Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Machu Picchu on the Cheap

If you’re looking for a cheap way to visit Machu Picchu, then the tour company Sacred Land Adventures is the option for you. Their trip, which runs two days and one night for $105 USD, includes transportation to and from Santa Teresa, three meals, a hostel stay for one night, entrance fees into Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain and a tour guide.
I’m not going to rave about the company or the staff, because it certainly wasn’t spectacular. But at the end of the day, you get what you pay for (for me, that was simply to see Machu Picchu fast and without any of the fancy extras). If you are interested in a longer trek to Machu Picchu, I would highly recommend reading my blog post about the Salkantay Trek.
I, along with eight of my friends began our journey to the ancient ruins early Sunday morning where we boarded a van around 8 a.m. and headed to Santa Teresa. The drive was beautiful and took us through some unforgettable scenery as we traveled up the road through green mountains, with snow-covered peaks in the distance.
There was a stretch of road at the end that was a bit scary, as it was high up, on the edge of the mountain, along dirt roads without any guardrails. However, the driver seemed to adapt well to the road conditions and drove relatively slowly during this portion, putting me more at ease. After about six hours of driving with a few pit stops, we arrived in Santa Teresa for lunch, which was decent but our meal didn’t include a drink.
From there we were dropped off at the train tracks at Hydroelectrica where we walked for about two-and-half hours along the tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes. The walk was beautiful and was one of the highlights of the trip. We arrived just as the sun was setting and met our tour guide in the main plaza. We were escorted to our hostel, which was nearby and nice (with hot water, clean sheets, and free WiFi).
We had some time to kill before dinner, so we found a restaurant with a good happy hour (4 for 1 drinks) and split some pisco sours and sangria. Dinner was good, but the portions were a little small. We had to wait quite a while for our food, even though it was a set menu with four options (trout/chicken/beef with rice and French fries or spaghetti for vegetarians).
After dinner, our tour guide debriefed us on the plan for the following day.
We woke up before the break of dawn, and set off on our walk to Machu Picchu around 4 a.m., only to arrive at the bridge where the walk begins early. The bridge/first checkpoint (where you show your passport and ticket) opens at 5 a.m. Once you cross the bridge, there is approximately an hour-long hike (at my very slow pace, with several breaks) up hundreds of stairs to the entrance. Alternatively, there is a bus that runs every five minutes from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu for $10 USD.
We arrived at the entrance just as the park was opening at 6 a.m. After taking our initial group photos with the ruins in the background, we rushed to the entrance of Machu Picchu Mountain, which opens at 7 a.m. We hiked about halfway up (in 45 minutes), stopping at a few view points for photos, and then headed back down to the main archaeological site.
Along the way, we saw many friendly llamas that allowed us to get close enough for some decent pictures. We had about two hours to roam around the ruins before we had to head back down the stairs to the railroad tracks to Santa Teresa. The hike back along the train tracks took about an hour and forty minutes and we arrived back in Cusco around 9 p.m.
Overall, the tour company provided the bare minimum, but the meals were decent, the transportation felt safe, the hostel was nice, and we saw Machu Picchu (even though we were only allotted five hours inside the park, which isn’t nearly enough time to see everything).
Machu Picchu was unbelievably stunning. Standing above it all and soaking it in is so surreal. The ruins themselves are fascinating, but their location and surrounding steep and flourishing mountains all combine to create one epic scene. The majestic Waynupicchu jetting out behind the ruins and llamas casually grazing on the plateaus in front give the feel that you’ve traveled back in time. You can almost picture the Incas roaming the corridors and it makes you wonder if any of them ever fell off the steep edges.
Whether you choose to trek to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, Salkantay, the Jungle trek, or simply get there via train or car the way I did, this place is one wonder you won’t want to miss.

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