Following is the cheap alternative, adventurous, but slightly dodgy route to Machu Picchu:

Not willing to pay the expensive train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu or hike the loved-to-death and even more expensive Incatrail? There is one cheap alternative route to reach Machu Picchu from Cuzco with local buses and hiking. This journey for “diehard travelers” (thats how it’s mentioned in the Lonely Planet Peru Travel Guide), actually isn’t difficult at all and will bring you to Machu Picchu for as low as US$ 50, so I decided to write down a detailed description of the trip. Print it out!

Goal: Reaching the Inca city Machu Picchu avoiding the expensive train only using local buses and hiking. It takes 3 Days (2 Nights in Aguas Calientes) and Costs: 150 Soles (US$ 50) in total 60 Soles (US$ 20) for Transport (round trip) and 60/120 Soles (students with ISIC-Card/adults US$ 20/40) admission to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Accommodation in Aguas Calientes available for 15 Soles/night.

Tips and tricks from a friend:

We took the cheap alternative route I say use it! It was sketch as hell in some way but really awesome and beautiful. I actually plan to take my dad on the same route (but he is super cool). However, if you take it, make sure you are with someone who knows how to travel,  guard their stuff, not get robbed, and be in a good mood when really tired. It was a lot of walking and somewhat rushed. BUT WORTH IT! Here are the amendments to the plan found on the Lonely Planet web page or

From Cuzco to Aguas Calientes: When getting into Cuzco you  will end up at their Terminal Terrestrial. From there walk out a block or two to avoid paying a ton for a taxi, and take a taxi to Santiago Bus Terminal (3 soles). This part of town is pretty damn sketch sometimes so watch your stuff. In and around Santiago Bus Terminal there are lots of people selling busses that go through Santa Maria (to Quillabamba) take your pick. The ticket should be 13-20 soles. I took Camino del Inca for 15 (you could get it for 13 I think). The bus was awful. Some old lady in traditional dress tried to pick pocket my friend and a crazy guy tried to get me but all in all it was fairly safe (as far as the bus end of it went) Just don’t plan on sleeping much. There are buses leaving at 8AM, 1PM and 8PM. Be sure to take the 8PM Bus, as only this one guarantees you connection in Santa Maria. Once in the bus, set your alarm clock to 2AM, as the bus arrives in Santa Maria between 2 and 3AM and the driver will probably forget to wake you up.

Santa Maria to the Hydroelectric Plant of Santa Teresa: When you get to Santa Maria there are a lot of combis waiting to go to Santa Teresa. I was told there are none that go directly to hydroelectrico. Reserve your seat, pay your 10 soles and wait till it fills up. It seems sketch at 2am but it’s a semi safe little town and you land right next to the police station. Also, about this point you will start seeing tourists taking the same route.

Santa Teresa to Hydroelectrica: The combi will drop you off in Santa Teresa and the vultures will attack offering you rides to hydroelectrica. There are combis for 2 soles and taxis for 3 (both of which I think you could get cheaper). If you are really energetic, the walk from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectrica is about 3 hours and not too difficult. You’ll be getting there in the morning so it’s a good time to do it if you are

Hydroelectric Plant to Aguas Calientes: Around 7AM you arrive at the train station near the hydroelectric plant (if you take a combi/taxi). The rail tracks lead directly to Aguas Calientes. You now have two options. First is to take the train, which leaves at 8:30AM (24 Soles) – I know nothing about this. Or, hike along the rail tracks to Aguas Calientes (2-3 hours walk). The walk is very easy, as you just have to follow the tracks (there is only one direction). Walking on the ballast rocks can be quite tiring, therefore some prefer to balance on the steel rails or jump from cross tie to cross tie. There’s a shortcut after 200m. Look out for the second “Escape”-sign opposite of a small security booth. This took us more around the 3 hour mark, even at a semi good clip. The rail ties tend to make you pretty dizzy and are really slippery when wet. I definitely recommend that you have some sort of water proofing for your pack and shoes and drinking water. Also take some time to look around. As you get closer to Aguas Calientes you will get your first views of Machu Pichu.

Aguas Calientes
You made it to Machu Picchu town. Time to relax and search a place to sleep. BUT FIRST! Buy your Machu Picchu entrance tickets.  You can do it in the main plaza which is at the bottom of the hill when you come into Aguas Calientes (most of the hostels are up top and this point you will probably not want to climb the big ol’ hill just to come down again later) There are dozens of accommodation options. A cheap, friendly place is Hostal Inti Wasi (dorm 15 Soles). It’s located above the market, on the right side of the river. We stayed at AMARU (15 soles) at the top of av. Pachakuteq . The owner was awesome. It was a really nice double with hot water. It is also right next to the thermal baths. The owner is really helpful and knows the area and will be more than happy to give you any info or other climbing routes, including the mountain (and “herb garden”) behind his hostel I recommend it although the owner told me Inti Wasi is nice too. If you still have some energy left, climbing mountain Putucusi (2-4 hours) is a good activity for the afternoon. Only few travelers visit Putucusi, even though you enjoy a wonderful and free view of Machu Picchu from its summit. To climb it, just follow the rail tracks back for around 200m. On the right side you find a Putucusi-sign and stairs. The good and easy trail however contains wooden ladders, which get slippery when it rains.

Visiting Machu Picchu
Get up early and start walking at 3-4AM to be one of the first visitors. Walk from Aguas Calientes to the bridge “Puente Ruinas” (20 minutes). It’s still dark, so a flashlight can be useful. After crossing the bridge, you see the signs leading to the steep trail to Machu Picchu. It’s a one hour climb, before you arrive at the entrance
to the Machu Picchu ruins, which open at 6AM. Alternatively you can take the 05:30AM Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (36 Soles round trip).

From Aguas Calientes back to Cuzco Again you have to get up early and start walking back along the rail tracks to the hydroelectric plant at 3AM. Alternatively you can take the 7:30AM train (24 Soles). There’s a combi waiting till 8AM next to the train station near the hydroelectric plant, which brings you back to Santa Maria (10 Soles).- NOT SO Start walking about 5AM to get to hydroelectrica at about 8. There were no combis when we arrived. However I asked around and was told they usually show up about 9-10 to collect people from the first train that comes in. Rather than wait, we chose to walk to Santa Teresa (about 3 hours). It’s a nice walk and probably worth it being that the comings and goings of combis are less than scientific. From Santa Teresa there are combis that go to Santa Maria whenever they fill up. This should not cost more than 10 soles (one man told me 6). Ask around when you get there because a lot of times the combis decide on their destination based on who needs to go where.

In Santa Maria there are buses around 10AM and 2PM. Usually you miss the 10AM bus, so you’ll have to wait for the 2PM bus. Buy the ticket (15/20 Soles) in the small store of Señor Ignacio at the corner of the dusty Plaza. If you wander around like you are lost for a few minutes when you get there the guy from the store and a few others will start fighting over who will sell you the ticket and you can usually get it for less. Also, be on the lookout for your bus. They are coming and going from all sorts of places so it depends on a lot of things. Ours showed up at 12. You arrive in Cuzco at around 8PM.