Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Going to and from Machu Picchu

I think during any trip through South America, most people will end up in Peru with one common goal.... Machu Picchu! There are a few ways to reach the new Wonder of the World, such as a variety of hikes (most famous is the Inca Trail) or take the train. Both are very pricey so I describe here how to do Machu Picchu (MP) on a budget.
Machu Picchu, here we come!

First of all, BUY YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE in Cusco. There is only one location to do this in Cusco and it the 'Direccion Regional de Cultura' on Av. Cultura. A ticket to MP (as of Nov 2012) was S/128 ($49.12) and a ticket to MP and Huayna Picchu (seriously recommend!) was S/152 ($58.33). They require your passport number for buying tickets.

I say buy in Cusco because there is a mark up price if you wait to but them in Aguas Caliente (the nearest town to MP), plus there is a maximum capacity of 2,500 people per day allowed into MP and only 400 per day to climb Huaynapicchu (HP); you do not want to get all the way there and find out there are no spaces left. Plan ahead!

The crazy winding roads to Santa Maria

Secondly, transport. There was not a lot information on how to get to MP by bus but after some research we found the cheapest (and quite an adventurous) to get there. It takes 3 collectivos and a 2.5h walk to get to the town Aguas Caliente.

Bus 1: Cusco to Santa Maria.  (S/30, 4.5h)
You pick up a collective bus at the Santiago station in the SW of Cusco. We made the mistake of booking in advance for a 5am bus. We were told it would leave at 5.30 regardless of how full it was. This was a lie! We waited until 6.30! They run constantly, just walk up on the morning, you'll probably get it cheaper as they are desperate to fill their buses.

The ride was long and bumpy ride and the roads were winding crazily around some spectacular mountains; do no expect to nap easily on this bus! We arrived at about 11am after stopping for food at 10ish.

Huge sheer drop and the were driving fast!
Bus 2: Santa Maria to Santa Teresa.  (S/10, 1h)
An insane road over the mountains with a sheer drop over the cliff with no road barrier in site. We were frequently stopped by bulldozers clearing the roads of gravel. This road was seriously dusty! We were dropped off in SM and were instantly put on another collectivo waiting to fill up.

For this ride, it was very common for the driver to cram 4 or 5 people into the boot of the car and drop them off in the middle of nowhere where they would disappear to their 'houses' that were no where to be seen!
We often couldn´t see out the window from all the dust!
Now thats an obstruction!

The start of the walk from the
 hydroelectric plant
Bus 3: Santa Teresa to the hydroelectric plant.   (S/5, 30mins)
This bus took us down to the valley floor where the massive hydroelectric plant was situated and where you could take the train to Aguas Caliente.

This was where the 2.5h pleasurable walk started. We followed the track until a dead end where there was a small path to the right up the hill into the vegetation. We followed this path for 5 or 10 minutes where we emerged onto another (active) train track. This was the track we followed until we reached Aguas Caliente.

The walk was lovely, we passed some spectacular scenery and crossed a very dodgy rail bridge that could have collapsed at any moment. Sometimes the path was cobbled with loose stones; we often found it easier to walk on the tracks but be careful as we were often passed by the trains!

The not-so-safe railway bridge
(people cross on the path to the right)
The train always appreared when we needed to use the track
to cross the rivers
During our walk we met a lovely old woman in a clearing along the tracks, selling drinks and snacks and also owned a restaurant. We got to talking and she recommended a hostel in AC for us. I think it was her son who said he would call ahead to give us a discount. I love chatting to random locals!

The town of Aguas Caliente
They also warned us that within 45mins walking, we would reach the train tunnels and NOT to follow the tracks! We came across a station with a green coloured building, stayed to the right and followed a path downwards which lead us to AC.

We finally arrived at around 3pm, tired from the long day of travelling. We were approached by a guy who was promoting the hostel we were recommended by the woman. Because it was well out of our price range and her son called ahead, we were taken to a cheap hostel, Eco Mapi who gave us a twin room with private bathroom (and hot water finally!) for only S/15pp! Aparently, that was a huge bargain for AC! Woop! We stayed 2 nights, one before and one after MP.

The train passing through Aguas Caliente

Our biggest decision we had to make now was where we going to take the morning bus from AC (S/23 one way) or brave the steep climb up the mountain to MP.... we decided on the bus!

Waiting for the bus (5am)
The first bus leaves at 5.30am (on the dot!) and takes only 20mins to get to the gates of MP 10mins before the park opens. This was 100% the best way as we beat nearly all 50 or so people who tried to race the bus up the mountain and they were exhausted by the time the reached the top. We had to climb Huaynapicchu so thought we would save our energy!

To guarentee a seat on the first bus, we had to start waiting around 4.15am as the bus only seats 40 people (we were first in line). We sat on the kerb and made out mushy banana and chocolate sandwiches while we waited.

For our amazing trip to Machu Picchu, see our blog entry here.

The views on our walk back from AC
After a full day at Machu Picchu, Harry had badly hurt his knee and had to walk back the next day to the hydro electric plant...not a pleasurable experience especially as we had 3 very annoying dogs who followed us the entire way! We caught some very nice scenery though!

We took similar collectivos back to Cusco except the final leg from Santa Maria to Cusco was only S/20 as we picked up a van returning mountain bike to Cusco. Less people, more space, better price!

We were shatterd by the time we arrived in Cusco but it completely worth the effort and I would recommend this route for anyone wanting to make the trip to MP affordable.

Tickets: S/152  (inc. Huaynapicchu) 
Transport: S/45 (going)  S/35 (return)   
Accommodation: S/15  (Eco Mapi hostel)

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