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View of the train heading to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo.

The alternative route to Machu Picchu

Let’s face it. Machu Picchu is the most visited site in Peru and possibly in all of South America. Yes, Machu Picchu is worthy of all the marketing spent on it, but getting there is either a huge hassle or a deep hole in your pockets. For those who do not know, there is no road connecting the town at the foot of Machu Picchu with the rest of the country. Yes, the only way in is by train or by foot. Yet, there is an alternative route to Machu Picchu, which is not well-known but surprisingly beautiful. Before we get there, let us first explore the common transport options into this Wonder of the World:

1) Train

Most tourists visit Machu Picchu by train. Unfortunately, it is also fairly overpriced because of the price discrimination. Locals pay 10 soles (or 3 USD) for the approximately 30km ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which is the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. Foreigners have to pay 230 soles (or 70 USD) for the same one-way ride.

The train ride is scenic, but extremely short. On the way to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo, I recommend that you sit on the left, because there is nothing to see except for a cliff wall on the right. Then again, I do not recommend this method because not only is it expensive, you also do not have enough time to enjoy the scenic route towards Machu Picchu.

2) Walk from the Hidroelectrica train station

Six hours from Cusco lie a small town known as Santa Teresa. A few kilometres further is the last train station for the trains that go from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Many tourists who cannot book their train tickets in time, or who do not wish to pay the exorbitant prices, take this route.

The 12km track from the Hidroelectrica train station to Aguas Calientes is an easy, almost flat path. However, it is a boring route with no interesting sights along the way. I recommend that you take this path if you do not wish to take the train and are short of time. However, this path does not do justice to the beauty of Machu Picchu and its surroundings, especially if you are visiting with great anticipation and excitement!

3) The secret and most scenic route: Walk from Ollantaytambo

You got it. The train ride to Machu Picchu is scenic, but the walking path along the train track is more. You will walk past villages, farms built on the ancient Inca terraces and beautiful pastures squeezed in between the river and the cliffs. For some parts, you can also see the Inca trail on the other side of the river.

However, this is a longer route than the hike from the Hidroelectrica train station. The entire trail is 28km, so you will need a full day if you are walking at a casual pace. First, you have to take a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to kilometre 82 (kilometro ochenta y dos), which is also the end of the road. From there, you will have to walk around the train station from the right, up a path that goes up a hill behind the train station. You have to take this route to avoid the train station guards. They will stop you from trekking along the tracks and possibly ruin your plans for Machu Picchu.

Follow the trail on the hill, walk past the train station and you will see the train track on the left below you. You can either continue walking on the hill, or on the path beside the train track. I would recommend that you take the path on the hill because it is safer and equally scenic!

For most of the way to Aguas Calientes, you have a path away from the train tracks, and another path that is beside the train tracks. You can tell easily from the geography of the area. If the way is narrow and blocked by a high cliff wall on one side that means that you will have to walk along the train tracks. However, if the area is wider and there are pastures on either side, there is a path among those pastures.

As for safety, the path is very safe because you can easily hear the train approaching. The train would usually sound the horn at each bend and you will have enough reaction time to keep off the tracks. Also, the local villagers use this path everyday. Though the best way to do this hike is to never be near the tracks at any time! There are some points where you need to cross the tracks to continue onto the trail, but a simple lookout will be sufficient.

Along the way, enjoy the Inca ruins left along the slopes of the hills. Farmers have reused many of the Inca terraces to grow their crops. Also, you can even spot a set of Inca ruins high up the mountains when you are approaching Aguas Calientes. There are many things to see along this route, and you will enjoy it especially as a prelude to what you will eventually see at Machu Picchu. Enjoy the walking trail from Ollaytaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and always remember to be vigilant and to stay safe while walking alongside the train tracks.

Did you enjoy this article? Share it with your friends on social media. Also, I would love to hear from you! Have you tried trekking along the tracks to Machu Picchu? How was your experience?

2 thoughts to “The alternative route to Machu Picchu”

  1. Hey
    Thanks for your explanations, I’ll plan to walk from kilometer 82 to Aguas Calientes. Can you saw more about how to avoid the train tracks guards ? I have to be honest that’s the most stressful part of the hike and that would ruin the happiness to go to Machu Pichu by walking.
    Hopefully you can give some advise.

    1. Hello Aurelien,

      The best way to avoid detection by the train guards is to avoid the kilometer 82 train station altogether. The collectivo stops just before the train station, and it is the gathering spot for groups going on the Inca trail.
      There is a straight road going to the train station, and another side path that takes you to the village on the hill behind the train station. This path is on your right as you face the train station.

      Follow the path up onto the hill and you will be able to walk past the train station. Stay low and quiet and you should be well out of sight of the train station guards. The guards lurk around the station, so try your best to keep on the path on the hill behind the station and track for at least a few hundred metres. That will ensure that the guards do not stop you.

      It might sound stressful, but it is actually not so daunting! As long as you stay out of sight of the train station while you are on the hill, you should be fine.


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