Getting to Marcahuasi Trek Chosica Lima Peru

 

On paper alone, getting there seems intimidating: 1.5 hour bus from Lima to Chosica, 3 hour bus to the tiny hillside town of San Pedro de Casta, find a man with donkeys, trek 2 hours uphill, camp overnight, then return in the morning and repeat the process in reverse. At least, it seems like a lot of work for a 2 hour trek. But getting there is an adventure in itself, and if you went just for that you’d have a very new experience. But to top it off, the final destination was much much much more incredible than I had anticipated (yes three “much”s), so if you survive the crazy winding roads and drag your stuff all the way there, you have to go to the top and see what we saw.

 

Bus to Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

We started in Lima at 6:30am. We did a car hire in Centro Lima, and divided into cars which we took to highlands of Lima. It already felt like we were hours and hours away from the city, despite simply being in a different part. People always say it’s about the journey, not the destination. Marcahuasi was definitely about the journey, but not in a single way I could have expected. When I agreed to go on the trip, I didn’t ask a single question. I didn’t even know it was overnight until we went to pick up camping supplies earlier that week. So every step of this was a surprise, but the second bus journey is when the adventurous aspect really peaked.

 

Read more: Marcahuasi (Part 2): Peru’s Most Underrated Trek

 

We piled into a small and brightly-colored, very old-school bus, and a bunch of men climbed on top and strapped our stuff on with ropes. We squeezed into the little seats and waited as our elderly driver waited for all of the seats to fill. Once it was full we took off, and started heading up, up, up. We were winding up dusty little roads, passing road workers and little houses baking in the desert sun. I had thought our bus was tight, but after seeing many people squeezing into the back of pickups going up the mountains, I realized we were taking the leisurely route.

 

Bus to Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

We were climbing up the hill and beginning to turn so that the town behind finally slipped entirely out of view. And then we saw this- a massive, endless valley with even taller mountains than before. We dropped a couple people off in a town of no more than 50, then started working our way up for real.

And that’s when, to everyone’s surprise, we saw that the road ahead was actually a one-way lane the width of our bus on the edge of massive cliffs. And that was all we could see…basically, forever. Have you heard of Bolivia’s Death Road? That narrow road that a lot of people have fallen off of and it’s a ridiculous tourist attraction where you can bike ride along windys cliffs then wear a tee-shirt to brag that you survived? Unless, you know, you die? When I was in Bolivia I thought it was ridiculous. Backpackers just eat it up, and that’s fine, but a bunch of people actually have died (including a girl the week before I arrived…which actually increased the number of people signing up. Really?), and I don’t know, I don’t want to die, so I avoided it like the plague. Or death.

 

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Bus to Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

This was Death Road, minus the tee-shirts. We drove along, as our adorable, but somewhat elderly, bus driver wound his way back and forth around the curves. Now we understood why he was so old. You don’t just get this as your first job out of school. This man had to have done this a million times to know how to guide a bus up it, and feel confident that he could make it home afterwards. I don’t know how he recruited his little assistant though…Like all of the convi buses around Lima, our bus had the young teenager who opens the sliding side door as the bus is driving at full speed and shouts destinations at potential passengers on the street. They’re always hanging halfway out the car, and this guy was no exception. We were less than a foot from the edge of death cliffs, and he was hanging out like a dog in a car, enjoying the breeze. No seatbelt, no guardrail, no problema.

Even up in the middle of nowhere mountains, campaign posters and paintings were all over from this year’s election a couple months ago. Someone did this journey to sporadically plaster some 8.5×12 flyers on boulders (or paint entire abandoned buildings). They’ve really taken it to a whole new level.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

We passed several little crosses on the side of the road, which was sad to see, but also made me think about how incredibly sweet it was that someone brought flowers up. The same journey as the political poster plasters, but with a little bit more meaningful of a purpose. But then we saw more, and more, and several crosses that were in big groups…More people than are usually in a car…Like a small bus, I thought. Like this bus…

And that was when I put away my camera and tried to sleep to avoid truly panicking. Just before, I remember pointing at the top of a mountain of the opposite side, and being shocked to see a bus up there. How did they get there?! Must be going and coming from somewhere totally removed from us. I opened my eyes a bit later, and that peak was exactly where we were.

 

Read more: Sandboarding in the Desert Oasis Town of Huacachina, Peru

 

We stopped on the steep mountainside, and I saw that our bus was picking up a little old man on the side of the road. He removed his hat, stepped on, grabbed a seat, and our bus rumbled off again like nothing had happened. Except that I have NO idea where he came from. We picked up several people like that, just walking on cliffsides, carrying ambiguous baggage, coming from nowhere. We had already driven over an hour on a one way road with no intersections, but defying all logic, we encountered these travelers who simply looked up like, Oh you know, maybe I’ll grab the bus since it’s here. As if it were possible to climb without it? One Amazonian woman and her adorable tiny children got on, and squeezed in on the floor of the bus. As we continued and began passing, also in the middle of nowhere houses, our driver would wave and exchange nicknames with every person we passed. Our random passengers proceeded to hop off at equally middle-of-nowhere destinations, and I slowly forgot about the cliffs as I became consumed with trying to guess who they were and where they could possibly be going.

 

 

We drove into the end of the valley and the drop of the cliffs became smaller and smaller. We were on farm level now. In every way. Now, our problems were not trying to squeeze past other cars without falling off the edge, but we had to share the road with roaming dogs, little old ladies with their herds of very slow cows, and donkeys that didn’t understand how to react to a large vehicle coming at them. Doing nothing for the stereotype, these donkeys.

The women we now passed were dressed in traditional Cholita outfits, with tall hats with flowers, long braids poking out underneath, large skirts and patterned shawls, instead of the old Abercrombie tee-shirts that had filtered into the highland towns below. We turned a corner and immediately saw terraced hills on one side, and a tiny town perched on the mountaintop on the other. As we passed the first few houses, we saw people sitting outside and laughing, who would turn and all wave at our bus as we passed. Children picked up toys and moved out of the street, and most of the men welcomed our driver by name. And just like that, we arrived alive in San Pedro de Casta.

 

 

Getting There:

Lima > Chosica > San Pedro de Casta > Marcahuasi

In Lima, go to Paseo Cologne in Centro (you can take the Metropolitano from anywhere in the city and get off at Estacion Central to get there), Take a collective car or bus leaving from here (across from MALI museum) to the highland town of Chosica. A collective car will cost you 6 soles each and take 50 minutes, a bus will cost 3.50 soles each and take 1.5 hours.

The bus or collective car will drop you off in Chosica, and directly across the street is where the old-school bus will pick up passengers going to San Pedro de Casta. This bus costs 10 soles and takes 3 hours. When you arrive in San Pedro de Casta, you will see one path leading upwards out of the tiny town (right where the bus drops off and picks up), and this is the path directly to Marcahuasi. When it forks halfway through, there is a choice between the shorter and steeper route, or the longer and easier route.

In San Pedro de Casta, you can find maps or ask for more directions if you need help, everyone is friendly!

 

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