Guest post provided by Andrew Bruton, owner of Quello Mayo / Yellow River Hostel
Let’s face it, most people visiting Peru want to know how to get to Machu Picchu. Some make a deliberate decision not to and go to other ruins like choquequirao, but most end up in Aguas Calientes and once you see the ruins you’ll understand why so many people visit.
I feel privileged enough to live near the famous ruins on my wife’s coffee farm. We often get guests who ask us the best way to get to the ruins through our website. The route that brings people to us in Quellomayo is beautiful and we promote it whenever we can because mass tourism streams through our region leaving nothing for the locals. Big hotels and restaurants are owned by the few and a great deal of Machu Picchu’s profits are sent to Lima without being reinvested in the region. We feel that many people may wish to see a little more than the train station and their hotel’s cable TV, so our advice is geared towards the more adventurous and conscious traveler. Getting there by yourself is definitely worth it, it costs less and you will see things that the train journey can’t show you. Here’s how it’s done:
Starting out in Cusco you need to take a taxi to ‘Terminal Santiago’ on ‘Antonia Lorena’ street; any taxi can take you there. This is where the buses and minivans leave for Santa Maria, which is your first port of call. The journey takes a little over 4 hours and you will experience a range of landscapes and foliage ranging from lush farmland, through barren mountain peaks to lush tropical banana plantations. The peak is at 4316 metres and on a clear day you can see for miles. The journey costs about 30 soles per person. My advice would be to leave as early as possible from Cusco to give yourself more options on arrival. It gets dark around 6pm in Peru so if you’re planning on doing any walking you need the light. Your driver should stop at least once for the toilet but just ask if you’re desperate; make sure you take toilet paper with you.
Arriving in Santa Maria you have a number of options depending on your baggage, fitness levels and sense of adventure. Many take a taxi straight to Santa Teresa or hidroelectrica to begin their walk to Aguas Calientes along the railway lines, however some take their time and choose one of the following options:
#1. Taxi to Quellomayo. Essentially this is what our guests often do. We’re 25 minutes from Santa Maria and a taxi will bring you to our door for about 40 soles (there are some unscrupulous drivers who pretend not to know where we are or charge 40 soles to drop you on the main road, if you find someone like this pick another driver).
#2. Walk down to Quellomayo. Another option is to get dropped off at the footpath on the main road and walk down the hill to us (about 10 minutes and 10 sole s per person).
#3 Experience a piece of the Inca Trail. There is an even better walk available for those travelling light. Ask a taxi to take you to the start of the Inca trail and you will pay about 10 soles per person. Just outside Santa Rosa begins an upward climb on local trails that will give you a view of the valley that can’t be missed. The hike takes around 3 to 4 hours and eventually drops you back onto the main road a few hundred metres from the footpath down to us in Quellomayo. This is a chance to experience a little of what the hikers on the official trail are experiencing. The tiny, green footpath sign doesn’t say QUELLOMAYO it says COCALMAYO which is the name of the hot springs near Santa Teresa, but don’t let this put you off, we really are down there.
An optional night at our hostel is a way to relax after your journey, we offer coffee and chocolate roasting workshops, farm tours and home cooked meals with the family. Whether or not you decide to rest up there’s another lovely hike to try from us in Quellomayo. This trek sees you walking along the river’s edge and finishing by crossing the river in a basket suspended 40 metres above the water. This 90 minute hike brings you out at the hot springs at Cocalmayo and it’s a walk we do with our daughter on weekends for a swim in the afternoon. Many prefer to visit the springs late afternoon when the sun has gone down because the water is so hot. People visiting us after their Machu Picchu trip often do this as a day trip and take a taxi back to Quellomayo afterwards.
Santa Teresa is a 5 minute taxi ride or a 45 minute walk from the thermal baths and then it’s a 20 minute taxi to hidro (5 soles per person) to begin your two and a half hour walk to Aguas Calientes or take the 35 minute train at 4:39pm costing $25 USD.
This route is well used now by independent travelers and groups doing adventure packages. Contrary to any rumours you may have heard, this is a safe option for getting to Machu Picchu. Transport can be arranged without prior booking, there are plenty of taxis and many sections can be walked which is a beautiful way to get to know this incredible country at a slower pace. Interacting with the locals is also a benefit you wouldn’t get if on the train or continually in public transport. You will walk past people working their land, pass them on the trails and may even decide to stay a night with a family like ours on your way. Travel is about learning a little about the culture you’re visiting and this is a good example of connecting with your destination. Our region is poor and populated with farmers who do not see the benefits of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit every year. If you want to get a feel for what lies outside the shiny tourist parks then this is a perfect choice for you.
Don’t be shy, go it alone and make sure you look around you.
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Andrew Bruton is a former Radio and Newspaper editor and French and Spanish High school teacher. British born,he now has Peruvian nationality thanks to his beautiful wife Tatiana (born on their farm.) His wife, Tatiana, is currently community president for Quellomayo. Together they run the Yellow River hostel/homestay. They grow organic coffee, chocolate and fruit and love meeting people travelling through the region. To learn more about the hostel, please visit their Twitter or Facebook.