Traveling with a small child is a marathon (not a sprint), so my husband, our 1-year-old and I experienced the breathtaking elevation and sights of Machu Picchu and the scenic journey to and from the remote area over the course of three days and two nights. Because this was part of a longer (strictly budgeted) six-month journey through the continent, we tracked and kept meticulous records of every purchase. Here's what we spent and ways you can save.
Transportation: USD$152.44 on two adult one-way flights* from Lima to Cuzco with Avianca airline and USD $27.52 on a cab ride from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. We negotiated the cab fare with a dispatcher, who apparently did not relay our rate to our driver, so we had to pay a few dollars more than we'd intended. There are buses available for a lower cost, but we took a cab to accommodate our baby's sleep schedule.
Train tickets*: $196 on two adult two-way Inca Rail train tickets for "the Voyager" class (the most economic in price, but it felt like first class to us) from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu and "the 360" class (a slightly more costly option) from Machu Picchu to Cuzco. The difference between "the Voyager" and "the 360" was negligible to us — the upgrades being wider windows and an outdoor observatory train car you could go admire the views from; however, the return time on "the 360" was a better fit for our schedule.
We booked our train tickets and Machu Picchu entries one month ahead of our intended arrival. A potential change of plans led us to revisit the Inca Rail website a week before our journey, where saw a promotion for our travel dates. We requested a refund for our tickets and bought new ones at the lower price, saving $62.
Machu Picchu general entry fees*: $92 for two adults. If you want to go on one of the hikes, plan on spending more.
Accommodation: $79.48 for two nights in a deluxe double room with a balcony at Vista Machu Picchu, a short walk to and from the train station, souvenir shops, local restaurants, and the bus to the Machu Picchu ruins.
If I ever return to the area, I'd find something further away from the train tracks, however. The sound of the arriving and departing trains is so overwhelming, my husband felt nauseated anytime he was inside our room. And we didn't use that balcony for much longer than to pose for a single photo.
Total pre-trip spending: $547.44
*We did not have to pay for our 1-year-old's flights, train tickets, or entry fee.
On the ground
11am: We board our train headed for Aguas Calientes, a small town located outside the Inca ruins. It is by far the nicest form of transportation we've ever taken, and that's including first-class flights. Because we're traveling with a baby, the kind crew upgrades us to seating for four. We enjoy a light lunch and coffee, included in the price of our ticket, and take tons of GoPro videos of all the lush greenery outside our huge windows.
1pm: We arrive, make our way to our hotel, check-in, get settled in our room, and it's time for our baby's afternoon nap.
4pm: We're off to explore the town. First up, an early dinner. By now we have developed a routine for finding the best deals when dining out, even in a tourist hub like Aguas Calientes. We stick to side streets, always check the listed prices (where possible), price compare from restaurant to restaurant, and even, where appropriate, negotiate. Tonight, since we're visiting during the slow season, our waiter offers us a 15 percent discount on the lowest-price pre-fixe menu option available, called the "tourist menu" (though it's the most affordable). We also get a drink and dessert each as add-ons, in exchange for sitting in the outdoor seating to make the place, which is otherwise empty, look appealing to people passing by. Our total comes to $15.12 for two meals, which we share among the three of us.
While we're out, we get our bus tickets to get to the entrance of the Machu Picchu ruins ($48 for two adult roundtrip tickets). The next day we'll discover on our way up the zig-zagging path that people can and do, in fact, hike one or both ways (about 5 to 6 miles, depending on where you're staying) to save on that expense.
Lastly, we pick up whole milk, fruits, and other snacks for our baby at a local market, negotiating on all of our prices here, as well, as we've learned more or less what fair prices should be for each item, for $3.48.
7pm: Bedtime for baby and adults. We have an early start in the morning.
8:15am: After free breakfast at our hotel, we're on our way to catch our bus. But I'm frantic. Everything we've read has recommended that we should have rain ponchos for the unpredictable (but often rainy) weather in Machu Picchu. I've discovered that in my overexuberance to pack light, I've left my rain jacket in my suitcase stored at the Ollantaytambo train station. In a panic, I stop at the market, negotiating (but not as well as I'd like) to buy a $1.21 rain poncho that I won't end up needing today, but one I will eventually use to protect my belongings on a subsequent trip to the Amazon Jungle.
8:45-11am: We walk through the ruins, pausing at every photo opp to snap our own perfect family postcard.
After a while of feeling caught up among a sea of tourists, we venture off onto the much emptier Inca Bridge trail, where the staff make us record our names and starting time, so they know who to look for if we don't sign out. Though my fear of heights is put to the most extreme test, we do eventually sign out.
It's been a long morning and our little one naps through the end of our visit and keeps on napping when we get back to the hotel.
2:10pm: After our $6.05 lunch, we explore some more, encountering hairless dogs, which are themselves a part of the history, their presence in Peru dating back thousands of years.
6:30pm: After our baby's afternoon nap, we walk to the very edge of the town to find the lowest advertised menu for dinner, $10.58 for two meals. On our way back to our hotel, we stop at a soccer field where our child crawls around, joyful when some local kids share their soccer ball.
For the last stop of the night before getting ready for bed, we spend $1.06 on Inca Kola, a Peruvian soda that my husband has heard is similar to the Kolashampan sold in his home country of El Salvador.
9:30am: Another free hotel breakfast, trip to the soccer field, spotting more local hairless dogs, and it's time to buy snacks for the day ($1.21 on avocados) and souvenirs, $3.62 on a 10-pack of llama magnets, the best price we can find among all the souvenir stands.
10:30am-2:30pm: We head back to Cuzco, first by train to Ollantaytambo. We grab our luggage stored at the station, then switch to a private passenger van, also offered through Inca Rail's "Bimodal" train-to-bus service. We originally purchased an afternoon ride out of Aguas Calientes, but after our first day here we realized seeing the ruins was the only true highlight of the area, so we changed our return train to get back earlier in the day.
The ride back is just as lovely, green, and comfortable as it was on the way in.
The final tally
Overall spend: $637.77
Notes: It's certainly possible to stay in Aguas Calientes for only one night, and, by taking the earliest train in and the latest train out, it's also possible to avoid staying overnight in Aguas Calientes altogether. That said, even those without young one's sleeping schedules or energy levels to consider should consider staying the night to avoid back-to-back traveling with a potentially long and strenuous hike in between. As mentioned earlier in the diary, hiking to and from the entry of Machu Picchu rather than taking the bus could help cut back as well.
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