The Do-It-Yourself “Cheapest Backpacker” Guide to Machu Picchu, Peru

Updated October 22nd, 2018.

Located high in the Selva Alta (high jungle) mountains of Cusco, in a high altitude hollow surrounded by snow-capped peaks, sits the magnificent Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.

It’s synonymous with the name ‘Peru’ and unarguably the country’s most popular tourist destination with more than 3 million visitors in 2013 alone.

There a several very well-known ways to travel to Machu Picchu; the Inca Trail ($600p/p); Salcantay Trek ($225US p/p); and the Inca Jungle Adventure Trek ($225US) are just a few of the options available for the more adventurous backpacker.

A much more relaxed and direct option is to take the train from Cusco (minimum $100US return) to Aguas Calientes, the small tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. From here it’s only a short bus ride (and another $10 return) up the mountain to the ruins themselves. Easy!

But what if you fall into neither of these categories?

What if your budget doesn’t stretch to tailored treks and expensive tourist transportation? How can you visit one of the worlds’ most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites whilst spending as little as $70 USD including all of your transport and accommodation?

Machu Picchu on a Budget

Starting from Ollantaytambo:

The authentic and picturesque Inca mountain town of Ollantaytambo is less than an hour journey away from Cusco in a Combi or Collectivo – shared minibuse or taxi – and costs as little as 10 Soles ($2.8) one way.

EDIT - Ollantaytambo 2The beautiful mountain town of Ollantaytambo

Located along the Patakancha River, the town was also the site of a famous Spanish defeat by the Inca in 1536AD and is home to the Cerro Bandolista Sun Temple and stunning rice terraces adorning every hillside.

There’s so much history to see here and incredible hikes in every direction that you could easily spend a week here.

EDIT - Ollantaytambo 1Friendly locals in Ollantaytambo

Whether you stay for one week or one hour, it’s only another short combi (minibus) ride to the start of your Machu Picchu trek.

For the princely sum of 2 Soles, the ‘Veronica’ combi will ferry you the 30-minute journey to the Kilometre 82 train station, where you can pose in front of the world-famous Inca Trail sign before setting off on the 30km hike to Aguas Calientes!

EDIT - Veronica Combi KM82Your transport awaits! The “Veronica” Combi

Following the Train Line:

Walk following the train tracks with the valley on your left until you see your first set of Inca Ruins on your right hand side. Shortly after that, on your right hand side, you’ll see a small trail winding up onto the side of the valley.

There are many of these ‘goat tracks’ along the journey that help to keep you off the tracks and avoid most of the tunnels.

EDIT - Track and RuinsJust keep following that train line!

Starting high up in the Andean mountains and flowing down through the magnificent Scared Valley you will experience every vista you can imagine, from dry, rocky mountain landscapes with fast flowing white water in the valley below, to the luscious vegetation of the highland jungle.

EDIT - Inca Trail SignpostOn the ‘alternative’ Inca Trail

You only have to follow the train line itself for about half of the journey, but when you do the trains are loud and slow, allowing you plenty of time to get out of the way as they pass by with drivers waving and bemused passengers snapping photos of you!

EDIT - Lunch StopStopping for lunch along the train track

As you wind your way down through the valley you will encounter many Incan ruins, sometimes entire villages that the train passengers rush by in a flash.

Wild horses, cattle and the intriguingly comical Peruvian hairless dogs are interspersed with the occasional fellow walker and railway staff, but for the most part, you’ll be walking alone in almost complete peace.

EDIT - Views River MountainsThe changing landscapes along the way

As you descend further down towards Machu Picchu your breathing becomes easier and the dry rocky landscape gives way to the green grass and leafy trees of the Selva Alta, with banana and avocado trees lining the tracks.

It’s worth saying that if you’re not an experienced long-hiker then the prospect of walking 30km in a single day, at high altitude, might be a wee bit daunting.

However there’s no need to pass up this otherwise amazing journey as there are plenty of safe opportunities for pitching a tent for the night.

You could even camp inside the stone walls of an ancient, roofless Inca house within one of the many ruin sites that aren’t listed or signposted.

If you do decide the walk the whole distance in one day, you should bank on taking about 10 hours, including a couple of breaks for food.

EDIT - Ollantaytambo FortressA diversion to some lesser-known Inca ruins just outside Ollantaytambo

On the final stretch of the journey, approaching the tourist hub that is Aguas Calientes, the tracks and trails become busier with local workers, lost tourists and Peruvian porters carrying impossible loads on their backs.

When you reach the town itself you’ll find the ticket office located in the main square with a wide range of hotels and hostels to suit everyone’s budget, all within walking distance of Machu Picchu itself.

EDIT - Aguas CalientesComing into the tourist hub of Aguas Calientes

From anywhere in town it’s a short walk to base of the mountain and the start the steep, winding stone steps up to Machu Picchu. It may be far and it can take over an hour to reach the top, but the breathtaking scenery will make you glad you didn’t take the bus.

…And voila, you’ve made it! Your very own DIY Machu Picchu adventure for as little as $70 including your ticket, transport and accommodation.

EDIT - Steps to MPThe steep steps up to one of the world’s most famous ruins

The Cheapest Way to Tackle Machu Picchu!

DIY Machu Picchu Trek Costs (not including food and water)

  • Machu Picchu Entrance – $45 USD
  • Minibus – Cusco to Ollantaytambo – $2.80 USD
  • Minibus – Ollantaytambo to KM 82 – $1 USD
  • Hostel in Aguas Calientes – (from) $20 USD            
  • Total – $68.80 USD!

(You can read more about some of the other treks mentioned in this article here).

EDIT - Voila DIY MPVoila! The DIY Budget Guide to Machu Picchu!

Where Next?

Santa Teresa Hot Springs – Sure to be the most stunning setting for a natural volcanic hot spring you’ve ever seen and the perfect way to recover from a long trek to Machu Picchu!

EDIT - ST Teresa Hot Springs1The Santa Teresa Hot Springs are the perfect way to relax after your trek!

Heading back to Cusco? Check out our guide to the city here!

This article was written by South America Backpacker Ambassadors, Jon and Kach Howe, of Two Monkeys Travel. The adventurous couple, from the Philippines and the UK, have been travelling and working for 16 months; starting in South East Asia, via India and South America! You can follow the inspirational ‘Two Monkeys’ on Facebook here!

25 thoughts on “The Do-It-Yourself “Cheapest Backpacker” Guide to Machu Picchu, Peru

  1. Lindsay says:

    Looks like they’re stopping people at the train station now. We tried going in mid-Sept, and after getting out of the collectivo (with intentions of skirting around the train station), we were promptly met by a train guard. We didn’t speak Spanish so we just said “thank you” and kept going, but the dude followed up and called a bunch of his buddies out. Eventually they brought out a female train guard who told us we weren’t allowed to walk along the tracks, regardless of our excuse. The train guard followed us back to the collectivo drop-off to make sure we went away. We ultimately made it to Aguas Calientes the same day, but we had to go back to Ollaytantambo and buy a bus ticket to Hidroelectrica.

    • Georgina says:

      Hi Lindsay, was your experience this year or last? Also, which train station was this where they stopped you? From my understanding to do this route (Two Monkey’s) they took a collectivo to Ollantaytambo then another to Km82 train Station. Is that the station you mean? There was no way to go a bit further away from the station to find a path to the tracks to start the hike? And what time of the day was this? Thanks for any input you may have!

  2. Helen says:

    Hi Two Monkey,
    Your article is very informative and worth it. I am a retired 66 year old from UK planing to go to MachaPuchi for a long time. It is very expensive for a retired backpacker to afford.
    If I come to Cusco would I be able to meet up with fellow traveler? I am not too keen on hiking too much.(health reasons)
    Could you recommend please what is the easy cheaper way to do this?
    I have been saving for years for this. I want to spend more time in Peru but if take an organised trip I only get about 12 days.
    Thank, Helen

  3. Xav says:

    Hey!
    thanks for this article. Im at the moment in cusco and cant afford the standard path.I;m planning to follow your guide, starting in two days…!Did someone tried it recently, is it still accurate?

    If someone know let me know!

  4. liam thompson says:

    The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (also known as Camino Inca or Camino Inka) is a hiking trail in Peru that terminates at Machu Picchu. It consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day. Mollepata is the longest of the three routes with the highest mountain pass and intersects with the Classic route before crossing Warmiwañusqa (“dead woman”). Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending the terminus at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The two longer routes require an ascent to beyond 4,200 metres (13,800 ft) above sea level, which can result in altitude sickness.

  5. Christian schrijner says:

    Hi! Just wanted to thank you for such a good description of this cool and budget option. We think it is way nicer than the 600 dollar hikes they are all offering here in cusco. Cheers and thanks again! Julia and christian

  6. bing espolong says:

    I would love to travel the way you do travel but I’m no longer young and You are lucky to find a travel hubby which makes travelling more fun and interesting. For us who is unable to do the hike can you give us a step by step way to see macchu picchu in a budget like say $500. I want to go on my own this december. Is it a good time to go weatherwise? I am a filipina on my 50’s. Done lots of travel but not in south america. TY.

  7. Nikki says:

    Amazing and useful aricle! I am just wondering how many people are actually were doing this 10 hours hike by the train line while u were there? Id love to do it, but Im a solo traveler and a bit concerned doing it alone 🙂 P.s.: I love all your articles 🙂

  8. Anna says:

    Thanks for such a useful post – great to find out ways to avoid the over priced, tourist traps. Enjoy the rest of your trip in South America 🙂

  9. Kach says:

    Hello Matilde, the route you did is the route we did after the DIY trek on our way back to Cusco. We are publishing the details in our next article! Walking to Hidroelektrika to Santa Teresa back to Ollantaytambo and Cusco. There’s a big difference with the view though as we saw less views on our trail walk from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelektrika but it was good too!

  10. Matilde says:

    Dear all,
    also you can go , from ollantaytambo to St maria and from there to st teresa
    , from there another combi to hydroelectrica and walk to aguas calientes.
    From there ,sleep one night and next day at dawn start walking up to the site….
    Cheap and easy to walk specially if you go with kids !

  11. anouk says:

    I did 5 bus changes and a shorter walk:
    bus to ollataytambo->
    change bus to santa maria(you can spend night here)->
    change bus to santa theresa(check restaurant mama coca & hot springs)->
    change bus to hydro electrica->
    walk along train tracks 2,5 hours-ish.(bring flash light, will be dark when doing it in 1 day!)

    This was all together 13 dollars.
    There is a train leaving in mornings from 9/9.30 but will cost you another 8-9$

    I did this 6 yrs ago though, so prices are probably higher:)
    Disfrutalo!

    • Kach says:

      Anouk, that route you did is the route we did after the DIY trek on our way back to Cusco. We are publishing the details in our next article! Walking to Hidroelektrika to Santa Teresa back to Ollantaytambo and Cusco. It’s cheap too!

  12. Andrew and Emily @alongdustyroads says:

    Wow! This was just what we were looking for as we were scared this was going to blow our budget. Great advice!

    You say it’s safe on the tracks (hearing the trains gives you plenty time to move), but would you say it’s also safe in terms of environment (thefts, carrying camera equipment etc?).

    Also, is the ten hours for experienced hikers or more average? What sort of time would you recommend starting off?

    http://www.alongdustyroads.com

    • Kach says:

      Hey Andrew, this is Kach of Two Monkeys. I’m not a hiker and I hate walking so 10 hours is for beginner, you can walk 7 hours if you’re used to trek.. We took longer cuz I was already crying (exag!), better to start around 6am from Ollantaytambo so you can arrive early in Aguas Calientes and can buy the ticket for tomorrow’s Machu Picchu visit! =) Thefts? Not an issue at all, we had all our gadgets with us, there are train police who are really nice and will even give you a free map to follow the train track! Just dont forget to bring food and water as there’s no place to buy on the way to Machu Picchu. If you have massive luggage, we suggest you leave it at yuour hostel in Cusco or Ollantaytambo so you can walk faster! =)

    • Kach says:

      Anna, it’s doable but I suggest it’s better to meet people in cusco and ollantaytambo to go with you. always much better as this is not the normal route, but you will be seeing few locals walking and it’s more fun to have somebody else to experience this! But alone, you can do it as it’s a really easy route! When you start in KM 82 and if the guard is nice, he may even give you a free map! =)

    • Kach says:

      You’re definitely right with the experience riding a collectivo, Jonathan! We love it too and now in Arequipa, we’re enjoying the combis!! =)

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