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Getting to Machu Picchu on a cheap, alternative Route ($50)

Not willing to pay the expensive train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu or hike the loved-to-death and even more expensive Incatrail? There is one cheap alternative route to reach Machu Picchu from Cuzco with local buses and hiking.
This journey for “diehard travelers” (thats how it’s mentioned in the Lonely Planet Peru Travel Guide), actually isn’t difficult at all and will bring you to Machu Picchu for as low as US$ 50, so I decided to write down a detailed description of the trip. Print it out!
If you have some comments, questions or additions, feel free to write me to luketheduke_at_thanksforthefish_dot_net.
Last Update: 09.12.2007

Summary

  • Goal: Reaching the Inca city Machu Picchu avoiding the expensive train only using local buses and hiking
  • Duration: 3 Days (2 Nights in Aguas Calientes)
  • Costs: 150 Soles (US$ 50) in total
    60 Soles (US$ 20) for Transport (round trip) and 60/120 Soles (students with ISIC-Card/adults US$ 20/40) admission to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Accommodation in Aguas Calientes available for 15 Soles/night.

From Cuzco to Aguas Calientes

  1. Cuzco to Santa Maria

    Take a cab (3 Soles) to Cuzcos Santiago Bus Terminal, for buying your ticket to Santa Maria (6 hours ride) in advance. You can chose between two companies, which have buses to Santa Maria (Destination Quillabamba): “Turismo Ampay” (20 Soles) and “Selva Sur” (15 Soles). Turismo Ampay seems to be the more comfortable and safer option.
    There are buses leaving at 8AM, 1PM and 8PM. Be sure to take the 8PM Bus, as only this one guarantees you connection in Santa Maria.
    Once in the bus, set your alarm clock to 2AM, as the bus arrives in Santa Maria between 2 and 3AM and the driver will probably forget to wake you up.

  2. Santa Maria to the Hydroelectric Plant of Santa Teresa

    Arriving in the little town of Santa Maria, there are several combis (public minivans) waiting right where the bus dropped you off. Ask around, which one drives you to the “hydroelectrico” directly (3 hours ride - 10 Soles) and reserve your seat. Now you have to wait till the combi is full (around 4AM) .
    If there isn’t a direct combi to the hydroelectric plant, you have to transfer in the town of Santa Teresa. Ask the drivers, they know the route.

  3. Hydroelectric Plant to Aguas Calientes

    Around 7AM you arrive at the train station near the hydroelectric plant. Here you usually meet other travelers with the same goal. The rail tracks lead directly to Aguas Calientes. You now have two options:

    • Take the train, which leaves at 8:30AM (24 Soles)
    • Hike along the rail tracks to Aguas Calientes (2-3 hours walk)
      The walk is very easy, as you just have to follow the tracks (there is only one direction). Walking on the ballast rocks can be quite tiring, therefore some prefer to balance on the steel rails or jump from cross tie to cross tie.
      There’s a shortcut after 200m. Look out for the second “Escape”-sign opposite of a small security booth.
  4. Arriving in Aguas Calientes

    You made it to Machu Picchu town. Time to relax and search a place to sleep. There are dozens of accommodation options. A cheap, friendly place is Hostal Inti Wasi (dorm 15 Soles). It’s located above the market, on the right side of the river.
    Buy your Machu Picchu entrance ticket (students with ISIC-Card/adults 60/120 Soles) for the next day in the “Machu Picchu ticket office” on the Plaza de Armas. Also ask for a map of the region.
    If you still have some energy left, climbing mountain Putucusi (2-4 hours) is a good activity for the afternoon. Only few travelers visit Putucusi, eventough you enjoy a wonderful and free view of Machu Picchu from its summit. To climb it, just follow the rail tracks back for around 200m. On the right side you find a Putucusi-sign and stairs. The good and easy trail however contains wooden ladders, which get slippery when it rains.

Visiting Machu Picchu

Get up early and start walking at 4AM to be one of the first visitors. Walk from Aguas Calientes to the bridge “Puente Ruinas” (20 minutes). It’s still dark, so a flashlight can be useful. After crossing the bridge, you see the signs leading to the steep trail to Machu Picchu. It’s a one hour climb, before you arrive at the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins, which open at 6AM.
Alternatively you can take the 05:30AM Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (36 Soles round trip).
When the park opens, enter and climb the trail immediately after the entrance to your left, which leads to the “Hut of the Caretaker of the funerary Rock”, where you’ll be rewarded with the classic postcard-view of Machu Picchu. Without other tourists (at least for some minutes)!

At 7AM the gate to mountain Wayna Picchu opens at the other end of the park. Entrance is limited to 400 visitors daily, so it’s a good idea to be there on time. The climb is steep but easy and lasts 30-90 minutes. From its summit you’re able to enjoy another wonderful view of Machu Picchu.
From the top of Wayna Picchu leads another trail (1 hour) down to the Temple of the Moon (Templo de la Luna) and the Gran Caverna. From there you can go back to Machu Picchu in another hour.

From Aguas Calientes back to Cuzco

Again you have to get up early and start walking back along the rail tracks to the hydroelectric plant at 5AM. Alternatively you can take the 7:30AM train (24 Soles).
There’s a combi waiting till 8AM next to the train station near the hydroelectric plant, which brings you back to Santa Maria (10 Soles).
In Santa Maria there are buses at 10AM and 2PM. Usually you miss the 10AM bus, so you’ll have to wait for the 2PM bus. Buy the ticket (15/20 Soles) in the small store of Señor Ignacio at the corner of the dusty Plaza. You arrive in Cuzco at around 8PM.