Guest post written by Stephanie Badaru
As much as I would’ve wanted to experience doing the Inca trail or the jungle trek or some sort of trek to Machu Picchu, that idea was quickly dashed out the window due to the fact that I was on a tight budget. The prices for these treks were just too much for my liking and I didn’t actually come prepared for a trek (or have the energy) so I researched the cheapest and easiest way to do Machu Picchu.
No tour or hostel will tell you about the cheap way to do Machu Picchu simply because they have their own tours to sell. You can’t really blame them but such ways do exist!
I met a girl in Bolivia who to wanted to do Machu Picchu on the cheap so we decided to travel to Peruand do it together. The before we decided to set off for Machu Picchu we went to the smaller bus terminal in Cusco called El Terminal Santiago and bought our bus tickets to Quillabamba for 15 soles each.
The Day of our Journey to Machu Picchu:
We had booked the bus for 7:30am, so we left our hostel at 10 to 7 and walked 10 – 15 minutes to El Terminal Santiago (Santiago bus terminal)
Our actual destination wasn’t Quillabamba it was Santa Teresa, but you will have to purchase a ticket to Quillabamba and the bus will make a stop in Santa Teresa, don’t worry the bus driver should make an announcement when you arrive so you don’t miss your stop. It is roughly a 5 hour journey to get from Cusco to Santa Teresa.
Once you get to Santa Teresa there are guys waiting in cars/mini vans (collectivos) to take people from Santa Maria to a place called the Hydroelectrico, we paid 15 soles for the trip. We waited for our guy to get more people into his car (it is guaranteed that you will have to wait at least 30 minutes in Santa Teresa, so embrace it) and after skipping breakfast and arriving in Santa Teresa at around 2pm (yes our bus didn’t leave Cusco until quarter to 9, they too wanted to fill up the seats) it was lunchtime.
Now I don’t remember the name of this restaurant we ate at but Santa Teresa is pretty small and it was located near the bus stop (on the right and the furthest to the left). In the end, we both had a bowl of soup and a main dish for 5 soles each and it the food was great.
Our driver was ready to make a move and after letting our food digest and grabbing an ice cream we got into the car and we were on our way.
The journey to the Hydroelectrico should take between 2 to 3 hours altogether and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is a pretty bumpy ride and you know you are inSouth Americawhen your driver ignores the fact that the bus is on a cliff and drives like a lunatic. But don’t fret as you know they don’t want to die either and they’ve done this voyage numerous of times. It’s a narrow road but the views and scenery are amazing even though it’s pretty hard to try and take a picture whilst the car is on the move.
The Hydroelectrico is where the train tracks start and from here you will need to walk down the train tracks to the Machu Picchu town of Aguas Calientes. Overall the walk is around 2 hours and is not strenuous at all as it’s a straight path.
Walking along the train tracks
Note: We didn’t, but it would be a good idea to have a torch as when it gets dark it would be nice to see.
Scenery walking to Aguas Calientes
We arrived in Aguas Calientes a little after 8pm and we hadn’t booked a place to stay but as we were walking we went past a guy who was trying to get people to stay in his hotel, he threw the price of 50 soles each for a private room and I thought I would try my luck and threw the number 25 back at him while walking away, which to my surprise he agreed!
We managed to bag a private room with a double bed and a single bed with a hot shower for 25 soles each. You could probably find a hostel for maybe 15 soles.
After dumping our things, we went to buy our entrance and bus tickets, the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu was 128 soles for Adults 64 soles for students with an ISIC card (try and get one before, you save a lot of money while abroad)
Now you have some choices here: the cheapest option is to walk to the entrance instead of getting the bus, this option is freeee but it won’t be an easy hike and should take roughly 2 hours. The second option is to buy a one way bus ticket for 25 soles and then walk back down once you’ve finished or lastly you can buy a return ticket for 50 soles.
Note: There is a lot of walking up and around in Machu Picchu that tires you out so keep that in mind when making a decision.
We decided to buy a return bus ticket and paid 50 soles each.
After we had purchased everything we went in search for some food. Aguas Calientes is no doubt a tourist town and is surrounded with pricey restaurants, but right in town is a huge Mercado and the moment we saw that we knew we would find some good cheap food. And we were right! Again we had a bowl of soup and a main, but this time for 7 soles each.
The gates to Machu Picchu don’t open until 6am, so if you’re walking, I’d say leaving at 4 am would be ideal to be able to enjoy Machu Picchu without a ridiculous amount of tourists. If not the first bus leaves at 5.30am.
Coming back you just do the same, this time there will be guys waiting at the Hydroelectrico to take you to Santa Teresa and some will even go all the way to Cusco (just depends on how long you want to wait)
We just went to Santa Teresa for 15 soles again. When we got to Santa Teresa we had missed the early buses it would be a 4 hour wait for another bus. Tip: if you want to get the bus try and aim to get to Santa Teresa before 12pm. As we didn’t want to wait we got into another collectivo that would take us all the way to Cusco, we bargained the price to 25 Soles each.
The Cost of the Trip
Bus to Quillabamba: 15 soles = $5
Ride from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectricos: 15 soles = $5
2 nights stay at Aguas calientes: 50 soles = $18
Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu: 128 soles = $46
Return Bus ticket to Machu Picchu: 50 soles = $18
Ride from Hydroelectrico to Santa Teresa: 15 soles = $5
Ride from Santa Teresa toCusco: 25 soles = $9
Food/snacks: approx 20 soles = $7
Total Cost: approx $115
Note: Could’ve been done much cheaper!!