Only when you set foot in the majestic and bewildering Machu Picchu city that you understand how little you understand. Hidden away, an hour away from Machu Picchu village and Aguascalientes, the Incas’ establishment is truly a world wander. As such getting to the epic scenery and ruins was is quite a challenge and exhausting journey, if you are a solo traveler, and especially if you travel on a budget.
When I was researching for my trip to Peru, visiting Machu Picchu was at the top of my bucket list, but I couldn’t figure the best way of getting there, as there was so much information about the famous Salkantay trek, and I knew 5 days of trekking and camping at hundreds of dollars was not my preferable way of traveling. So, I decided to leave it all to chance and decide once I am in Peru. Now, that I have hiked up Machu Picchu mountain, and explored the Incas’ empire, I have got all the essential information, so you could decide what’s the best way for you to explore this magnificent and mysterious site
Visiting Machu Picchu on a Budget
1 Cusco – Hidroelectrica – Aguascalientes, 2 – 3 days’ trip
This is the cheapest route, but not the easiest or quickest and the route I have chosen.
All tours and trips to Machu Picchu leave from Cusco. Early in the morning a couple of friends and I got on a mini van, we booked the day before, to Hidroelectrica point, 6 hours from Cusco. This trip is not for those with a sensitive stomach or car sickness, as the road is a long and winding one with most drivers driving extremely fast. There are a few stops on the way for bathroom, stretching your legs and snacks.
Finally you arrive to Hidroelectrica, where you could grab lunch at this open buffet and start walking by the train tracks for 3 hours through the jungle. No worries, you won’t be walking by yourself, you’ll meet many other fellow travelers hiking to the village. It is quite safe and since you begin at noon, walking is at daylight and you will arrive to the village at around 6pm. After checking in to your hostels, head out to the ticket office to purchase the bus ticket to Machu Picchu. I recommend booking a round-trip ticket, especially if you plan on hiking up Machu Picchu and Wuayna picchu mountains. The hike from Aguascalientes takes about 3 hours and then 3 hours more to climb up 2,000 stairs to Machu Picchu, up different sized stone steps, in a rainy and foggy weather. A round-trip bus ticket costs around $24, totally affordable.
After getting down from Machu Picchu I entered the archaeological site and was found it to be one of the most beautiful, spectacular sites I have ever had the chance to visit.
As I was walking around the site, there were many tourist groups that chose not to hike up any mountain! and comfortably explore the site with a tour guide.
The day hike to Machu Picchu is quite tiring; the mini vans leave from hidroelectrica at exactly 3pm, so if you want to leave the same day you visit Machu Picchu, you will need to run through the site, and all the way back to the meeting stop. So, I decided to stay another night in Aguascalientes and return to Cusco the following day, after having breakfast, exploring the city market and buying some snacks for the long trip back.
2 Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Aguascalientes
another possible and relatively cheap way of visiting Machu Picchu, is by train from Ollantaytambo, a very important village in the Incas empire and home to amazing archaeological site. You can reach this village via public bus from Cusco or get off there at the end of your day trip to the Sacred Valley.
3 Cusco – Machu Picchu by train
For travelers on a tight schedule with more than $100 to spare for a 2 hours’ ride, a direct train will take you straight from Cusco to Machu Picchu pueblo.
4 Cusco – Machu Picchu multi-day trekking
One can also book one the famous Inca Trails, a few good months in advance for a few hundred dollars and trekking through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. This is the most expensive and challenging way in my opinion.
At the end it all depends on your budget, fitness level and of course time limitations. Either way, every route is perfectly safe for solo travelers, especially female travelers, and it will be an unforgettable and mind-blowing experience.
* I visited Machu Picchu in April, so it was the end of the rainy season, but it was pouring rain and very foggy in the morning in Machu Picchu, clearing up at noon. So definitely bring a good rain coat.
** While you can be flexible with your trip to Peru and Cusco, tickets to Machu Picchu must be booked in advance, as early as possible, because it is flooded by tourists at all times.