads). Many people spend several days hiking to get there via the well-known “Inca Trail.” We (especially Emily) decided the train would be more pleasant.
The PeruRail train begins just outside of Cusco, which is the main city in the Peruvian Andes and is its own historical attraction. There are three classes of trains: Expedition (basic and comfortable), Vistadome (similar to Expedition but with better windows for viewing the mountains and live entertainment on the way home), and Hiram Bingham (luxurious).
We chose the Vistadome train, and it was an easy decision to make. PeruRail was having a sale (we love a sale–30% off! Gotta love shoulder season) that made it the same price as the Expedition. The Hiram Bingham was well outside our price range and would have cost us around $1600.
We took in some spectacular views along the four-hour ride. The train ended in Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Village), the small town at the base of the Machu Picchu ruins.
Where We Stayed
The entire village of Aguas Calientes caters to tourists, and there are plenty of hostels and hotels to choose from. We spent one night at Hostal Machu Wasi in a comfortable, basic, and clean room that included breakfast.
We arrived in the afternoon and spent the rest of that day exploring the village.
What We Ate
There is an oversupply of restaurants all over the village, most with touts who will stop you as you walk by the restaurant in order to show you the menu, explain how the restaurant is the most fabulous in the entire village, and entice you by offering a free pisco sour (Peru’s most well-known alcoholic drink).
We were able to find a restaurant without the touts and that was full of locals, and we thought that was great sign that it would be a good restaurant.
This is a typical Peruvian dish–Lomo Saltado. It is stir-fried beef with tomatoes and onions, served with rice and fries. My mouth is watering thinking of it! We found most dishes in Peru are served with rice and fries–you’ve gotta love people that love carbs!
Touring Machu Picchu
We checked out of our room somewhat early the next morning (around 7am; many people check out at 4am to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu). It’s another half-hour bus ride from the village up to the ruins. This bus journey involves constant hair-pin turns, steep slopes, and a lot of prayer. You can see part of the road in the picture below.
We arrived at the ruins filled with anticipation and excitement because we finally made it! We quickly made our way to the first overlook area to find the view of the ruins completely blocked by fog. So we waited for about an hour while the fog gradually cleared. Watching the fog shoot up from the valley below to slowly reveal the ruins was a spectacular sight.
Then we headed toward the back of the ruin complex where a herd of beautiful alpacas were waiting to greet us. They are the official gardeners of Machu Picchu, keeping all of the grassy areas neat and clean.
We then spent a few hours touring the ruins on our own before taking the bus back to the village in order to catch the last train departure back to Cusco.
Full Budget Report
It is not cheap to visit Machu Picchu, especially considering that the rest of Peru is so inexpensive. Here is a breakdown of our costs in US dollars.
$10: Taxi to the train station in Cusco
This was a little bit of a rip-off, but we were having trouble trying to find a taxi that would take us to the train station. The driver originally asked for $15 but we talked the price down.
$280: Train Tickets (Round Trip)
Also a little pricey for a 3-4 hour ride, but there is no other way to get there unless willing to hike.
This was the one thing that was a good deal. The hotel was very nice considering the price we paid for it.
$28: Two Meals
This was also a tad bit overpriced compared to the rest of Peru, but the food was good.
$48: Bus To The Ruins (Round Trip)
This also seemed expensive at first, but then we saw the road and realized that it must be expensive to maintain. And we hope they pay the bus drivers well, for that was a scary ride!
$92 Ruins Entrance Tickets
This also seemed expensive at first, but well worth the cost.
$6 Taxi From Train Station Back To Our Apartment
We shared a taxi with another tourist to get back to our apartment in Cusco.
TOTAL COST: $491 (for both of us, over 2 days)
But going to Peru without visiting Machu Pichhu would be like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. We knew visiting Machu Picchu would be a large expense in our budget, but we planned ahead for this. It was truly amazing to experience God’s handiwork, and we would gladly go there again one day!