If you’re on a budget or short on a time, but don’t want to miss out on the ancient world wonder, there is a cheap and quick way to visit Machu Picchu for about $100.
There is no lack of competition when it comes to finding a tour company in the city of Cusco. But take it from someone who lived there and did their research going door to door to compare prices and options, the tour company Sacred Land Adventures is the option for you if you are on a budget and strapped for time. They offer a 2 day/1 night option for $105 USD, which includes roundtrip transportation to Santa Teresa from Cusco, three meals, a hostel stay for one night, entrance fees into Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain and a tour guide.
I’m not going to rave about the company or the staff, because it certainly wasn’t spectacular or luxury service. But at the end of the day, you get what you pay for. So if you simply want to see Machu Picchu fast and without any of the fancy extras, this is a great option. If you are interested in a longer more adventurous journey to Machu Picchu, I would highly recommend reading about the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.
Your 2 day/1 night journey will begin boarding a van around 8 a.m. to head to Santa Teresa. The drive is beautiful and takes you through some unforgettable scenery as you travel up the road through green mountains, with snow-covered peaks in the distance.
There is a stretch of road at the end that was a bit scary, and high up on the edge of the mountain, along dirt roads without any guardrails. However, the driver seemed to adapt well to the road conditions and drove relatively slowly during this portion (putting me more at ease).
After about six hours of driving with a few pit stops, you’ll arrive in Santa Teresa for lunch, which is decent but the meal doesn’t include a drink.
From there you’ll be dropped off at the train tracks at Hydroelectrica where you’ll walk for about two-and-half hours along the railroad tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes. The walk is beautiful and a highlight of the trip for many.
You’ll probably arrive just as the sun is setting and meet your tour guide in the main plaza. Where you’ll be escorted to your hostel, which is nearby and nice (with hot water, clean sheets, and free WiFi).
You might have some time to kill before dinner, so walk around and look for a restaurant with a good happy hour (many have 4 for 1 drinks). Then enjoy some pisco sours and sangria before dinner. Dinner is good, but the portions might be a little small and typically comes with a set menu of four options (trout/chicken/beef with rice and French fries or spaghetti for vegetarians).
After dinner, your tour guide should debrief you on the plan for the following day.
On the big day, you’ll wake up before the break of dawn, and set off on your walk to Machu Picchu around 4 a.m. The bridge/first checkpoint (where you show your passport and ticket) opens at 5 a.m. Once you cross the bridge, there is approximately an hour-long hike (at my very slow pace, with several breaks) up hundreds of stairs to the entrance. Alternatively, there is a bus that runs every five minutes from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu for $10 USD.
If you time it right, you should arrive at the entrance just as the park is opening at 6 a.m. After taking your initial group photos with the ruins in the background, you should head to the entrance of Machu Picchu Mountain, which opens at 7 a.m. I hiked about halfway up (in 45 minutes), stopping at a few viewpoints for photos, and then headed back down to the main archaeological site.
I had about two hours to roam around the ruins before heading back down the stairs to the railroad tracks to Santa Teresa. The hike back along the train tracks took about an hour and forty minutes and we arrived back in Cusco around 9 p.m.
Overall, the tour company provided the bare minimum, but the meals were decent, the transportation felt safe, the hostel was nice, and I saw Machu Picchu (even though we were only allotted five hours inside the park, which isn’t nearly enough time to see everything).
Machu Picchu is unbelievably stunning. Standing above it all and soaking it in is so surreal. The ruins themselves are fascinating, but their location and surrounding steep and flourishing mountains all combine to create one epic scene. The majestic Waynupicchu jetting out behind the ruins and llamas casually grazing on the plateaus in front give the feel that you’ve traveled back in time. You can almost picture the Incas roaming the corridors and it makes you wonder if any of them ever fell off the steep edges.
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