Machu Picchu

So here I go. Off to Machu Picchu. The jewel of Peru. The most popular tourist attraction in Peru. Maybe in South America? Probably. As much as I don’t like super popular tourist attractions, this is one of them that you must do when in country.

So there are several way to see Machu Picchu from Cusco. One, is to go by train. Another is to trek 4-5 days. And there is also driving / riding.

The closest town to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes. The only way to get to this town is by rail or walking.

Since I am awesome, and have a motorcycle, I rode to the closest point you can get to before needing to take the train or walk. A place called Hydroelectrica. It is the end of the road just past a small town called Santa Teresa.

From Cusco, the road took me over an incredible mountain pass. The road from Cusco to starts by taking you along a valley before you ascend to over 14,000 feet. On the other side is the valley leading to Machu Picchu.

Peak of the pass

Valley to Machu Picchu

Turning off the main road, you have to take a narrow one lane road that follows the valley to Santa Teresa and Hydroelectrica. The road can be dangerous. Numerous rock slides, rain can turn the road to mud, and terrible Peruvian drivers add to the challenge.

Reaching Hydroelectrica, there is a restaurant and secure parking for you motorcycle or car. From here you have can buy a ticket for the train, or walk the tracks. Walking the train tracks has become more popular over the years. For Gringos the price of the train is $30 each way. I have heard that for locals it’s $5. Go figure.

Bridge to Hydroelectrica

I arrived to Hydroelectrica and the man at the Restaurant / Parking was super friendly. He had cover areas for motorcycles and cars. After changing out of my motorcycle gear, he put my things inside where they would be safe. This guy has entrepreneured a service from a need. Good for him! At 10 Soles per day, you can’t beat it!

Other travelers leaving their mark

So now I am ready to go. I have my two small backpacks; Just enough items for two nights in Aguas Calientes. Change of socks, rain gear, thermal layers, extra t-shirt. That’s really all you need. Rain gear is a must. One thing I would recommend for hiking is a poncho vs rain jacket. A good poncho will cover you and your gear. A rain jacket and pants get too hot for hiking. Waterproof socks are a plus!

So now I am off! You have to register at the small booth just before entering the train depot. They will check to see if you have water before letting you go. But don’t worry, there are several restaurants and tiendas along the tracks if you need shelter or water.

The claimed distance is 10 kms, but I think it’s more like 12. Maybe 10 from entry to exit on the tracks, but then you still have to walk to Aguas Calientes once you exit the tracks.

The walk along the tracks is pleasant and there was plenty of other hikers. It is safe for walking solo. Not sure about walking at night, but there were plenty of people. I never felt it was dodgy at any point.

As I said before, the walk is becoming more popular, and it looks like they are working on putting a formal path. The train runs once a day to and from Hydroelectrica. So, there’s a good chance you will see the train coming or going.

Waiting for the train

Tough money!

The average time for walking is about three hours at a leisurely pace. But for me, when I get a backpack on, my military instincts kick in. I put my head down, and start to walk at a brisk pace. I generally walk about 1 mile every 15 minutes. So as I guessed, it only took me 1.5 hours to walk the section of track to Aguas Calientes.

Aguas Calientes

Arriving in Aguas Calientes, you can tell that this town is all about the tourist. The only vehicles in the town are the shuttle buses to Machu Picchu and a few service vehicles. The town is very pretty, and clean. But also can be very expensive. The average restaurant will charge 30-50 soles for a meal. That can be twice the normal price. They also try to take advantage of tourist by adding gross service charges that are not legal. For the average tourist, this may not be a big deal, but for travellers, it’s bullshit. I only ate at one restaurant while in Aguas Calientes, and it was more of a local place with local prices. 15 soles for a fixed meal of Soup, Main dish, and drink. The rest of the time I at the local mercado, where the locals eat. 8 soles ($2.50) for a meal.

Settling into the cheapest hostel I could find with good amenities, I went to buy my ticket for M.P. for the next day. The most popular time to go is in the morning, but actually the best time to go is in the afternoon. I guess maybe that depends on the season. Right now, it’s winter, and clouds and rain are normal in the morning. By the time the afternoon comes around, the sun has burned up much of the clouds. You will also have less people the longer you stay. By the time the park is closing, there are very few people. Tickets are expensive. This is the most expensive tourist thing I’ve done so far. 152 soles for a ticket to MP ($47). The offer a student discount, and although I have a student ID, they limit that to people 25 years old or younger. Bastards! Hahahah

The next morning I woke up ready to tackle the hike up to MP. The options from Aguas Calientes is take the shuttle bus, or walk up the hiking trail. The shuttle is $20 round trip, but I prefer to walk anyways.

Fools waiting for the shuttle buses

It takes about an hour to hike up the the official entrance at MP, but before you can even get to the trail there is a guard who will check your ticket before you can pass.

MP has two sessions for tourist. Morning or afternoon. Again, most people seem to go in the morning. I have read stories of waking up at 4 am and waiting in line for over an hour to make the hike, which sounds like a nightmare to me.

My ticket was for 12 PM but you can start walking up around 10:30 / 11:00. I had no lines to wait and off I went.

The hike up is pleasant and there are some fun sections. The hiking trail crosses over the road the shuttle bus uses. After seeing how the drivers take the corners, I am glad I walked.

The guarded bridge to MP

Up I go

Arriving to the official entrance, there was a short line, but nothing to cry about. I was into the park in no time and free to walk about. Certain parts of MP are like an Ikea store. Follow the arrows and don’t try to backtrack. For the most part you are free to walk about.

As I wanted to kill time and let the crowd wane, I hiked up the the Sun Gate, A 30 minute hike to one of the higher points in MP. This was good, because it gave me different views and time for the sun to do its magic on the clouds. I was actually glad for the clouds because it made for more dramatic photos.

There are several options when visiting MP. You can chose a tour to Huayna Picchu, it’s a separate section that take you up the giant peak that dominates over MP. This is the peak you see in most photos, and not many people even know that it was a separate section. There is also another section that takes you on a 4 hour trek to the other side of MP. All of these cost extra.

After returning from the Sun Gate, I walked to another point call the Inca bridge. The Inca bridge is a section of trail that gaps to sections with a 1900 foot drop. You can’t actually cross the bridge, but you can get close to see.

Inca Bridge

The bridge to MP

So now, the crowds have dispersed and the sun and clouds are perfect for photos. I spend the rest of the day walking about and shooting. The hike down was more difficult due to the slow people in front of me.

The three doors

The next day I walk back to Hydroelectrica, but gained a trekking partner on the way. A small dog, that walked the whole 10 kms with me! I named him Gustavo because of his beard and mustache. He was so kind and gentle. He really had a good temperment. I thought by the first rail bridge he would turn back, but he keep on. He would walk in front of me, but check in every few minutes. He was so cute!


I kept singing the “My buddy song” He loved it!

When I reached the restaurant at Hydroelectrica, I made sure he got fed. He sat under my legs while I had a sandwich and never begged for food. I really got attached to him and vice versa. When I left on my motorcycle, I had tears in my eyes. I don’t know what happened, but we connected, and I really wanted to keep him, but for me, at this moment, impossible. Not to say that it is impossible, but for me. Not now. Incredibly, when my friend Steve and Penelope walked the tracks two days later, Gustavo walked with them the whole way back to Aguas Calientes!

Gustavo will forever be in my heart, and so will Machu Picchu.


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