Machu Picchu By Train: The Easiest Way To Visit The Ancient Inca Citadel

Machu Picchu is famous as a bucket list destination. Here is the easiest way to visit the ancient Inca citadel, a scenic ride to Machu Picchu by train.

Machu Picchu by train
Reaching Machu Picchu by train

There’s a lot of tour packages or custom vacations that even include flights and hotels being offered. But you don’t need to take these tours just to reach Machu Picchu. You wouldn’t get lost in this mistakenly lost city of the Incas. Allow me to be your virtual guide for your independent trip…

Background

Huayna Picchu peak
Huayna Picchu peak behind me

Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site within the protected area called Santuario Historico de Machu Picchu. It stands as an archaeological wonder of the ancient world and a testament to the ingenuity of the Inca empire.

This ancient Inca ruins of Peru was built atop the Andes mountains. It is located in the Cusco (also Cuzco) Region, Urubamba Province and Machupicchu District in Perú.

Today, it is the most photographed place in South America.

Best time to go Machu Picchu

Dry season runs from April to October although rain is still possible as the weather is quite unpredictable. And rainy season runs from November to March.

Peak season is from June to August. While low season is from January to March.

The best time to visit is during April, May, September and October. This is the time when it’s the dry season with the clearest skies, and yet not the busiest months of Machu Picchu.

Booking Machu Picchu ticket

The first step is to book your ticket to Machu Picchu as it’s limited to 2,500 per day only. Choose the right category that you plan to get.

View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

You could also go hiking to Huayna Picchu (also Wayna Picchu). This is the iconic mountain peak that you see from Machu Picchu. Please check the availability as it is limited to 200 per day.

Take note that no entry tickets are sold at the main entrance of Machu Picchu anymore. You can only get it online or at the ticketing office either in Cusco or Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo). In Cusco, you can get it at Dirección Regional de Cultura, which is a 15-mins walk from the main square. And in Aguas Calientes, you can get it at Ministerio de Cultura located within Plaza Manco Capac.

It was January 2017 and a rainy season when I visited Machu Picchu. After checking online that a lot of tickets are available during that time, I decided to just get my ticket at Aguas Calientes. Ticket to Machu Picchu is only valid for the day indicated so I decided to get it on the day having clear skies. I was even lucky to get the last ticket to Huayna Picchu.

Booking Machu Picchu train ticket

During peak season, it is recommended to buy your train tickets at least 3 months in advance.

There are two railway companies to Machu Picchu. Below, I provided where you can check the seat availability and the approximate one-way price range per train class:

Via Peru Rail

Class From Poroy (Cusco) From Urubamba From Ollantaytambo
(3 hrs & 14 mins) (2 hrs & 35 mins) (1 hr & 30 mins to 2 hrs & 9 mins)
Expedition 65-90 usd (211-292 soles) 70-77 usd (227-249 soles) 52-85 usd (168-275 soles)
Vistadome 83-130 usd (269-421 soles) 94-125 usd (305-405 soles) 55-105 usd (178-340 soles)
Belmond Hiram Bingham 405-525 usd (1,312-1,701 soles) Not Applicable Not Applicable

Via Inca Rail

Class From Poroy (Cusco) From Urubamba From Ollantaytambo
Executive Class 77-90 usd (249-292 soles) Not Applicable 54-77 usd (175-249 soles)
Machu Picchu Train 85-114 usd (275-369 soles) Not Applicable 63-99 usd (204-321 soles)
First Class 147-163 usd (476-528 soles) Not Applicable 121-163 usd (392-528 soles)
Presidential Class Not Applicable Not Applicable 10,ooo usd (32,400 soles)

Inca Rail’s Presidential Class Train is the only private carriage for exclusive hire to Machu Picchu. It is a luxury service that can accommodate up to eight people and operates by request only.

PeruRail Vistadome
PeruRail Vistadome train

I suggest taking the Peru Rail Vistadome on your way to Machu Picchu as this train is really impressive. It is not the cheapest but you just need to add some few bucks and you will enjoy more the scenic rail tour. Then, take the Peru Rail Expedition class on your way back so you can save a few bucks. The Machu Picchu Train is another option as it looks nice as well.

How to get to Machu Picchu by train

There are a couple of ways to reach the citadel of Machu Picchu and going there may seem far and complicated for some. If you are into trekking, a journey to Machu Picchu via the Classic Inca Trail, Lares Trek, Inca Jungle Trek, Salkantay Trek, Choquequirao Trek, Vilcabamba Trek, Lodge Trek, Chaski/Cachicata Trail, Huchuy Qosqo Trek is for you. But I will give you the easiest possible way, which is to travel to Machu Picchu by train.

Travel to Cusco, Peru 

Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Take a Flight to Cusco, Peru

The easiest way to reach Cusco is to fly directly:

Via Peru

City Airline Duration
Lima Viva Air, LC Peru, Star Peru, Avianca, Peruvian Airlines, LATAM Airlines 1 hr & 18 mins to
1 hr & 35 mins
Arequipa Peruvian Airlines, LATAM Airlines 1 hour
Puerto Maldonado Star Peru, Avianca, LATAM Airlines 45 mins to 1 hr
Juliaca LATAM Airlines 55 mins

Via Bolivia

City Airline Duration
La Paz Amaszonas, Peruvian Airlines 55 mins to 1 hr

Via Colombia

City Airline Duration
Bogota Avianca 3 hrs & 27 mins

Take a Bus to Cusco, Peru

If you have time, taking a public bus is an option too. But I recommend taking the Peru Hop, with 1,000+ unbiased great reviews from TripAdvisor. You can hop on and hop off to the unique designated stops in a safe and stress-free way before reaching Cusco.

Take a Taxi from Cusco Airport to the Train Station

PeruRail Ollantaytambo Station
PeruRail Ollantaytambo Station

If you can get a train ticket departing Poroy (Cusco) going to Machu Picchu, then that’s the easiest way.

Poroy Train Station is just 16.3 km (10.1 mi) away from Cusco Airport. But during the rainy season, the train services may vary when part of the railway is closed for safety reasons. If that happens, you can take a private or shared taxi (colectivo) to either Urubamba or Ollantaytambo then take the train from there.

Urubamba is 56.1 km (34.9 mi) away from Cusco Airport while Ollantaytambo is 75.6 km (47 mi) away. But between Urubamba or Ollantaytambo, choose Ollantaytambo as there are more trains that depart from there.

Departing from Poroy (Cusco) Train Station

From Cusco Airport, take a private taxi to Poroy Train Station.

From Airport Details / Price Duration
Private Taxi 12-25 usd (39-81 soles) 30-55 mins

Departing from Ollantaytambo Train Station

From Cusco Airport, you have three options:

From Airport Details / Price Duration
Official Taxi Llama Taxi is the official taxi company operating at the Cusco airport. Price is 11-17 usd (35-55 soles) 14-28 mins
Unofficial Taxi Outside the airport, you can find a bunch of unofficial taxis that don’t use taxi meters. They start to offer from 7.50-9.50 usd (25-30 soles)  but haggle the price to only 3-6 usd (10-20 soles) before getting in the taxi. 14-28 mins

Go to the shared taxi (colectivo) terminal

Take the taxi to Calle Pavitos where you can take the shared taxi (colectivo) to Ollantaytambo train station. Then, take the 20-seater van and you will be dropped-off at Ollantaytambo Train Station.

From Calle Pavitos Details / Price Duration
Shared Taxi (Colectivo) 3 usd (10 soles) 2 hrs

Go to the city center (Plaza de Armas)

Take the taxi to Plaza de Armas first, which is the city center. You can find a restaurant around or visit the Cusco Cathedral for a quick stop then just walk for 10 mins from Plaza de Armas to Calle Pavitos. Then, take the shared taxi (colectivo) at the terminal in Calle Pavitos.

Go straight to the Ollantaytambo Train Station

Take a private taxi from Cusco Airport directly to Ollantaytambo.

From Airport Details / Price Duration
Private Taxi 35 usd (113 soles) 1 hr & 40 mins

Take a Train to Aguas Calientes

As mentioned, it is important to book your Train Ticket to Aguas Calientes ahead of time especially during the peak season.

Machu Picchu by train
scenic ride to Machu Picchu by train
complimentary snack at PeruRail Vistadome
complimentary snacks and drinks at PeruRail Vistadome

After reaching Aguas Calientes. You can just walk to your hotel or hostel. It is a very small yet bustling town.

Take a Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes town
Bus terminal to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes

Unfortunately, there’s only one bus company, Consettur, that takes you to the citadel of Machu Picchu. It is advisable to get your return bus tickets to Machu Picchu the day before. You can get the ticket just right next to the bus stop. It will just take you about 10-15 mins to pay.

Finally, take the other line to board the bus once you have your bus ticket. The bus leaves once full and the bus interval is every 15 mins.

Alternatively, you can also hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu but I don’t suggest doing it. The 7.7 km (4.8 mi) trail is a continuous ascent from the trailhead and takes you at least 50-90 mins to reach.

Bus Schedule Price Duration
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, the first bus departs at 5:30 am and the last bus departs at 3:30 pm. 24usd (81 soles) for a round trip bus tickets 20 mins
From Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes, the first bus departs at 6:00 am and the last bus departs at 5:30 pm. 20 mins
Arriving at Machu Picchu
Arriving at Machu Picchu

And that’s it! You have successfully reached the ancient Inca ruins! Time to capture some amazing pictures.

Temple of the Three Windows
Temple of the Three Windows

Allot at least 2 hrs to explore this magnificent 15th century Inca citadel. You may get an official guide at the entrance and learn the different temples and buildings and the history.

Inca wall at Machu Picchu
Inca wall at Machu Picchu

Some helpful tips

Getting acclimated

Upon arrival at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (Cusco Airport), you can either stay at:

  • Cusco, Peru – 74.7 km (46.4 mi) away from Machu Picchu with 3,399 m (11,152 ft) elevation
  • Urubamba, Peru – 49.1 km (30.5 mi) away from Machu Picchu with 2,871 m (9,419 ft) elevation
  • Ollantaytambo, Peru – 32.2 away (20 mi) from Machu Picchu with 2,792 m (9,160 ft) elevation
  • Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), Peru – 8.9 km (5.5 mi) away from Machu Picchu with 2,040 m (6,693 ft) elevation

I suggest going straight to Aguas Calientes to get acclimated. It is a small town, which is just 20 minutes bus-ride away from Machu Picchu. You can spend a night there to get used to its relatively lower altitude before going to Machu Picchu with 2,430 m (7,972 ft) elevation the following day.

General tips

  • If you are a foreigner, you must bring your passport to enter Machu Picchu. If you are a South American national, you can use your national ID.
  • You need a permit to bring a professional camera.
Machu Picchu Stamp
Machu Picchu Stamp
  • And to complete it, you can get your passport stamped before you leave.

Other points of interest

After Machu Picchu, you could discover the other attractions in Cuzco:

  • Sacred Valley, Sacsayhuamán (also Sacsayhuaman, Saqsaywaman)
  • Rainbow Mountain (also Cerro Colorado Vinicunca)
  • Machu Picchu Museum – home to the largest collection of Incan artifacts in the world

You could also plan to travel to other parts of Peru:

  • You could either head south to Arequipa, Peru which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its colonial architectural styles. Continuing to Lake Titicaca in Puno, Peru which is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 m (12,507 ft). And finally heading to Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia for a week of adventures.
  • Another option is to head northeast toward Puerto Maldonado, Peru and take the Amazon package tours for few days.

No doubt Machu Picchu is one of the new seven wonders of the world! This Andean experience is one the highlights of my South America adventure. You will absolutely love this place! Comment down if you need further info.

 

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