The first time that I went to Machu Picchu was in 2006. Back then, though the train between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (now officially Machu Picchu Pueblo) wasn’t the nicest….but it was very cheap!
However, with the explosion of international tourists visiting Machu Picchu, the quality of the train has grown greatly, along with the prices.
Currently, the minimum that you’ll pay to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by train is US$ 77 and US$ 51 for the reverse direction if you buy the tickets early. You can check online to see the current prices: https://www.perurail.com/
However, if you have the time and are in modarate physical shape or just want to do an old school backpacking trek (outside of the Inca Trail), you can do the following trip for a fraction of the price of the train. Plus, appreciate the nature and adventure yourself with a crazy taxi driver through the clifs that take you to the hidroeletric dam.
The whole trip can be done in a day. The itinerary looks something like this:
1) From Cusco to Santa Maria by bus
2) From Santa Maria to Hidroeléctrica (Hydroelectric) in a shared taxi
3) From Hidroeléctrica to Aguas Calientes by foot along the railroad tracks
Your trip will begin in Cusco. There, you’ll have to get to the Santiago bus station in the west part of Cusco. You can ask at your hostel or at the tourist info center (it’s right in the main square) which bus to take to get there. The bus to get there should cost 0.70 soles (US$ 0.22). Just remember that this is not Cusco’s main bus station.
It’s best to arrive at the station before 8 AM and catch the bus towards Quillabamba for 20 soles (US$ 6.4). Shortly after passing Ollantaytambo (a place that is definitely worth a visit on its own, by the way), you’ll have to ask to be dropped off in Santa Maria. The trip from Cusco to Santa Maria is about 2.5 hours.
In Santa Maria, you’ll organize a shared taxi to get to Hidroeléctrica. Normally, there are taxis waiting right where the bus will drop you off. If there are 5 people in the taxi, it’ll be 10 soles (US$ 3.20) per person. If the taxi isn’t full, the driver will try to find more people to pick up along the way. Otherwise, you might have to pay more.
The trip from Santa Maria to Hidroeléctrica will be an hour and a half on a gravel road bordering a cliff… a unique (though also slightly terrifying) experience.
Arriving in Hidroeléctrica, you’ll have to begin walking along the train tracks (just ask the taxi driver where they begin). Shortly after the tracks begin, they will suddenly disappear, and you’ll have to follow a small trail to the right that will take you upwards through the forest. Don’t worry, though, because after 10 minutes or so you’ll exit the forest and see the train tracks once again. Just take a left at the tracks and follow them around 5 km or so until you hit Aguas Calientes. Depending on your walking pace, you should arrive in about an hour. The tracks will take you right to the center of Aguas Calientes.
The next day, you can save even more. Instead of paying the $16 roundtrip to take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, you can walk the same way that the bus goes. Just remember to get up early if you want to do this, though.
Adding it all up:
- Local bus in Cusco to get to the bus station: 0.70 Soles
- Bus from Cusco to Santa Maria: 20 soles
- Shared taxi from Santa Maria to Hidroeléctrica: 10 soles
- The beautiful views along the way: priceless
Total: 30.7 soles, around US$ 10. What a bargain!
To go back, you just have to follow the inverse itinerarie.
Note: The prices in Peruvian Nuevo Soles was current as of July 2013. The exchange rate with dollars was current as of April 2015. Check exchange rates before your trip.
Well, I hope this tip will help you to visit Machu Picchu even if you are on a low budget. Let me know in the comments área below if you have any questions, suggestions, or if you’ve completed this trip yourself. If any of the information is wrong, please let me know so I can fix it in the article.
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