How I trekked Macchu Pichu in less than 15$

Previously, I wrote about the top 6 routes to Macchu Pichu, the Incan ruins in Peru. The most popular trek, the Inca Trail, is a guided trek and costs a massive 600 USD. And in this post, I am going to tell you how you can save all that money, take the off-beaten path and explore Macchu Pichu in less than 15$.

Getting to Macchu Pichu from Cusco:

1. Bought my ticket at Cusco (128 soles)
2. Took a bus to Santa Maria from Santiago bus station in Cusco (Morning 7 -7:30 am) (15 soles)
3. After reaching Santa Maria, I took a shared taxi to Santa Teresa (5 soles)
4. Stayed overnight at Santa Teresa (as hostels in Aguas Calientes are really expensive) (5 soles)
5. Took the first shared taxi to Hydraelectrica (morning 4:30 am ~ 10 soles)
6. Trekked from Hydraelectrica to Aguas Calientes (10 kms)
7. Trekked from Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu (1-1.5 hours)
8. Enjoyed the beauty of Machu Pichu all day
9. Trekked back to Aguas Calientes
10. Took the train back to Olantaytambo (100 soles))
11. Took a shared cab back to Cusco (5 soles)

Total cost to reach Macchu Pichu = 35 soles or 12 USD

Macchu Pichu Ticket: 128 soles or 42 USD (this cost is excluded in the Inca trail or any guided trek cost)

Return: 105 soles or 35 USD (I could have trekked back through the same route, but I was short on time)

The Journey

Yes, it was my dream too, to trek the prestigious “Inca trail” and enter Macchu Pichu at sunrise from the beautiful Sun Gate. But because I planned my trip last minute, by then, the Inca trail was all booked up. In my mind, I could not justify the cost of the jungle trek (an alternate guided tour). So, I chose to take the cheapest and the DIY route to Macchu Pichu for less than 15$, blessing in disguise? I think so!

From Cusco to Santa Teresa: I took the 12 hour bus from Santiago bus station, Cusco to Santa Maria. It is better to start in the morning around 7 am. The buses are frequent in the morning. After 8-8:30, the next bus leaves at 1 p.m. Through the twists and turns of the mountains of Andes, the bus passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes. The drive is pretty tiring and long (12 hours, like I said), so make sure you keep some snacks for the way. Also, the buses are not as comfy as the popular Cruz del Sur ones, and there are no washrooms on the bus.

After reaching Santa Maria, I took a shared taxi to another village, Santa Teresa. It was an hour long drive and one of the scariest ones I had ever been through. The route was circuitous and there were times when I felt that I would just DIE. The road was so narrow and sometimes there were two cars crossing each other at the same time, gave me a feeling that we would just topple and fall over the valley. Anyway, we survived and I am alive to tell the tale.

It was pretty late by the time I reached, so I decided to stay for the night at a small Hospidaje/ hostel-motel (no name).

The cheap way to reach Machu Pichu
The cheap way to reach Machu Pichu

Hostels in Santa Teresa can be expensive (upto 80$), so we stayed in a local woman’s house. So, if you decide to stay overnight in Santa Teresa, you don’t have to book anything in advance. At the point where the shared taxi drops you, just ask someone where to find a hostel and 9/10 chances are that they will tell you that they have rooms that they give out as local AIRBnB’s… it costs around 5-10 soles a night and are pretty comfy! Ok, I wouldn’t have done it if I was alone, but there were 4 other tourists with me (who I met on my bus to Santa Maria), so I took the option.

Meeting some fellow travelers @ Hydraelectrica: Next morning, I woke up around 4 am. My fellow travelers wanted to take it slow and explore Santa Teresa and the hot springs around that area for a day. So, I decided to take the rest of the trip alone, fearless that I was!

Usually, you wouldn’t get a taxi from Santa Maria before 5:30 a.m., but I was lucky, I guess, to have gotten it before 4:30 a.m. that day. I hopped on into a shared taxi (from the main square – right where I was dropped the previous night) to get to “Hydroelectrica”. It took less than 30 minutes to get to Hydroelectrica from Santa Maria. It was important to leave early because I wanted to see the sunrise at Macchu Pichu and also because the world heritage site turns into a fucking Disney Land by 8-9 am. And I was in no mood to share the lovely views of the valley with 2500 other people.

It was in the cab, that I met these two American guys and were later joined by another Iranian guy, who sat in the front with the driver. We talked about our journey so far, interesting places we saw/missed yada yada yada – typical backpacker conversation. And in time, we reached the last part of the leg, which involved trekking 10-12 kms through a dense jungle.

The 10 km trek through the railway tracks: When we got off the taxi, the guys walked away pretty fast. They were not too far off, and I was walking behind them. About 5 minutes into the trek, the jungle got denser, I hurried up to catch up with them, coz you know, it was literally a jungle and I thought it made sense to stick around together. Contrary to my thinking, the boys just took off – they literally ran away (I just hope I wasn’t stinking). But what kind of people do that?

I could not catch up and I wasn’t sure which direction they went off to. I was scared as it was still pretty dark. Now I must clarify here, that there is just one route from Hydroelectrica (no diversions)... there is no way that you can get lost or take a different route (coz, like I said, there is only one route). But at 4:45 a.m., I did not know that.

I think I really lost it here – I was in a dense jungle…and I was alone…and it was dark…and I did not have a gun! It was different from trekking alone on a mountain trail, because here, there WAS NO TRAIL, just heavy vegetation and a lot of trees and weeds, and the creepy krrrr-krrr noise that night insects make. All that came to my rescue were the Sanskrit mantras that my grandma taught me when I was young.

The trek through the densest part of the jungle is pretty short though, and very quickly, I reached the railway tracks (these are the tracks for the train that takes people straight from Cusco to Aguas Calientes). The train tracks cut through a jungle and lead up to the touristy town of Aguas Calientes, where the trek uphill for Machu Pichu commences. That’s it, I had to trace the tracks for the next 8 kms and reach Aguas as soon as I could.

I managed to source a couple of photos from my friends:

Hydraelectrica, this is where the shared taxi will drop you
the train tracks.JPG
The train tracks cutting through the forest


dark tunnels.JPG
The dark tunnels that you’d have to cross, make sure to bring your head lamps, if you are doing this early in the morning

On the way though, its eerie, there’s nothing – no people (specially this early in the morning), no habitation, no restaurants/ hospidajes, no signposts..nothing! Just the tracks and the jungle. Because I did not see anything/anyone for a long long time, I was doubtful if I was walking in the right direction (like I said, I wasn’t sure if there was another route that I did not know of). On my way, I crossed dark tunnels (at least 5,6 of them), bridges with minimum foot space and what seemed like a haunted house – with wild dogs who charged at the very sight of me.

I was fidgety at first, as I was hoping to reach before sunrise, I did not want to miss it, neither did I want to be robbed at gun point by bandits or to be feasted upon by crazy dogs. But pretty soon, I saw this (see photo below). I CANNOT EXPRESS how happy I was on seeing this.

If you are hiking along the rail tracks, this signboard will come as a relief!
If you are hiking along the rail tracks, this signboard will come as a relief (image credits: a friend I met on the way) There was too little light for me to take this picture, but it did give me some relief when I saw it

The Destination

Reaching Aguas Calientes: At ~5:45 a.m I saw a glimpse of civilization. That is it! I literally ran towards the train station.

Aguas Calientes, super expensive and super touristy

The town is up pretty early. As a lot of tourists are starting their final 1 hour climb to reach Machu Pichu. The climb which is mostly steps. I took a small break, @ Aguas Calientes @ a small restaurant, bought some food and was on my way to witness the grand, Machu Pichu! A little after sunrise though! But I wasn’t complaining.

The last 1 hour hike
After the hike down from Macchu Pichu
The view that makes it all worth it

Getting back to Cusco: While returning from Macchu Pichu, you can choose to take the same route back (at the cost of time) or take the train from the train station at Aguas Calientes. I took the train back upto Olantatambay and then a shared taxi (5 soles) to Cusco.

All in all, saved 585$ and had the adventure of a lifetime!

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