Roca Sagrada (Sacred Rock) is a monolith located at the northern end of Machu Picchu. Right next to Roca Sagrade is the entrance to the road to Huayna Picchu – the iconic mountain representing the nose of the face looking at the sky.
The Sacred Rock has a height of 3 meters and the length of 7 meters. The monolith is seated within a rectangular perimeter with two adjacent chambers called huayranas, which have the peculiarity of having only three walls.
The anthropology experts say that the monolith resembles the profile of a feline on a carved granite podium. They interpret it as the representation of the puma (sacred animal in the Inca civilization) in the hill Pumasillo in Machu Picchu, on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range. Cerro Pumasillo, which lies in the background, displays certain resemblance with the form in which the Sacred Rock was carved.
The location of the Sacred Rock at the center of two huayranas located one in front of the other separated by a high ceiling patio suggests the use of the rock for religious ceremonies. Apparently, this rock would be an altar, central and important element in a worship area, intended for the worship of the Apu “Yanantin“.
The Incas worshiped the mountains, which acted as tutelary gods (Apus). Even at present, the Andean man continues with the conception coming from his ancestors, which teaches him to live in harmony with Mother Earth (Pachamama). For this reason he also continues to perform rituals, offering his Apus respect and veneration.
The Inca Bridge is a rather unamazing secret access route to Machu Picchu. Given that the citadel is visited by thousands of people every day, only a handful make it to the bridge. I went during a break in the rain, which eventually resumed, forcing me to seek shelter for half an hour, but during the entire time I only came across a middleaged couple that paid the bridge a visit.
The access to the Inca Bridge is by walking up toward the Machu Picchu Mountain – that’s the mountain opposite the Huayna Picchu Mountain, which is the one resembling the nose pointing toward the sky, forming the background to the citadel. Machu Picchu Mountain is taller than Huayna Picchu, but it’s hardly ever photographed because the citadel sits at the foot of Huayna Picchu. Both can be climbed – for a steep fee, of course.
Luckily, whereas the Inca Bridge doesn’t draw the hoards of tourists, access to this partially-inspiring feature is free. At least up to my visit is has been. There is however a small wooden hut at the beginning where everyone wishing to access the bridge needs to sign in with their credentials and the time of entry. Then upon leaving, you check out, allowing the wardens to know that you have not fallen off the cliff and they don’t have to send a crew to recover your corpse.
What makes the Inca Bridge partially inspiring is the fact that the trail to it was built into the utterly sheer cliff. The Incas literally had no slope to work with, so they had to take out enough mountain to make the trail a reality.
The drops are at times stomach-churning, but the trail is always wide enough to not feel vertigo. Unless you suffer some truly uncontrollable fear of heights, I don’t expect you’d have issues walking the cliff side.
The walk is not very long and is for the most part flat with only minimal inclines. It took me about 15 minutes to reach the end, and that’s with frequent stops to take photos.
Unfortunately, the bridge itself cannot be reached. There is a gate that stops you a bit of a distance before the bridge, but you will still have the views of it from the final stretch of the walkway. But then again – if access to the bridge was allowed, Machu Picchu would be recording fatalities on regular basis, so I see why they would not let tourists on the planks.
All the Inca Bridge is, is a gap in the stone path traversed by a few planks of wood. This way, if an invading force found the secret access trail and tried to invade Machu Picchu, the inhabitants would just need to drop the planks into the vertical abyss below, or simply raise them, and the crossing over would become pretty much impossible.
Having been constructed around 1450 AD, but not rediscovered until 1911, Machu Picchu remained hidden to the invading Spaniards, preserving its authenticity for the modern world.
Still, many questions surrounding the Lost City of the Incas remain unanswered.
In Quechua, the language of the Incas, Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain“. On the contrary, Huayna Picchu (the mountain peak forming the nose of the face looking up to the sky) means “Young Mountain“.
Located at 2430m, Machu Picchu was designated world heritage site of UNESCO in 1983.
The famous way of building the Incas used in the construction of Machu Picchu is called Ashlar. The stones are cut in such a way that they fit perfectly with the other stones without having to stick them with some kind of glue.
Machu Picchu also served as an astronomical observatory. The sacred Intihuatana Stone indicates the two equinoxes and twice a year the sun is perfectly aligned with the stone without creating any shadow.
Professional cameras are not allowed in Machu Picchu. Permissions for professional cameras are sold for more than $300, so it’s best not to bring an SLR camera with a big lens. I only had a Samsung Galaxy S5 cell phone and a GoPro Hero 4.
At Machu Picchu, the rainy season lasts from November to March. For this reason, in order to avoid getting soggy while exploring the Lost City of the Incas, and the cloud cover obstructing the view of the iconic “face looking into the sky” mountain (Huayna Picchu), the best time to visit Machu Picchu is from April to October. Regardless, even if you time your trip for within those months, you could still get rained on. That’s exactly what happened to me.
I visited Machu Picchu exactly on September 24, 2018. So even though I was well within the so called “dry season“, it rained quite a bit on that day and the clouds kept getting in the way of scoring good pictures. Either way, the entire experience of getting to Machu Picchu was disappointing enough to make it clear that there is no way in hell I would be visiting the place ever again, and after shelling out the heavy 152 Soles (about $46 US) for half the day entry to the Inca citadel, that notion was further strongly enforced.
So in my case, even though the weather remained nice and sunny throughout the entire unplanned “Inca Trail” hike, when I got to visit the actual Machu Picchu, the day got cloudy and during a hefty part of it, it also rained. But what do you do if you visit Machu Picchu on a cloudy day? You make the best of it nevertheless. You can’t choose or command the weather.
Unfortunately, even though the entrance to the citadel is mighty steep, you are rather restricted in how you get to enjoy it. In my case, it was cloudy and it rained for the best part of the afternoon, but at around 4:30, or about an hour before the allocated time to see Machu Picchu for which I paid a hefty fee ran out, the rain stopped and the sky started to clear up, but when I started retracing my steps back through the citadel in order to use the remaining hour on snapping a new set of pics of this time nicely illuminated mountain peaks and ancient architecture, I got yelled at by the guards who demanded that I continue on out of the complex, barring me from utilizing the remaining hour of my visit.
Obviously, because while it rained, I wasn’t able to be very active with the camera, so I lost a lot of time for picture taking, and had to keep moving along because for one I was getting rained on, and secondly, the mass of people within the complex was being yelled at to keep moving forward through the alleys of the man made sections of Machu Picchu.
So to reiterate what I have been congruent about throughout moment I started writing about Machu Picchu – no matter how you look at it, if you take into the account the cost as well as the overall headache of visiting the citadel, and put it against what you get if you go through the cost and the headache of getting there, it’s simply not worth it.
There are places that are far more interesting, incomparably less expensive to visit, and which are not deliberately kept inaccessible in order to force the would be visitor to get absolutely screwed on the means to arrive, that would give the visitor more in terms of visual and spiritual experience.
I started questioning the worth of Machu Picchu as soon as I got dropped off at the road block, and wish the whole time I had listened to my got and turned around instead of toiling my way toward the citadel. But as I kept on going, and fooling myself that perhaps in the end it turns out being worth it, each new experience proved that I was wrong and should have absolutely listened to my gut telling me to turn around as soon as we did not arrive at Hidroelectrica with the van.
Even in Peru itself there are far more interesting places than Machu Picchu, and unlike Machu Picchu, they will not burn a hole in your wallet. There’s no other way to put it – Machu Picchu does not live up to the hype and with the involvement of the high cost to see it, I have no option but to recommend the readers to avoid it as not worth your time, effort and money.
Even though the super costly ticket to Machu Picchu permits the visitor to enter the Lost City of the Incas for only half a day, you lose part of the half-day to standing in line at the office selling tickets in Aguas Calientes, because even when they’re open, they refuse to sell the tickets any sooner than 2 hours before the permitted visit begins.
If you factor in the fact that you will spend at least 2 hours in line because thousands of people will show up to get the ticket, and unless you shell out an additional $12 US for the bus ride up there, you will also need another hour of ultra strenuous hike up a steep hill to reach the gate of the ancient citadel, despite shelling out $46 US for the half-day entry, you will have lost one-fourth or one-third of that limited time allowance trying to get the paperwork for the entry in order.
That was certainly the case with me, but whereas I already stood in line and shelled out 152 Soles for the entry ticket, once I had it, I hit the road to get up there. And let me tell you, ascending that hill is no walk in the park.
It involved about 15 minutes of backtracking through Aguas Calientes back toward Hidroelectrica, until one reaches the metal bridgeS over the Vilcanota River shortly after which a sign will direct you off the windy road used by the buses and onto the trail for hikers with an apparent wish to spit out their lungs on the super steep hill.
Let me say that again – that hike is steep. The stone steps laid on the slope to make the hike possible will force you to raise your feet up high to make each step, and it will squeeze every bit of energy out of your thigh muscles so you better have some if you decide to undertake the hike instead of taking the bus. Your heart will be pounding along the way too, as from the moment you take the first step up, all the way to the last, you will be going through some serious cardio exercise with high demand for oxygen.
And as you go up, you realize that once you go down, the strain will be moved from your heart onto your knees. Because the hill is really steep, there is a significant height difference between individual steps so going down will force you to land really hard on your feet, putting high strain on your knees right from the start. And that will last all the way down. I think in my personal case, the way down wore me out more, because my knees really took the beating there. My thighs were trembling by the time I got up, but the muscle exhaustion wore out after a while. The wear to my knees however accompanied me for months after descending Machu Picchu.
Also, you better wear a pair of quality hiking boots with strong soles, because going down those steep stone steps will put their durability to the test. And without strong soles on your shoes, it will be the soles of your feet that will take the beating.
As with any challenging hike, make sure you hydrate well before the start and tag along a bottle of extra water to keep yourself hydrated along the way. Some light snack could also be helpful, even though I didn’t bother with one myself.
Whereas the hiking trail follows the right side of the road made for the buses, it intersects with the road on a few occasions, so the option to avoid the steep trail and follow the switchbacks on less steep, but longer road exists. I considered that option a few times, especially while going down because the steep steps were really making it hard on my knees, but whereas it rained on the day of my visit to Machu Picchu, the frequent buses turned the road to muddy hell so continuing along the incomparably cleaner stone trail was much sounder at the time. Moreover, the Peruvian drivers are not particularly known for being respectful of pedestrians so sharing the narrow road with multiple buses squeezing in from both direction could be potentially hazardous to one’s life.
There is one intersection of the hiking trail with the bus road that will force you to walk up the road a bit anyway, and look for the spot where the trail continues. It’s somewhat marked, but not immediately obvious after initially getting on the road.
Along the upper sections of the trail you will encounter a few local women selling refreshments and whereas the majority of the people take the bus up and down the mountain, they are rather aggressive with the few who take the mountain on foot.
Overall, if you like to challenge yourself, I’d recommend that you take the hike. Though fact of a matter is that this hike would be done for the challenge, not for the views, as there are hardly any due to the vistas being blocked by trees, but you’ll get the views once you get up to the citadel. If however you’re not somewhat physically fit, or you have sensitive knees, you’re probably better off taking the bus. Although it will likely have been the most expensive bus ride of your life. But then again, everything about Machu Picchu is expensive and it’s purposefully maintained that way.
The Aguas Calientes office that sells entrance tickets to Machu Picchu is located at the foot of Avenida Pachacutec, next to Centro Cultural where there is the iPeru office (iPeru is a helpful government tourist information service with offices in many cities around the country). It is on the north side of Plaza de Armas.
After I arrived in Aguas Calientes, I went to buy the ticket for the afternoon (segundo turno) of the following day, but even though the office was open, the clerks told me the tickets for the afternoon can only be purchased in the morning of the same day.
That seemed a bit strange, as there are many tourists who have had their entrance tickets bought days in advance, plus because only a limited number of tourists is allowed entry each day, there often are stories of people not being able to buy tickets for the desired day, it got me a bit concerned. However whereas none of the two clerks was willing to give me any answer but to come back at 10am the following morning if I wanted to buy a ticket for that afternoon, I had no option but to let it go and intend to come back in the morning.
At that time, I was already pretty on the edge about the whole Machu Picchu, having had to endure an extensive walk through one village to another, because the locals set up roadblocks with the sole goal to make the lives of economy supporting foreigners difficult, so as the reasons to give Machu Picchu a pass kept piling up, my doubt about the worth of the place kept rising.
With each passing minute I kept wishing I had turned around the moment the van dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and said “screw it” to Machu Picchu. Sadly, the well sold idea that the Inca Citadel is worth it has been itched deeply enough into my mind to keep me on the path. In hindsight, I can securely attest that Machu Picchu is not worth it at all.
Still, whereas I already got as far as Aguas Calientes, meaning I was literally at the foot of Machu Picchu, and I already had a room in a hotel paid for, doing anything other than getting some rest after a lot of walking to wake up in the morning and buy that damned ticket as the clerks selling them instructed me to seemed like the only viable option given the circumstances. So that’s what I did.
When I woke up in the following morning, I went to get breakfast and intended to combine it with a trip to the ticket office to buy my entrance to Machu Picchu for the same day’s afternoon. Even though they told me to come at 10am, I assumed it was an approximate time and whereas come 8am the office was already open, I popped in and asked for the ticket for the afternoon.
As before, I got a cold shoulder and was told to come back at 10am. None of it made sense, and to this moment it doesn’t, so the only explanation for why they do it is to literally spite the tourists some more. I mean – the office is open, they could be using the time they are there for sale of the tickets, but no – they put everyone off until 10am, so if you factor in the more than an hour long hike up the hill to get to the gate of Machu Picchu, you will barely make it there by 12pm, which is when the beginning of your overpriced visit begins.
Still, whereas the clerks were refusing to sell me the ticket before 10am, I went to grab a breakfast and returned back to hotel to wait until 10am comes. Shortly before it came, I walked back down to the office only to find a major line of people waiting there. It became clear that everyone who wanted to visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon was told to buy their ticket at 10am, so when that hour came, everyone – hundreds of them – turned up.
At this stage, the frustration with the whole Machu Picchu deal was reaching its peaks.
The Peruvian government keeps Machu Picchu purposefully isolated so that the only convenient way to get there is by way of a train, which is priced at up to $485 US each way – absolutely ridiculous and a major rip off, especially if you consider that the locals are charged an equivalent of $3 (10 Soles) for the ride. As such, in order to get to Machu Picchu, a visitor needs to permit the Peruvians to rip him the hell off, or undertake an arduous, a likewise expensive Inca Trail trek through the mountains.
If you are not willing to spend a fortune on either of the excessively expensive options, you need to go through the complicated process of combining multiple rides with a 10 km hike from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes to eventually get to the foot of the hill housing Machu Picchu, but if like me you encounter road blocks on the way, you will be forced into an arduous Inca Trail against your will anyway.
Then if you go through it all, like the foolish me did, you get to Aguas Calientes, where you will be expected to shell out 152 Soles (about $46 US) for a half day access to Machu Picchu, which would entitle you to enter, as in my case, at 12pm and stay until 5:30pm, but whereas they won’t start selling the tickets until 10am, and refuse anyone the sale until 10am, by the time 10am comes there is a major line up, so you’ll end up shelling out the high entrance cost, but by the time you get the ticket, it will already be 12pm, but you will still have more than an hour before you get to the gate of Machu Picchu, or use an option to pay $12 US for a one way bus ride to take you up there (which itself lasts about 20 minutes).
In other words – the Peruvians make visiting Machu Picchu a major pain in the butt, and milk you hard core along the way like you were just born yesterday, but will not sell you the ticket early enough to get to the place on time, and when you finally get there, you realize it’s really not as mindblowing as they make it out to be.
Yes, I did eventually go to Machu Picchu, but I still keep asking myself why have I not followed my inner voice and given up on this place while there was time. Instead, I spent all this time, energy and money on visiting what is a well promoted, but over-hyped and truly unworthy place. There are many much more interesting, rewarding and uplifting places one can visit around the world, and they cost a fraction of Machu Picchu, or even are free to visit.
All things considered, given the high cost of entry and arrival, Machu Picchu does not deliver.
Having been made into the tourist trap that it is, the city of Aguas Calientes is stuffed full of restaurants. But they all have one thing in common – they are geared for tourists and offer food at tourist prices.
But a smart traveler realizes that all those locals who stick around Aguas Calientes in order to take advantage of the tourists lured by the overblown promotion of Machu Picchu also need to eat, and they surely don’t dine in any of the tourist restaurants.
Here’s where the Central market of Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Mercado de Abastos (Food Market) comes to play.
Located close to the train station in the Machu Picchu Pueblo (the name into which the Peruvian government is trying to rebrand Aguas Calientes), Mercado de Abastos towers rather inconspicuously a little bit up the stairs, in a building that hardly attracts any tourists, despite thousands passing in front of it literally on a daily basis.
On the main floor of Mercado de Abastos one can encounter sellers of fresh fruits, however just as everything in Aguas Calientes, these are all heavily overpriced, having been shipped to the pueblo by train. Once done asking fruit sellers for prices but not buying anything because of the ridiculous price, an unlikely tourist can walk up the stairs to reach the market’s upper floor, and encounter stalls selling cooked dishes for the locals who work in the many of Aguas Calientes’ tourist establishments.
Even though at 12 Soles for a menu consisting of a soup and a main dish, the prices up there are still high by Peruvian standards, Mercado de Abastos is the cheapest place to get fed in Aguas Calientes, and truly the only somewhat economical way to eat while waiting to go up to Machu Picchu.
I definitely took advantage of it, and even though during my 3 day stay in Aguas Calientes I was the only tourist who took said advantage, it didn’t bother me one bit being surrounded by locals slurping loudly their food and chewing it with their mouth open like a pack of cows on a field, because it came with the good feeling that I wasn’t allowing the overpriced services of Aguas Calientes take advantage of my being there entirely.
When it comes to the problems with the overpopulation of street dogs, pretty much every third world country I have visited has it. Including Peru. Many street dogs one encounters while roaming the third world are sickly, with various skin conditions. But when it comes to the Peruvian Hairless Dog, the loss of his hair as he ages is natural and not a sign of a disease.
Known locally as “Perro Sin Pelo de Perú” (Dog Without Hair of Peru), the Peruvian Hairless Dog is a country’s native species.
Just as there are many theories about the settlement of America, there are many other hypotheses about the appearance of the hairless dog in Peru. Some historians say that they accompanied the man when he passed through the Behring Strait and others say that it was introduced in later times by Chinese settlers who arrived at the time of President Ramón Castilla (half of the 19th century).
There is however evidence of the presence of hairless dogs since there is culture in Peru. Images on ancient pottery found in Peru suggests cultures as old as Chavin (800 BC), Moche (600 AD), Wari (700 AD), Vicus (300 AD), Chimu (1100 AD), Chancay (1100 AD) and Inca (1450 AD) lived with hairless dogs in their company. Whereas the motifs involving hairless dogs show the animals in everyday situations, including giving birth to puppies and the puppies suckling, it is believed the dogs were mostly considered as pets.
As part of its history it is worth mentioning that in pre-Hispanic times there was a custom of eating dogs in ceremonial acts, in replacement of human flesh, especially in the Huanca culture (central highlands) and it is believed that these dogs were the favorites for the feasts, according to the chroniclers.
In the time of the Incas, the flesh of these dogs was valued for its effects to calm the stomach ache, to warm the feet and to perform magical rituals.
On June 12, 1985 the International Cynological Federation, a Thuin, Belgium based organization which is responsible for the registration or acceptance of new breeds of dogs, recognized and recorded the Hairless Dog of Peru as a breed with the number 310, classifying it in Group V, Spitz type, which are athletic and agile dogs ideal for racing, as well as in section 6, where Primitive type dogs are located. This means that they are pure breeds, ie they do not arise from the mixtures of other breeds like the buldog or poodle, but nature made them as they are, not having varied their morphological characteristics in thousands of years.
The Peruvian Hairless Dog was officially recognized as National Heritage of Peru by the Congress of the Republic on October 22, 2001 and is recognized as a race originating in Peru, through decree law No. 27537. It is also known as El Viringo Peruano, Calato Dog, Chimú Dog, Peruvian Inca Orchid, or Viringo.
Due to the lack of hair, this breed keeps his body warmer to protect himself from the environment, which has been the basis for attributing medicinal properties to the dog – for example to relieve rheumatism.
Because the Peruvian Hairless Dog has no hair, it is also said to be suitable for people with allergies, bronchial problems and asthma. The lack of hair also means it has no fleas nor ticks, since these have nowhere to nest.
My first encounter with the Peruvian Hairless Dog was in Aguas Calientes, where locals appear to have them on display for all visiting tourists to see. I have come across a number of them during my subsequent travels through Peru and have often seen them dressed up in dog suits in order to protect their skin from sunburn. They have always been peaceful and friendly. I think they’d make for a great companion for a person looking for a non-aggressive companion to their home.
Aguas Calientes is the closest town and the access point to the National Park of Machu Picchu. Even though the Peruvian government is working hard to rebrand the town as “Machu Picchu Pueblo” (Machu Picchu Town), the name of Aguas Calientes sticks because it’s been known thus for years, and the fact that its original name (meaning “Hot Waters” in Spanish) reflects the fact that at the back of the city, in a small nook of the mountain, you can find “thermal-medicinal waters” only further assists in maintaining the old moniker.
The government of Peru is deliberately ensuring that Aguas Calientes remains an island on the land, isolated from reasonable road access, so that the only way to reach the lost city of the Incas is by way of the train, which allows the government to brutally overcharge the tourists for the access (upward of $480 each way for a ride that the locals pay an equivalent of $3).
Aguas Calientes is for all intents and purposes a tourist town. It’s purpose of serving as the final rest stop for foreigners on their way to and from Machu Picchu seems so obvious, that if it weren’t for Machu Picchu, it would most probably not exist at all.
But because of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes receives thousands of people from all over the world every day.
As a matter of fact, according to the official statistics, the city has 3,400 residents and receives an average of 1,500 daily tourists. I was one of them suckers.
Because its primary purpose is to serve as the last stop for tourists heading to Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes is replete with hotels and restaurants, as well as convenience shops selling heavily overprice goods, plus you would find there offices of banks with ATMs, the sales office of entrance tickets to the archaeological zone of Machu Picchu, police station, the IPerú office, post office, pharmacies, small medical center (Health Center), cybercafés, public telephones, shops of souvenirs and gifts, and adjacent to the train station a crafts market with handicrafts of dubious origin and quality.
All travelers from and to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu must pass through Aguas Calientes. The actual Machu Picchu archeological site is located 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) up the hill – about 1 hour 30 minutes walk if you decide to avoid shelling out $10 USA for the bus to take you up the windy road to the lost Inca city.
When I arrived, I was pretty sweaty from the 10km long walk in the mostly unshaded sun. As I was making my way deeper into the city in order to come across more economical accommodation option, I was being repeatedly approached by touts trying to lure me into a restaurant for a lunch, as well as women trying to lure me into a massage parlor to get a massage.
I was pretty adamant that first I need to secure myself with a room, leave my luggage there and take a shower before entertaining any of the offers, so I resolutely declined any and all approaches. As for the massages – I knew from Cusco that it makes no sense getting a massage in South America, and I was sure the prices would be even more aggressive in the entirely touristy Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes has accommodation options for all pocket depths, but expectedly, the cheapest ones also provide the adequate quality. I initially got myself a room for 40 Soles (about $12 US), which had moldy walls and was overall very crummy and dark, but I was ready to suffer through it in order to avoid paying too much in a place like Aguas Calientes, but whereas the internet just didn’t work in said hotel, after a couple hours of frustration trying to get online, I had to resolutely cancel my stay there and look for a room elsewhere.
Eventually I got me a room for 50 Soles (about $15 US), which even though located in a really loud place, both internally and externally, was reasonably comfortable and came with a queen sized bed, and whereas the staff could care less about manning the reception properly, I sneaked in a Brazilian girl I met while getting lost looking for the Temple of the Condor at Machu Picchu, and spent the night with her without anyone in the hotel noticing.
Hidroelectrica, as the last place accessible by a car on the way to Machu Picchu, always has some locals hanging around trying to sell the hoards of tourists passing by stuff. There are also a few restaurants and shops selling fruits and water along the way, but they are all very overpriced. One restaurant I passed also had a sign that they exchanged money, so I asked what kind of rate they offered for US dollars, and the woman told me she’d give me 3 Soles for each Dollar. The official exchange rate at the time was 3.39 Soles for a Dollar, so like everything else, changing money at Hidroelectrica was not worth it.
From where you get dropped off, the foot trail follows a train track, but if you follow that one, you will soon hit a dead end. There is a rather inconspicuous turn heading steep up hill to the right after a couple minutes of walking, which looks like it’s a way to one of the restaurants. And it indeed is, but it also gets you to the other train tracks which are higher up. Those are the tracks that go around the hill all the way to Aguas Calientes.
So basically, if right at the beginning of your trek from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes you did not get your heart pumping by following a trail heading steeply up the hill to your right, you’re going the wrong way and will have to backtrack because the trail you are on leads nowhere. I did it too.
Once on the upper tracks, you’re good to go. Several minutes in and you will pass under a short tunnel, and a few more minutes later, you’ll hit a bridge over the Vilcanota River which has carved the canyon that forms the base for Machu Picchu.
There are several signs along the tracks informing you that it’s prohibited to cross the tracks, but at a number of locations, the tracks cross over creeks giving the hiker no option but to actually walk on the tracks. Besides, the trail that follows the tracks is at one point on the left, and at the other on the right, so like it or not, you will cross on the tracks several times.
Even though the trail is at the bottom of the canyon carved by the Vilcanota River and follows the hill housing Machu Picchu, you will not get any reasonable glimpse of the lost citadel from down there. Still, unless it rains on you, the walk is scenic and the nature as well as the surrounding hills spectacular. You may even get passed by one of the trains.
There are a few restaurants along the trail as well, but as with everything in this proximity, they are expensive. One fellow with a stall was selling young coconuts, but wanted way too much for them so I gave it a pass. It would have been nice to recharge with natural electrolytes, but not at 10 Soles a pop.
If you’re a fast walker and keep your foot steady on the rocky trail, you should get to Aguas Calientes in about an hour and a half from Hidroelectrica. Except for the short uphill steep hike at the beginning, the trail is flat, so it’s not that brutal on your cardio. It’s just a bit hard on the feet, because it’s rocky, so make sure you have good hiking boots on.
But then, once you get to Aguas Caliente, unless you’re cool staying in one of the priciest hotels at the beginning of the town, your trip will finish you off with forcing you to hike steep streets of the town to get to the more economical hostels. There is a tone of them in Aguas Calientes, as the town is as touristy as it gets. But if you’ve made it there, you’ve made it to the foot of Machu Picchu.
Other than in Aguas Calientes, the only way to stay any closer to Machu Picchu would be to book a room at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, where a night costs $1,000+. If you’re one of the poeple who can afford to shell out this much for a night in a hotel, then you will sleep outside the entrance to the Inca Citadel. For the rest of us, there is Aguas Calientes, or Mchu Picchu Pueblo, as the Peruvian government is trying to rebrand the town.
Here’s also a short video of a PeruRail train that passed me by about three quarters of the hike to Aguas Calientes. This seems to have been just a locomotive that didn’t have any couches transporting people hooked on: