What You Should Know About Driving to Machu Picchu by Car

What You Should Know About Driving to Machu Picchu by Car

Machu Picchu is probably Peru’s most famous attraction, and certainly one of the top things to do in Peru. So, there’s absolutely no way we could drive all the way from Seattle and not stop to see these famous Inca ruins. But wait, I already here you asking, “can you drive to Machu Picchu?” Well, here’s the truth about how to visit Machu Picchu by car.

While there are many different options when it comes to how to get to Machu Picchu, I think that going independently is not only the best way to visit Machu Picchu on a budget, but it’s also just a plain fun way to go… I mean the route is full of incredible scenery and there’s nothing quite like a DIY adventure.

There’s both a long answer and a short answer when it comes to traveling to Machu Picchu by car, but the short answer is that, no, you can’t drive to the gate of the ruins, but you can get pretty darn close if you’ve got your own set of wheels (or go via public transport).

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

You will need to take the backroads from Cusco, driving through the heart of the Sacred Valley, through little towns like Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. If you’re traveling to Machu Picchu and Cusco, you should also be sure to read a bit more about Cusco altitude sickness and how to avoid it.

From there you will wind way up into the mountains at more than 4,300 meters, before dropping down into the sticky, humid lowlands around 1,400 meters, and pass through the pleasant little town of Santa Teresa. Yes, Machu Picchu by car is probably even more beautiful and impressive than going by train.

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

Here you can stop to spend the night or press on to Hidroelectrica depending on what time you arrive. In total it is around 7 hours from Cusco to Hidroelectrica.

If you’ve got time, I’d recommend that you break up your drive with a stop in the Sacred Valley, which is what we did with a stop in Ollantaytambo beforehand and then another night in Santa Teresa.

Machu Picchu by Car – Where to Park

In order to set out for Machu Picchu, you will drive all the way to Hidroelectrica (another 30-40 minutes from Santa Teresa) where you can securely park your vehicle for about 15/s ($5) per night.

It’s on the property of a local family that watches the vehicles, and otherwise there is virtually no one else around, so there is little to worry about in terms of break-ins, even if the family wasn’t there.

Your other option would be to park in Santa Teresa at the local campground for 5/s per night and then take a taxi to and from Hidroelectrica — although I don’t really see the point of doing this, given the option above.

From Hidroelectrica it is an easy and flat 2.5 hour walk to the town of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) at the base of the ruins.

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

Here you can grab a hotel for the night and visit the famous ruins the following day. You can either take a bus up ($12 one way) or hike about an hour and a half, climbing up 2,000 steps to reach the ruins.

So yeah, you can go to Machu Picchu by car whether you are overlanding all of Latin America like us or just decide to rent a vehicle — you can park within a three to four hour walk from the ruins.

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

For more details about going to Machu Picchu by car, see my article on how to visit Machu Picchu on a budget, the only difference is you’d be driving yourself.

Map of Visiting Machu Picchu by Car

Zoom in for more details of parking, the hike, etc, near “Point B”.

Rumors About Going to Machu Picchu by Car

Don’t listen to some of the laughably bad articles and advice out there that seem designed to only sell you on a big tour package.

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

Let’s dispel some of the rumors that others are spreading:

  • Traffic: Yes, traffic in Cusco will be bad. Yes, Peruvians are terrible drivers (the worst in Latin America, seriously). But Cusco isn’t Lima, and once you leave Cusco, you won’t see much in the way of traffic at all, and basically will only deal with vehicles passing you and getting caught behind slow-moving semi-trucks or buses climbing up the big hills.
  • City Parking: Again, you only need to deal with that in Cusco, where you can readily find paid garages where you can securely park for the evening. But if you stay a little outside the historic city center, it will be much easier to drive and find parking.
  • Roads Not Marked: It is very easy to get to Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica by car. Even a simple, free GPS app on your phone will get you there. Road conditions are more than fine, indeed this same route is the common back door route for tour operators as well.
  • Gas Stations Few and Far Between: Not an issue, you can make the round trip on one tank of gas (at least I could with a 16-gallon tank at 16mpg). But there are gas stations in Urubamba (The Sacred Valley) and in Santa Teresa (as well as one in Huyro on the drive-in). You won’t run out of gas unless you are completely oblivious.

There is true freedom and flexibility when it comes to visiting Machu Picchu by car, thanks to the independence of having your own set of wheels.

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

You can stop in whatever towns you like, stop and grab lunch where and when you want, and stop and take photos (the drive features some truly stunning mountain scenery) whenever you like.

You can’t do any of those things if you take public transport (a tour van to Hidroelectrica or the train to Aguas Calientes) or take a tour of Machu Picchu.

You go when and where they want, usually in a big hurry.

How many times are you going to visit Machu Picchu or Peru? You might as well take your time and enjoy it a little.

How Much Does it Cost?

When we were traveling to Machu Picchu by car, it was the two of us traveling so the per-person costs for gasoline and hotels would be divided in half if you are doing a per-person cost.

175 soles – Approximately a full tank of gas
60 soles – Hotel in Ollantaytambo
35 soles – Hotel in Santa Teresa
15 soles x 2 nights – Parking at Hidroelectrica
50 soles x 2 nights – Hotel in Aguas Calientes
152 soles per person – Entrance to Machu Picchu

Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

If you decide to go by public transport from Cusco to Hidro, you can expect to spend at least 40 soles per person, one way. You would also avoid paying for hotels in Ollantaytambo or Santa Teresa, but it will be a very long day, especially if you are hiking into Aguas Calientes the same day.

So, in the end, I think that visiting Machu Picchu by car is a great way to do the trip, and I certainly don’t regret it. Perhaps someday I will return though so I can do the ever-popular Inca Trail.

Be sure not to miss my guide to visiting Machu Picchu on a Budget, and my Guide to Cusco, Peru.

Traveling to Machu Picchu Pueblo on your next trip? Book the perfect room on Booking.com today! If you plan to stay longer, I highly recommend looking for a place on Airbnb. And don’t forget to purchase international travel insurance that will help protect you against illness, injury, and theft. I use and recommend World Nomads for its combination of coverage and affordability.

Wish you could travel more? Click here to grab my free resources for affordable, long-term travel.

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Did you know you can drive within a few hours of walk of Machu Picchu? This way you avoid the expensive train and overpriced tour groups. It's more of an adventure that way too.... Can You Drive to Machu Picchu? How to Visit Machu Picchu by Car

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Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West. Since then he set out traveling to Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

Comments 12

  1. Avatar

    Questions:

    1) is night photography possible – can you stay into the night? If not inside the ruins, close to them? (have car, etc.)

    2) is it possible to avoid cusco, and elevations above 8,000?

    tnx.

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      1) As far as I’m aware, there is no way to stay inside the park after dark. It closes at about 6 pm.

      2) It is virtually impossible to completely avoid elevation. Your best bet would be to fly into Cusco and try to leave ASAP (elevation sickness only comes on after being exposed for a while (thus the whole hike high, sleep low thing). I would head straight to Santa Teresa upon arrival in Cusco, where the elevation is only about 5,000 feet. Aguas Calientes is about 6,700, Cusco in comparison is 11,100 feet. You could spend a day or two there, then head to Aguas Calientes, then to MP which sits at about 8,000. Then you could do the normal spots like the Sacret Valley then wrap up in Cusco, allowing yourself to acclimitize in the process.

  2. Avatar

    Hi there, Thank you so much for the great article, it was definitely helpful ! Well written too ! Just a quick question, how dangerous is the hike from hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes ? And by that I mean, in term of agression, or robbery. Is it safe ? or can we get attack or kidnap ? Is there any surveillance by legit government agents to make sure we don’t die haha? We are two tiny women travelling together, so I wanna make sure that doing a 4h hike in the middle of nowhere is safe !

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      The hike is quite safe, there are lots of people making the hike as well. I’ve not heard of any aggression or robberies along that way so it is not something I would at all be concerned about. Not saying it’s impossible, of course, but it would be very, very unlikely. You should be more concerned with getting off the tracks when the train comes or maybe a random countryside dog along the way being territorial…

  3. Avatar

    Hello! Your article was very helpful! Im headed to Peru this September and am trying to figure out how long I need to spend in cusco and take the trip. Would you mind helping me figure out some things? We would fly into cusco early morning and leave a few days later in the afternoon.
    1) Is one full day enough to fully enjoy a leisurely one way trip with stops?
    2) What must see activities or animal things are there to do along the route and in Cusco?
    3) Is one full day at Machu Picchu with the waynapicchu hike more than enough time to visit and fully enjoy? What other things are there to do except the hike and take pictures?
    4) Anything special in Aguas Calientes or just a place to stay the night.
    5) How did you do with the elevation in the cities?

    Thank you!!

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      Hey there, lots to unpack here, but I would say you should devote more than a single day to Cusco — the city is pretty enjoyable and there is quite a bit to do there. One full day at Machu Picchu is enough… I’d plan on spending two nights in Aguascalientes (before and after). There isn’t a ton to do at MP ruins, besides hiking around and taking photos, but take your time to enjoy the place — most will only be there once. I’d say there isn’t a ton to do in Aguascalientes, it’s a super touristy town, but it isn’t as disagreeable as I heard it was — it was fine for two nights, just everything caters to tourists, of course. In terms of elevation — we were already acclimatized sufficiently, but what many people do is fly from Lima to Cusco and head straight to the Sacred Valley for a night or two (which is lower elevation) before returning to Cusco. But MP is actually at a lower elevation, so acclimatization is mostly relevant for spending the night in Cusco and/or hiking the Inca Trail.

  4. Avatar

    He Ryan

    Thank you for your great blog.
    We Booked tickets to Peru and a rented a car. And ofcourse we want to visit machu picchu. Our question is, where and how much time before did you buy the entrance tickets? Is there anything else we need to book in advance or there?

    Kind regards Wim

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      Hey Wim, I bought my tickets in the Machu Picchu City / Aguascalientes upon arrival. We made sure to check in with the ticketing office in Cusco beforehand though to ensure that there were still lots available, I’d encourage you to do the same, and perhaps buy tickets in Cusco if that’s what they advice. Enjoy!

  5. Avatar

    Hey Ryan,

    That’s some awesome information.
    I’m riding my motorcycle around the world and I’m in Cusco now.

    Planning to do the same as you. Just wanted to know how the roads are to Hidroelectrica, paved or dirt? A lot of sand?

    Cheers

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      Dirt roads on the way to Hidro, but I don’t recall any sand — not that I would notice in a truck, at least. Enjoy the road, it’s beautiful!

  6. Avatar

    Hey Ryan! Your article was the most valuable resource I’ve found so far about traveling to Machu Picchu on my own. I’ll be flying in to Santiago, Chile to pick up my dad then we will rent a car for a road trip to Machu Picchu. Do I need to call to reserve a parking spot in Hidroelectrica?

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      Sasha, that’s awesome to hear! It’ll be a great trip, I’m sure. You most definitely don’t need to reserve a spot at the place mentioned here. It’s just a dirt lot behind their house in the middle of nowhere, so you should be good to go. Just show up and let them know your plan.

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