First things first, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru is NOT CHEAP. It’s something every traveller to Peru will want to experience (I’ve never heard of anyone coming to Cusco and having no interest in Machu Picchu) but you need to understand the kind of money you need in order to plan effectively and budget accordingly.
There are very few (if any) international flights to Cusco Airport, so for foreign visitors you will arrive in Peru at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima. From the UK, return flights between London and Lima cost around £650 per person. From there, you can either hop on a domestic flight to Cusco (2 hours or so – and for $200 each way), or do the traditional backpacker journey on bus (much cheaper), which is around 20 hours each way. The buses are clean and modern and you are served meals just like on a flight, as part of your ticket. When in Cusco, you can finally tell yourself that you’re in the ancient capital of the Incas – and there’s one Incan city of course that you’d probably want to visit before the many others: Machu Picchu!
From Cusco, you need to get a private taxi to Ollantaytambo, which is where expeditions to Machu Picchu begin in earnest. Typically, this will cost around $25. From here, you need to decide if you’re going to be a true backpacker and hike the world famous Inca Trail (a 4 day trek), or take the easier option and do it all in half a day – for a much heftier price! Check my other post for all you need to know about the Inca Trail, but if you want to go the quicker route, then read on.
From Ollantaytambo, you need to board the Peru Rail train, which will take you Aguas Calientes. This is the most expensive part of your journey to Machu Picchu by far, even exceeding the cost of the entrance tickets. A budget-class train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes will set each of you back around $56 each way. The next class up – known affectionately as VistaDome Class – has parts of the carriage ceiling made of glass, and this allows for excellent panoramic views and gives you the best chance to enjoy the Andes enroute to Machu Picchu itself. This, though, costs a whopping $80 each way (but you do get some light refreshments during the journey).
It is in the tourist information offices at Aguas Calientes where you can buy your entrance tickets to the Machu Picchu ruins (currently $45 per person – payable ONLY in USD). From Aguas Calientes, a bus will take you to the entrance to the ancient ruins, but this also will cost you some more Soles – 53 Soles, in fact (nearly $20). And this must be paid in Soles to the bus driver. Still following?
On my trip, I spent the equivalent of $204 EXCLUDING accommodation. Remember, it is not advisable to come to Cusco and think about doing it all at breakneck speed. Have you not heard of altitude sickness?! You will need time to acclimatise, and 5 nights in Cusco/Ollantaytambo/Aguas Calientes is the least you should be thinking about before attempting to climb to Machu Picchu, regardless of whether on the train or on foot. So a week’s accommodation must be thrown into the mix, too, and this could may make you think twice about visiting Machu Picchu. Luckily for us, Peru has plenty of good standard budget accommodation and hostels so it is quite easy to save on costs.
Hiking the Inca Trail is another way to enjoy the splendour of Machu Picchu, but even for people who just want to see the ruins in a day, the cost can be somewhat sky high – just like the ancient city itself! However, I think if you budget accordingly, then everybody can enjoy their pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, and there are around 2,500 of us every day who choose to do it! It really is an amazing place!