Here’s the secret on how to visit Machu Picchu if you’re a backpacker on a budget

When I was planning my 4 months solo trip to South America, there was one thing I A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y wanted to do:

Go to Peru to visit Machu Picchu!

I had no idea on how to go there, if I should do the trekking, how much were the tickets, …

People who’ve been there were telling me:

If you go to Peru, you MUST do the Inca trail!

I took the train and it was expensive as hell!

To do or not to do the Inca trail?

Well, for me it was easy to decide NOT to do the Inca trail to arrive to reach Machu Picchu, because as soon as I arrived in Cusco…

…I got sick!

It started with a sore throat, probably because of the aircon in the bus from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco and the drop of temperature from Brazil to Peru (from over 30° to less than 15°).

But theeeen, it got worse!

Imagine this… You wanna eat, your stomach is begging you to do something about it BUT you can’t because every bite you eat is making you feel like puking and when you finally manage to swallow it, it hurts as hell!

So, in the end you don’t really eat, you feel even weaker and your throat is on FIRE!

After 2 days in Cusco, my boyfriend and I realized that I had sickness altitude. That’s why I had nausea and was even slower than a sloth. When we’d go out to visit the city center I was walking soooo slowly… I couldn’t breathe normally. My lungs were begging for more oxygen!

My experience in Cusco is definitely not one of my favorite during these 4 months in South America ahah ^^

So, nope I didn’t do the Inca trail and any of the trekking tours. We had to find another way to reach Aguas Calientes.

How to reach Aguas Calientes on a budget?

Since we were on a budget, the train was not an option.

Instead, we went to a tourism office, located in Plaza de Armas, and asked for the cheapest way to go to Aguas Calientes. And the guy there (really nice by the way) suggested us to go by mini-van until Santa Teresa then we’d have to walk 2h to arrive in AC.

The round trip from Cuzco to Santa Teresa costs only 35 soles per person and the trip is taking 5 to 6 hours depending on the traffic.

Once you arrive in Santa Teresa, you’ll have to walk like 10 min to take another mini-van that you’ll pay 5 soles per person to take you to Hydroelectrica.

But watch out: when you see a bunch of vans for the first time, IT’S NOT THERE YET! These vans are heading back to Cuzco. You need to go further, cross a bridge, climb a hill and then you’ll find another group of vans. These are the ones you should take.

Once the van drop you out, you’ll have to sign a book, and then you start your walk to Aguas Calientes 🙂 You’ll basically follow the train rails. It will take you like 2 to 3 hours.

It took us 3 hours and we walked the last hour when it was dark! My feet were hurting so much. I tried to stay positive but I lost my temper because I was exhausted. I remember at that time, I wished I could be at my parents’ house and be comfy on the sofa with a nice blanket.

Total budget from Cuzco to Machu Picchu

So let’s sum up!

If you’re doing a round trip in 2 days then it will cost you:

  • Mini-van Cusco/Santa Teresa: 35 soles
  • Mini-van Santa Teresa/Hydroelectrica : 10 soles
  • Machu Picchu entrance fee: 128 soles
  • Accomodation: The minimum you’ll find is US$ 20 and it’ll be a hostel.
  • Food: It should be only dinner and maybe some drinks and snacks for the way back to Hydroelectrica on your second day.

So, in total you’ll spend less than 400 soles (approximately US$ 100).

Good deal, huh? ^^

For a comparison, the train tickets can cost from US$ 85 up to US$ 392 per person and it’s just a one way ticket.

Last tips!

  • Buy a lamp torch. We didn’t have one when we were walking in the dark following desperately the train rails. Luckily, we had my phone but it was not really practical;
  • Buy water, energy drinks and snacks. You’re gonna need them during the walk;
  • Buy a rain poncho. We arrived around 6AM on Machu Picchu’s site and it was slightly raining at the beginning;
  • Use trekking shoes. Even though the path is flat, walking on rocks can be annoying after 2h;
  • Leave your big backpack in your hostel in Cusco. And bring a small one with only the stuff you’ll really need.

And voilà 🙂

I hope my feedback helped you to prepare your trip.

If you have other tips or ways to go to Machu Picchu on a budget, share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.


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