Machu Picchu is a dream destination, once-in-a-lifetime visit for many people. The reconstructed remains of this Incan Citadel see over one million visitors each year, and it’s a place of amazing beauty. But when we visited as two backpackers, we were shocked at how much the trip cost. So we’ve put together a breakdown of the cost per person below as an estimate for future travelers. There are two categories: cheap (you’ll be staying in hostels, dining at cheap local eateries, and all around paying time/comfort instead of money) and comfortable (you’ll be staying at 3-star hotels, dining at trendier restaurants, and paying to walk/hike less whenever possible). Note that we use US dollars and assume you’re visiting directly from the U.S., but you can easily put your own numbers here to get a final tally from your country of origin and then convert to your local currency.
The flight to Cusco
$580 (cheap) and $655 (comfortable). While $500 was the cheapest rate I found for the next month, it was only available flying through DFW. The mean price for flying out of Dallas, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco was around $580. It will also be more expensive if you’re not flying from one of the major airport hubs.
Flights to Cusco depart only in the mornings (the region’s weather makes it hard for flights to land in the afternoon), so you’re probably going to spend the night sleeping in Lima’s international airport. If you want to be comfortable, you’ll have to spring for a room and some food, which I’ve estimated at $75 over the ‘cheap’ price for a total of $655.
The stay in Cusco
$30 (cheap) and $250 (comfortable). Unless you’ve booked a tour to Machu Picchu or are really packing your schedule, you’re probably going to stay a night in Cusco after landing and a second night after returning from Machu Picchu. On the cheap side, you can get a cheap hostel bed for as low as $5 and eat $3-$4 meals with the locals at Mercado San Pedro. For those who want comfort, expect to pay around $75 for a hotel room and $50 for three meals at nicer restaurants. Double each of those for your two nights in Cusco.
Getting to/from Aguas Calientes
$30 (cheap) and $150+ (comfortable). You’re either paying a lot of time or money here. For the cheap option, you take a $20 collectivo from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, a 5+ hour ride through the winding Andes. Then you hike ~3 hours (13 km) to Aguas Calientes; on the way back you do the same hike, but we found the collectivo was only $10 back to Cusco. The total time paid for this trip is around 30 hours.
On the other hand, taking the comfortable option with the whopping $150 price tag cuts travel time to a total of 5-6 hours. The cheapest round-trip train tickets run for around $136 (in low season) round-trip. In the low season, the train doesn’t reach Cusco (only Ollantaytambo), so you’ll also shell out ~$14 for a bus or shared car from and to Cusco. You could also take the train only one way, but be warned that you’ll be paying $75 for that one-way train ticket*.
A night in Aguas Calientes
$50 (cheap) and $200+ (comfortable). To get those much-coveted views of Machu Picchu in the morning, you’ll have to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, where prices are 1.5-3x those in Cusco. $30 will get you a cheap place to stay and $20 should get you three meals. If you insist on the comforts of having working hot water, clean accommodations, and soundproof rooms so you can fall asleep and get up early, plan to spend $150 for your room, and $50 for three meals at the more upscale restaurants.
Machu Picchu entrance fee
$47 (minimal) and $62 (with Huayna Picchu or Machu Mountain). The base price of an adult foreigner ticket directly from the offices in Cusco or Aguas Calientes is $47 a person. If you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Mountain, expect to pay $15 more for that privilege and plan to buy your tickets far in advance—these extras sell out much sooner than standard tickets, even in the low season.
Getting to/from Machu Picchu
Free (cheap) or $40 (comfortable). The question here is whether you want to do a 1+ hour, 1 km near-vertical ascent/descent on the stairs to Machu Picchu. This is after the 2 km walk from Aguas Calientes in the morning. If you don’t, your best option is to book the $40 ticket for the bus up and down, which should be done at least a day in advance (the bus kiosk in Cusco isn’t open early in the mornings). Be warned that people line up early (earlier than 5:00 am) for the first buses up, so be prepared to wait in a long line in town. I believe there’s also an option to buy a one-way ticket down from Machu Picchu, which costs only $15; inquire at the bus kiosk in Aguas Calientes or in Cusco.
Free (cheap) or $25 (comfortable). There are no informational signs around Machu Picchu’s ruins, so expect to come armed with your own knowledge in the form of downloaded website pages or a book, or you’ll have to pay for a guide. You can get a guide for cheaper than $25, but you’ll be in a larger group and the tour may only last an hour.
The total cost to visit Machu Picchu:
$737 (cheap) and $1,382 (comfortable). Is it worth it? That’s up for you to decide. This article isn’t meant to discourage you from going, but to give you a clear idea of how much the whole to Machu Picchu trip costs. I think I would pay to see it again, but I’m still surprised at how much I paid for what I got.
*Note: There is a cheap train (~$2-3) that goes between Cusco Machu Picchu, but it’s locals only. Foreigners are barred from using it as of 10+ years ago to ‘improve the quality of their experience’. The current astronomical prices are charged by the two private companies that run rail services to Machu Picchu. From conversations with locals, there’s disagreement over whether the government sees any of that money, and if so what they use it for.
Afterward: Why’s it so expensive, you might ask? The going hypothesis is that Peru sees tourism as a form of wealth redistribution from richer countries to their (relatively) poorer country, so they charge foreigners (especially from non-Andean countries) far more for this visit to Machu Picchu. That’s totally within their right to do, but for those of us who don’t have the money to pay these prices, it feels a lot like a “Not rich? Then you’re not welcome here” message.