This post is part 4 of 5 in the series Travel to Machu Picchu, Peru

Ziplines, hot springs, mountain biking, hiking, rafting, kayaking, plus the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu and an easier route to Choquequirao…Is Santa Teresa Peru’s next adventure town?

Adventures in Santa Teresa, Peru

When we were in Santa Teresa, there were five zipline companies including Cola de Mono and Vertikal (which was recommended to us). You can also go rafting and kayaking through class 3 and class 4 rapids. A day hike up to the Llactapata Ruins earns you tantalizing views of the nearby Machu Picchu archaeological site and you can even get there from here (more on getting to the site later).

Softer adventures include coffee tours. Santa Teresa is producing some of the best coffee beans in Peru (chef Virgilio Martinez, from lauded restaurants Central and Mil, is said to be a fan). Nearly a dozen types of beans are being grown in and around Santa Teresa, including geisha coffee, and some places offer tours of their farms and facilities.

Aguas Thermales de Cocalmayo Santa Teresa Peru

The lovely Aguas Thermales de Cocalmayo in Santa Teresa, Peru.

And you should visit the Aguas Thermales de Cocalmayo hot springs, about a five-minute drive out of town. For 10 soles (about US$3) you get access to impeccably clean changing rooms, toilets, Wi-Fi, and cold showers plus three pools of naturally-heated water at different temperatures. The water is crystal clear and it flows through constantly to keep things algae-free. The pools are also covered in smooth gravel so there’s not grit, muck, or silt to kick up as you move around. The parking lot is secure and there are food and drink vendors on site serving more than passable dishes. And it’s all situated in a lovely canyon. The hot springs are open from 5 am to 1:30 am and they’ll rent you a towel for 5 soles (about Us$1.50).

The Choquequirao trek from Santa Teresa

The Choquequirao archaeological site is considered a sister site to Machu Picchu and may have been even more important. Hiram Bingham got bitten by the Incan bug at the Choquequirao site which inspired him to go in search of the Espiritu Santo site and it was during that quest he was lead to Machu Picchu. The traditional trekking route to Choquequirao is a notoriously long, hard, hot, and buggy slog up and down through the Apurimac Canyon.

road to Choquequirao

You can get to the Choquequirao archaeological site from Santa Teresa.

But you can also get to the Choquequirao site from Santa Teresa with a five-hour drive followed by a 7.5 mile (12 km) hike. Drei Candela, a guide we met in Santa Teresa, says he leads trekkers this way in three relatively easy days round trip including one full day driving and walking to the site, one full day at the site, then one full day walking and driving back to Santa Teresa (where you have the added benefit of access to the hot springs for some post-trek soaking).

Drei says there are also families along the way that can provide basic meals, which means you don’t need to carry as much food in your pack, though you do still need to bring a tent for the night spent at the site.

Visiting Machu Picchu from Santa Teresa

Road to Machu Picchu

A road to Machu Picchu (or at least pretty darn close) goes from Santa Teresa.

Though Machu Picchu may not be connected to the rest of Peru by road, a road does go to within a few miles of the site and Santa Teresa is the gateway for this route. More and more budget and independent travelers are opting to access the Machu Picchu archaeological site From Santa Teresa, and you can too. First, take a shared van or taxi or hike six miles (10 km) from Santa Teresa to Hidroeléctrica. From there, it’s a pleasant 7 mile (11 km) flat walk from Hidroeléctrica to the town of Aguas Calientes along a trail beside the train tracks which follow the Urubamba River (allow 2 hours).

Hike from hidroelectrica to aguas calientes Peru Rail

A short trail takes you from Hidroeléctrica to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu following the train tracks. Or you can take the train.

You can also take the train between Hidroeléctrica and Aguas Calientes, but the walk is lovely (we even saw a hard-to-spot Cock of the Rock national bird of Peru in this area – it’s pictured below) and they charge US$33 for the 30-minute train ride, which seemed pricey.

Andean cock of the rock

We saw this Andean Cock-of-the-rock bird along the train tracks near Hidroeléctrica.

From Aguas Calientes take the bus (US$12 each way) or walk (if you’re really on a budget) from town up to the Machu Picchu site. After touring Machu Picchu, return to Hidroeléctrica where you can catch one of the waiting vans to return to Cuzco (spelled Cusco locally) for 35 soles (about US$10) or take the train or return to Santa Teresa.

Machu Picchu view from Hidroelectrica

From the end of the road at Hidroeléctrica you can practically see Machu Picchu which is on the far left side of the ridge in the distance, just out of sight around the bend.

You can do all of that independently from Santa Teresa, or you can book a tour from Cuzco. Just remember that you get what you pay for. With all the competition between the hundreds of cut-rate travel agencies in Cuzco, it’s possible to find an all-inclusive round trip tour from Cuzco to Machu Picchu via Santa Teresa and Hidroeléctrica for US$100.

Vilcanota River below Machu Picchu

Shortly after leaving Hidroeléctrica, you cross the Urubamba River and get your first views of Machu Picchu which sits on the ridge just to the right of the two prominent humps.

Though popular, we’ve heard of several problems with these trips and it’s no surprise. If you do the math you can see that there is very little profit to be made at that rock-bottom price which includes transport to and from Hidroeléctrica (60 soles or about US$13), a hostel bed in Aguas Calientes (at least 30 soles or about US$10), round-trip bus from Aguas Calientes up to the Machu Picchu site and back (US$24), entrance to Machu Picchu (US$36), plus the mandatory site guide and meals. You can assume that tour operators are cutting as many corners as they can.

hike hidroelectrica to aguas calientes Machu Picchu

The trail and the train between Hidroeléctrica and Aguas Calientes cross the Vilconota River on this train bridge.

Read about all of the various ways you can access this most famous site in Peru in our complete post about how to get to Machu Picchu.

Getting to Santa Teresa

Abra Malaga pass Veronica mountain

At the Abra Malaga Pass, snow-capped Veronica Mountain seemed close enough to touch.

Even just getting to Santa Teresa is an adventure involving a spectacular 6-hour drive or public bus journey from Cuzco (60 soles or about US$13 for the bus) or from towns in the Sacred Valley. The road winds uphill to the 14,160 foot (4,316 meter) Abra Malaga Pass at the base of massive Veronica mountain which seemed so close we were tempted to try scrambling up.

Abra Malaga Pass Peru

What a difference a pass makes: The scrubby, harsh Sacred Valley side is pictured on the left and the lush Amazon on the other side of the pass is pictured on the right.

The road up to the pass is well paved but on the other side, the pavement deteriorates with lots of potholes as you leave the scrubby high altitude environment on the Sacred Valley side and descend down, down, down toward the lush Amazon. The last 40 minutes of the journey is done on a dirt side road through the Urubamba canyon to reach Santa Teresa. Agencies in Cuzco also sell packages that include a ride to the top of the pass followed by an 8,000 foot (2,438 meter) descent down the road on a mountain bike with a support van behind you.

Eating and Sleeping in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa remains a small and simple town but it does offer sufficient food and hotel options. We stayed at the spotless, well run, and relaxing Eco Quechua Lodge which opened in 2004 with five rooms and has expanded in a pleasingly ramshackle way over the years. It now has 12 rooms perched on a rocky hill. We were in room 301 which overlooks the river.

Eco Quechua Lodge Santa Teresa Peru

Our room at the Eco Quechua Lodge in Santa Teresa, Peru.

All rooms at Eco Quechua Lodge are a different size and style, but they all have nets over the beds and private bathrooms and rates include a generous breakfast with fruit, juice, coffee, tea, bread, jam, butter, and eggs to order. There’s a communal fire pit and a small spa with a hot tub that can be filled and heated for a fee with advance notice. The hotel restaurant also offers good set menu meals including soup followed by a vegetarian, fish, or meat option plus dessert for 30 soles (about US$9). Hot water bottles are also available on request. There are a lot of stairs to climb, so travelers with mobility restrictions may want to look elsewhere. You can buy bags of local coffee at the hotel and they prepare coffee in a French Press or an Aeropress. Manager Kike (pronounced Kee-kay) is full of knowledge about the area’s adventures.

Cola de Mono, the same company that operates a zipline and river trips, also has a campground and riverside bungalows each designed for families with a double bed, bunk beds, and another bed in a loft area. Located about 1.2 miles (2 km) out of town, the complex also has the Chola y Che restaurant where we had one of the best pisco sours we’ve had in Peru and one of the best lomo saltados too.


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