Machu Picchu is an old Inca citadel from the 15th century which is situated around 2430 meters above sea level in the Cuzco Region, Peru. It lies between the mountain Huayna Picchu and the eponymous mountain Machu Picchu about 75 kilometers northwest of Cuzco. Due to the Spanish Conquest the Incas abandoned the civilization about a century after its construction. Although local people have always known about the existence of Machu Picchu, the Spanish conquerors did not ‘discover’ the citadel. The American Hiram Bingham achieved widespread, albeit dubious, fame through his discovery in 1911.

Tourism began to evolve soon after Machu Picchu first became international attention in 1911. In 1983, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since its election as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 the negative effects of mass tourism are increasingly noticeable.

When visiting the historic city of Cuzco one is confronted with hundreds of agencies offering hiking trips, train rides and bus trips to Machu Picchu. I have personally delayed taking the decision whether I want to visit the place or not. I was aware of all arguments why I should not visit the historic Inca civilization (I will publish a post about that very soon!), but finally I couldn’t resist visiting this mystical place. You’ll hear many stories and lies by local tour operators. Nevertheless, it is not necessary to book a completely organized tour. In the following I’ll clean up with all those myths, lies and stories and instead give you a guide how to get there by public transport.

 

From Cuzco to Aguas Calientes

The artificial city Aguas Calientes is the starting point when going to Machu Picchu. To go there it is necessary to take a bus to Santa Teresa (Hidroelectrica) and then walk alongside the tracks for about 2 ½ hours. This way is taken by many backpackers so that you don’t have to worry about doing anything illegal. In order not to do the hike in the dark I recommend to start your day in Cuzco early in the morning. You should be at Terminal Santiago between 6.00 and 7.00 am.

Take a colectivo towards Quillabamba and get off in Santa Maria. For this 6 hour ride you have to calculate between 15 and 20 Soles (2017). You’ll arrive in Santa Maria in the early afternoon. You can then either take a colectivo to Santa Teresa (1 hour) or, if you’re travelling in a group, hire a taxi. Once in Santa Teresa you have to take a taxi to go to Hidroelectrica (about 20 minutes). If you arrive to Santa Teresa with much delay you can also consider spending the night in one of the village’s cheap accomodations.

When arriving at Hidroelectrica there are some food stands for lunch. If you’re not sure about the way just ask oncoming backpackers. If you see a sign indicating “Peligro no caminar sobre la via” and later “Machu Picchu a 10km siga la via”, you’re right. The distance to Aguas Calientes is 11 km and takes you about 2 ½ hours.

 

 

Sleeping Opportunities in Aguas Calientes

I experienced that it is not necessary to pre-book an accommodation for your stay in Aguas Calientes. There are thousands of accommodation facilities in this retort city so people offering hostels and apartments even wait for you alongside the track when you reach the city. Although tour agents in Cuzco will tell you that there are no campsites around you will pass two campgrounds when walking along the rails.

 

Visiting Machu Picchu

Due to the enormous tourist rush the visit to Machu Picchu has ultimately been divided in two shifts. In 2017, one is either able to enter from 6am to 11am or from 11am to 5pm. If you want to have at least a chance to take a good photograph you should go for the morning shift. Get up early and start walking to Puente Ruinas around 3.30am (20 minutes). Consider bringing a flashlight and a rain poncho. Today, the first point of control is even before the bridge so that you’ll have to wait there until 5am. After that, the hike up to Machu Picchu takes you 50 minutes. If you want to take a sunrise picture make sure to be among the first visitors.

As a general rule, visitors nowadays have to be accompanied by a guide. Nevertheless, in my personal experience this is not controlled at the gates. In case you want to get a guide or the controllers ask you for a guide you can simply arrange one in the hustle in front of the main entrance.