So you just showed up and expected to go to Machu Picchu? Here are your options…
The Inca Trail is booked out way in advance, at about $550 USD each. Right now, it’s booked through August. You can’t do it without a certified guide and tour company. We weren’t going to do it anyway.
The Jungle Trail trek is a newer 4-5 day option and you can just show up and do it now. It’s cheaper than the Inca trail, but you don’t get to see the, uh, Inca Trail.
Both leave from Cusco.
There are many variations, so here goes…
The prices are all over the place, but you can get a train from Ollanta to Agua Calientes for as little as $31 USD. Of course, that’s what we did. I suspect you will pay far more if you reserve in advance. We had to wait around a few day to get the right trains and avoid paying more.
Note: kids are half-price!
You could also pay over $600 each way for the “Hiram Bingham” service that is literally run by the same people who run the Orient Express. It includes dinner, live music and dancing… for a 2 hour trip?
You can also leave from Cusco at a higher cost, but they may just bus you to Ollanta anyway. Go to Ollanta on your own and stay a while – it’s worth a stop.
If you’re a major cheapskate, you can get yourself to Santa Teresa by bus (6 hours from Cusco). Then, walk or combi to the hydroelectric dam (2 hours). Then, take a once-daily $10 USD train to Aguas Calientes.
If you are even cheaper than that, you can just walk the tracks from the dam (or even Ollanta) and try not to get hit by the train. We saw a guy doing this and he almost didn’t make it.
Getting up to the ruins:
You can hike up or take a bus.
Hiking is free, and about 2 hours uphill. You will weave on and off the bus route and suck diesel fumes the entire time, but to each their own.
The bus is $8 USD each way and a 20 minute ride. Eight bucks anywhere else in Peru will get you half-way across the country. Still, these buses are the most efficient thing I’ve seen here. They leave from top and bottom every 5 minutes.
Getting into the ruins:
First, you needed to buy a ticket back in Aguas Calientes (or Cusco) from the Cultural Center. It’s about $46 USD each and requires a passport. You will need your passport up at the park entrance too – don’t forget it. There are no tickets available at the park itself!
Note: kids under 7 are free!
There is a big sign at the entrance that clearly says “no plastic containers” (no water?), “no food,” and “no walking sticks” but this doesn’t stop anyone. The rangers will keep you off the grass, but don’t enforce any of the other rules. You will not be happy if you don’t bring water – there is none inside the gates (or restrooms)!
Unless you’re going to hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu (limited to 400 people daily), you can see the ruins in 3-4 hours (or less). Plan on spending the day with 3000 other people – it’s still fine.
Staying Aguas Calientes:
Don’t sweat it, there are an infinite number of rooms in every price range. The hot springs up the hill are about $3 USD and you’ll share them with all the sweaty hikers from earlier. Still, not a bad way to end the day.