Everyone tells you that you need to book WAY in advance to do Machu Picchu (MP). You also never really hear about doing anything except the typical 4 day trek. We didn’t make the time for that, so we did it in 1 day using trains and buses. There’s also an option to do it in 2 days using a car (the road the car uses is longer than the train tracks). We also didn’t book until a few days in advance.
Here was our experience:
There are about 12 million (okay, slight exaggeration, but still) companies in Cusco trying to book you to go to MP. They seemed similar in price for a 1 day organized tour to MP, and we ended up paying $230 per person. This includes all of your transportation and an English speaking guide at the top. It does not include any of your food, but you do get a free snack on the train.
Something to note is that you do not need to do this through an organized tour. I don’t think it would be much cheaper to do it on your own (the only thing you won’t have is the English guide at the top of MP), but I suggest skipping the tour and doing it on your own because of the amount of wasted time spent trying to herd our group together. More on this later.
We booked the tour about 5 days in advance, but you could book it closer to the date you want to go if there is room on the train. There are only so many seats sold on the train, so that’s the real limiting factor for when you can go. The tour company can smush you on another company’s bus that has room, but there is only one train running at each time.
Our bus picked us up at 4:00 AM (30 minutes after the time they told us they’d be there). We took a bus to the train station in Ollantaytambo, and arrived there at 5:45 AM. Our train didn’t leave until 6:40 AM, so we had plenty of time to get coffee and snacks (overpriced) at the train station. There were cheaper options for food and coffee outside of the train station, but we wanted to just get into the station.
If you want to buy your train tickets without doing an all-inclusive tour, the company to use is Inca Rain. Use this website to complete the purchase. The tickets are different prices depending on what times you choose (more expensive for the more popular times). Ours were $57 for the way there (6:40 AM) and $60 for the way back (7:00 PM) for executive class, but I saw some for $75 if you headed back to Cusco earlier. We booked so close to the date we went that the earlier times were sold out. The train tickets were included in our tour price.
They checked our passports at the train station, but you might be able to use another ID – I’m not sure. Probably safest to bring your passport just in case.
The train rocks side to side the entire time, so make sure that you take motion sickness meds if you need those (I didn’t take them and was fine on the way there, but I got sick on the way back… oops). There are no outlets on the train, but the seats are comfortable and there is a table in the middle of every 4 seats. Be careful when you book your tickets because it may sound like you are sitting next to each other (40 and 41 for example), but we had to switch seats each time to sit together even though on our tickets it looked like we were together.
The train ticket includes a hot OR cold drink and a snack. This is the snack we got on the way there, and it was pretty good.
The bus arrived to MP at 8:00 AM. When we got there, there was a tour guide yelling our names along with about 25 other guides also yelling names. It’s a total cluster.
After the guide had gathered all of his people, he let us have free time until 9:30 AM when we met back together. Our bus to the top of MP was at 10:00 AM, and it was a 20 minute ride to the top.
You can choose to walk to the top of MP or take a bus. We chose the bus option (US $12 – included in our tour price) because the walk is all uphill, and we were being lazy. We could have taken the bus down as well, but we chose to walk because we heard the lines for the bus to get down were crazy long (and they were).
The entrance to MP itself costs 152 Peruvian soles (about US $47), but this was included in our tour price.
So… let’s talk cost at this point. If you just add up the costs for the train, entrance fee, and bus to the top, we spent US $176. I don’t know how much the buses to and from the train station would cost, but assuming they cost US $15 each, then that’s $206 just on transportation and the entrance fee. We paid $230 per person, so the extra $24 was for the tour at the top of MP (about 2 hours), and for someone else to organize it all for us.
At the top of MP, use the bathroom for 1 Peruvian sole because there are no bathrooms inside.
At this point, I’m getting really frustrated because it’s taking us so long to get inside. Every time we get somewhere new, the guide gathers us all together and then gives us free time for way too long. We got to the top at 10:20 AM, and we weren’t able to enter with the guide until 11:00 AM. It’s a HUGE cluster f*** because there are so many other guides trying to also gather their people together.
It’s also really hot at this point. It was very cold when we left Cusco though, so make sure you have a backpack to carry all of your layers that you’ll be stripping as you go. They do apparently have size limits on backpacks that they allow in, but ours were 15 liters, and they let us in with them. There’s a luggage storage at the top if you have a larger backpack.
After we entered MP at 11:00 AM, we stood around waiting for everyone else in the group to enter, and actually started walking to the site about 15 minutes later. I know 15 minutes doesn’t seem like that long, but remember that we’d started this journey at 4:00 AM, and the guide had already had us wait around a few times trying to gather everyone together.
30 minutes later, we ditched the guide. His tour was informative, but after so much waiting around, I just couldn’t pay attention. We then ran into someone who had left Cusco at 7:30 AM (3.5 hours after us), and he had entered MP at the same time we did. This is why I suggest doing it on your own.
The actual site of MP is beautiful – I’m glad we did the tour to really see it and the mountains surrounding it. See some of our pictures on the photos page here.
When you exit the site, you can stamp your passport if you want to (or have the employee standing there do it for you.
We left MP at 1:15 AM, and we got to the little town at the bottom at 2:30 PM. It’s all stairs, and it’s steep, but like I said before – the line to take the bus down was insanely long. About an hour into the hike down, there is a little café with water, beer, juice, and sandwiches if you want to stop. There are several cafes in town with good food and wifi though, so we waited until the town to stop for lunch.
Our train back to Ollantaytambo left at 7:00 PM and took about 2 hours, arriving in Ollantaytambo at 8:45 PM. When we got to Ollantaytambo, there were several people yelling names again to find their people to take back to Cusco. However, our names weren’t on anyone’s list. We almost ended up having to get a cab back for the 2 hour trip (or hitchhike), but luckily we ran into a guy who had been on our tour. He spoke Spanish, and was very nice and insisted to his bus driver that we were on his tour and needed to get back to Cusco.
Thank goodness that worked, and the lady found us a van to get on. We left Ollantaytambo at 9:05 PM, and we got into Cusco at 10:45 PM. It was a very long day to say the least, but I’m glad we did it!
See our Peru photos here.
Hi, I'm Sara Monica Patton. I love animals, traveling, and eating. Read more about me in my first blog post here.