How to Hike to Machu PicchuHow to Hike to Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes on a BudgetAguas Calientes on a Budget Aguas Calientes to Machu PicchuAguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Leaving Machu PicchuLeaving Machu Picchu
Welcome. Welcome to the one guide of ours that we’re extremely proud of. Not only because we hiked over 28km to Machu Picchu, not just because we got to enjoy all the scenery, the ambience, and the nature that so many pay hundreds to see from a passing window, but because we made it to Machu Picchu and back for only €47 each.
Considering our original budget was around €150 each, to spend only €100 for the two of us, including the entry ticket and our “transport” there and back, we used our ultimate and favourite budget saving tip. Walking.
Thanks to Wiki, we discovered that you can reach Aguas Calientes, the Machu Picchu pueblo town that has no drivable road in or out, by taking public transport to the nearby town Hidroelectrica. This method and route will require a 2.5hour walk along the tracks, something that you have to do anyway if you book a tour.
So on further investigation, we also learned that it is possible to walk along the same train tracks, but from the opposite way, from Ollantaytambo. An extremely venturesome, fun, risk-free, beautiful and dreamlike adrenaline-filled undertaking.
So, yeah. Welcome. Welcome to the most satisfying method to reach Machu Picchu. Welcome to having that epic story to tell, and welcome to our informative guide on our exciting 8 hour and 28km hike to the world renowned sight of South America.
Welcome to Machu Picchu.
How To Hike To Machu Picchu:
Start your hike in the old Inca town of Ollantaytambo. A beautiful village, complete with original and ancient Inca drainage systems, walls and even stone bricks.
We stayed in Wasai Hostel, found facing the main and only plaza. Ignore the endless tour busses that flood the streets, and relish in the fact that you’re not just here for an expensive day visit. At only €14 per night for a private room and bathroom, including brekkie of coffee, eggs, bread and jam. This was a steal.
Bus to ‘Ochenta y Dos’
To start your hike, take a collectivo to ‘ochenta y dos’. The white minivans leave when full from outside the main market, just off the plaza de armas.
The drive is 45 minutes, including stops for locals and costs 3sol (€1). We jumped on one around 8.45am and recommend you do the same. The aim is to arrive into Aguas Calientes before dark. So, the earlier the start, the better.
The collectivo drops you to the entrance of the ‘Ochenta y Dos’ train station. From here you want to bypass the station and start walking through the town, until you can safely descend onto the tracks. This is to avoid any train guards who will of course prevent you from walking along the tracks.
With the tracks on your left, follow the road that leads to the right of the train station entrance. Stay straight on the path, ensuring the tracks stay on your left. The rocky path will veer up to the right, taking you away from the tracks, but continue on it.
Soon up ahead you’ll see a small grassy path that trails towards the left. Follow the path through crop fields and an electrical tower. This same path runs behind a number of houses, eventually leading back down onto the tracks. Don’t worry if you’re on this path for more than 10 minutes, it WILL eventually downwards.
Train Tracks Trek
First things first.
This is an active train line, with the Peru Express passing by, from both ways, every 40 minutes or so. Don’t be an idiot here. Your safety is top priority so be vigilant, head on a swivel, don’t wear headphones, keep an eye on the time and be mindful of all your surroundings. We cannot believe we have to even write this, but feel it’s our responsibility to warn of the potential dangers, despite the fact that this is a safe hike. Stay safe and stay smart!
Now, ready to reenact Stand By Me? Good! (But remember, avoid walking on the tracks, please!).
The starting point is at, obviously enough, 82km, and your goal is to reach 110km. This is easy to follow by the small picket black and white posts that are found every 1km along the railway line.
Between the 82km and 83km mark there are a set of ruins, sitting to the right of the tracks, that you can visit. We think they are called Tarapunga, and usually has an official member of staff sitting outside. He will invite you to come check them out and it’s free to view.
Moving on, mind your step as you adapt to walking on loose stones and gravel. It’s really important that you don’t injury yourself. So please be careful!
There is plenty of room to safely walk on either side of the tracks. Although we’d would never encourage anyone to walk on the tracks, at times we do recommend crossing sides. We found that if where we were walking became too narrow or was too close to the cliffside leading down to the below river, we swapped over to walk on the side that has more room. This is so you can safely stop and move out of the way when a train passes.
The train drivers are use to locals walking along the tracks, so you will be given plenty of notice by the loud, deafening horn to stand back. It runs quite slowly, so there are no dangers of being sucked under.
The hike itself is full of sheer beauty. To the right are towering mountains, farmlands, homes and to the left is crystal clear flushing water from the Urubamba river.
Train drivers happily waved as they past us so honestly don’t fret too much. At one stage, we were joined by some rail workers, who everyday use this route and method to return home.
There are around five or six tunnels in total along the hike. Something we didn’t expect and were nervous about when we reached the first one. However as we approached each tunnel, we noticed how short and easy it was to pass through. You can see the light at the end, no pun intended, so before entering, be aware of time and ensure no train is due. They are a little dark but nothing a phone torch cannot sort.
Just after 88km you will pass a junction that looks like somewhat like a small train station, aligned with green shacks. Here you can stock up on water or snacks.
After 93km, on the left hand side of the tracks, there is a small path that veers up to the left of a small hill. This path continues along the tracks, take a break from the loose rubble, and enjoy some flat, smooth ground. It’s easy to get back onto the tracks. Just off this path, on the left hand side is a perfect place to lunch. Locals have cut logs to create a small table and chairs, there is also a pit for fires (but please don’t light any fires!). Take this opportunity to rest, eat and enjoy the view that millions pay through the roof for, but all from a window.
Stick and stones may break my bones but for stray dogs, it’s necessary. At one stage, what seemed like two wild dogs appeared and started barking at us. So we picked up some stones just in case. Thankfully an oncoming train scared them away, so we didn’t have to harm the aggressive pups. Other than that, we didn’t have any other issue in terms of stray dogs, but this little confrontation made Luke pick up a large stick to carry the rest of the way. Maybe you should too.
Taken A LOT of breaks and photos along the way, when walking, we aimed to pass 1km every 20 minutes. Overall the hike took us 8 hours, arriving into Aguas Calientes just as the sun was setting.
When you see the 110km sign, take a snap and celebrate You’ve made it!!
Walk a further 10 minutes and up ahead you will see the Aguas Calientes train station. Follow the dormant tracks leading right. You should then see a small green bridge, cross it and pop up the steps, pass the market, over another, larger green bridge and towards the main plaza.
Aguas Calientes on a Budget:
By far the most expensive town in all of Peru, we wish we brought more water (costing 6sol for a small bottle), and food to cook in the hostel. If you can, most definitely stock up before you leave Ollantaytambo, especially if you do not want to be ripped off!
Purchase Machu Picchu Tickets
Since you’ve just saved a fortune by walking, the only other major cost is the admission to Machu Picchu.
During peak season, it is recommended to by your ticket in advance, which you can do in Cusco City. We visited during low season, in October 2017. So we checked the following website to see how many tickets were available and decided to buy them in Aguas Calientes.
Bring your passport (it’s compulsory), head to the main square and pop into the Direccion Regional de Cultura. Tickets cost 152sol (€40).
Unfortunately, they don’t accept card, fortunately there are BBV and GlobalNet ATM’s across the road, unfortunately both banks withdraw fees. So if you can bring the cash with you, do.
Accomodation in Aguas Calientes
The cheapest hostel we found was Casa Machu Picchu Hostel which is right beside the train station. Luckily for us considering our feet and arse were in need of a sit down.
To avoid any headaches and searches, we pre-booked one night online at €19 for a private room, shared bathroom and free breakfast. Breakfast starts at 4.30am for those heading to Machu Picchu early. Juice, coffee, bread and jam, maybe bring some porridge or lunch as you will need your energy for the hike up and around the world wonder.
Cheap Food in Aguas Calientes
For the cheapest restaurants in town, walk up the busy tourist street towards thr thermal baths. Near the thermal baths, on the left hand side are 3 course menus for 15sol (€5).
There is no market, and there are no cheap stores. Everything is overpriced, so prepare for this in advance.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu :
There is a bus that costs $12, too rich for us. So instead we set off on a 1.5hour walk up through the beautiful sacred valley.
We left at 4.30am,giving as much contingency time as possible considering our legs were pumping from the previous day. We arrived at the main gates a little before 6.30am.
Be sure to bring your passport with you!
At Avenida Imperial de las Incas, where the bus route meets train tracks, take the road left past the unmissable large white Macchu Picchu sign/letters.
Follow this road pass the bus station and over what seems like a metal bridge until you come towards another bridge. This bridge is patrolled and you cannot pass it until after 5am. Here you will need to show your passports and tickets.
The official ascent begins from here. The next hour or so will be spent on the thousands of stone steps that lead to the Machu Picchu gate.
While it’s tiring, and feels never-ending, it’s not a difficult hike at all. At times, the “stoney staircase” will intersect with the road so be careful of the careless busses and be sure to follow the green arrows to the next set of steps.
At the top, if you’ve energy, do a champion dance. You made it!
The toilets are outside Macchu Picchu and cost 2sol (€0.65). There are no bathrooms inside and although you can leave and re-enter, you can only do so the once.
Queues are quick, follow the same path to the spot where you can capture that famous MP pic. Thanks to the rain the night before, for us, it was really foggy until about 8.30am. We couldn’t see shit!
On the way back down to the Incan city, you will pass a photography/viewing platform that will be rammed. Honestly, the best photos are taken from further down and it’s less quiet.
Definitely check out the Inca bridge and personally, we’d leave the city until last. It’s a one way system so an easy walk through history which then leads to the exit (but you don’t have to exit).
On your way out, there is s small hut with a stamp. Spruce up the passport and ensure it features a world wonder.
Leaving Machu Picchu:
We couldn’t stomach the idea of another 8 hour walk home, so we took the route thousands of travellers do and walked 2.5hours to Hidroelectricia to catch the bus back to Ollantaytambo.
Why didn’t we do this on the way in? We could have! And at only €7 per person, if walking isn’t your cuppa tea, you can take this method instead.
Our feet might not agree, but we have no regrets taking the 8 hour hike. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and can understand why people would opt in to take the train. The views were worth every blister, and we enjoyed the best of both worlds. In the end, the entire trip cost us €55 each, including accomodation.
To Machu Picchu by Bus
We are not 100% on prices per bus, but to reach Machu Picchu by bus and walking, you need to get to the nearby town, Hidroelectria.
We still suggest that you set up base in Ollantaytambo, it really is the prettiest little town.
From Ollantaytambo, ask for the collectivo to Santa Maria (around 15sol), and from Santa Marta, take the collectivo to Hidroelectricia. Both bus rides are around to 4 hours in total. So leave early!
Once at Hidroelectrica, walk up towards the train station and you should see signs for Aguas Calientes, or ask any local.
The walk will take 2.5 hours, and still requires you to walk along train tracks. The good news is that there is a somewhat paved path, making it slightly easier than our 28km trek. Since there is no road in or out of Aguas Calientes, ths is the route locals take so you won’t be alone.
From Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo, Urubamba or Cusco
Basically the above but backwards, the main factor to consider is that in order to catch the last bus leaving Hidroelectrica, you need to be there by 2.30pm.
We left the Machu Picchu site at 11.30am, and made it to Hidroelectricia by 2pm. We brought our bags with us to MP, so we didn’t have to return to Aguas Calientes.
We are aware this is a info-heavy blog, so we posted a step-by-step ‘how to’ guide here.
We hope you relish in the fact that you took the most adventurous route to visit South America’s main tourist attraction.
Bravo fellow travellers, brav-bloody-o.