Bikepacking Peru – Huancayo to Cuzco via Choquequirao Ruins
This section does not need as much explanation as the rest of our South America Routes. It is fairly straightforward, and almost entirely paved, and far more services than our previous routes. In spite of being along the primary corridor, there isn’t too much traffic between towns and cities. There are other ways to move South in Peru (including routes on dirt roads)… but we don’t ride dirt just for the sake of riding dirt. We need a purpose such as good scenery or avoiding cars. The reason we rode this route is because we wanted to visit two important archaeological sites: Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. I am glad that we went to both. Though there is a ton of commercialization surrounding Machu Picchu, it would be foolish to come this close without checking it out. If you are avoiding Machu Picchu because of the expense, we detail everything you need to know to see pretty much everything in Machu Picchu for less than $50 USD (initial research will probably leave you believing that you need to spend upwards of $800 USD to visit these ruins).
Rather than enter the busy city of Huancayo, we stuck to the West side of the city, and cruised quiet roads that allowed us to escape to highway 3S. Our route is good if you have a suspension mountain bike. It is not busy and eventually you reach good quality pavement.
As you can see above, hwy 3S is pretty idyllic for cycling. We only saw a few cars on this band of pavement that was about the width of a really wide bike lane.
The man who rented it to us also works at the gas station located here: 13.39440° S 73.91615° W
Our route in the picture above follows the contour of the mountain, and is quite a bit shorter. Eventually, though, to rejoin the highway, you need to drop steeply starting here: 13.69899° S 73.02709° W
How to visit Choquequirao
Treks to Choquequirao start from the villages of Cachora or Huanipaca. We started our own self-guided trek from Cachora simply by following a trail that resembles a steeper and less maintained version of the Grand Canyon trail in Arizona. There are a number of official campsites along the way – some even claim to have food or restaurants. When we passed, however, most seemed to be closed and unattended. Therefore, I would recommend that you plan to bring all of your supplies for the out-and-back hike. We were very fit, and did the trip in 3 days (one day in, one day visiting the ruins, and one day out). Most people seem to do this trip in 5 days (two in, one visit day, two out). You could easily spend 2 or 3 full days exploring the site. Even being very fit and running between sites, I couldn’t see everything. The advantage to doing the in/out in one day is that you do not need to camp at lower, hotter elevations with the biting bugs. The biting bugs vanish around the 8,500′ mark. Although Choquequirao’s site is almost as grand, and larger than Machu Picchu, it only averages about 15 visitors per day due to the difficulty in getting there. If you consider that Machu Picchu now averages 3,000+ visitors per day, you can see why this is a totally different and worthwhile experience.
Your visit will likely begin in Cachora. It is best to stage with a hotel in town so you can gather your supplies. If you don’t already have backpacking gear, there is a place to rent a pack (location in captions below). Also, there are signs for two more upscale lodging locations that are outside of town (both are to the North). From the pictures, these seemed like they would help you arrange your trip (one seemed to have English speaking skills). Also they might have gear for you and/or rentals of mules. Mules are for carrying your gear, but in a pinch, they are allowed to carry people. When we crossed the Apurimac river, we were asked to show our passports. About half way between Marampata and the park entrance, we were asked for about $17 to purchase tickets for entering the park.
Later, we increased our comfort by moving to the nicer looking hotel located here: 13.51301° S 72.81348° W The water was usually on here (shared bathrooms), but it was not hot (the owner told us he would fix it each day, but I started to realize that he was just saying that after several days).
How to visit Machu Picchu on a budget
It would be a shame to come this close to Machu Picchu and not visit. Like so many cycle tourists before me… people who are used to living the simple life… I cringed at the idea of entering a crowded, expensive tourist destination. After doing a lot of research, I found ways to ameliorate the pain, and have described them here in detail. In fact, I describe how you can visit Machu Picchu with for $50… with the benefit of fewer crowds… and you can even get in a Peruvian trek if you follow our Choquequirao route above.
In this post, I’m clearly advocating saving money, which benefits the traveler – but what about the locals? On a personal level, my aversion is not to spending money, but instead it is to wasting money. For example, I would willingly pay $20 USD to a local family to sit down with them over a simple meal of chicken and rice provided that we had good conversation exchanging learning about our two different cultures. Meanwhile, I would cringe at the idea of paying even $10 USD to look at a waterfall to an company who is merely capitalizing on the fact that they happen to own the land where the waterfall is located. Your sense of value may differ from mine, but I feel like it is important to consider where your money is going, and who it is benefiting. As you have probably read elsewhere in this blog, I have mixed feelings about the influx of money into 3rd world countries. On one hand, it is usually beneficial for the locals to increase their income by engaging in commerce with foreigners… On the other hand, it can cause severe gaps of inequality – Those who do commerce with foreigners start becoming very wealthy by local standards. Those who don’t or can’t participate in this – those who used to feel like they were doing fine economically – now start to see their prices for basic needs rise because the influx of foreign money has started an inflationary cycle. There isn’t much you can do about this problem in the localities surrounding Machu Picchu – it’s too late. But you can think about it when you visit up-and-coming sites mentioned in this blog such as Choquequirao and Quelap.
How to visit Machu Picchu on a tight budget:
1) Ride your bike along blue arrow route (free).
2) Walk along yellow arrow route (free).
3) Camp at municipal campground between
Aguas Calientes and start of trail leading
up to Machu Picchu Ruins ($5/night)
4) Don’t buy the sunrise ticket to enter the park.
Instead, enter a few hours later with lower
crowds, clearer skies (usually), and lower
prices. ($38) … The most expensive part!
5) Walk from Aguas Calientes to the ruin instead
of paying for a bus. (free).
6) If you want a guide and speak Spanish,
negotiate at the entrance. We paid $3 per
per person, but overhear people paying
much, much more for guides. ($3-$6 optional)
7) Walk to the Sun Gate (Into Puhku) instead of
paying extra to walk to Huchuypicchu (free)
8) If you really want to do a trek, visit
Choquequirao. The trek is free as of this
writing. Bonus: you get to visit ruin site
that is very difficult to reach (so no crowds).
Total cost to visit Machu Picchu: $43.00 USD!
If you’re on a budget, we recommend riding your bike to Ollantaytambo. From there, ride North-West around the big mountains over to Santa Teresa. From Santa Teresa, you have the option of carrying on with your bike all the way to Hidroelectrica, or getting a shuttle. From there, the only way to get into Aguas Calientes (the staging point for Machu Picchu) is by rail. You can walk the rails – though there is some question about the legality of this. Many people do it every day, and there does not seem to be enforcement as of this writing.
From Aguas Calientes, most people take a bus – but you can easily walk up the trail that takes you to the main ruins.
Cuzco is where we ended our 6 month voyage along the spine of the Andes. The journey began in Bogota where we explored both forks of the Andean spine. South of Cuzco, there is still more of the Andes to be explored as the terrain becomes less glaciated and jagged, leveling out into the altiplano.