Considered one of the meccas of every traveler, the sacred city of Machu Picchu is one of those magical places you will never forget in your life.
Built in the fifteenth century, it was the residence of Pachacutec, one of the most important Inca emperors. Also used as a religious shrine or even military base, is an unmatched masterpiece of architecture and since 2007, one of the new 7 wonders of the modern world.
Early in the morning, the mist conceals part of the ruins giving a mystical aspect. Gradually, the great citadel reveals its beauty and finally Huaynapichu, the enormous rock that guards the city in the background. It is a breathtaking image. The image we have seen so often in pictures, postcards and documentaries, is no where near close to what you see with your own eyes.
The 3 most popular options of how to get to Machu Picchu
Many tourists who come to the city of Cusco, want to take the famous Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu. The Inca trail can only be done through an official agency and costs around 350 dollars. There are a lot of agencies around Cusco where you can book it and usually can be completed in 3-5 days. Due to the hefty price, I was very sure that this wouldn’t be our choice.
This was the option my dear friend Jabi and I chose as an alternative to the Inca trail. The hike can be completed in 4-5 days and can be done on your own, without guides. The trek begins in the village of Mollepata, where you pay a registration fee at the checkpoint, in the main square. Something like 130 soles, $ 40. Just a heads up (the Ministry of Tourism of Peru is not going to like this but..) you can go around the village on the left side without actually passing through the center, and therefore not paying the fee. Some locals will tell you that you are going in the wrong direction and you have to go through the center .. but we said we were taking pictures and this way we didn´t actually reach the village centre.
Unfortunately, the second day Jabi sprained his ankle and could not continue our journey. We had a few beers in a small town to relieve the pain of his twisted ankle and the sadness for not being able to continue. Then we got a Jeep lift that took us to Santa Teresa and from there we could find transportation to Cusco.
THE FAMOUS RAILWAY FROM HIDROELÉCTRICA
After the frustrating attempt to reach Machu Picchu by hiking, like explorers searching for the city of “El Dorado”, we opted for the 100% backpacker option: The Railway from Hidroeléctrica. It’s not difficult, but you have to do different changes, so I will explain it step by step:
From Cusco to Santa Maria
First, you have to go to the small bus terminal of Santiago, in Cusco. From there, you should take the bus going to Quillabamba, but get off at Santa Maria. The price is about 15-20 soles, depending on your bargaining skills. The trip takes about 7 hours so it’s good to get to the terminal very early. Otherwise, you won’t have time to make all the transport changes in the same day. Get to the terminal before 7:00 a.m.
From Santa Maria to Santa Teresa
When you arrive at Santa Maria, you will see that just after getting off the bus, different drivers will be offering you a ride to Santa Teresa. The price is 20 soles for the whole ride to share with other travelers. The road is in a very bad condition but the cliffs around are spectacular.
From Santa Teresa to Hidroeléctrica
Once in Santa Teresa, we took another shared taxi to the Hydroelectric. It costs about 5 soles per person and is quite a short ride, 20 minutes maximum. In the Hydroelectric all travelers must register at the checkpoint.
From Hidroeléctrica to Aguas Calientes
From here it is a journey of about 3 hours to the small touristy town of Aguas Calientes. At first the path can be a little confusing, but there are several signs pointing the way.You walk along the train railways through a dense jungle with the river and the mountain of Machu Picchu on the side.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Once in Aguas Calientes, you must spend the night there and wake up very early to get to Machu Picchu at dawn and have time to go back to Cusco on the same day (unless you want to sleep in Aguas Calientes again).
The trek to Machu Picchu can be completed in one and a half or two hours, depending on your speed. Once at the top, enjoy the show!