● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Motorbike to Machu Picchu

25th - 27th June 2008

The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu straddles the saddle of a 2380m high mountain with steep terraced slopes falling away to the fast moving Urubamba river below. Towering overhead is Huayna Picchu, and green jungle peaks provide the backdrop to the whole majestic scene.

Most visitors arrive by train to Machu Picchu from Cusco, others hike there along the Inka Trail over the course of 3 days. We decide that neither was for us, and took up the challenge of getting to MP by Motorbike!

This is no easy task, as there are no roads to the nearest town of Aguas Calientes - it is only accessible by train. Julio, the owner of a motorcycle hire place in Cusco explained to us how we could get there by bike. The ride would be about 220km each way, with 70 kms of this on dirt road, and a 4300m mountain pass to contend with. Unphased, we hired a bike for 3 days and planned to leave for Machu Piccu on Wednesday morning.

The Ride
After picking up the bike and filling up with fuel we were on our way. Nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead over the next 6 hours as we headed into the mountains in search of the Inkan ruins...

The route is detailed on a separate page here for anyone interested in doing to ride themselves, along with maps and instructions.

Julio advised us not to stop and take photos on the way there, as we had to get to the Hidroelectric power station by 4pm in order to make the only train that would take us the last 8 miles to Aguas Calientes.

The first couple of hours were on open road, great on a motorbike, with very little traffic and no speed cameras to worry about! After reaching Ollantaytambo, the climb up the La Malaga Pass begins and the fun really started. It is difficult to describe the road in words, the Google map on this page paints the best picture. 45 hairpin bends on the way up to the summit and lots of long open stretches of new tarmac with no traffic to contend with made this riding heaven! Only the last 15 minutes of the climb did the cold temperatures caused by the altitude make it a bit harder going. The scenery along the road is breathtaking, we were lucky to have a clear day and we could see several glaciars and numerous other peaks.

We paused at the summit for 5 minutes, then headed down the other side of the pass. More hairpin bends and smooth tarmac before we reached the first of several streams across the road! The first one took us by surprise, and Ady's jeans took a soaking! 45 minutes further and we came to a small row of shops and houses. I noticed that the asphalt road surface came to an end here, so we took a break and had a drink. By the side of the road, we noticed two familiar faces... two english girls who we had been bumping into everywhere since Rio! They were doing a 3 day trek to get to Machu Picchu, and this was the mountain bike leg. We set off before them to avoid a pile up and took on the first dirt section of the road. 40kms later, and we arrived at Santa Maria, where we filled the bike back up with fuel.

The next section of the dirt road, was off the main road, and towards the town of Santa Teresa. We had been warned by Julio that there we three alternative routes, all of which with had their issues. We took the shortest, most dangerous route as it was the only one we could find! A section of this was cut into the cliff and dropped off to a river in a canyon far below. The picure here shows the section, there are more pics on Picasa!

30 extreme nail biting minutes later, around more tight, skiddy hairpin bends cut into the mountain (we were lucky the road was so quiet!), we saw the town of Santa Teresa ahead. As we drove down the street looking for the hostel where we had to leave the bike, we were spotted by the hostel owner and beckoned in. We had to hurry as there wasn't much time before the train left and the station was still a 30 minute drive away. Bike parked up, we were bundled into a collectivio (shared taxi) and Ady had the luxury of sitting in the boot! A hairy drive to Hidroelectrica, onto a train and before we knew it we were on the last leg of our journey to Aguas Calientes.

Aguas Calientes
We stayed the night in Aguas in order to be able to take the first bus up to Machu Picchu the follwing day. This is a manufactured town soley to service the needs of people visiting MP, therefore everything is very expensive! This includes water, and as Ady was unable to bring himself to pay almost double the normal price in a shop! We hiked into the part of the town wher the locals live, in search of a cheap eat and some normal priced water! After several goes, we managed to buy some cheap water... another victory. We ate chicken and chips in a local restaurant too and paid half as much as in the main part of town!

Machu Picchu
A 5.30am start was needed to get the best views of MP in the morning as the sun rose. We took the shuttle bus ($7 US! tourist price!) up to the site and got through the gates at 6am.
We headed straight for Huayna Picchu, to join the queue to climb to the summit. Sam was feeling the effects of not much sleep and something approaching bronchitus, and almost didn't do the climb. Ady convinced her to give it a go, and before long we were hiking up the 200m high peak!

The view from the top made the hike worthwhile as you can see from the pictures here. At the top, we bumped into Julian, who was also riding a motorbike from Cusco. After resting at the top, we headed back down with Julian and on the way back we climbed the smaller peak of Huchuypiccu.

We were glad that we had made the climb and not just looked round the main part of the site. It made the day far more memorable. The number of tourists at the main site by the time we got down from the climb made the whole place seem a bit like a fairground attraction. We had a brief look around some of the main sights, but then decided to head back down to the bottom of the valley to get the train back to Hidroelectrica.

Faced with either a $7 bus ride or a 1 hour walk downhill, we opted for the walk. We also had a plan to get the train from a kind of mini station instead of walking all the way back to Aguas. Ady was walking ahead when he heard a crash and a scream. Sam had slipped on a step and fallen over. Her ankle was badly twisted...

We decided that down would be easier than up, so Sam hobbled down the steep steps. We had the deadline of the only train of the day passing the station at 12:35, and it was now 11:45! It was a close call, but we made it to the station in time for the train, and luckily for us it did stop!

Santa Teresa

The hot springs near Santa Teresa are like no hot springs we have ever seen before. They are huge, and reminded us of the swimming pool complex of a 5 star hotel, without the hotel. Open 24 hours, we returned after dark for some relaxation! After shrivelling up like prunes in the water, we returned to our luxury hotel and went out for dinner. Actually we had Pizza from a wood fired oven that was lit especially for us, and it was more of a hostel, but never mind!

In the morning, we met up with Julian and set off back to Cusco. We were able to stop and take some pictures of the journey back, but luck wasn't with us as the clear weather that we had on the way out wasn't there... temperatures plummeted below freezing and the cloud obscured the views of the glaciers. As such the photos don't show the full picture.

Sam and Julian were both feeling the effects of a stomach bug during the course of the day and didn't really enjoy the journey. Ady however loved every minute. Back in Cusco, we had a sense of achievement having made it to MP without using the train and witnessing some amazing roads on the way!

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