How to Visit Cusco & Machu Picchu on a Budget

If you ever got astonished while watching a picture of Machu Picchu, I have something to tell you: Reality is 10 times better! 

No picture captures the spirit, energy and breath-taking natural surroundings of the ruins. That is why even if it wasn’t one of the top destinations for backpacking it would still be worth every dollar you spend on that trip. But the whole “adventure” point is to push some limits, for that reason I want to share with you the recommendations from my personal experience and my Peruvian friends so you can make the most of it.

Peru is perfect for travelers on a shoestring budget, and not just the backpacker hordes. Visiting Machu Picchu on a budget is totally possible!

Machu Picchu on a budget
Machu Picchu on a budget

How to Visit Cusco & Machu Picchu on a Budget

Peru’s currency is the nuevo sol (S/) and compared to other South American countries, traveling costs are low – it’s easy to survive on $30-40 USD a day. However, if your budget is slightly tighter, then here are a few tips on how to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu on a budget.

1. Bargain

Bargaining is almost a rule in every small community and town, and Cusco is not the exception. 

a. Hotel: 

If you arrive to Cusco by bus, on the terminal you’ll be approached by several “hotel representatives” that will harass you until you go to their hotel. This is good news for you, because if you play your cards right, they’ll fight against each other with the only competitive advantage they have: Rate. I managed to get a room with private bathroom 3 blocks away from the Main Square for U$D 4 per night (this was in 2007).

Bonus track: Most of them will pay for your taxi to make sure you go to their hotel. 

b. Tours: 

Regardless if you chose to go hiking the Inca Trail or going on a regular tour, you’ll have to go to one of the many travel agencies around the main square. All of them offer the same product, with that in mind walk around, asking and bargaining till you find the best deal. 

c. Handicrafts and regional products: 

I don’t need to explain how this works. Test your negotiating skills and you’ll get an average of 50 to 60% off. You’ll find the best product quality, variety and prices in the small towns along the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

2. Nightlife in Cusco on a budget

All the nightlife in Cusco happens around the main square, where you’ll find several pubs and night clubs. Just choose any random point and start walking around the square (clockwise or counterclockwise works!). Every bar will try to make you go in, that’s why they’ll offer you free admission and a free drink.

All you have to do is go inside, have your drink, spend some time if you like the place and move on to the next bar, where the same thing will happen again. When I and my friends got back to the starting point we thought “OK, that’s it”, so imagine our surprise when all the bars started offering the free drinks again! In our case, we just went back to our favorite, but in theory you can get drunk without spending a dime.

3. Eating in Cusco

Every wise traveler will tell you this “Stay away from the touristic places”. On this case, walking just 3 blocks away from the square will be enough. Find a “picanteria”, that’s where the locals eat. We had a (simple) 3 courses meal for U$D 2,50 (corn snack, soup and ceviche).

4. Churches

An important part of this trip, is visiting Cusco’s stunning baroque churches like the Cathedral, La Merced and Jesuit church to name a few. They boast an artistic patrimony of sculptures and paintings from the Cusco School (XVII century) and earthquake-proof architecture with fascinating shapes. You need to buy the “tourist pass” (U$D 10) to enter the Cathedral, and pay a small admission fee for the other churches, but if you go during the mass, you can enter for free. *

5. Sacsayhuaman

In the times of the Incas, the city of Cusco used to be shaped as a Puma. Sacsayhuaman, which are now beautiful ruins overlooking the city, used to be the Puma’s head. You can enter for free before the opening time (7am)… Of course my choice was to sleep an extra couple of hours!

Depending on how much time you have and which are your interests it may be worth to buy the tourist pass. A one-day partial Cusco ticket is $25 and includes entrance to Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay.

Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru
Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru

6. Train to Machu Picchu

At some point, you’ll have to take the train (even if you walk the Inca Trail, you’ll need it to go back). They’ll tempt you to buy the Deluxe Train instead of the backpackers’ one. It certainly is beautiful with those panoramic windows and first class service. But all the fun happens in the backpackers’ train… We found ourselves into a party (literally) with adventurers from all around the world. Don’t miss that experience!

7. Time is money! 

You want to arrive early to Machu Picchu; the deluxe train arrives about 10 AM, which means that that’s the time when everything will be crowded. I’d recommend spending the night in the close town of Aguas Calientes and waking up early in the morning. If you didn’t walk the Inca Trail, resist the temptation of walking up to the ruins just to prove yourself how adventurous you are. That’s a waste of time and energy. Go straight to the ruins by bus, and finish early enough to climb the Huayna Picchu for the most amazing panoramic view of the citadel. You can start your way up until 1PM and they have a limited space for the first 200 people.

8. Free souvenir

Take your passport with you when you visit Machu Picchu and go to the visitor’s center, where they’ll enrich it with a fancy rubber stamp of the ruins.

More posts on Machu Picchu & Cusco

Where to go in Peru Besides Machu Picchu

Wondering about where to go in Peru besides Machu Picchu?

Those of us lucky enough to live in Peru know that Machu Picchu is but one of dozens of destinations that Peru offers those who venture outside our workplace in the capital city of Lima.

Lima has its charms – colonial architecture, archaeological museums and a cuisine that has rightfully taken its place among the world’s finest – but the most enticing attractions in Peru are in the provinces.

where to go in peru besides machu picchu
Lima in Peru

Where to go in Peru besides Machu Picchu

The combination of the long Pacific coastline, the Andes mountains and the Amazon jungle make Peru’s geography among the most dramatic and awe-inspiring on earth. And the archaeology! Machu Picchu is one of thousands of fascinating archeological sites left by the Incas and a wide variety of cultures that preceded them. And native cultures continue to abound throughout the country, making Peru a virtual rainbow of rich living traditions that will be the delight to any visitor.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the best of these attractions in Peru, first to the south, then to the north of Lima. After reading this, you’ll know that Peru is much more than Machu Picchu.

The south of Peru

The city of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is still open and offers the visitor a wide variety of attractions, including spectacular Incan and Spanish colonial structures, amazing textiles and other handcrafts, museums, fine dining and, on the outskirts, numerous impressive Incan ruins, including the stone fortress of Sacsayhuaman that is now home of the Inti Raymi festival held each year in June.

Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru

An hour’s drive from Cusco is the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas, once the breadbasket of the empire where today people continue to live much as they did before the conquest. The Sacred Valley is a rural paradise containing some of Peru’s most important Incan ruins and some of the country’s newest and most modern hotels.

Further to the south, straddling the border with Bolivia, is the spectacular Lake Titicaca that, at 12,500 feet, is the highest navigable lake in the world. Its shores and numerous islands are populated by Aymara people who welcome sharing their ancient customs and folkways with visitors.

Another delightful attraction in the southern sierra region is Arequipa, called the “white city” for the white volcanic rock that continues to be widely used for construction. Arequipa is a picturesque colonial city and a short drive away from the majestic Colca Canyon, which offers some of the most beautiful scenery in this beautiful country.

Where to go in Peru Besides Machu Picchu
Colca, Peru

The southern coastal region features ParacasIca and Nazca. The best known attraction in the zone is the Nazca line drawings, etched in over 1,000 square kilometers of the sandy plains north of Nazca. Constructed from about 400 BC to 600 AD, the Nazca line drawings are geoglyphs that characterize several species of birds, a fish, a spider, a monkey, and plants within a labyrinth of straight lines, spirals, triangles, and other shapes.

The Nazca line drawings are best appreciated from the air, though they may also be viewed on-site from specially constructed towers. Ica – famous for its warm, dry and sunny climate – is the center of Peru’s wine industry. Other attractions include the Huacachina oasis, with its palm-lined lagoon having medicinal sulfurous waters, and the world-class Las Dunas resort.

The nearby Paracas Bay and adjoining Paracas National Reserve are both teeming with marine and bird life. Be sure to take the boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands, where seals, sea lions, and countless bird species can be viewed in their natural habitat.

The three luxurious bayside Hotels: Libertador Paracas, Doubletree and La Hacienda are now the talk of Lima, so be sure to make reservations early.

Paracas, Ica and Nazca are sunny and warm year-round. Don’t forget to come with your bathing suit and plenty of sun block!

The north of Peru

A short drive north of Lima is Caral, a fascinating archeological site believed to be 5,000 years old and so, is commonly called the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. A couple of hours to the north, near the prosperous and attractive city of Trujillo, are the ruins of Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the hemisphere.

Another couple of hours up the coast is Chiclayo, is where the Lord of Sipan was discovered. With the help of the National Geographic Society, a museum – possibly the finest in Peru – was built in the nearby city of Lambayeque to house the impressive golden and jeweled archeological remains.

Perhaps the most impressive archeological site in the north of Peru is the mountaintop fortress of Kuelap in the high jungle region near the picturesque city of Chachapoyas. The countryside around Chachapoyas feature numerous cliffside burial sites, many of which were found with mummies, and two of the world’s tallest waterfalls.

Higher into the northern Andes, the city of Cajamarca holds the so-called Incan baths, still-functioning thermal baths where the Incan king Atahualpa was bathing when he was taken prisoner and eventually killed by the Spanish conquerors lead by Francisco Pizarro. Cajamarca is also home to the Yanacocha gold mine, one of the world’s largest, and a variety of pre-Colombian ruins set in the beautiful mountain scenery of northern Peru.

The tallest mountains in northern Peru surround the Callejón de Hualylas. The snow-peaked Cordillera Blanca that defines the eastern side of this lovely mountain valley is a haven for mountain climbers and anyone seeking unsurpassed scenery of mountain peaks and glacier-fed mountain lakes.

The northern coast also features Peru’s finest beaches. Perhaps the best known is Mancora, a party town that has become a haven for Peru’s budding surfing scene. The rich Pacific fishing waters, once famous as a favorite fishing haunt of Ernest Hemmingway, today provide the raw ingredients for some of the finest cuisine on the planet.

Manorca beach in Southern Peru
Manorca beach in Southern Peru

The Jungle of Peru

The rainy season in the jungle extends through April, but the mornings and early afternoons are normally dry. 

Peru’s jungle is formed by the Amazon River, the longest river in the world, which starts in the mountains of southern Peru, then rambles through Peru’s vast jungle region en route to Brazil. Visitors can begin a tour of the Peruvian Amazon in the jungle cities of Puerto Maldonado or Iquitos.

Peru’s Amazon region features unequalled nature reserves, including the Manu National Park, and the Tambopata Candamo and Pacaya Samiria Nature Reserves.

The Jungle of Peru
The Jungle of Peru

So now you know that Peru is much more than Machu Picchu. Whether you seek a mountain or jungle adventure, unparalleled archaeological riches, or simply want to relax on the beach or at poolside while enjoying a pisco sour along with some of the finest and freshest food you’ve ever tasted, Peru is the place to be. Believe me, I know because I live there. Machu Picchu can wait.

Looking for tips on Peru besides Machu Picchu? Check out these posts:

The Complete Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu in Peru

Any trip to Peru isn’t complete without visiting Machu Picchu. It attracts archaeologists, photographers and adventurers, as well as travellers who are eager to tick it off their bucket list. 

The altitude of Machu Picchu is 2 430 m (7,972 feet) – making it pretty impressive (acute mountain altitude sickness can occur).

If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu in Peru – here’s everything that you’ll need to know.

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu in Peru

Visiting Machu Picchu isn’t cheap (though you can do Machu Picchu on a budget). As of 2021,

With the train ticket to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also formerly known as Aguas Calientes at US$98 return and a night’s accommodation it easily adds up to over US$200. Visitors to Machu Picchu typically leave from Cusco.

From there, a visitor has the following options to reach Machu Picchu:

On foot

Hiking the Inca Trail is an alternative to get in and a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from beneath on the bus). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.

A hiker can also follow the train tracks all the way to Machu Picchu. There is only one track leading out of the Machu Picchu train station in Cusco, so it’s quite simple. It takes about four days, and you only have to pay the entrance fee. Recent regulations require reservations and the hiring of a professional tour guide to accompany you on the hike.

You can also take the less popular Inca Jungle Trail.

Walking Along the Railroad Tracks

While this route is technically illegal, the law is not enforced except at the Inca Trail checkpoint of Kilometer 82. If you wish to get to Machu Picchu by this route, leave from Ollantaytambo early in the morning, at about 5 – 5:30 AM. You will likely have to make arrangements beforehand for a taxi to bring you to Km. 82, as there are not many taxis in service at this time. Once you get to Kilometer 82, begin walking on the tracks away from Ollantaytambo.

The trip is approximately 30 kilometers, but because the ground is flat it goes fairly quickly. You can count on getting into Aguas Calientes sometime after lunch and before dinner. It is then recommended to get a hostel and see the ruins the following day. This method of travel, it should be stressed, is technically illegal, but for a budget traveller looking for an adventure, this is the best choice.

Train to Machu Picchu

The most common way is to take the PeruRail train to Machu Picchu in the morning, explore the ruins for a few hours and return to Cusco in the afternoon, though it can be a bit rushed. The train terminates at Puente Ruinas station, where buses take tourists up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The Machu Picchu station is located at Aguas Calientes; this is not the station used by tourists on a day trip.

You can book Vistadome Train round-trip ticket here.

Note: PeruRail’s Backpacker train is segregationist in the literal sense. Tourists ride in a posh car, and Peruvians ride in another car farther back, often standing room only.

Bus to Machu Picchu

From Machu Picchu pueblo Aguas Calientes a traveler can take one of the frequent buses to the ruins (US$12 each way). The bus operates from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and the ride takes about 35 – 40 minutes.

It is also possible to walk the distance, about 2 hours (8 km). This route is mainly stairs, and follows the bus route up. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 4 a.m. to make it to the top before sunrise.

You can also travel the “back way” independently from Cusco by taking a bus to Santa Maria, colectivo to Santa Teresa, and proceeding to the hydroelectric train station by foot or van and on to Aguas Calientes by foot or train. Note that hiking the tracks is technically prohibited. Do your research before choosing this route.

An experience of visiting Machu Picchu by train

Many will take the challenging Inca Trail to reach this New 7 Wonder of the World, but Lisa Rollinson discovered that even those who take the easier route will still be overwhelmed by this legendary site…  

“I had dreamed of visiting the ancient ruins since I could remember. I had heard tales, seen pictures and read books, but finally it was my time to visit this man-made wonder. 

We arrived in Aguas Calientes by train in the early afternoon. This little town is Machu Picchu’s jumping on or off point, for people who have completed their Inca Trail trek or those who are sightseeing by train. A river runs though the village and there are restaurants and souvenir shops lining the main street. You could immediately sense the excitement amongst people who were returning from the sacred ruins, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy the moment myself! 

We joined the queue of locals and visitors who were waiting to board the buses, that 25 minutes later would have us disembarking at one of the most fascinating places on our planet. 

The road snaked its way through the mountains and, as the bus rounded a corner, I had my first glimpse of the ancient Inca ruins. I realised I was holding my breath, taken aback by the size of the site.  

The most astonishing thing is the mountain-side location of the ruins. The amount of work that must have gone into clearing the land is inspiring, but the gradient they are built on is simply unfathomable. 

Our guide explained how the stones used in the construction were both local and brought in from elsewhere. It took around 90 years for the Incas to build the sanctuary and some even say that parts were never finished.  

We had plenty of time to wander at our leisure, take it all in and imagine what it must have been like when the Spanish invaded the region. It was during this time that the Incas were thought to have burned Machu Picchu and hidden themselves deeper in the mountains. 

Machu Picchu was a small community, a place of refuge, built in the most improbable landscape. ‘Incredible’ just doesn’t describe it. Even when you see it for yourself it’s hard to comprehend the scale of Machu Picchu. It will keep you wondering why the Incas decided to build on a mountainside, in the middle of nowhere. There is simply nothing that compares in our modern world!”

Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru

Highlights and things to see at the Machu Picchu, Peru

Take the time to walk around the site; there are many places to see and explore when visiting Machu Picchu. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it.

Also, be sure to wake up early to miss the thousands of people that visit the site each day, or stay till closing time. The first buses start running at 5:40AM, which will give you an hour or two in the pleasant light of dawn but before the full force of the sun begins hammering the mountainside. (If you plan to stay past 10AM, sunblock is requisite.)

Temple of the Sun

Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.

Intihuatana – Temple of the Three Windows – Main Temple – Condor

The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner’s backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a santized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.

The following sights involve some legwork:

Sun Gate

Walk back up the Inca trail away from the site and up the hill to the Sun Gate (or Inti Punku); from here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It’s a gentle walk (probably 45 mins tops round trip) and well worth it. If you stay in Aguas Callientes, it is possible to get here early enough to catch the sunrise from here. 

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Walk up Waynapicchu (in Spanish Huayna Picchu); this is the “second” hill seen in the many photos. Its a steep but short walk offering very impressive views over the site. Well worth the effort!

Waynapicchu also has ruins atop its peak. As of November 2006, visitors are no longer accepted after 1 p.m. to start the trail, and all visitors must be out by 4:00p.m.

Only 400 visitors are allowed to enter this trail each day. Buses begin leaving for Machu Picchu at 5:30. A line forms early at the checkpoint to the trail. At 7:00 A.M. 400 ticket numbers are issued and the first of batch of 200 hikers is slowly released. The second group of 200 can start any time between 10:00 and 11:00 A.M.. On busy tourist days, the limit will be reached by 7 or 8 A.M..

It is recommended that you go straight here first thing. You will be required to sign in; remember your number (or the time you signed in) so that you can find yourself in the book to sign out again. The climb is steep and at times exposed, and takes about 1 hour each way. Some portions are slippery and steel cables (a via ferrata) provide some support. Decent footwear is important. There is an extremely narrow passage near the summit (a cave).

The view of the city is fantastic as it rises out of the clouds. You can even see all the way to the sun gate. 

At the top is a mini Machu Pichu, with houses, terraces, and some HUGE drop offs where you can get some amazing photos. 

This really is the last epic moment of the Inca Trail and the bit that fewest people get to see. So get past the crowds and hurry towards the mountain, sign the book, pass through the gate and get up to the top.

Take some time to lie on your back and take in the fact that you are on the very top of the Incas world. 

Two cautionary notes: The hike is somewhat strenuous and not advised for visitors who are elderly, pregnant or have heart/lung conditions. Also, the steep stairs and cliffs you must walk along at the summit can be terrifying for those who are afraid of heights.

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)
Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Moon Temple and Great Cave

If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne). It’s a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren’t really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported).

This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carvern).

Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours.

Food at Machu Picchu

It’s officially not allowed to bring food into the archeological site. But if you’re planning to stay the whole day, bring some snacks or sandwiches and plenty of water (just be sure not to litter). Your ticket will tell you that you cannot bring food or water bottles into the site, although many people do take them anyway.

Buying them at the site is expensive, and plastic bottles are not offered (glass only). Purchase food and plenty of water and bring it with you. The concession stand near the entrance of the site is pitiful in its offerings and gets very busy at lunchtime. Once in the site, it’s not possible to buy food or drinks. There is a cafeteria near the site, where the locals who work there eat. Ask one of them and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a cheap, filling, and unique alternative to the expensive tourist snack-stand.

  • Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, +51 84 21 1039/38. 11:30AM-3:00PM. Casual lunch buffet with nice picture windows. Expensive: About $33 for buffet lunch, approximately four times that of area restaurants.
  • Tampu Restaurant Bar (Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge guests only). 5:30AM-9:00AM, Noon-3:00PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM. Expensive, but it’s at the ruins site.

Better food choices can be found by taking one of the regular buses to Aguas Calientes (the small town on the train stop to Cuzco) where there are numerous restaurants. These restaurants are not up to the standards of those in Cuzco or Lima, but are generally satisfactory. They tend to be moderately high priced. Some guidebooks report an unusually high incidence of food poisoning in the area, possibly attributable to the fairly common power outages (with loss of refrigeration). Cooked pizza and bottled beer or soft drinks are safe bets, salads and Pisco sours (made with raw egg whites) are best avoided here. 

Accommodation at Machu Picchu

Rather than returning from the ruins the same day, a traveller can stay overnight near the ruins. There are many hotels at nearby Aguas Calientes, but only one hotel at Machu Picchu itself.

Machu Picchu is not a regular town, but a protected sanctuary where new construction is not allowed. That is why all of the places to sleep, with a single exception, are in nearby Aguas Calientes. This lively town offers a wide assortment of lodging options with choices that range from no-frills hostels for backpackers, to very sophisticated hotels. It is recommended to do a thorough hotel research before committing.

The only hotel in Machu Picchu is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Guests of this hotel can visit the ruins with the same schedule of travellers who spend a night in Aguas Calientes, but can enjoy the magnificent isolation of the sanctuary. The hotel also allows guests to cut out all transfer times from the citadel to their accommodation, allowing for a longer, more relaxing time at Machu Picchu.

How much does visiting Machu Picchu cost?

There are three types of tickets for visiting Machu Picchu. All include admission to the famous Inca archaeological site. However, they also offer access to huge mountains as well as interesting museums to learn more about the Inca City.

  • Machu Picchu Solo (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu): $45 USD (152 Soles) for adults and $21 USD (70 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Mountain (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Machhu Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)

NB! Note that tickets are not sold at Machu Picchu itself, you need to get your ticket before arrival. Book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu Lost Citadel here.

When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

The dry winter months of June and July are peak season in Machu Picchu and prices rise accordingly (and Inca Trail reservations are scarce for last-minute planners).

Tourists flock to the sun-soaked coastal regions during the summer months of December and January.

The best bargains can be found during the fringe months of April and May or September and October.

Spending a Night in Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu

The chances are that you’ve spent much time, money, and effort getting to the ancient Incan City of Machu Picchu, so why would you spend only a few hours exploring it?

Whether you’ve opted for the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, or you’re hiking the Inca Trail (or taking the less common Inca Jungle Trail), you’ll want to get the most out of your visit to this spectacular ancient site.

After all, it might be a once in a lifetime experience!

Spending a Night in Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu
Spending a Night in Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu

We recommend staying a night in Aguas Calientes (or two)

Last year when my husband, Ashton, and I traveled to Peru, I was surprised to hear that there were day trips from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

My thoughts: You can’t possibly do justice to Machu Picchu in a few hours. Instead, choose to stay in the village of Aguas Calientes for two or three nights and visit Machu Picchu a couple times, perhaps at different times of the day. Sure, you have to pay for each visit, but think of the expense you’ve already incurred just to get there. Surely, an extra few Sols are worth the sublime experience.

As a photography enthusiast I like to plan my visits to iconic sites according to the direction of the sunlight and time of day. In addition, I have learned through experience to give myself plenty of “wiggle room” for unpredictable happenings, such as bad weather (like rain or fog) or transportation delays. Again, you’ve expended a great deal of money and energy to get there, so take the extra time.

Taking the train to Aguas Calientes

We left Cusco early morning on the PeruRail VistaDome train to Aguas Calientes. After dumping our luggage at our hotel where we were spending the night in Aguas Calientes, and having a bite to eat, we went straight up to Machu Picchu for the rest of the afternoon. We were fortunate to have great weather and I was very pleased to be there for the “golden hour” of sunlight just before sunset. In addition I was able to scout out where I should plant myself on the following morning to photograph Machu Picchu at sunrise.

On the next morning, we were, again blessed with perfect weather. From our reconnaissance the day before, we knew where to go and set up my tripod for that iconic shot of Machu Picchu. Granted, we could also have opted for a guide as many travelers do, but we prefer to wander around, on our own time, with our guidebooks.

We even had time to rest on the grass in the central plaza, munch on some granola bars for energy, and play with the llamas.

By the time we left, mid-afternoon, we felt we had really explored Machu Picchu.

Hotels in Aguas Calientes

If you’re thinking about spending a night in Aguas Calientes, here’s where to stay.

For Backpackers: Ecopackers Machu Picchu Hostel

Only 328 feet from Machu Picchu Train Station and 164 feet from Santuario Bus Station – this hostel has a perfect location!

Budget-Friendly Hotel: El Tambo Machu0icchu

El Tambo Machupicchu is a super central hotel that is incredibly affordable. There are no bells and whistles, but you get a comfortable, clean room and basic amenities.

B&B: Panorama B&B

A quaint B&B just outside of town with fantastic views over the river. A great place to relax and enjoy the quiet.

Luxury: Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel

named one of South America’s best hotels by Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, the hotel offers everything you would expect from a 5 star hotel.

Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu – The Less Traveled Hike

The Inca Jungle Trail is a remote and ancient footpath in the same region of the Inca trail, but less traveled with more spectacular views.

A magnificent wilderness alternative for those who wish to escape the more congested trekking routes or those who are looking for alternative if the traditional hiking Inca Trail has no spaces available.

Book the Inca Jungle Trail with Viator.

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

Here’s the itinerary for hiking the Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Day 01: Cusco Santa Maria

Have a coffee and leave in the morning — The journey begins leaving Cusco with a panoramic view of the city, and then way Chinchero / Ollantaytambo. There you will take the track on the right bank to rise to a height of 4350 meters above sea level, you will encounter with the Open Malaga. Point too mystical, where payment is made to land very often.

Finally, after about 2 hours approximately biking, you will reach the 1430 meters high Santa Maria. That’s your first day of rest in a lodge. You are in the middle of a humid forest and the magnificent for its fauna and flora.

Day 02: Santa Maria Santa Teresa

You will begin the day’s trekking, but first have an energy packed breakfast. This second day is really impressive! Here begins your journey of approximately seven to eight hours between up and down. But the interesting thing in this trek for the second day is not only part of Inca roads crossed perfectly designed, but also an adventure through the Inca jungle trail.

There you will be surrounded by green nature filled with fruit trees, rivers and exotic animals of the region. That will make you feel full of satisfaction. Among the fauna such as the parrots you will find countless varieties of flora like Coca, Coffee. Combine that with some wonderful hot springs where you can relax after a wonderful walk.

It’s a combination of Inca trail and forest roads. A great day! Then you will arrive to your final destination of the second day at Santa Teresa (1900 m).

Day 3: Santa Teresa – Aguas Calientes

Nature, adventure and adrenaline on the third day hike to Machu Picchu. Enjoy the convenience of trekking in the pleasant climate that ranges from 20-30 ° C. Here in this third day of walking you will be six hours of walking. But full of energetic adrenaline. Cross not only landscapes but also other Inca trails that are also called path of nobility. You will have the privilege to enjoy a view from the highest point and it is the best gift of nature to which one can admire the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in the distance. Arrive at Aguas Calientes, where you will establish in your accommodation.

Day 4: Machu Picchu

On your special day, you get up very early (4:00 am) and you will head on foot to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in order to spot the cloud forest and other natural wonders of the dawn. Practically most of the day you will want to visit the archaeological complex, that will make this last day imperishable in the memory. Enjoy as well the mountain of Huayna Picchu (only 400 persons allowed per day). Then return to the town of Aguas Calientes where you could board the train or bus to transport you back to Cusco.

You could also stay an extra night in Aguas Calientes, which would allow you to visit Machu Pichu one more time.

Book the Inca Jungle Trail with Viator.

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A Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru is the most famous of South America’s trekking routes.

The 26 mile trek includes a mix of Inca ruins, mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest and subtropical jungle, leading to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Though the terrain is not extremely difficult to hike, the high altitude will make it hard for an unprepared hiker. Hikers will need to spend several days in Cusco before the hike to adjust to the altitude. Drinking lots of water will help to acclimatize to the altitude.

There are only 500 Inca trail permits available per day, including support staff such as cooks, porters, and guides. So, we recommend booking your Inca trail tour at least 3 months in advance. During the peak summer months, however, you may want to book even further in advance.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

The best time for hiking the Inca Trail

The dry season, which is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to October or November and the rainy season is from December to April. The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains. Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures from around 32-50ºF.

What to Pack for the Inca Trail

The tour operator you choose will help determine exactly what you need to bring on the trek. Usually they supply the appropriate duffel for you to pack and for the porters to carry, which can weight up to 17.6 lbs. You will carry only a light day pack. Usually they also provide all camping equipment, except for sleeping bags, which are available to rent. We highly recommend layering with water soluble clothing, or fabric the doesn’t retain moisture, and advise against wearing cotton, which absorbs water quickly and is slow to dry which can make for an uncomfortable trek.

We recommend you bring the following:

  • A small day pack that holds your sunglasses, hat, sun screen, insect repellent, a camera, a reusable water bottle, a wind jacket and rain gear.
  • One complete change of clothing per day.
  • Sweater and jacket for cool days or nights, gloves and winter hat recommended.
  • A down jacket is recommended for evenings, as it can get very cold at night.
  • Warm sweat pants for evening around camp and in tent.
  • Comfortable high top and water proof hiking boots.
  • Comfortable wool socks.
  • A pair of sneakers to wear around camp and a pair of flip flops for showering.
  • Passport.
  • A flashlight and batteries.
  • Personal toiletries and medications.
  • Medium sized towel.
  • Peruvian currency (soles) for tips and small purchases along the way.
  • Sleeping bag (if you choose not to rent one).

Check out our hiking gear guide.

What documents do you need to hike the Inca Trail?

You will need a passport that is valid at least six months after your date of arrival. Citizens from the US, UK, Canada and Australia visiting as tourist do not need a visa. Tourist may stay a maximum of 90 days, should you be staying longer you will need to request an extension from the Peruvian immigration authorities. All visitors must fill out a copy of a tourist card which will be provided on your flight to Peru; keep this in your passport and present it to authorities when departing the country.

Tipping on the Inca Trail

We recommend tipping your porters $10 per day and tipping your guide $15-20 a day.

Machu Picchu

Your journey will begin in Lima, where you will spend the night and depart the next day for Cusco. On most treks you will hike an average of 4-7.5 miles per day. Once you reach Machu Picchu you will spend the night and return to Cusco by train the next day. If you do not want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can also get there by train.

Hiking the Inca Trail with GAdventures

GAdventures was named the Best Inca Trail Tour Operator by the Regional Direction of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Cusco (RDFTTC) in Peru. By joining this tour, you will be helping to support over 569 local guides, porters, cooks, drivers and staff.

Their four-day Inca Trail trek combines the cultural highlights of the Sacred Valley with hiking through the region’s ruins, mountainscapes, and cloud forests.

Check out the tour here.

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