March 23, 2008

Alternate to Taking the Rip Off Train to Machu Picchu

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:57 am

There’s a back way into and out of Machu Picchu that’s cheaper than the train, but it takes 8-12 hours. We had the time to go this route one way so we took it heading out. The Lonely Planet describes it as the “Jungle Trail”, but a lot has changed since that info was written.

We started out along the train tracks from Aguas Calientes at 8:30 after eating an overpriced pizza for breakfast. Another option that may be preferable since you’ll be on tracks for a long time is that you can walk along the road toward Machu Picchu until you get to the train station outside town, then cut up to the tracks from there. You pass through a few tunnels, not too long, but if you know the train schedule (contrary to what lonely planet says, the train does run from Aguas Calientes to the power plant) it won’t be so scary going through. Ideally you’ll want to know the train schedule anyway since if you get to the power plant at the end about the same time as the train you’ll be able to catch a ride into town. Anyway, walking the tracks is pretty, there’s a few little tourist gardens on the side, and it should take you 2-3 hours depending on how fast you walk. We took 2.5 hours with stops to look at things, but we walked pretty quickly using a technique where we each walk on a rail and put our hands on each others shoulders for balance.

Once you get to the power plant there’s signs to direct you where to go. There’s combis (small vans) waiting to go to Santa Teresa, but they only leave when full, which will probably be whenever the train gets in. We got there about 11, but the train didn’t arrive until 1 so we started walking. The walk looks like it would take about 2.5 hours also and walks through jungle and some cool waterfalls. We walked most of the way, but then a passing truck picked us up and took us the rest of the way. One thing the guidebook says is that you have to do a river crossing in a cable car, but there’s a new bridge just finished last year that makes this not the case. We were actually looking forward to the crazy river crossing, but we were across the new bridge and into town before we knew it was possible to go straight there. We though about walking back and doing the crossing for fun, but our next transport was leaving soon and the crossing can be a bit dangerous, so we skipped it.

From Santa Teresa to Santa Maria is a couple hours, but by the time you read this they’ll have opened a new highway between the two towns that should cut the journey to around 45 minutes. This area is developing for tourism too. The combi drivers will probably hand you pamphlets for a hot springs nearby which looks pretty nice. There’s also some more ruins nearby, but honestly how many ruins can you see?

From Santa Maria back to the Sacred Valley is 4-6 hours depending on the road and whether you take the big bus. The road is mostly paved, but it climbs over a crazy mountain pass that has frequent, scary looking rock slides that leave piles of debris all over the road. There’s switchbacks galore, so if you’re prone to carsickness, there’s a good possibility of that. We got back to Ollantaytambo around 7:30 PM so it’s a full, long day of traveling that’s less than half the cost of the hour and a half train ride.

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