Day Trip Guide
Day Trip Guide
Doing a day trip to Machu Picchu, for us, was the most time efficient way to see this natural wonder of the world. However, be we warned that it can get pretty pricey if you decide to go this route. Full disclosure: we were very over budget for this day.
When all was said and done, it cost roughly $300 per person for the whole experience. Now, don't be totally turned off by that price tag. We will lay out what we did for our itinerary, and what we could have taken out to make it more budget friendly. Read the Price Breakdown to see what we could have excluded to save $113 - $225 USD.
No matter which way you decide to get to Machu Picchu, the first step will be arriving to Aguas Calientes. That is the town that sits right at the foot hills of the ancient ruins. Another way to get to the site, albeit not a day trip, would be to hike the Classic Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. This trek requires purchasing a permit pretty far in advance and hiring a guide to do the trek.
Are you looking to get to Machu Picchu, learn all about its history, and do a cool hike, and hike up to the Sun Gate? Then we would absolutely recommend going with our friend, Percy, through MontesTravelPeru. We did our trip to Machu Picchu and to Rainbow Mountain with him and couldn't speak any higher of him. He is incredibly kind, knowledgable, and passionate about what he does.
Each tour is $40 USD/person for either the full day Machu Picchu or Rainbow Mountain excursions. The full day Machu Picchu tour listed on his website includes transportation. Prices may vary depending on whether or not you had already booked a train ticket to Aguas Calientes, like we did.
Right off the bat, your method of transportation can either make or break your budget trip to Machu Picchu. Hiring a guide is another additional that will drive up the price for this experience. For some reason we heard that it was required to hire a guide to go into Machu Picchu with you. But, we met plenty of people there who were doing the day tour of the ruins themselves. After doing more research, it looks like the guide is only required if you want to hike the classic Inca trail 4 day/3 night excursion. Like I mentioned, it was $40/person for just the guided tour and we learned a lot about the history behind the ruins. Additionally, Percy took also care of booking the entrance tickets/bus tickets for us so it was super convenient doing the day with him.
Our research told us the quickest way to get there is by a three hour train ride, each way. There are two options you have for the train: PeruRail or IncaRail. We took the train in October 2018, but I am writing this blog in December 2018 so below you will see the December prices. Note: the prices shown here are comparable to what we paid.
If you're planning on taking the train, it's worth noting that the closest station to Cusco is Poroy, which is still about a 20 minute drive. We got a ride to the station for 45 Soles (~$15 USD), which was a total ripoff. We were naive and arranged a ride through our hostel, which for sure charged us a 'gringo tax.' When we were leaving the Poroy station there were heaps of taxi drivers offering rides for 30 Soles (~$10 USD), which could absolutely be negotiated down.
For our round trip ticket, we paid $165 USD per person (before taxes) with PeruRail. We left the Poroy station, in Cusco, at 6:40am ($70 USD) and left Machu Picchu at 5:23pm ($95 USD). Both tickets included meals on the way to and from Machu Picchu. If you look below, you'll see that this same route would cost $155 USD per person (before taxes).
It is definitely possible to get a cheaper round trip ticket than $155-165 with PeruRail, but that would mean leaving Machu Picchu earlier. For us, we were willing to pay another $10 to stay an extra two hours. We definitely made the most of it, especially since we were sprinting through the streets of Aguas Calientes to make it back to the train.
In retrospect, it appears IncaRail tickets would have been much cheaper than the PeruRail tickets. In addition to cheaper prices, it looks like we would have been able to stay longer at Machu Picchu. Oh well, you live and you learn. Hopefully if you're reading this you will learn from our silly mistake. Of course we can't speak to the quality of IncaRail or if meals are included, but we are all about finding more cost effective transportation, even if we have to bring our own food.
We know riding the train to Machu Picchu is pretty expensive, so below are a few other options to get there. Keep in mind if you're looking to make a day trip to Machu Picchu, you will most likely have to rule these options out as they will take quite a bit of time. But hey, like they say - "time is money."
Ok, so this is probably the safest out of the three options we've listed here. From Cusco, it is possible to take a van to the Hidroeléctrica Station for roughly $30 USD. The return ticket is approximately $18 USD, so $48 USD round trip. Now, this will take about twice as long as the train (roughly 7 - 7.5 hours each way) plus you will need to hike another 3 hours to get to Aguas Calientes. From there, it is still about a 1.5 - 2 hour hike to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
**Disclaimer** - please do these at your own risk. We wouldn't recommend doing these options because the path there will take you through some sketchy territory.
So if you're still reading, you're probably an adventurous person. We have heard some success stories of this route like Along Dusty Roads. They took a colectivo, or shared van/cab, from Cusco to Ollantaytambo which is roughly 1.5 - 2 hours. From there they walked 28km along the IncaRail train tracks to Aguas Calientes. You can also do the Classic Inca Trail hike but this will require booking a guided hike since it is unlawful to hike the Inca Trail without a tour operator as of 2001.
If you're adventurous, but don't want to walk at all, then you may consider hitchhiking. To be honest, this would be our last choice but hey, to each their own.
Once you are at the top, the entrance fee is required. Fortunately Percy was able to book these for us ahead of time at $50/person so we did not need to deal with the Peruvian Government's website to book. Having a third party book your the entrance tickets is usually anywhere from $60-$70 USD so we thought $50 USD/person was reasonable. It turns out the actual cost of the entrance ticket is really $45 USD. If you want to save $5 USD and book yourself, you'll need to use this website to book which only works in Internet Explorer. TheRewardBoss goes over how to use the website in their post.
Keep in mind, due to an agreement with the Peruvian Government and UNESCO, only 2,500 guests are permitted to the site each day. If you are in Cusco during the low season (June - September) and don't want to book ahead, it is possible to find a tour agency in Cusco that could book your ticket for you. However, it is likely that they will charge a service fee for booking a ticket for you. If you're really willing to risk it then you could make your way to Aguas Calientes and buy a ticket at the entrance. But, if you're trying to make a day trip out of this I don't know why you would want to spend time and money to get there and potentially not be able to get in.
Alright, so you made it to Aguas Calientes - you’re so close. This small town sits about 1.5 - 2 hours by hiking and about 30 minutes by bus from the entrance of Machu Picchu. Of course, the quickest and most comfortable way is to pay for a bus ride to the entrance gate. This will cost you about $12 USD/person each way. We ended up taking the bus both ways in order to maximize hiking at the actual site of Machu Picchu.
If we had more time, then we definitely would have hiked up ourselves to save some cash. We thought about taking the bus up and walking back down since going up would be the hard part. Unfortunately, we would have missed our train back to Cusco if we didn’t take the bus back down. We boarded the train with minutes to spare before it left the station, and it was the last one leaving that day. More on that later…
If you arrive in Aguas Calientes early in the morning then it's absolutely worth walking the Camino Peatonal, or pedestrian path, to the entrance. You can find the trailhead to this path along the road that the buses drive up to the top. Don't worry, there will be plenty of people heading down the road to that path. There are loads of dogs that run up and down the path all day so if you find a friendly buddy heading towards the trail then you could follow him to the top!
The Pachamama, or 'Mother Earth', is seen as a goddess of the indigenous Incan people. The photo above is of the mountain of Huayna Picchu which sits behind the city of Machu Picchu. If tilt your head to the right, you can see a face in the mountain, which the Incas believed to be the face of Pachamama. They believed that the Pachamama looked after them so it was their responsibility to reciprocate her kindness and take care of her.
The Incas had a very developed and peaceful society. They essentially developed a form of socialism before it was even known to the western world. Their tax system known as Mit'a did not consist of money, but of mandatory public service. The Incas paid their taxes with labor and work, which is actually how Machu Picchu was built.
Before we even get started with the trekking we just have to say that there are Alpacas everywhere at Machu Picchu. Percy said that they are pretty friendly and accustomed to humans so feel free to take pictures with them. However, they are pretty dirty so it's probably best not to pet them. With that being said, they are wild animals so you really shouldn't be touching them anyway. You wouldn't want to unintentionally upset them because be warned, they can spit or bite you. Also, there are clearly marked boundaries of where you can and cannot walk around Machu Picchu. Please don't venture off to where you shouldn't be, even if its just to take pictures - it's still not an excuse.
The Machu Picchu to Sun Gate Loop is probably the most popular hike to do at this site. Most people go straight for the ancient ruins and miss the part up to the Sun Gate, which is where the Inca Trail ends. The entire loop is about 2.4 miles, but the portion to the Sun Gate and back is approximately 1.7 miles. From the top you will be rewarded with an amazing view above the ancient ruins. When we went, there was quite a bit of cloud cover so it was really cool to watch the ruins disappear and reappear from the Sun Gate. Walking around Machu Picchu and watching the clouds rolling up mountains was unreal.
The Huayna Picchu Loop is another popular hike that can be done during a day trip. It is a 2.5 mile loop that is a bit more strenuous than the loop around the ruins to the Sun Gate. However, this one requires the purchase of a permit as only about 400 hikers are allowed per day. The cost is approximately 48 Soles or $15 USD. We did not do this hike, however, heard that the views were amazing but the hike was challenging.
From our experience, if you're planning a day trip it would be pretty difficult to do this hike and the hike to the Sun Gate. If you're ambitious and in good shape it would be definitely be doable. Speaking from experience, we like to enjoy our hikes and not feel rushed so that is why we opted out. Additionally, the added cost was not appealing on top of this already expensive day.
Ok, so we know $299 USD is quite a lot to spend for the day. That is over 4 times our daily budget so this was quite a doosey once it sunk in. But like I said, this was a chance to see one of the seven wonders of the world. We were the ones who wanted to do it in a day trip so that is on us for making it expensive for ourselves. Below is a more budget friendly option, albeit still quite expensive for one day. We took out everything except what is required to get you to Aguas Calientes from Cusco, and then back again.
In my opinion, $187 is still pretty expensive for a day trip, but doing a few things yourself will save you quite a bit. By hiking to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes and booking the entrance ticket online yourself you can save about $120. However, if you're willing to make it a bit of a longer trip and take a shared van to Hidroeléctrica, then you can save even more money. Below is the cost breakdown for the most budget friendly way to get to Machu Picchu.
This price looks a lot better to me, but keep in mind this is without booking a hostel for at least one night. You might be better off booking for two nights because the trek from Hidroeléctrica to Aguas Calientes is still about 3 hours. Then it's another 1.5 hour hike to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Nonetheless, I'm positive you could find 2 nights of accommodations for cheaper less than $112 USD. If you have more time on your hands, then you will definitely save some cash by making this your preferred route.