Another day and another feat overcome in the life of an injured backpacker. Having traipsed around a couple of tour agencies in Cusco with my long suffering travel companion, I can confirm that you cannot do the entirety of the Macchu Picchu trek on a donkey. The results are in and you will need to be able to walk at the least along a train track for three hours.
Therefore, with some intensive rest days behind me, we had gone for one of the more available, shorter, cheaper options. I was not going to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity… again!
Macchu Picchu access had proved a little baffling to me therefore, I wanted to dedicate this blog to listing out all the options available on how to arrive at Inca civilisation.
My experience of this world-famous historical site was as any tourist would expect and so I will feed your imaginations with pictures alone this time. The one thing I will say is that despite all the pictures you see online, when you take the final step and look through the mist, it still does have that overwhelming stomach-dropping impact that fairy tales and unicorns are made from.
Departure town Cusco is an altitude city so it takes some adjusting. It’s primarily tours, parties and outrageously cheap massages.
The ways to get to Macchu Picchu are many:
- Salkantay (4D3N)
- Jungle tour (4D3N)
- Inca trail (4D3N – the one you’ve probably heard about)
- coach and walk (2D1N)
- Coach and train (2D1N)
- Choquequirao (11D12N)
- This is a trail that you walk with a guide that goes via a lagoon and some other miradors. You camp en route and the tour company provides all sleeping kit and food (carried by donkeys), I heard good reports on the food! It sounds like a good trek and would have been my choice of arrival had I not been injured.
- This sounds really gimicky, full of zip wires, bike rides and tubing, you part drive, part walk and part general adventure to MP.
- It’s the one that everyone talks about, finishing with sunrise at MP. Book months and months in advance and as soon as you can to not be disappointed.
- This is what I did. There are loads of operators offering early morning transport to somewhere called Hidroelectrica. This is the furthest vehicles can go to take you to Macchu Picchu and it takes three hours. From here it’s a fairly straight forward 2.5 hour walk on flat ground along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of MP.
- Alternatively, if you’re feeling flush and don’t want to walk, you can spend $140 on a return train from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes.
- You could do just 5 days of the Choquequirao trek and not see MP and instead go see these indigenous ruins, a lot less touristy and apparently a different kind of impressive to MP (said with authority from my brother). You can equally carry on walking and finish at MP but it’s a long time. You also need a group for operators to take you and a lot of them didn’t have enough people interested.
Macchu Picchu itself.
The town Aguas Calientes is at the base of MP. It’s bustling with tourism, shops and food. Do NOT go to the thermal baths, they stank, weren’t that hot and were not worth a penny… we left within minutes of getting into the water to go for a shower.
MP works on two slots a day now – morning or afternoon (previously you could just come and go as you pleased).Chances are you need to stay a night in Aguas Calientes as most of the transport has you arriving in the afternoon so you miss the afternoon MP slot.
If you aren’t with a tour operator, you’ll need to buy your entrance ticket in the tourism agency in Aguas Calientes town before you go up!!
From Aguas Calientes it is roughly a 90 minute walk uphill to to MP or you can catch the 20 minute coach. If you do get the coach ($17 return), get there early, i.e. not 8am if that’s when you want to depart. The queue moved quickly but my god it was long. For those wanting to walk, most people start at 6:30am to get to MP for 8am as they believe the weather will be better. The day we went the weather was amazing the whole day so it’s just luck. A lot of people walk back down but I wouldn’t advise if you have terrible knees…
At the top there’s lots of guides offering their services, if you can piggy-back onto a group then your cost will be cheaper. If you opt for this I heard mixed reviews on the guides with most people feeling like they didn’t learn much. Equally, there are no signs to give you any information so, it’s up to you. There’s actually a MP museum in Cusco which I’m told is much more informative.
To get back to Cusco, just do the reverse of what you did on the way in. If you do one of the tours, it’s very well organised and they will just drive you back once you’ve got your hiking ass back to Hidroelectrica.
MP interestingly is where I got the majority of my mosquito bites and no one warned me. Take spray and take cover!!
Happy Inca Trailing, tourist selfie dodging and serenity finding. It’s amazing.