I’m no Machu Picchu expert. I have only been there once, but hopefully this can help anyone looking to hammer out a plan.
Keep this in mind as you’re cobbling together an itinerary: I spent more time and money than I wanted on the logistics of getting there, but it was totally worth it.
Other people’s trips could have been slightly different, but I had to use several modes of transportation to actually get to Machu Picchu.
My flight from Florida landed in Lima late at night. I slept in a nearby hostel for about four hours then took a taxi for S/. 10 back to the airport to catch another flight to Cusco the next day. My round-ticket flight with Star Peru was $202.
Once in Cusco, I had to take a 20 minute taxi ride that cost about S/. 15 to a nearby city named Poroy because that’s where the train station is located. The front desk person at my hostel arranged the taxi ride for me.
I took a train from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. The train company is called PeruRail and the 2-way ticket cost me $157. I was not happy about shelling out so much money on the train ticket, but the beautiful views from the window softened the blow. I saw everything from farmland to snowcapped mountains during the three hour ride. Plus, they gave me free cookies.
I bought a bus ticket to take me up to Machu Picchu once I made it to Aguas Calientes. I purchased the ticket the day before I actually needed to take the bus. This involved waiting in a long line with other tourists. The bus ticket cost about $20 and they did not take credit cards. You can avoid the bus by walking to Machu Picchu, but since I was short on time, I opted for the 30 minute bus ride. You can also choose to buy a bus ticket for one of the ways and walk the other. Be warned, the bus ride is very bumpy and gets uncomfortably close to the side of the mountain. The ride is both scenic and terrifying.
Consider waking up early to catch the bus. I arrived at the boarding area around 7 a.m. in Aguas Calientes and there were already more than 150 people waiting to board the buses.
The bus dropped me off at the entrance where I needed to show my ticket to enter the ruins. You can’t actually buy the ticket at the entrance. You have to buy it at a Peruvian tourism office. I bought mine in Cusco. My ticket was only for Machu Picchu and went for about $60. Other (and more expensive) tickets allow you to combine entrance to Machu Picchu with entrance to a museum or Huayna Picchu.
The entrance area has bathrooms, but you have to pay S/. 1 to use them. There is also a restaurant and gift shop, but it looked overpriced to me. Lockers are also available to rent.
When I was done exploring the ruins, I just hopped back on the next available bus by showing the worker my return ticket.
There are signs warning visitors not to bring plastic water bottles or food into the ruins. I “forgot” about this rule and brought water and granola bars in my little backpack. No one said anything to me and I was very careful about not leaving trash behind.
I was in Peru for a week. I spent multiple days in Cusco and Lima and one day in Aguas Calientes. I hope this helps you plan out the logistics of your journey.
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, it was a logistical challenge to get there.However, once I set my eyes on the ruins and saw the gorgeous mountains peeking through the mist, it was all worth it. Every layover, every ticket line, every middle seat, was completely worth being able to see this majestic World Wonder for myself.