MacchuPichhu on a Shoestring: Crazy River Crossings Smuggled Train Ride and the Unofficial Death Rd

Cusco Travel Blog

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The famous shot!

WOWEEE, I am alive and totally loving the fact that i saw the sunrise this morning! I have just had some of the craziest and more fulfilling stuff happen too me in the past four days than i can recall ever happening too me and even better is the fact that i got to see one of the true seven wonders of the world, MACCHUPICCHU, and got there and back for $28AUS!!! So i will share my epic adventure and a few secrets in achieving this goal (luck plays a big factor too!!!) and i must admit the adventure getting there and home is what made the trip all the more worth while, for me anyway!!! WARNING, This will be long!!!

So why try to cheap-skate one of the most amazing archelogical sites known to man, arent we priviledged enough too know that it even exists let alone be allowed too walk through the ruins!?! Firstly, i payed the entrance fee into the park as this money goes towards not only maintaining the upkept of the ruins, but a percentage (i believe) goes too the sacred valley where poverty is rife and women in particular live a very harsh life! However, what i dont agree paying for is the one real transport connection too Macchupicchu which is the railway system that is actually owned by a british company and is not local! Short of walking 4-5 days along the Inca trail too get too the ruins the only really known transport too the area (well the one all tourists are told take) is the train and the prices are ridiculously steep! When we were researching the best way too get to the ruins (as we couldnt do the Inca trail as you have too book 5 months in advance) the transport alone was $74US just for the train trip return, $40 US for entry (half price with an ISIC/student card) and a further $15-25US for one night accomodation in Aques Caliente the closet town too the ruins! This all adds up too potentially nearly $150US for a daytrip too the ruins and one night accomodation with no food included, THAT IS FREAKIN RIDICULOUS people! So Jim and myself thought there must be a cheaper option and this is where we google stuff! We found this site (basically type in macchu picchu, shoestring, cheap etc etc) where this guy had given a detailed account on how you can get too the ruins cheaply and even sneak in there for free (the cheapest way there, into the ruins and back to Cusco was $25US) but i prefered to paid the entry fee! So we did some more research and believed we could better his adventure by making our adventure go over three/four days rather than one/two for around the same amount of money (per day) but it involved a lot more walking.

Wayanapiccu in all its glory
At one staged we contemplated using our bodyboards to float down the river that leads too Aques Calientes but once we started the hiking we realised this would have been disastous but i doubt anyone has done it and it could be possible..... Anyway, once we outlined our brillant plan to the other boys (corey, duggers and mark) they booked a three day tour for $200AUS and wished us luck, not keen to risk getting maimed by a speckled bear or puma!! Jim and myself were on our own and this is where we start the adventure....

So from Cusco you can get a local bus for 5SOLES (approx 2.7 Soles to $1AUS) to a town called Olanytambo or better yet get a collectivo which is located near the local bus terminal for 8 soles per person! This is a lot quicker and more comfortable for the extra three soles! The ride by bus is roughly 3hours or sometimes more depending on the stops but the collestivo does in under 2 hours! It was funny we put all our stuff in storage and only had our day packs and enough clothes for 3-4 days! Jim who wears flip flops everywhere thought he better bring his shoes as we had planned to walk 28 kilometers the following day along the train tracks but left them in the collectivo! I thought how ironic but too his credit he asked another driver too try and find the previous driver which i thought was a waste of time as he would be long gone.

Vuiew of MacchuPicchu from Wayanapiccu
An hour later in some little backwater town, we found this other driver in the most unlikely of places holding his shoes out the window, I couldnt believe it! The driver then took us back to Olanytambo!

This is an amazing little village full of character, cobled streets and 5 minutes out of the village are some Inca ruins and cool rock formations! Accomodation here is cheap $5-6AUS and the food is amazing recommend the river trout WOW! Now we planned to wake up early and rather than catching the train save $70US by walking the tracks which from this town is only 28km (done in a day if you are fit or you can spread it over 2 days and camp)! Now if you want to do this adventure bare in mind that it is illegal to walk the train tracks but honestly noone cares, tour companies take their visitors walking for hours on the tracks but keep it in mind! So after a good feed and a few supplies for our walk we were off too bed early only too wake in the morning too find that Jim was pretty ill and was unable too do the walk! So we spent the following day recouparating,  checking the tracks, wondering the city and doing more research! We found out that you could get another collectivo to the next town (where the road ends) and it cuts off 6-7kms of walking along the tracks, we were stoked! So the next morning we forked out 2SOLES each and went too the next town to begin our big hike.

Me jumping the ruins, Yeawwwt!!!
..

As we strolled out onto the tracks i noticed a depot related too the railway system and saw a few workers fixing equipment! I was hoping that they didnt see us enter the tracks but they did and they didnt really care just gave us a friendly wave which later made sense! The railway track meanders along the river all the way to Aques Caliente and beyond, at some points you have too run through tunnels and other sections of the track that are rather narrow! Within the first 20 minutes of walking we were diving into the bushes and hiding from an oncoming train! Now this is rather fun playing hide and seek with 400 tonne trains you think your on some GI Jones special Ops mission,  but if a conductor sees you on the track he may call the train police and your in some trouble or worst yet get caught in a tunnel and your running for your life!!!! So while we were taking in the scenery which at first light is amazing, dodging trains and trying too find a speckled bear we failed too notice a service train thingo sneak up behind us! Then sirens started too sound and this high pitched horn rang out! Jim was down the embankment yelling ¨dont let them catch you jump into the river¨, being a bit startled i just stepped of the tracks and stood there! It was our friends from the service yard who had see us enter the tracks and again they had these big smiles on their face! They stopped the service train and asked where we were going, Aques Caliente! They pissed themselves laughing and without a blink of an eyelid offered too take us if we were willingly to pay! A 20Sole payment later we we in the back off the service train hooting along, we had only walked about 3.

MacchuPicchu from afar
5km! Now these dudes could lose there jobs so they got us too hide under the seats when we went through checkpoints, at one point one of the men got out and went too the man too avoid him coming into the car! It was AWESOME doing slightly illegal stuff is thrilling and too tell you the truth i think these guys have done this many a times hence their big smiles! So i think that if you rock up too this service yard speak with the guys offer some money youll save a lot of money and walking but more than thjree ppl might not be possible! They drop us 1km from Aques Caliente and we strolled into town, he time was 7.45am!

So we expected to arrive into this town at 8-9pm at night not in the morning so we decided while on a good thing we would do Macchpicchu rather than waste a day (many people like to get the sunrise in morning but you cant have it all).

Mid-crossing mishap
So you can get a bus up the mountain to the ruins ($6US return) but we thought we had already save ourselves a walk and wanted to do it cheaply so we hiked! WOW it was a real killer so many freakin steps and most the time you didnt get a view cause the jungle was so dense, jim had the shits still so we had too stop a few times while he tried his best to orientate the steep mountain to poo and not get it on his feet (he failed!!! haha)! Finally after an hour or so we were at the top and the view is undescibable, totalling mystical!!! We got our breath back changed into boardies and took our sweaty tops off only too be told too put them back on (a hideous sight you see)! Now you do a lot of walking around the ruins so a one way ticket too the ruins by bus may be a wise option but personally i wanted to conquer the mountain and DONT FORGET TOO GET YOPUR TICKET TO THE PARK IN AQUES CALIENTE or it is a long walk back too get one!!!

So yeah words really cant do the ruins justice but the entire time i walked around this ancient site i was always wondering why here, why not over on that mountain or that one it is just a really weird concept that people would build in the middle of nowhere but they had an amazing too say the least! So you can walk around yourself or tag along with a guided tour which we did for some parts and it was interesting how advanced the Inca civilisation were! Now if i was too highlight any one moment in the ruins it was definately climbing Wayapicchu, the mountain that overlooks the ruins! Only 400 visitors a day are allowed to climb this Mt so be sure to get in and get your name down! It is astronomically spectacular, you are made to feel so small and it is a great place to have lunch but it is by far a very ardeous and steep ascent at many points you are vertically climbing stairs to reach the top, one slip could be fatal! Nevertheless ppl of all ages do it, on the day we were there a 71 year old lady conquered it so i gave her a big hug she was my idol for the day!!! After Wayapicchu we checked out the lower regions of the ruins then proceeded to return back too Aques Caliente! it was actually harder to walk down the mountain as our legs were aching abit strained but felt a lot like jelly! When we made it back we got a room for what we thought was 25soles but later found out it too be $25US.

View while working up too MacchuPicchu
Be careful, in peru´s touristy areas businesses tend to operate on the US dollar which can suck!! After some quick talking and bargaining we got the room for 35Soles instead of 80Soles, STOKED!!! Again if you look around the town you can score a three course meal with drink for 10soles! That night i slept from 5pm till 6am the next morning the ruins was relentless on my body!

The following morning we were up early again and on our way home but instead of walking the tracks back to Olanytambo we continued too follow the tracks to a Hydroelectric station where you can get a truck or collectivo to the next town St Theresa! The walk along the tracks is about a 2-2.5hr and you meet tours and other backpackers on this stretch of track getting to MacchPicchu the back way and the cheapest way! At the hydroelectric station you can wait from 1-3 hours for a truck or continue to walk the dirt road for another 2 hrs to Santa Theresa.

Jimmy taking the plunge....
Now we were told that a collectivo leaves St Theresa to Santa Maria at 12.30 and connects with a bus from Santa Maria back too Cusco so when we arrived and the electric station at 10am we thought we were sweet, plenty of time! However, 1 hr later we were still waiting for the truck and began to stress a bit but 20mins later we were riding in the back tray of the bus! It was great fun, the road was a little tense at times as you look down into the river chasm but being a little afraid gets the adrenaline pumping! At one point the truck driver locked up the brakes and jumped out to chase a big green snake! Sadly they killed it and my spanish just wasnt good enough to get them to stop but they explained that they are very poisonous and have killed many children in the area.
The steep steps that lead up to the top of Wayanapiccu
 The truck ride cost 2soles (about 30 min journey) and the views were capivating but the best was still too come, because they dropped us at this crazy self-pulley system river crossing device which we had too cross, as St Theresa was on the otherside!

This thing is cool and if you like a bit of excitement this is for you! Strung about 10-12 metres above the river you get into this carriage like chair and then physically pull yourself across the river! Now it is daunting getting started as the water is moving at quite rate below (say stage 3 rapids) and there are big rocks below so if you do fall you will either be washed 500metres or so down stream or break some bones on the rocks! But once you get going it is easy peasy and not that scary at all, i did have a hiccup working out the pulley system and was suspended above the middle of the river trying to untangle the ropes for at least 5 mins but i am be real stupid at times! Though short lived it was a big highlight of my day, for others reluctant to risk life or limb you can walk a km up river and there is a bridge! We made it into St Theresa at 12.

Eating lunch at the top of Wayanapiccu
15 just in time!

Now in Peru especially collectivos wont go until they are nearly full so we sat around for another hour or so waiting to fill the van! This may vary depending on the day and it could be bad if it makes you miss a connection, we had until 3pm to be in Santa Marie we left at 1.30pm! Now if i knew what was going to occur over the next few hours i would have probably slept in St Theresa!

So the driver from St Theresa was running late and needed too make up time which i thought find was great as i didnt want too miss the bus to Cusco but little did i know that the road we were travelling on is a oneway dirt track that is ascends into the Mts! This guy was flogging it and constantly went wide so that the vehicle was hanging on the edge of the cliff! Now i have experienced the death road in Bolivia and it was hectic but this makes that road look like childs play! The drop offs into the river below easily exceed 800metres in some spots, shear vertical drops and the man´s driving ability was less than desirable not too mention the van itself! Jim had the front seat which happen to be on the drop off side, the tension was so intense he began talking too himself and making heaps of hand gestures i was laughing but had these big knots in my stomach, i even opened the window in preparation for the guy rolling the van off the cliff i would be out the window to safety (i was dreaming if we went we were screwed!).

A mesmerizing place
So we survived what i nicknamed the unofficial death road (yes the road had many crosses) and too the mans credit he got us there on time, literally three minutes after getting out the death cab we were walking onto what i would later call the death bus!!! The collectivo cost 7Soles!

On the bus we meet some israeli mates who paid 20Soles for the bus because they got a ticket from the office dont do this get it on the bus and it will cost you 15Soles. Now we were told it would take 5hours to get back to Cusco (be home at 8pm) this turned into 8hours due to roadworks and if you think your travelling in style it is pretty jammed pack, no tv and if you dont have a window seat it can be hot! But thankfully i didnt have a window or i would have soiled my pants, for sure! We waited on the roadworks for about 2 hours and by the time we got going again it was getting dark, a noone mentioned that we were heading back up the otherside of the river on a similar road to the one we were only hours on before! Now if i could see i am sure it was just a deathly as the other road but what made this worst was that there were vehicles everywhere on a one way dirt track (the roadworks are to widen the road due to the amount of accidents happening)! So other buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes now all in a mad rush because of the holdup! Many occassions we had to reverse down the track in the dark with a drop off on one side to let another motorist past every so narrowly! This didnt concern me greatly as it happens in Bolivia all the time, but when our driver miscalculated an overtake and the back right hand wheel went off the cliff it was time too be SCARED! Seconds past which felt like eternity as you could here the bus struggle to get a footing back on the track, at this moment all i could think was this is why the Incas walked their trails rather than creating the wheel! Slowly the bus gained momentum, brushing the truck as it climbed back onto the road/track! Noone talked for at least 5 mins then Jimmy turned too me and said ¨I think we nearly died brother¨! The rest of the ride was uneventful but when we got back too Cusco my nerves were rather shaken so a beer andd a few more were in order!!!!

So too recap expenses:

bus or collectivo too Olanytambo 5/8Soles, night in Olanytambo with food 20Soles (we spent two cause jim was sick), Collectivo from Olanytambo to next town (starts with ¨P¨) to save 6km of walking 2Soles, food for walk 5Soles, bribing service train men 20Soles, Entry to MacchuPicchu $20/$40US (ISIC card half price), Night in Aques Caliente with food 25-50Soles, truck to ST Theresa 3Soles, Collectivo to Santa Marie from St Theresa 7Soles, Bus from Santa Marie to Cusco 15Soles, Walking quite a bit, ADVENTURE 110%, Near Death Experiences x2, Being Alive.

Tunnels of the Train tracks
.. ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL!!!!

So i spent for the ENTIRE journey (food, transport, accomodation, MacchuPicchu entry) spanning 3nights and four days $190SOLES which is $70AUS. Yeah Baby couldnt even get a return train fare for that price and i saw more of the country!!!! If you need more info on how to do this adventure let me know! 

Well well, leaving Cusco tomorrow hangover (as normal here) to Lima need to get my hair wet again and find some warmer weather where i can get the boardies out again YEAWWWTT! Well hope all is well and your adventures are just as enthralling stay safe, brendo!!!

 

 

 

Isoinspira says:
I cannot believe it! You guys are amazing!
Posted on: Nov 19, 2007
genetravelling says:
epic blogs mate. you're keeping it hell real! kudos and love the pics too!
Posted on: Jul 10, 2007
lizforliving says:
Hi Brendan,
What a cliffhanger of a journey and some fantastic surprises on the way.
Love you,
Mum
Posted on: Jul 07, 2007
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The famous shot!
The famous shot!
Wayanapiccu in all its glory
Wayanapiccu in all its glory
Vuiew of MacchuPicchu from Wayanap…
Vuiew of MacchuPicchu from Wayana…
Me jumping the ruins, Yeawwwt!!!
Me jumping the ruins, Yeawwwt!!!
MacchuPicchu from afar
MacchuPicchu from afar
Mid-crossing mishap
Mid-crossing mishap
View while working up too MacchuPi…
View while working up too MacchuP…
Jimmy taking the plunge....
Jimmy taking the plunge....
The steep steps that lead up to th…
The steep steps that lead up to t…
Eating lunch at the top of Wayanap…
Eating lunch at the top of Wayana…
A mesmerizing place
A mesmerizing place
Tunnels of the Train tracks
Tunnels of the Train tracks
Track Sleeping
Track Sleeping
Starting our train track adventure
Starting our train track adventure
Jimmy amongst the ruins
Jimmy amongst the ruins
Jimmy at the top of MacchuPicchu
Jimmy at the top of MacchuPicchu
Cusco
photo by: Vlindeke