Machu Picchu is probably Peru’s most famous attraction. There’s no way we could drive all the way from Seattle and not stop to see these famous Inca ruins.
“But wait, can you actually drive to Machu Picchu?” I hear you asking.
Well, 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).
You will need to take the back way from Cusco, driving through the heart of the Sacred Valley, through little towns like Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.
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.
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 a night in Santa Teresa.
Parking for the Hike to Machu Picchu
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 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.
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 practically drive to Machu Picchu whether you are overlanding or decide to rent a vehicle — you can park within a three to four hour walk from the ruins.
For more details about arriving to Machu Picchu, see my article on how to visit Machu Picchu on a budget, the only difference is you’d be driving yourself.
Map of the Route
Zoom in for more details of parking, the hike, etc, near “Point B”.
Rumors About Driving to Machu Picchu
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.
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). But once you leave Cusco, you won’t see much in the way of traffic, and basically will only deal with vehicles passing you, and getting caught behind slow moving semi trucks or buses.
- City Parking: Again, you only need to deal with that in Cusco, where you can find paid garages where you can securely park for the evening. But if you stay outside the historic city center, it will be much easier.
- Roads Not Marked: It is very easy to get to Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica. Even a simple, free GPS app on your phone will get you there. Road conditions are fine, it is a 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.
There is true freedom and flexibility when it comes to driving to Machu Picchu with your own wheels.
You can stop in whatever towns you like, stop and grab lunch where you want, and stop and take photos (the drive features some stunning 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).
How Much Did it Cost?
It was the two of us traveling, so the per person costs for gasoline and hotels would be divided in half.
175 soles – Approximately a full tank of gas
60 soles – Night in Ollantaytambo
35 soles – Night in Santa Teresa
15 soles x 2 nights – Parking at Hidroelectrica
50 soles x 2 nights – Night in Aguas Calientes
152 soles per person – Entrance to Machu Picchu
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 in to Aguas Calientes the same day.
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