The amazing hilltop Inca city of Machu Picchu could have been lost for many more centuries if it wasn't discovered in the nineteenth century, but there is no doubt that this is now one of the premier tourist destinations in South America.
As you would expect with this kind of destination, there are certain costs that you can't avoid, such as the entrance ticket which costs around $45 in local currency, but there are other ways to save money on such a trip.
If you are backpacking in the area, if you are willing to put in the hard work and do plenty of walking you can really get there on a shoestring, but even those traveling to the area as a vacation don't have to spend big money to enjoy this amazing destination.
Key Mistakes to Avoid
While booking everything as a part of a larger package tour takes all of the weight of organizing from your shoulders, it really isn't likely to deliver real value, with the company organizing the trip for you adding a hefty premium to the price.
While the Inca Trail is an amazing way to visit Machu Picchu, it does come with its costs, so if you are on a very tight budget, you will need to get there through the town of Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo) instead of following the Inca Trail. You should also look to avoid booking the trip to Machu Picchu through your hotel or hostel as this also won't give you the best value on the trip.
How to Get to Aguas Calientes
One of the interesting parts of this gateway to Machu Picchu is that it doesn't have any road connections, and it can only be reached either on foot or by train and if you are really trying to trim the budget, arriving there on foot is usually the best option.
However, when it comes to the journey from Cusco, the cheapest option is to take the bus towards Quillabamba and to disembark at Santa Teresa. You can then take a collectivo to Santa Maria and then on to Hydroelectrico. The final step of the journey can either be done by train, which costs around $6, or it is a two-hour walk.
The Day Trip Up to Machu Picchu
This is a long day whether you go by organized trip or are traveling and arranging your own trip, and after staying the night in an Aguas Calientes hostel, the first buses to Machu Picchu go at 5.30am. If you arrived late the previous night, make sure you purchase your ticket from the ticket booth in Aguas Calientes before joining the bus up towards Machu Picchu.
There are plenty of organized trips available, but if you are guiding yourself then the bus from the Puente Ruinas bus station is the cheapest way up to the mountain tops.
Doing the Inca Trail on a Budget
If you are determined to do the Inca Trail, then you can expect the cost of the trip to be significantly higher than the self-guided visit, which usually costs under $100 in total if you trim the budget.
If you plan on traveling in the high season in July and August, you'll need to book well in advance and will often have to pay up to $1,000 for the hike, but traveling in the shoulder season in April or September will be just out of the wet season while still offering a good chance of clear and attractive views once you are in Machu Picchu. Shop around, and treks for as little as $400 can be available out of season.
Top Tips to Trim Costs
Being ready to walk is a big way of saving money on a Machu Picchu trip, but remember that you may not have had enough time to acclimatize and that walking at high altitude can be more exhausting than walking at lower levels.
If you are backpacking or have a little more time, look to book at the last minute once you are in Peru, and this can save money, although the Inca Trail is often full months in advance. Street food in Peru offers a filling meal for a very low price, but if you do want restaurant food, look for the 'meal of the day' offers, which are usually significantly cheaper than the rest of the menu.