Peru Travel

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

March 21, 2019
One glass of vino for the road in Ollantaytambo

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes was on of the highlights of our Peru trip. Before I planned on going to Peru, I really didn’t know much about the process of getting to Machu Picchu. I knew we needed to get to Cusco – go to Machu Picchu. Easy, right? Well, turns out, there are no direct roads leading from Cusco to Machu Picchu. You cannot drive, Uber or take a taxi.

Getting There

Our visit happened to be during the rainy season, when the Inca trail is closed for maintenance. There are other treks and expeditions you can take though that involve hiking on alternate trails.

You can also take a train to Aguas Calientes and then a bus to the site. If you’re up to it, you can walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. I’m told can be done in about an hour and a half.

When you arrive in Cusco there are TONS of tour agencies offering to coordinate your trip. For instance, on our hotel street alone there were at least 5 different tour agencies. One agency $250 USD per person for the next day, including train, bus, admission & guide. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided then try to wait and DIY it for Machu Picchu. It ended up being a good thing because the next day we came down with food poisoning. Imagine if we had pre-booked all of our tickets for the next day?! Phew!)

Based on recommendations, we decided to sleep in Aguas Calientes, then go to Machu Picchu in the early morning. Most of the time you can take a train directly there from Cusco. However, during the rainy season busses replace trains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. We took a taxi to Ollantaytambo so we could explore and then took the 3:35pm PeruRail Vistadome train. This is the mid range train with a panoramic view.

Alternative options:

  • The Expedition, a budget option without the panoramic windows, and the
  • Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury rail experience.

The train was really nice! They serve you complimentary tea/coffee and a snack while you ride up. The views really are spectacular – it took about an hour and 45 minutes.

What to Do in Aguas Calientes

Arrival in Aguas Calientes is exciting. Everyone is coming for one purpose and you can feel the energy. In addition, It’s quite a sight to see: a strange town in the middle of a lush jungle. The buildings are all piled up on one another, every other one under construction. There are also no cars besides the buses that go up to Machu Picchu. There are a selection of budget to luxury hotels and hostels here. We chose a mid range option, Gringo Bill’s based on it’s price, last-minute availability and Booking.com rating.

Your first priority: head to the Machu Picchu office and bus ticket counter. You buy admission for a 4 hour time slot, as they only allow a certain number of people to view the site at once. You can also purchase admission to climb Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain with your admission tickets. We decided not to do either one and just purchase the admission from 6am to 10am. The bus tickets are general admission and you can get on at whatever time you choose.

We had a lovely dinner at Tree House Restaurante, one of the more high-end dining options in Aguas Calientes. 

Visiting Machu Picchu

The morning of our visit we were worried we wouldn’t make the first bus. In reality there were several buses lined up and we got on one right away. The bus ride also has phenomenal views so try to get a window seat! Once you arrive at the entrance you will immediately be approached by guides offering their services. We ended up joining an existing group with an English guide. As a result we payed significantly less per person than having a private tour. Make sure you secure your guide before you enter, as once you enter there are no guide services. Unless you have an independent knowledge of Incan history, I really do think it’s essential to have a guide. Otherwise you won’t really know what you are looking at and having the background adds so much to your experience. 

There are NO BATHROOMS inside the gates Machu Picchu, only at the entrance! In addition, bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry…although you may have to share with a llama.

Cost Breakdown

Okay, so in the beginning of this post, I told you that the tour agency quoted us at $250 USD per person and we decided to try our DIY luck. Here is our DIY price breakdown of what we payed PER PERSON in USD:

Machu Picchu Cost Breakdown PP in USD
Taxi to Ollantaytambo $30.00
Vistadome PeruRail Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes $60.00
Machu Picchu Entrance Fee $50.00
Round Trip Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu $24.00
Joined Group Guided Tour $6.00
IncaRail Voyager Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco $54.00
TOTAL $224.00 *

*Accomodations & Food in Aguas Calientes NOT included

In conclusion, as you can see, we did not save much doing a DIY version. My takeaway though was that you can DIY for a similar price and have more freedom over your time frame. If you don’t want to worry about anything and have everything already pre-purchased and taken care of? Do it through an agency. It should not cost you much more than buying it piece meal. I liked sleeping in Aguas Calientes the night before and being one of the first people to enter the site for the day.

Practical Info

Remember: this was done during the Off Season! Prices and availability will vary if you visit during more popular times. If you do decide to visit during the popular season, I would recommend booking more in advance than we did!

Bring water and a snack with you – after you enter the gate of Machu Picchu there are no services. There are bathrooms and a snack bar right outside.

If you bring your passport you can get a special Machu Picchu stamp!

Try to get a window seat on the bus up the mountain, the view is spectacular. 

Useful Links

PeruRail

IncaRail

Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel

The Tree House Restaurante

La Boulangerie de Paris

Machu Picchu Ticket Office

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