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No trains to Machu Picchu? Cusco to Machu Picchu by bus via Hidroelectrica route

No trains to Machu Picchu? Cusco to Machu Picchu by bus via Hidroelectrica route
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Hi guys, in this post, I will share our experience getting out from Machu Picchu to Cusco (it would also work for Cusco to Machu Picchu) by bus via the Hidroelectrica route. We were stranded in Machu Picchu due to the protests in Peru and train cancellations, but since we had a flight the next day, we had to get out of Aguas Calientes (the closest town to Machu Picchu). In this article, I will tell you what to do in this case and how to get out of Machu Picchu via the Hidroelectrica route!

Have you already bought your Machu Picchu tickets? If not, you can buy them here >>

Got accommodation in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)? I recommend staying in Susanna Inn if you’re on a budget or in Casa Andina if you have a bigger budget.

Cusco to Machu Picchu: Inka rail train

Getting to Machu Picchu was pretty smooth and easy – we opted in for the easiest option, aka taking the bi-modal service to Ollantaytambo and from there, taking a train to Aguas Calientes. (Aguas Calientes is the final stop for Machu Picchu). We bought both tickets through the Inca Rail office and really didn’t expect to have any issues until we were told that our return bi-modal service from Ollaytantambo to Cusco was cancelled. We thought: well, okay, let’s take a taxi instead. The most important thing was getting to Ollaytantambo and since the train was going ahead, we didn’t have that much to worry about.

That was until we visited Machu Picchu, took a shuttle back to Aguas Calientes and found out that our train was cancelled, too. Now we began to worry, since the rest of the trip was under threat now. We had to be in Cusco by the end of next day to take a flight to Lima and then La Paz, where we didn’t have much time before our night bus to Uyuni and a day tour around the Salar de Uyuni! Everything was pre-booked and prepaid, so we had to get to Cusco at any cost!

Cusco to Machu Picchu and back – are there any other ways besides the train?

That’s when we started researching different options of getting out of Machu Picchu and taking an alternative route to Cusco from Machu Picchu. Everybody in the town was very secretive about ways to get out of Aguas Calientes besides train because they were supporting the protest in some way; however, we researched various options online and talked to some locals that confirmed that one of the ways we found online might work. Let me tell you a bit more about both of these ways!

So, basically, there are two ways to get from/to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) besides using the Inca Rail or Peru Rail trains.

First option: Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo on foot, Ollantaytambo to Cusco by bus

Walking to Ollantaytambo and taking a taxi/minibus to Cusco from there

The first option involves walking for 9-10 hours near the train tracks to Ollantaytambo (31km). Since it gets dark at 6 pm, you need to leave early, circa 6am-8am at the latest! You might be very optimistic about finishing 31 km in way less than 9-10 hours, however, keep in mind that despite the fact that the path is relatively flat, it’s a long way at a high altitude! And besides that, you’ll be carrying your backpack or backpacks, which makes it harder!

Unless you’re a professional athlete or a very experienced hiker, 9-10 hours is a good benchmark for completing this walk.

Since it was already 11:30 am when we found out about the train cancellations, doing this walk wasn’t an option for us, as we would have needed to walk in the dark for a few hours! It wasn’t ideal, and we were not convinced we would be able to make all 31 km in one day, especially after waking up at 4am and visiting Machu Picchu in the morning. We were trying to find any settlements on the way to Ollantaytambo, so we could hike 15-20 km and stay there overnight, but unfortunately, there were none.

Hence, only attempt this route if you’re certain that you will be able to make it!

Second route: Machu Picchu to Cusco via Hidroelectica: walking + 1-2 buses

Waking to Hidroelectrica and taking a mini-bus to either Ollantaytambo or Cusco

Another option was the one we ended up using , and in the end and it all worked out. However, oh, my, what a journey it was!

This way of getting out of Aguas Calientes without a train involves walking 11km near / on the train tracks to Hidroelectrica. Hidroelectrica is not a town; it’s a hydroelectric station with a couple of shops nearby. But most importantly, it has a road that leads to nearby towns. Normally, locals who work in Aguas Calientes take a night cargo train to Hidroelectrica and then commute in minibuses to Santa Teresa and from there to Cusco if needed. So do a lot of backpackers who want to save money and visit Machu Picchu for less! Overall, you’ll end up spending something like $30 instead of $160 on transport for a return trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco.

However, on the days of protests, it gets pretty complicated, as if it’s not certain if there are any drivers who would be willing to take you to a nearby town. We were lucky that there were some minivans and taxis who were taking tourists all the way to Cusco. To get all the way to Cusco, we paid 100 soles per person.

Hidroelectrica to Santa Theresa

The journey, however, wasn’t easy. We arrived at Hidroelectrica at 3:30 pm and had to wait for the bus to depart at 4:30 pm, then drive 10 minutes before stopping and halting until the road works are over. The road to Santa Theresa is under construction (as of May 2022) and the works start at 9 am and finish at 6 pm with multiple stops throughout the day to let the traffic pass. There are none between 3:30 pm and 6 pm though).

The road from Hidroelectrica to Santa Theresa is pretty extreme while the road is still being constructed: it passes through the mountains; there is no paving and the traffic goes both ways, which means that at some point, the cars would be pretty close to the cliffs… If you add to that the drivers trying to overtake each other and incoming large buses, you’ll get the full picture! I think it’s usually way better when there are no protests and way fewer cars trying to get to Hidroelectica, but on the day of our travel, it was absolutely crazy!

Santa Theresa to Cusco

Once you get to Santa Theresa in circa 45 minutes, it gets much better! However, the road from Santa Theresa to Ollantaytambo is a serpentine! It’s extremely windy and passed through some pretty high spots of 4300m above the sea level. It’s very easy to get motion sick – that’s what happened to me despite taking 2 pills to prevent sickness! I really didn’t enjoy that part of the journey – and it was a very long one – it took us circa 2.5-3 hours to get to Ollantaytambo!

The last leg of the trip was the most stressful for us! There was news that the protesters blocked all the roads to Cusco and there is no way to pass there from Ollantaytambo. We tried one road and it was indeed blocked by a large tree, which we couldn’t lift.

We had to go back halfway and try another road – we were lucky with this one and got to Cusco past midnight.

Overall, we left Aguas Calientes at 13:30 and got to Cusco at 00:45 – which is a pretty long journey!

Cusco at night

The normal cost of this journey vs the cost during an emergency

If you’re wondering how much that madness of a journey had cost, we actually paid just 100 soles per person, which is the equivalent of $30 per person. We thought that given it’s an emergency, the drivers can charge something like $100pp, but it wasn’t expensive. It ended up being much cheaper than the train; however, we still haven’t seen a refund from Inca Rail – they are notoriously bad with refunds. Some people have been waiting for over two years to get their refund (hence, so far I wouldn’t recommend using Inca Rail at all).

However, if you’re trying to save money and you normally don’t get affected by long bus journeys and windy roads – the way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu via Hidroelectrica would definitely work. In normal times, this entire trip would cost you around 15-25 soles per person, way cheaper than the cheapest train! However, keep in mind that you would normally need to take two or three minibuses, one from Cusco to Santa Monica or Santa Theresa and from there to Hidroelectrica. The same goes for the journey back from Machu Picchu – you take a minibus to Santa Theresa (or Santa Monica if you’re lucky) and there you can find minibuses that go all the way to Cusco!

If you have any questions, feel free to DM me at @lizatripsget – I might be able to help!

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