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How to Travel to Machu Picchu without a Tour

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru attracts thousands of budget travelers every year, and its no wonder why.  What could be more exciting than hiking around the ruins of an ancient civilization perched on top of the Andes mountains?

Machu Picchu in Peru
Greg Rodgers

Most travelers will take one of the tours from Cusco which include cycling and hiking the Inca Trail.  There is an alternative, however, for people that want to make their own adventure without the need for a four day tour or for those without the time to trek one of the trails.

I successfully made my own way to Machu Picchu and had one of the most memorable adventures of my life doing it.  Here's how to travel to Machu Picchu without taking a tour:

  1. In Cusco, taxi to the Terminal Santiago and buy an overnight bus ticket for Santa Maria. (6 hrs )
  2. In Santa Maria take one of the collectivo buses to Santa Teresa. (8 hrs)
  3. In Santa Teresa hitch a ride with the workers on their way to the power plant Hydroeletrica. (30 min) or start walking along the mountainous road. (2.5 hrs)
  4. At Hydroelectrica, walk 100 meters along the fence to the first set of railroad tracks.  On the right will be a set of stairs going up a hill to another set of railroad tracks.
  5. Turn left at the tracks and start walking the 3 hours to Aguas Calientes - the small tourist town at the bottom of Machu Picchu.  The tracks are still active, so keep an eye out for trains as you walk through some of the most beautiful scenery that the Andes can provide!

Walking down a set of railroad tracks cut through the mountains of Peru is sheer vagabonding poetry and the feeling of doing it yourself without a pushy guide can't be beat.  The walk is relatively flat and follows a river, you may get sunburned or rained on but you won't get lost.

Aguas Calientes is the tourist center for Machu Picchu where you can purchase a ticket if you didn't already in Cusco.  Grab a seat at one of the sidewalk cafes and watch as travelers stumble down from the ruins on wobbly legs - just don't laugh, that will be you tomorrow!

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