Being late with our travel planning, I was appalled by the hotel options and the prices in Aguas Calientes. We also would have liked to hike the Inka trail, but this sounded equally crowded.
We ended up doing the trip as described below, which I highly recommend for outdoor lovers and hikers. Key ingredient is the Gea Lodge (it is the same place as Jardin de Mandor).
The lodge of Jardin de Mandor has opened only some months ago. It is simple - shared bathrooms, but clean, hot water and in a spectacular setting right in the valley at the river in lush scenery. There is no other house closeby. Value is excellent. There is also a good restaurant on site. The gardens are very beautiful, including a native tree reforestation project and 2 waterfalls (the bigger one a 20 minutes walk from the lodge) and swimming holes. You get the back view of Huayna Picchu. Highly recommended for nature lovers!
How to make this a special Machu Picchu trip - by way of Santa Teresa:
Travel from Cusco to Santa Teresa by rental car (5 hours) or by public transport. You might have to switch buses in Ollantaytambo and/or Santa Maria.
Recommended stay at Ecoquechua Lodge in Santa Teresa.
Use morning for hot springs (less people than in the afternoon)
Leave car and luggage at Ecoquecua Lodge, take a cab to Hidroelectrica (25 minutes, 5 soles shared cab, 30 soles private cab).
Walk 1.5 hours upstream along the train track to Jardin de Mandor / Gea Lodge. Mostly flat, except first 10 minutes uphill. Very beautiful hike! Visit the gardens.
Get up at 4:30, walk 25 minutes further along the track to the turn off heading to the ruins, hike 1 hour up to the ruins. Visit Machu Picchu which opens at 6am, head back to Jardin de Mandor (downhill is shorter) and have an extensive lunch there, go swimming etc
Head back to Hidroelectrica in the afternoon - 1.5 hours, take the cab back from Hidroelectrica to Ecoquechua lodge for dinner.
Head back to Cusco. If you travel with your own car, you have time in the morning to do some zip lining.
Things to consider:
- Day 3 is a day hike. Visiting Machu Picchu means walking up and down in the ruins. You can do this if you are reasonably fit and hike occasionally. Alternatively stay over at Jardin de Mandor on your way back.
- Roads from Cuzco to Santa Maria are excellent, the road from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa (45 minutes) is unpaved and cut into the mountain - there are quite some drops!
- Both Ecoquechua and Jardin de Mandor will keep your stuff at no extra charge.
- No need to hire any tour operator. You can't get lost hiking along train tracks.
- Buy your Machu PIcchu ticket online beforehand. No expensive train ticket needed!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- To everyone who is plannig a trip to Machupicchu, you are invited to stay in Los Jardines de Mandor - Gea Lodge.Surrounded by native vegetation and gardens.The best place to enjoy the biodiversity, mystic and peace.Located just 2Km from Machupicchu entrance, the closest place with all you need for a perfect stay. With gardens where you can walk through and natural waterfalls where you can relax ... more less
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