Machu Picchu is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world and the place defies description. It is everything imagined and everything unimagined. I hope to provide you bits of information that can help make your journey to this magical wonder easier and less costly.
Colectivos & Combis
Already in Peru, the travel to Machu Picchu for me began from a small village known as Pisac. Pisac is in the sacred valley of the Cusco region of Peru and spending three months in the area much was learned. First, “Colectivos” or “Combis” are popular throughout Peru. A colectivo or combi is a van or a bus that routinely travels through the valley, picking up passengers and transporting them from location to location. This mode of transportation is less costly in comparison to others.
Urubamba & Ollantaytambo
Taking a colectivo about an hour from Pisac into what is known as the largest town in the Sacred Valley, Urubamba, costs about 5 soles (which is the equivalent of $1.50 USD). The distance between the two cities is about 39 kilometers (15 miles). Urubamba is a great gateway for any visitor to secure transportation, (whether by bus or taxi), to a number of places or ruins throughout the Sacred Valley. Expats and international travelers will also confirm that the cost of living for housing is less expensive here in comparison to other well known or tourist areas around the Sacred Valley. After reaching the bus depot in Urubamba, I exited the colectivo in search of one headed to Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo was once an Incan city and is now a well known tourist area in the Sacred Valley. Many visit here for the ruins and also for the train ride via Peru Rail into Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Town). A 30 minute ride, the colectivo from Urubamba into Ollantaytambo is 2 soles ($0.60 USD).
Peru Rail is a railway train company that provides transportation services in the southern parts of Peru. The cost of transportation from Ollyantaytambo to Aguas Caliente via Peru Rail is 200 soles, which is the equivalent of $60.00 USD. The distance from Ollyantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is 30.5 kilometers, which is just under 12 miles. This is less than the 15 mile distance between Pisac and Urubamba. The owners of Peru Rail are making the most of this situation at the expense of both the tourist and the Peruvian people. For one, the ticket price on Peru Rail for tourists, are deeply over priced (especially considering the distance). In the USA, a one-way Amtrak ticket from Ashland, VA to Philadelphia, PA is $60.00 USD and the distance is 231 miles (far more than 11 or 12 miles). Second, Peru Rail offers local trains for Peruvians at a fraction of the cost it charges its tourist. However, Peruvian nationalists are kept separate from the tourists and they have their own train cars which are not as nice as the cars for the tourists. Their seats are made of wood and the train cars are always overcrowded; with many of the Peruvians standing on top of each other. Oh and did I mention that Peru Rail is owned by the British company Sea Containers? As if a British conglomerate is in dire straits for more finances (no pun intended).
For the Adventurous & Budget Conscious Traveler
Do not make the mistake of thinking that the only ways to get to Machu Picchu Town is by either rail or trek. Had I known that there was a cheaper and comparably convenient way to reach Aguas Calientes, I would have taken it without hesitation. It is my intention now to take this newly discovered route and share it with you. Should I happen to have the opportunity to visit Peru again, I intend to use it:
1. From Cusco, take a colectivo bus to Santa Maria. Be sure to ask or look for the bus that is heading to Quillabamba. This may cost between 15 to 25 soles ($5 to $8 USD), depending on which colectivo you choose and the travel time is around 2 and half hours.
2. Santa Maria is a hub for transportation, therefore, finding a bus or a taxi here to take you to HidroElectrica should be easy. You can opt to take a colectivo bus from Santa Maria to HidroElectrica (5 soles / $1.50 USD) or a full shared taxi (which can be around 10 soles / $3.00 USD). The travel should take around 1 hour and a half.
3. Because there is no direct road to get into or out of Aguas Calientes, when you arrive to HidroElectrica, a walk to Machu Picchu Town is necessary. I’m told that it is about a 2 hour trek. Be sure to ask your bus or taxi driver to point you in the direction of the railroad tracks towards Aguas Calientes. From there, you can begin your walking journey. Just make sure that you have enough time to make it your destination while it is still daylight.
Entry Tickets to the Ruins
Many tourists purchase their tickets in advance through the internet. This is a good idea for some (especially if you have money to throw away, lol), but it was problematic for me. First, the official Machu Picchu website is not credit card friendly. Each time I tried to make the purchase, I kept receiving an error message. It seems to be more user friendly for Peruvian nationalists. Second, I did not want to purchase my ticket through a third party. The third-party websites list their price at an absorbent amount, much higher than the Ministry of Culture. Some third-parties like Expedia and TripAdvisor sell tickets as high as $400.00 USD. The cost included a bus ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the entry ticket into the ruin and a tour guide. Laughable and not worth it!
I saved hundreds of dollars simply because I did not pay for my entry tickets in advance, online and through a third party. Once I arrived to Machu Picchu town, I paid for my ticket directly at the Ministry of Culture’s office for $35 USD.
New regulations at Machu Picchu have outlined that only 2,500 visitors are allowed inside the ruins per day. The only risk for not paying in advance is that tickets may sell out. This was not an issue for me since I made my visit during the low season.
Travel to the Ruins Entry
Most people think once they arrive to Machu Picchu Town, they will see the ruins. Nope! After arrival to Aguas Calientes, you must make your way to the ruins. The options are to walk or pay $24 USD for a bus ride from Aguas Calientes to the front of the ruins. The ticket counter to purchase the bus pass is located across the street from where visitors line up to enter the bus. I opted for the bus ride.
There will be plenty of tour guides offering their service to you, whether you’re standing in line for the bus to take you to the ruins or at the entrance of the ruins. If you’re into tour guides, whatever you do, always act uninterested with their first and second offer. Trust me, they will go lower. My tour guide started with a $25 USD offer until he finally got down to $10 USD. In the end I chose to go at it alone, (without his help), but paid close attention to the route he gave the tourists once we entered the ruins. It was nowhere near what they should have seen. The tour guides take you to the spot where everyone has a photo of themselves with the ruins in the background. It’s what I call the “money shot” image because everyone on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook has the same image. Once you’re there, the tour with your guide is basically over and you leave without having explored and taken in everything this sacred place has to offer.
I spent an entire day at Machu Picchu (10 hours) and still didn’t see and experience enough. For this reason alone, I would advise travelers to ‘opt out’ of purchasing a combo ticket to include both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the same day. Again with the new regulations, visitors are given an option for a morning or an afternoon visit and must complete their visit in 4 hours or less. I obviously broke the rule and look forward to the experience again.