One of the seven wonders of the world and by most accounts the most popular tourist destination in South America for foreigners, Machu Picchu is on the list of almost every first-time visitor to Peru. It’s in an isolated location only reached by train though, so the answer to “How much does a Machu Picchu trip cost?” is rather complicated.
If you look at Peru’s advertising campaigns and those of tour companies serving the country, you’d think the ancient citadel is the only thing to see in the country. Each time I’ve visited the region it seems to get more crowded and the town of Aguas Calientes at the base has gone from dumpy little mish-mash to a thriving place where you may actually want to hang around more than one night.
None of this comes cheap, however, partly because the site can’t be reached by road. That’s one element of its appeal of course and the main reason the Spanish invaders never found it. Machu Picchu is at the end of a narrow valley, sitting on top of a mountain.
Machu Pichu Entrance Ticket Prices
The entrance fee by itself is a little higher than other famous tourist sites, but not unreasonable. It’s actually not going to be the biggest part of your cost on a Machu Picchu trip. The most you’ll pay for that part is $60.
You have to buy tickets in advance now: the number admitted each day used to be capped at 2,500. Now, despite dire warnings from preservationists, the government couldn’t resist the rising demand and now allows 500 people every entrance slot—far more than 2,500 in the course of a day. The downside of the new crowd management plan is that you have to specify when you will enter and you can’t hang around all day. Read on for the new rules further down below.
You can see the available number remaining for the slot you choose when you buy direct from the government site for Machu Picchu tickets. Otherwise, you can get them from an authorized agent (which could be your Inca Trail or Saltankay Trail agency), Banco de la Nacion, an official tourism office in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Some of these options require cash. Remember, if you buy online, choose a credit card that does not have a foreign transaction fee!
There are multiple choices for tickets, the adult prices ranging from 152 soles to 200 soles for a ticket that includes the steep hike up Waynapicchu (the one you see in that photo at the top of this post) or the longer hike up Machu Picchu Mountain. As I write this the U.S. dollar is strong at $1=$3.4 Peruvian soles, so the dollar prices are $45 to $60. That’s not so bad compared to some other famous attraction prices around the world. The euro prices equate to €40 to €53.
Plan ahead if you want to hike up Waynapicchu/Huayna Picchu though and commit! When I pulled up the ticket site for the remaining two weeks of August, the tickets with the hike were sold out almost every day. If you find that situation, you may find an agency that still has tickets left if you buy through them. The biggest ones like Viator and GetYourGuide do some bulk buying. Just be advised that although it is short, it’s a really tough hike, especially if you’ve just spent four days on the Inca Trail.
Peruvians from the region pay a lower price, which only seems fair since they’re the ones dealing with the overtourism, but you also get a break if you are a student. Those prices are 77 to 125 soles, or $23-$37.
Both of these figures will change over time, but for now the weakened sole has buffered the effect of rising Machu Picchu ticket prices. When I visited the first time almost a decade ago, the price was around $45, then when I went back it was about the same, though that did include the Huayna Picchu hike.
If you buy through an agency you’ll usually pay a hefty fee. When I just looked online at a local ticket seller’s site, the prices started at $70. If you’re going to go this route because you want someone to hold your hand more, at least get it bundled with other services through a company you can call in your home country, like GetYourGuide or Viator. But if you just want the ticket and you’re traveling independently, just get it directly through the government site with a credit card.
It’s another $6.50 or so if you want to visit the Manuel Chavez Ballon Museum in Aguas Calientes, which is double what it was when I did the first version of this post in 2015.
But wait, there’s more—and it’s not good news. The ticket prices themselves are deceiving because they are only half the story. You also must have a guide now, which can double the price again.
New Rules for Machu Picchu Visits
Several new rules came into play in 2019 to simultaneously keep the crowds corralled while getting away with selling more tickets on a daily basis. In some ways, this has turned everyone into sheep, but something had to be done since nearly everyone visiting Peru makes a beeline to this famous citadel. It got a bit of a break when the country’s borders were closed, but now the crowds are back and you need entry tickets in advance from the Peruvian government site or via some kind of travel agency.
You must go with an English-speaking guide (or whatever language you speak) – you cannot just wander around the ruins on your own like I did on both of my visits in previous years after peeling off from the guided tour. You have to stay with your guide and then leave when your time is up. This guide is not included in the entrance price though since so many groups already have their own. This means independent travelers are now sometimes paying more than ones who are in a group. You might decide this is an “If you can’t beat them, join them” time when joining up with a full Peru tour or just a one-day tour will mean less hassle and uncertainty.
You have to follow a set route – See something interesting over the hill that you want to check out? Too bad. You’ll have to visit another set of ruins to feel like an explorer, like Kuelap up north for instance. Now when you visit Machu Picchu, you will stay on the path and if you don’t, your guide or a local official will get you back in line.
Your ticket is tied to a specific entry time – For most attractions in the world, you can show up when you want and enter, but not here. No sleeping in or missing the bus ride: your ticket from the official site has an entrance time on it and that’s when you go in.
A Bus up the Mountain
But wait, there’s another mandatory charge you can’t get around: a bus ticket. See all those switchbacks on the left of the photo below? You’ll be riding on that road.
It would be logical for this to be part of the Machu Picchu entrance ticket since this shuttle bus up the steep road is the only way to travel between Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and the archaeological site without a steep hours-long hike, but it’s not. You need to pay another hefty $12 each way or $24 round trip for this required add-one to the Machu Picchu cost.
The only reason you’d want a one-way ticket is if you either arrived via the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail and just need to get down, or if you rode the bus up and are walking down. I’ve heard the path down is hard to find in some places though and…have you looked at that photo above? The path goes down the middle of those switchbacks and you’ll be dodging buses that are kicking up dust. The bus is air-conditioned and comfortable at least, even if it is way overpriced.
Getting to the Machu Picchu Base and Back
The charges above are just the beginning. You still have to get to the Inca citadel and back of course. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes, only train service. There’s sort of a budget traveler workaround that will cost you about $50: you take a bus ride from Cusco to the hydroelectric plant near the town and then take a local train from there. (This is where the Salkantay Trek hikers often get on as well after ending their trek.) This method is not one the government wants you to take, however, so the agencies selling this option are the only ones that will give you information on it. Watch for signs as you walk around Cusco.
One backpacker friend managed her whole Machu Picchu visit for $109 total (with lodging) a few years back by walking along the train tracks from the hydroelectric plant. That’s the lowest I’ve seen anyone pull it off and it would be a tad more now.
What you’re supposed to do is take a very expensive train ride from Cusco (271 to 355 soles each way on Peru Rail, a minimum of $80) or take the train from the last major stop of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which will still cost you more than US$60. There are two options from there: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. You can get to Ollantaytambo by bus.
If Grandma is paying, you can splash out on the fancy Hiram Bingham train for a mere $585 one way from Poroy, outside of Cusco. Hey, it includes some food and drinks…
If you’re going legit and are traveling independently, I’d recommend just riding the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and taking your time getting to that point. You’ll be rewarded both financially and in experiences if you don’t rush through Peru. Some of the car routes through the Sacred Valley are actually more scenic than the train views. Then take the train all the way back to Cusco from Aguas Calientes because it’s not much more than just getting off at Ollantaytambo.
As mentioned several times in this post, you can remove a lot of uncertainty about how you’ll get there and back and buying tickets on the right day in advance by just hooking up with a tour. The Peru Rail site boasts, “Did you know we have more than 300 combinations to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s a good thing…
Lodging Near Machu Picchu
In theory, you could leave Cusco in the morning, tour the citadel in the afternoon, and return back to Cusco that night. But it would be a real shame. The best option would be to arrange an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes so you don’t have to rush. If you’ve been on the Inca Trail, it will be especially nice to visit the hot springs the town is named after. But you could also return to Ollaytantambo, where the hotels tend to be a little cheaper and there are other ruins to see. Either way though, lodging won’t set you back as much as some of the other options. On Booking.com you’ll find plenty of hotels for $40 double or less in both places and there are a few hostels around, most priced $10 to $16 for a bed.
You can spend a fortune if you want—there are luxury hotels going for $500 or more per night, a thousand plus if you want to sleep in the same bed Bono and Mick Jagger both occupied in the past. But keep in mind that this region gets loads of travelers from all over the world and the vast majority of them are not rich celebs. You’re likely to hear as much Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese while walking around as English.
A Full Machu Picchu Budget
So how much will it cost total for a trip to Machu Picchu? If you are a backpacker, this is going to seriously blow your “$50 a day around the world” budget no matter what you do. Suck it up and figure you’re going to spend $200 or more each on this experience, or close to $1,000 if the Inca Trail is in the mix. This will not be an ordinary few days though and it’s not likely that you’ll look back in 20 years and say, “I wish we had skipped Machu Picchu so we could have traveled for another week longer.”
If you’re going on a Machu Picchu trip with money you’re earning from working, then just relax and go with the flow. This is one of those trips in the world where it’s not a bad idea to buy a package tour, especially if you get it locally in Cusco. That’s because there are a lot of moving parts involved and a scarcity factor with some items. If an agency takes care of everything they’ll have your tickets secured, they’ll get a good deal on lodging, and you’ll have one flat rate to put on your credit card. No surprises.
How much is a trip to Machu Picchu if someone else makes all the arrangements? Just to give you an idea, international companies list day trip tours between $300 and $400 from Cusco and two-day ones for $50 to $100 more. Figure that you can probably do better locally, but there are some high fixed costs in there like admission to Machu Picchu itself, the bus up there, and the train or bus/train combo from Cusco.
If you have more money than time, prices are quite reasonable through G Adventures and you can tack on other experiences that will even out the per-day rate. When I traveled with rival Intrepid in South America, most of the other people on my trip were ex-backpackers that now had a little more cash in their bank account and were glad to have someone else take care of all the details on a complicated itinerary.
Peru is quite cheap once you get out of this main tourist corridor where everybody is literally funneled down the Sacred Valley from Cusco. Just understand that there are loads of working vacationers and retirees booking trips to this famous site and they’re not blinking at prices of hundreds of dollars a day. Most days they outnumber the backpackers and other independent travelers making a trip to Machu Picchu on their own.
A Quick Note on Sacred Valley Timing
As I write this in early 2023, the site is actually closed because after the president was impeached and removed from office, protests and blockades broke out and well, it’s pretty easy to blockade the set of train tracks leading to the most famous set of Inca ruins. Some visitors who were there had to be airlifted out by helicopter. Currently the online ticket system isn’t taking reservations.
We assume this is temporary and public transport will soon be restored since this is such a big cash cow for the Peruvian government and thousands of jobs are tied to it, but understand that January and February are terrible times to visit anyway. It’s so rainy then that the Inca Trail is closed and more than once the train has stopped running because of mudslides or floods. Sure, the crowds are smaller than in peak season (May through September), but for good reason. If you’re trying to work out a shoulder season visit, try April or October/November and maybe tack on an Inca Trail trek, a Lares Route trek, or the Salkantay one.
Editor’s Note: This Machu Picchu trip cost post has been revised several times, the latest in 2023. I have left some of the old comments that were relevant. I have been hosted in Peru by a slew of companies while writing for many publications and this post contains some affiliate links. If you buy through them I earn a small commission percentage for sending you there, but you will never pay more than you would by just putting the direct URL in your browser. Thanks!
Friday 16th of August 2019
Yeah and all that money to go there for the selfies and it turns out to be cloudy and rainy!
Wednesday 7th of November 2018
Thanks ! Do you recommend spending a night in Aguas Calientes ?
Wednesday 7th of November 2018
Yes, ideally. The next best option is Ollaytantambo, but then you're more dependent on the train schedules and might have to rush more.
Sunday 26th of March 2017
I think that spectacular view is worth the money!
Friday 25th of November 2016
A really interesting place. I think I will come next year.
Tuesday 12th of April 2016
I simple don't agree with your advise to buy a package tour to Machu Pichu. I am a peruvian living abroad and I have travelled 5 times to the Cusco región and from what I have seen, most agencies just sell the same standard tours provided by somebody else, but since they are not the ones offering the tour they are selling, whenever there is an issue (and there often is) then the selling agency claims not to be responsable as they weren't the tour operator, and the tour operator claims no responsability beacause they were not the ones who sold the tour. Very often, they don't provide all the services they promise and I even witnessed last time I was there how a spanish couple was being verbally abused by such a shady operator because they were asking for a refund because they didn't provide them with the promised return train ticket from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. So the best course of action is: 1. decide when you will be in Cusco and when you will go to Machu Pichu, 2. Look at the websites of the different train companies to check for availability of the cheapest trains (which are still a rip-off) 3. When you confirm that there is a "Budget ticket" available from Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichu on one day 0's afternoon or evening and one back either the afternoon of day + 1 or during day +2, then you book your ticket to Machu Picchu through the machu pichu website. 4. You buy your return train ticket (don't buy your ticket to machu pichu before you are sure that there are available trains on the days you want to go) 5. You go. This way at least you know clearly what you have to do and you are not depending on shady characters to offer you at a Premium and a great risk of screwing up the same thing you can get cheaper yourself.
Thursday 15th of August 2019
That's why you need to use a reputable operator. Yes, of course you can do it on your own, but many people will look at what you wrote and say, "Are you kidding me?" They'd rather pay someone else to take care of all that. It's the old time vs. money equation.