Alternate Route to Aguas Calientes
No time to trek or go to the Amazon? If time permits, another option is to take a bus or shared car from Cusco to Santa Maria and from there a taxi to Santa Teresa. (This can also be arranged via private car through an agency). You can overnight here at the EcoQuechua Lodge (www.ecoquechua.com), a fantastic opportunity to spend some real quality time in the cloud jungle. This clean and comfortable eco-lodge offers a little bit of paradise, and comes with gourmet dinner included. They can also arrange excursions such as treks, zip line, coffee tours, Machu Picchu, and more. From here a 20-minute taxi ride can take you to the planta hidroeléctrica (hydroelectric plant), from which you can hike an easy flat two- to three-hour trail into Aguas Calientes or hop on a PeruRail train (usually US$32 but can vary). Make sure to book your Machu Picchu entrance to include Huayna Picchu and you will get more than enough hiking to get a feel for the trek without the exhaustion. This also makes a nice extension after your Machu Picchu trip and you can take the train from Aguas Calientes to the hydroelectric plant if you have had enough of walking. Note: this excursion is not recommended during rainy season, as the roads to Santa Maria and Santa Teresa have sheer drop-offs and can become dangerous.
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