The journey – Cusco to Machu Picchu

Don’t wait for someday to start living because someday may never come. Make the choice right now to be happy and live life to the fullest.

One of the highlights of my trip to Peru has undoubtedly been to the enchanted world of Machu Picchu, and the classic way to reach this world wonder is via the Inca trail. However, as this trail requires advanced booking, special permits and a controlled number of trekkers per day, it was not an option for the way I’ve been traveling.  There are a number of alternative treks that can be enjoyed from Cusco to Machu Picchu. My Brazilian friend that I met in La Paz suggested that I take the Salkantay trail  booked through Eco Packers . She said it was absolutely incredible.

I made friends with Giovanni and Felipe from France on the way from Copacabana. Luckily they wanted to visit Machu Pichu as well, but sooner  than Eco Packers could book us so we decided to plan it on our own. We hopped in a cab at 4:00am from the Cusco bus terminal to their hostel (Chincana Wasi – very nice and reasonably priced, still too much for my budget, so they invited me to sleep on the floor). The cab stopped midway up the steep road where the hostel was located, put it in park, hopped out and started handing us our bags. We looked at him with a “what is going on” look, and he says, “My car won’t make it, you have to walk.”…..so we pack up and slowly began climbing to the top. 

After unloading our bags we headed to the Official ticket office in Cusco as soon as it opened and booked our Machu Picchu tickets for Friday (Direccion Regional de Cultura Cusco, located at Ave. de la Cultura No. 238, Condomio Huascar, Wanchaq, Cusco, Peru. Office is open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 8am-12pm. Visa & cash (soles) accepted (I used Chase Sapphire Preferred to avoid paying foreign transaction fees).

There is a trick they don’t tell you when booking your reservation, it is best to go with a friend. One of you stand in the line to book the tickets (both passports in hand as well as your international student card to receive a 50% discount) and the other stand in the line to pay for the tickets, this can save you hours of waiting. Yay for teamwork!

We spent the rest of the day exploring the markets and eating at tiny bakeries. Panadería Qosqo Maki was our first and most favorite stop. Filled with delicious breads and juices. You can have your breakfast standing or sitting. Their prices are the same as a regular bakery, which keeps your wallet happy 🙂

After booking our tickets and exploring a bit, we headed to the main square of La Plaza de Armas to compare rates for buses that would take us to Machu Picchu. The square has churches, shops, restaurants and bars on every edge and is a great place to spend an afternoon. We booked tickets with a local bus company that held 13 passengers. It was the cheapest alternative route to reach Machu Picchu from Cuzco. This journey for “diehard travelers” (mentioned in the Lonely Planet Peru Travel Guide), isn’t too bad at all and will bring you near Machu Picchu for as low as US$ 70 (180 soles) for transport (round trip). Make sure your bus has a bathroom or that it stops for bathroom breaks every couple of hours before you buy tickets.

The ride was quite long and slow, although the views definitely compensated… in total the ride took 8 hours. The closer we got to Aguas Calientes the more bumpy and SMALLER the winding road became. We found ourselves on a narrow, rocky ridge, over a vast canyon. In one of the sharp turns I saw a truck that had taken a dive off of the cliff into the valley below and there were several instances that it looked like our vehicle was going to do the same. The main roads are good for the most part (but those are rare on this journey), most are quite rough, making trips take longer than expected.

We entertained ourselves throughout the journey. Making new friends with our seat mates, playing UNO, exchanging stories and music, taking naps and reading. We made three stops along the way. The first was 2 hours in a nice rest area nestled in between the mountains. Restrooms, Food and fun game of this traditional peruvian game. I wasn’t able to get the exact name, the locals kept saying “rana” which means frog. The goal is to get your gold coin into the frog’s mouth. The eight surrounding slots have a different point amounts ranging from 500-2,000. It’s pretty addictive one you get the hang of how to properly toss the coin.

The second stop was at a tiny shack made of tin roofing. The girls (all two of us) went inside and all of the boys went to the side for a pee break. The third stop was at  a restaurant in Santa Maria about 45 minutes away from the Hydro electrica plant in Santa Teresa. We had soup, sandwiches and popsicles. They didn’t give us silverware so we improvised 🙂 

Once we reached the Hydro electrica plant we began walking the 10km hike to Aguas Calientes. We crossed over the train track that carries passengers directly to the top. One train passed us on the way up. The passengers had a look of confusion on their face as if to say “what idiots! Who wants to walk this trail? Why didn’t they just take the train like us?” but again my friends, when you’re on a budget, these are the sacrafices you have to take, plus it is a good workout, it only took about 2.5 hours and was well worth it to walk along side of the river and enjoy the scenery.

The hike was filled with postcard worthy scenery that was ever-changing. I could have snapped away every minute, but after a while I decided to sit back and enjoy it through my eyes rather than a camera lens, which allowed me to take in the amazingness of the surrounding panorama of the Andes Mountains.

We arrived at the picturesque town of Agua Callientas (Hot Water) where as per usual during our Peruvian adventure, we didn’t have any plans. We lugged our packs up and down the steep streets searching for a place to lay our heads. We ended up at Hostel Muyurina for 20 soles. Very nice place with friendly staff.

So in short, this was the schedule in case you’re planning on going this route:

  • Purchase Machu Picchu tickets in Cusco (Direccion Regional de Cultura Cusco, located at Ave. de la Cultura No. 238, Condomio Huascar, Wanchaq, Cusco, Peru. Office is open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 8am-12pm. Visa & cash
  • Book a bus a 7am Bus from Cusco (Santiago Terminal) to Santa Teresa 8 hours (very beatiful nature)
  • Walk from Hydro-electric plant to Aguas Calientes (Follow train tracks, glimpses of Machu Picchu), 2hr 30m. It’s possible to take the train, but I do not know prices or hourtables.
  • Arrive in Aguas Calientes. Book a hostel for the night (15-30 soles)
  • Hike to the top of Machu Picchu at 4am to see the sunrise

I recommend this trip to everyone who is on a budget and not afraid of a little less comfort to go to Machu Picchu.
Have a great day and thanks for following along 🙂

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kristiwiley
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:50:11

    Yay! I’m glad you’re back. I just posted a comment and viola, I get a post. I think I’m magic or something.
    Anyways. Thank you for the alternative way. I’ve come to realize that I’m not in to the crowds of touristy things. I went to D.C. (although, I think it could have been alot worse), was just too crowded at the Lincoln Memorial. Granted, I had endless supply of people to take my picture since I was alone (just waited until someone asked me). I worry that when I got to places like Rome, it will be the same way (from what I have read and seen in pictures).

    Therefore, I would much prefer this way and who doesn’t like a little exercise.

    Reply

  2. Alex Moss
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 22:43:00

    Hi there,

    I very much enjoyed reading your blog and your photos are lovely. Really making me excited for my trip to Peru in April. One question, most people who blog about the wallet friendly route to Machu Picchu, take a bus form cusco to Santa Maria, then a separate bus to Santa Teresa and then a Taxi to the HydroElectrica. However, it seems that you took a direct journey from Cusco to HydroElectrica with one company. If this is the case could you please tell me where I would find such a company in Cusco?

    Many thanks, Alex

    Reply

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