Ever wondered if it was possible to ride a bicycle from Cusco to Machu Picchu? Follow my journey as I ride in some of the most remote areas of Peru, climb mountains, camp in the jungle, visit Machu Picchu and explore everything that Peru has to offer.
Machu Picchu is one of the places that’s on everyone’s bucket lists. I mean why wouldn’t it be?
It’s one of the new 7 wonders of the world, is an old Inca city situated in the clouds and is so remote you can’t even drive there; you either have to walk or take the train.
So, when I arrived in Cusco I only had one thing on my mind…what’s the best way to visit Machu Picchu?
I wanted to do something unique and adventurous, but what?
After a conversation with my friend, I decided that the best way to replicate the difficult journey that the Incas use to make to get to Machu Picchu, would be to ride my bicycle. It would take 5 days and involve riding through the mountains, countryside and jungle.
With so much excitement, the next day I started my journey.
Watch the video below to see what it’s like bicycle touring from Cusco to Machu Picchu:
(For more videos from my Bicycle Journey in South America click here.)
Day 1 – Cusco to Lake Huaypo
I left my hostel in Cusco at 11.30am so that I could take advantage of the hot shower and internet while I still had the chance.
I was met with a gigantic uphill out of town to start the day. It took a couple of hours before I was riding in the countryside. As soon as I was out of the busy towns, I stopped for some lunch next to a beautiful river.
By coincidence, the place I chose to stop and have lunch had a dirt road which led off the main road and into the wilderness. Since this was meant to be a week of adventure, I opted to take the dirt road.
It turned out to be a great choice because I was all alone riding through the countryside with views of snow-capped mountains, local farmers and animals. It was absolutely breathtaking.
I walked the bike uphill for about 2 hours until I reached the summit where it started descending. It was one of the fastest I’d ever ridden on the bike. I didn’t take any gear besides a backpack (which I was wearing) which meant I could go harder on the bike and not have to worry about breaking my rear pannier.
After the great downhill, I arrived at Lake Huaypo where I found an abandoned campsite. It was 8 soles ($3aud) to camp there in the park, but because it was abandoned it was free. The only other people at the lake when I arrived were locals fishing, kitesurfing and washing clothes.
I spent the evening watching the sunset over the lake.
Day 2 – Lake Huaypo to Ollantaytambo
The next day I continued along the dirt roads for the entire day. Once again it was absolutely amazing, I was all by myself in the middle of the mountains in the countryside.
At one stage I came to a roadblock full of sheep and donkeys… it was really funny. There was a car trying to pass but the donkeys weren’t moving.
I’ve noticed through my travels that many farmers herd their animals daily to feed them at different locations throughout their village.
After a quick peanut butter sandwich for lunch, I went through the town of Maras but didn’t stay for long, I wanted to keep riding along the remote trails.
The afternoon proved to be entertaining as it was mainly riding downhill along the beautiful dirt roads. Eventually, I stumbled across a train track and rode next to it until I reached the town of Ollantaytambo where I spent the night camping at a hostel for 10 soles ($4aud/$3usd) for the night.
I arrived reasonably early so it allowed me some time to explore the small town (which was full of tourists because there is a train that leads to Machu Picchu). Everything was overpriced so I decided to spend the time reading in my tent…the tent was my home and I couldn’t spend too much time away from it.
Day 3 – Ollantaytambo to Abra Malaga (the ascent to 4350m)
This proved to be the most difficult day of the whole week. It was a 49km day which involved riding from 2000m to 4350m high.
The first 5km was quite easy as it was flat. Thinking that the entire day would be similar, I decided to stop and have an early break.
But it was from this point that I really began to struggle.
I only managed to ride 3km uphill until my legs began to feel the burn. I was playing a game with myself that every 10 pedals would equal 1m up in altitude. However, instead of helping me, it made things more difficult because I realised that I would have 20,000 pedals to reach the top. The game didn’t last long before I hopped off the bike and started walking.
Walking the bike was enjoyable for a while and I noticed that there were some shortcuts through the switchbacks. What a great way to save me some time and energy. Well as it turns out, the switchbacks were definitely shorter routes but a lot steeper and on a lot tougher terrain. I had to walk up 80-degree angles with the bike at some points.
But as it seemed to be saving me a few kilometres I said to myself that I would take every second shortcut I saw, so I’d have time to catch my breath (they were seriously hard. I was only moving 5 metres at a time).
I saw over 10 cars with bikes on the roof driving up the mountain so they could ride down the other side…And as the day became longer, I couldn’t help but think maybe I should have done that as well.
At 1.30pm I stopped for some lunch (peanut butter sandwiches) and realised I still had 20km to the top. The sun was out and I enjoyed the break. I thought that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t make it to the top because at least I would be able to camp in the beautiful mountains.
However, after lunch it started getting colder and colder the higher I walked. I was becoming more tired with every step and the idea of camping in the cold didn’t sound fun any longer. At least if I made it to the top, I would be able to stay in the town in a hostel or someones home.
Around 5.30pm, I finally made it to the top after the steepest walking uphill I’d ever done with the bike. I was so happy when I saw the sign “Abra Malaga”.
It was so high and cloudy that you could only see 20 metres in front of you. When I finally reached the main town, all that was there was 2 houses and a church. I asked one of the people from the house if there was anywhere to stay or camp at the top and they said I could pitch my tent in the entrance of the church.
However, there were people praying in the church (people stopping in their cars to pray) and I didn’t really want to start pitching my tent while people were praying in a sacred place. They would be thinking why is there some stupid gringo trying to pitch a tent in their church in the middle nowhere.
It was freezing cold and I only had the fingerless gloves but I made a quick decision to try and ride down the mountain and try and find a warmer (and more suitable) place to camp.
I was trying to ride quickly but the roads were so dangerous with massive drops off cliffs. As I couldn’t see too far ahead because of the fog, I only rode about 8km before my fingers were frozen ( I couldn’t feel them) which meant I was finding it hard to use the brakes on my bike. It was getting too dangerous for me so I stopped on the side of the road at a flat spot, set up my tent as the light fadded and spent the night.
What a day it had been walking 40km uphill with a heavy backpack full of camping gear and pushing my bike.
Day 4 – Abra Malaga to Santa Teresa
In the morning I woke up to an unexpected, spectacular view of a snow-capped mountain right in front of me. I couldn’t see it the night before because of the clouds.
I woke up really early and started riding by 7am because the road would soon be filled with cars racing around corners. Also, when I’m camping next to the road, I find it’s always a good idea to get up early and leave before it gets too light as to not attract attention.
The road was 72km downhill and while it might sound enjoyable, the first 30km weren’t. It was still freezing and I only had my fingerless gloves which meant I had to stop every 3km to warm up my hands.
But it did get warmer and the views were incredible. It was really nice giving my legs a rest and riding downhill.
I passed through a small town around 10 am where I had a burger and chips for breakfast because I was so hungry from not having dinner the night before.
I stayed there for an hour and slowly made my way to Santa Maria where the downhill ended. Originally I was going to spend the night in Santa Maria, but because it was only 11.30am I decided to continue to Santa Teresa which was only another 23km away.
It was from there where things started becoming difficult. It had gone from freezing cold conditions in the mountains to blistering hot jungle weather. To make matters worse, my back brake cable snapped and I’d never changed one before.
After attempting to change the brake cable, the brakes stopped working completely. I’d obviously done something wrong because now neither the front nor back brakes were working. This meant I had to walk the bike downhill along the dangerous single lane roads (1 lane total for both directions). It was the only road to Machu Picchu which meant it was extremely busy.
The walk for 23km to Santa Teresa was really nice, however. Walking next to a river, through a mountainous jungle on dangerous cliffs with waterfalls…not too bad. It was pretty spectacular in fact.
I loved it so I shouldn’t complain! Just trying to set the picture of what it was like.
Eventually, at 5.30pm I made it to Santa Teresa and rented a hotel room for 30 soles ($12aud/$9usd) for the night and had a well earned hot shower (my first for days).
Day 5 – Santa Teresa To Machu Picchu
The day I’d finally been waiting for, visiting Machu Picchu.
I woke up to the sound of heavy rain and thought that I might have to postpone visiting Machu Picchu for a day. I was scrambling in the morning trying to see the forecast for the rest of the week.
But the forecast was going to be the same for the next few days so there was no point in putting it off.
I took a shared taxi to the start of the train tracks for 5 soles ($2aud/$1.50usd) which took about half an hour.
The train was so expensive ($31 USD which is expensive over here) that I walked along the train track to Agua Caliente, the town of Machu Picchu, which was only accessible along this track…No roads lead there!
It was a beautiful 11km walk through the jungle along the train track that the word “breathtaking” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
I started walking at 10 am and it was a 2-hour long walk in each direction.
I made it to Agua Caliente at around 1 pm and went to buy my ticket to enter Machu Picchu. I knew I didn’t have much cash so I went to the ATM to withdraw money and realised I’d forgotten my debit card. I’d hidden it in my backpack which I left in Santa Teresa.
Oh no! Did I come all this way only to have to return without seeing Machu Picchu?
Luckily, I had $60USD in my wallet left over from Ecuador and was able to exchange it. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The ticket was 100 soles ($40aud/$30usd) to visit Machu Picchu.
There was a bus up to the top but it cost 30 soles ($12aud/$9usd) so instead, I decided to walk. At this stage, I wasn’t sure if I’d left my debit card in Cusco or Santa Teresa so wanted to spend as little money as possible just in case.
I was told it was a 2-hour walk to the top but managed to reach the top in an hour. It was raining the whole way to the top which actually helped since it was so hot.
Once at the top I saw the incredible Machu Picchu. A city of ruins on top of the mountains. As I navigated my way around the ruins and through the clouds I couldn’t help but smile in awe of the place.
The llamas at the top were also very happy as they appreciated the spectacular views of the mountains, jungle and ruins.
I managed to run down the mountain back to the town in 25 mins.
I was in such a rush because I didn’t want to miss the last shared taxi back from the train station to Santa Teresa because it would mean I would have to walk an extra 15km on top on the 30km I walked for the day, in the dark along more dangerous roads….secretly I thought it would be pretty cool though.
In the end, I made it back to Santa Teresa around 6.30pm.
Day 6 – Santa Teresa to Jungle River
The check out the next day was at 10 am and I took advantage of every second. I left my room at 10 am on the dot before making my way to some natural hot springs only a few kilometres away.
I relaxed in the hot springs for an hour and then started walking along the river towards Santa Maria. This would be a different route from the one I’d taken to get here.
At one point I got stuck and tried walking around a cliff into a rushing river with my bike but it was impossible to pass. It would have been impossible even if I wasn’t carrying a bike in one arm.
I returned looking for a different way through and found a dark cave. I started walking through the cave which was a little scary but also exhilarating. Eventually, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
On the other side, there was apulleyy system with a small tray that allowed you to cross the river. However, you needed someone on the other side to pull you across. Furthermore, it would have been extremely difficult to cross with the bike and me in the tray. It was really small and wobbly. Falling would have meant a certain death on jagged rocks or drowning in the rapids of the river.
In the end I made the safe decision to turn back (since no one had any idea where I was and the trail was closed, I would never be found).
I kept looking for other ways to cross the river but never found one.
Much to my disappointment, I made it back to the hot springs and then had to walk back up the cliff to get back to the road that would take me to Santa Maria.
Because I’d spent so long trying to cross the river, I didn’t start walking (the brakes still weren’t working) with the bike until about 3 pm. This meant I only had about 2 hours until it started getting dark but it was a 5 ho5-hourk to Santa Maria (the next town).
In the end I decided to camp next to a river. There were millions of mosquitos and my arms and legs were extremely swollen (I looked like the hulk for about a week) but it was worth it for a nice night next to the soothing sound of a flowing river and waterfall.
Dinner was, you guessed it, peanut butter sandwiches. I spent the night reading and thinking about the journey I’d taken over the last few days.
Day 7 – Jungle River to Cusco
I woke up early (6.30am) and continued to make my way towards Santa Maria.
Unable to ride the bike, I scooted the bike (like a scooter) down slopes that weren’t too steep, using my left foot as the brake and jumping off the bike whenever I saw a car coming.
It was a lot of fun but hard to stop around the corners.
I made it to Santa Maria at 9am and took a van back to Cusco.
They put the bike on top of the van with all the other gear from other passengers which was quite funny. I thought that it was defintitely going to fall off but to my surprise, it stayed on for the 5 hour journey.
That would be the end of one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I’m so glad I decided to take make the journey difficult by riding my bicycle there and camping along the way.
If you’ve ever thought about riding your bicycle to Machu Picchu, just do it!
If you’re interested in reading more from my bicycle journey in South America, be sure to check out my other videos:
Stay tuned for the next post as I hike the lost ruins of Choquequirao!
Have you visited Machu Picchu? What was your journey like?