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. If you look at Peru’s advertising campaigns you’d think it’s 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 is so isolated. That’s one element of its appeal of course and the main reason the Spanish invaders never found it. It’s at the end of a narrow valley, sitting on top a mountain.
Machu Pichu Entrance Ticket
The entrance fee by itself is a little higher than other wonders of the world, 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 in 2019
Several new rules came into play at the beginning of this year 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.
You must go with a guide – 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. At 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: your ticket 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 entrance ticket since there’s no way to travel between Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and the archaeological site without taking a bus up the steep road, but it’s not. You need to pay another hefty $12 each way or $24 round trip.
The only reasons 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 site and back of course. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes, only a train. There’s sort of a budget traveler workaround that will cost you about $50: you take a bus from Cusco to the hydroelectric plant near the town and then take a local train from there. (This is where the Salkantay 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.
Here’s how one backpacker managed the whole Machu Picchu visit for $109 total (with lodging) a few years back by walking along the train tracks from the hydroelectric plant. 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, 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 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 spend the night in Aguas Calientes so you don’t have to rush, 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 hotels going for $500 or more per night, a thousand 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 or retirees. 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 “$5o 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.
If you have more money than time, prices are quite reasonable through Intrepid and you can tack on other experiences that will even out the per-day rate. When I traveled with them in South America recently, 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.
Editor’s Note: This Machu Picchu trip cost post originally went up in 2015, then was revised in 2019. 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!