How to get to Machu Picchu as an explorer
Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the modern world; it is located in a remote valley, surrounded by rocky mountains and the Peruvian forest. It is a fascinating place and deserves to be visited once in a lifetime. Some Incas took refuge there when they realized they had lost their empire in favor of the Spanish conquerors.
They were mountain people, skilled in organizing the state, building houses and lived immersed in nature, adoring all its manifestations.
Imagine a defeated population, but still relatively young and proud, as they abandon their capital (Cusco) and head for the forest, conscious that the only chance of survival were represented by their ability to hide in secret and unreachable places: Machu Picchu was one of these shelters.
Visiting the citadel you understand why the Spaniards never succeeded or never wanted to reach it; the inaccessibility of the place is still evident today, despite the fact that it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
The interest created by this archaeological site is understandable, the way in which all the tourist activities are gravitating around it is less understandable.
Just to report a few things: the train, for example, which connects the site with the nearby cities – in itself an excellent public means of reducing pollution – is in the hands of a private company: they operate in a monopoly regime and establish very high prices for each ticket.
But this is not all: the archaeological site is located, as already mentioned, on the top of a mountain; so it was decided to build a road with dozens of buses which take the visitors one step away from the ruins. A convenience path with a salty price and the consequence that hordes of tourists pour between the walls and the streets of the site in slippers and skirts, as if they were in a theme amusement park, forgetting where they are and in what geographic, social, historical and cultural context they are immersed.
We think there is a better and more conscious way to get closer to Machu Picchu, gaining the right to visit this undoubted archaeological wonder and enjoy it to the fullest.
If you like adventure, the solution for us is a nice trekking in the Cusco region: but still there are many walking routes to reach the archaeological site; some are already invaded by masses and lose their charm. To name a fews, the path of the Incas and that of Salkantay have already been taken by thousands of tourists and, unless you are fond of caravans in the mountains, they do not seem the best solution.
Our route includes an approach to the archaeological site from a little further away and through one of the most suggestive and panoramic routes in the region; the landscapes are breathtaking, between ravines and impervious mountains, crossing mountain rivers and small rural villages. From Cusco you have to take a bus, heading Abancay, and get off at the crossroads for the village of Cachora.
After a few days of walking, you will arrive at the gigantic archaeological site of Choquequirao, wonderful for its conservation and geographical position (if you want to visit it all you will need at least a full day in between breathtaking ascents and descents).
The day after you follow the path reaching down the closest valley and start climbing again, until you get to the Victoria pass, from where you can start the last descent to the village of Yanama. There you will have the opportunity to rest and, if you wish, abandon the tent for a more comfortable bed and a hot meal in one of the many hostels.
From the small village of Yanama, a dirty road begins which can be traveled by motor vehicles: if the five / six days of walking have tired you, you can decide, as we did, to take public transport and get to the town of Santa Teresa, from where to organize the approach to the Machu Picchu site. Just take a collective taxi to Hydroelectric and from there, following the train rails, walk to Aguas Calientes (two hours walk), located exactly below the archaeological site. If you have not yet disposed of your tent, the Aguas Calientes municipal campsite is very cheap and right next to the gates to enter Machu Picchu.
The gates open at five in the morning and from there you can go up to the archaeological site along a path that starts from the right side of the mountain (45 minutes with a quick step); if you want to get up very early, it is definitely worth it, because until around seven in the morning, buses do not come packed with tourists. You will therefore have a good time enjoying the archaeological site in absolute silence and without many people around.
The six / seven days trekking which get you close to the site will have filled your mind with indelible sensations and memories; your knowledge of the Incas people will have become much more profound after you will have encountered ruins and ancient settlements along the way. Such an adventure will bring you very close to their traditions and lifestyle and, consequently, visiting Machu Picchu will turn into a unique experience, lived with intensity and passion.
Some additional information: for the trekking route you need to bring a tent, a warm sleeping bag and a repellent for mosquitoes (very bad). Along the way – especially if you face it in high season (May-September) you will find small campsites where it also offers food; for safety we also brought food and a small portable kitchen.
Do not forget also the tablets to purify the water, since it is not always easy to buy it. If you decide to undertake this trek, buy a map of the trails in Cusco and always keep it in your backpack. The trek is known with the name of the archaeological site of Choquequirao, but if you decide to continue up to Machu Picchu, you will need to orient yourself on a geographical map (although the path is clearly visible).
Last advice: if somebody suffers from arachnophobia don’t use this itinerary… there are fat and big spiders everywhere.
Have a good adventure!
P.S. if you need any advice, do not hesitate to get in contact with us