The moment I stepped off the mini-bus in the train station in Hidroelectrica (hydroelectric plant), in the town of Santa Teresa, Peru, I was besieged by doubts. Am I really going to hike solo to Machu Picchu?
Sure, I’ve been told that it’s safe and I won’t get lost. Just follow the train track, they said, and it will lead you to Aguas Calientes, the small town where Machu Picchu is located.
Still, I couldn’t help but get anxious at the thought that I would be hiking solo for hours. What if I tripped and broke my ankle? What if I got lost? What if I were still walking at sunset, how would I find my way?
There were so many what-ifs, but I need not have worried. The most “exciting” thing that happened occurred at the beginning of my trek, when the trail suddenly ended.
Taking the Mini-Van from Cusco to Hidroelektrika
When I was still planning for my trip to Peru, I thought I would have to shell out around $300-$400 just to go to Machu Picchu. I read a fellow blogger’s trek via the Inca Trail even cost $600.
I knew it would be worth it, but it was out of my budget, so I searched for the cheapest ways to get there. A friend/fellow blogger wrote a DIY trip for less than $70. I was ecstatic! That is, until I read that they walked 8 hours to get there. I like hiking, yes, but walking solo for 8 hours? Umm…nope.
Then when I was in Cusco, I met fellow travelers who told me I didn’t have to walk 8 hours from Ollantaytambo. I could walk from the town of Santa Teresa, following the train tracks starting in Hydroelectrika, to Aguas Calientes. It would only be around 2-3 hours, one way.
From one of the travel agencies in Plaza de Armas in Cusco, I bought a return ticket for a mini-van to Hidroelektrika (no need to go to Santa Teresa) for US$19. They picked me up at 7am and we arrived in Hidroelektrika at 2pm.
(Going back to Hidroelektrika, I started walking from Aguas Calientes at 10am and arrived at noon. I then waited for a mini-van driver to call my name for the trip back to Cusco.)
Hiking from Hidroelektrika to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town)
From the dead end, I saw a trail on the right leading up to the mountain and I took it. I got lost for a while, felt my anxiety increasing, I backtracked, and then I met other hikers also looking for the trail.
Together, we finally found it, and from then on, it was just a straightforward hike to Machu Picchu pueblo, formerly known as Aguas Calientes.
I thought that given the presence of other hikers, I would never be alone on the trail. Nope! A lot of times, there was just me and the train track ahead and behind me. I would meet others, sure, but since I walked at my own pace and they did the same, I never found people to walk the whole way with.
Hiking on the tracks was said to be against regulations, but you wouldn’t know it by the number of people you meet along the way. There were both foreigners and locals alike.
The hike is quite easy; at my slow pace, it took 2.5 hours for me to get to Aguas Calientes (and 2 hours to get back), with several stops along the way to take pictures of the river, the bridge, and other various interesting spots along the way.
If you get thirsty or hungry during the trek, there are a couple of places along the track where they sell water, soda, and snacks. There are restaurants, too, if you want to have a full meal.
Again, to cut costs, I brought two sandwiches, a bottle of water, and a bottle of Gatorade. I didn’t want to stop as I wanted to get to Aguas Calientes before dark.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes
I arrived before 5pm in Aguas Calientes, 2.5 hours after I started my trek in Hidroelektrika. I immediately looked for my hotel, and quite pleased when I got there.
For only $10 per night, I got a private room with free WiFi, a double bed, and my own toilet. No breakfast, of course, but for the price, it was quite a bargain! A travel agency in Cusco booked it for me.
Food, however, is a bit pricey in Aguas Calientes. That is, if you eat at the restaurants. A meal can set you back $10 or more.
Here’s what I did: I went to the market (second floor). For around $2 (~7 soles), you get a serving of rice, french fries, and meat (I loved the chicken milanesa) plus free water or sweet tea. More than 90% of the people who eat there are locals, since tourists usually prefer the nice ambiance of restaurants (who needs ambiance anyway?).
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
If you want to cut costs further, you can hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, a steep trek that will take you 1.5 hours or so. I fully intended to do so; it’s exercise plus it will also save me money.
However, the rainy season had already started when I was there (late November 2015), and when I woke up at 7am the next day and found it raining, I decided to sleep in until 9am and took the shuttle. It was pricey at $24 return, but it saved me a long, wet hike.
Should you go at 5am to Machu Picchu, as some writers recommend?
Nope. The gates open at 6am anyway, and there are loads of people there at that time, all thinking they want to be among the first at the top.
I was there at around 10am, and sure, there were a lot of people, but Machu Picchu is big enough for everyone. Look at my pic above. It isn’t so crowded, is it? (I’ll write another blog post about Machu Picchu later on.)
Total Costs in Hiking Solo to Machu Picchu
I can definitely recommend my itinerary for budget travelers. There’s no need to burn yourself out from walking so much (unless you really need to or want to, of course).
Here’s a breakdown of my expenses during my visit to Machu Picchu from Cusco:
- Mini-van, return ticket, Cusco to Hidroelektrika — 65 soles ($19)
- Hidroelektrika to Aguas Calientes — free
- Aguas Calientes hotel (3 days, 2 nights) — 60 soles ($18)
- Shuttle to Machu Picchu, return — 80 soles ($24)
- Machu Picchu Ticket — 128 soles ($38) (NB: Buy this online, in Cusco, or in Aguas Calientes. Not available at the entrance!)
- Food — 35 soles ($10)
So, for 3 days and 2 nights, I only spent 368 soles or $109. It’s not as expensive as they make it out to be, is it? Do it yourself, and hike solo to Machu Picchu. You won’t only save money, you will also learn something about yourself. 😀
Have you been to Machu Picchu? Do you want to go?