There is a myth in the overlanding community that a visit to Machu Picchu is very expensive and some choose not to go at all when they crunch the numbers for themselves. While it is true that a visit to Machu Picchu is costly if taking the train from Cusco and even more so if staying at the higher end hotels that come with some of the package tours. But there is another way if you have your own transportation.
We would like to thank Lisa from Two Wheeled Nomad, Dave from OneNutter, and the Lally’s from The Long Way Home for providing us with current information about roads, hotels, and processes. We compiled their information and created a plan that consisted of getting a group of seven people and six motorcycles to Machu Picchu without going broke. We have included some of the additional options if you want to spend even less than we did. There aren’t any roads to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town) the town that is the base for all operations at Machu Picchu.
These are the steps we took starting in Cusco:
1. Purchase your Machu Picchu tickets. We purchased ours in Cusco (office is at GPS -13.51758, -71.98056) and they are good for a particular date so if you are unsure what date you want to visit you can also purchase your tickets in Aguas Calientes. You will need to bring your passport with you to purchase the tickets. You will also need your passport to get through the gate at Machu Picchu (no photo copies). No passport no entry. The base entry ticket price to Machu Picchu is128 Soles. It should be noted that additional access to some special “limited access” areas would cost you more than the base ticket price. Do a little research before you go into the ticket office so you know exactly what you should be buying. We went with the base entry ticket and were more than happy.
2. Drive to Santa Teresa. It is approximately 150 miles from Cusco to Santa Teresa through the Sacred Valley (going through Pisac and Ollantaytambo). We stopped for one night in Ollantaytambo but did not visit the ruins there. When you return to Cusco you can go back slightly differently so the entire route is not repeated (from Urubamba to Chinchero to Cusco). The route we describe is entirely paved except for the last 15 miles from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa, which is a single-lane good dirt road. The route to and from Cusco takes you over the stunning Abra Malaga pass (4,350 meters) and the entire journey would be worth it for the scenery alone.
3. Accommodation in Santa Teresa. You have multiple choices here to stay in a hotel or camp. We stayed at Hotel Yacumama (GPS -13.12854, -72.59426) and we were able to securely park our motorcycles in the lobby while we went to Machu Picchu. The cost to leave the motorcycles was 10 Soles per night. We also stored all our gear in a room. Because there were 7 of us we rented a small room for two nights and split the cost between us. They do have a left luggage area as well.
4. Hike to Aguas Calientes. You have a couple choices at this point. You can hike all the way from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes, which is about six hours. Or, you can take a collectivo (mini-van public transportation) to the train station at Hydro (5 Soles per person for a 20-30 minute ride). Once at Hydro the 9-mile hike to Aguas Calientes begins (free to walk). Or you can also get a train from Hydro to Aguas Calientes, which is approximately US$18. We opted for the cheap option and took the collectivo to Hydro and then hiked along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. The hike took us three hours at a very leisurely pace as it is a slight incline on the way to Aguas Calientes but an easy and enjoyable hike.
5. Store vehicles. You can store a motorcycle at the hotel. For larger four-wheel vehicles (and possibly motorcycles) you can use the local campground for a cost. Other motorcyclists have left their bikes at the Hydro but there is minimal security so I would not leave anything of value on the bikes at Hydro.
6. Hotel in Aguas Calientes. There are many, many options in town from very cheap to very expensive. Our hotel was 70 Soles for a double room with bathroom and hot water. We stayed two nights in Aguas Calientes but it is possible to stay just one if you visit Machu Picchu and hike back to Santa Teresa in one day.
7. Purchase bus tickets. On arrival in Aguas Calientes we bought round trip bus tickets to Machu Picchu. The round trip bus tickets were 76 Soles. You can hike both ways instead of using the bus if you choose. It is a really steep hike and you will arrive at Machu Picchu sweaty and winded but it is free and there were lots of people doing it.
8. Visit Machu Picchu. We woke up at 3:30am and were in the bus line by 4:30. We were on the first bus up to Machu Picchu. By 5:00am the line was very long. We arrived at Machu Picchu when the gates opened and were there for sunrise. Around 8am the day-tripper crowds from the Cusco train show up. We stayed the entire day at Machu Picchu taking the bus back to Aguas Calientes about 4:00pm.
9. Return to Santa Teresa. We stayed our second night in Aguas Calientes and then the next morning had a leisurely 9-mile stroll back to Hydro. At Hydro we got a collectivo for 5 Soles per person to return to Santa Teresa. After throwing our things down at the Yakumama Hotel (where we left the bikes) we visited the thermal baths just outside of town (5 soles per person each way on the collective and 5 soles entrance). We stayed that night in Santa Teresa before returning to Cusco.
Cost for one person:
• Machu Picchu ticket: 128 Soles (US$40)
• Collectivo two ways: 10 Soles (US$3)
• Round trip bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: 76 Soles (US$24)
• Motorcycle storage in Santa Teresa: 20 Soles (US$6) for two nights
• Gear storage in Santa Teresa: 46 Soles (US$14) for two nights
• Hotel in Aguas Calientes: 70 Soles (US$22) for two nights
• Hotel in Santa Teresa: 80 Soles (US$25) for two nights
• Total: 430 Soles (US$135)
o Optional costs: Collectivo (10 Soles), Bus ticket (76 Soles), motorcycle and gear storage (66 Soles)
o Lowest cost visit (assume hotel nights stay the same): 278 Soles (US$87)
See our article and photos about Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu: Inca heaven in spite of tourist hell