How to get to Machu Picchu

by Kshaunish Jaini

How to get to Machu Picchu

There are a few options for reaching Machu Picchu depending on your budget, inclination, and time. The quickest and easiest way is by one of the three main trains which run daily services up to Aguas Calientes, a town 20 minutes or so away from the site. Most will overnight in town, but it is possible to visit Machu Picchu from Cuzco in just a day. For adventurous types with more time on their hands, one of the spectacular treks may be the best option. Though most people gravitate towards the famous Inca Trail, other treks like the Salkantay and Lares offer even more beautiful Andean scenery, although do not led hikers directly to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Hike on the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is just a small (but arguably the best preserved) leg of a network that stretches 39,000 kilometres from Quito in Ecuador to Santiagao in Chile. Though there is a shorter 2-day trek, most people opt for the classic 4-day trek from Ollantaytambo just outside of Cuzco to Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo ruins in Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo ruins in Sacred Valley

On the first day, travelers are collected from their hotels and transported by bus to Ollantaytambo where the trek begins. Accompanied by a guide, you will cross the Vilcanota River and climb up the trail past little picturesque villages and Huillca Raccay, some impressive Inca ruins.  Descend down to the Cusichaca River and follow it along to Wayllabamba where you will spend your first night.

After breakfast on day two, you will climb from Wayllabamba for around three hours passing forests and the Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 metres above sea level. This is the highest pass on the trek and when visitors are exposed to the harshest weather – howling winds and sweltering sun. You will quickly descend from here to the valley below and overnight at a camp set up in Pacamayo.

hiking-inca-trail-to-machu-picchu

Hiking the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Day three begins with an hour climb up to the Inca ruins of Runkuracay where impressive views down over the valley can be admired. A steep climb from here takes you through the second mountain pass and almost 4,000 metres above sea level. After the pass, the beginning of a more civilized trail begins to emerge with Incan paving and is particularly beautiful. Pass Conchamarca and Sayacmarca and then descend through a cloudforest teeming with orchids and wildlife. Climb up over the third pass at 3,700 metres above sea level, enjoying the views over Salkantay, and drop down to Winay Wayna to overnight at the camp.

On the last day, an early on hour hike gets you to Machu Picchu before the sunrise, catching the first rays hitting the site from the Sun Gate. The guide will take you on a tour of the citadel before taking the bus down to Aguas Calientes in time for the train back to Cuzco.

Machu Picchu Train

Travellers who are strapped for time or have less of an inclination for hiking can take one of three different train services. Depending on the service, they either leave from Poroy station (around 20 minutes away from Cuzco), Ollantaytambo station (around an hour away from Cuzco) or both. There is a forth service, but this is a subsidized train for locals only and foreigners are not permitted to use it. The trains can get booked out weeks in advance, so be sure to get your ticket before you arrive in Cuzco.

Train from Aguas Calientes

Train from Aguas Calientes

Hiram Bingham

The Belmond Hiram Bingham (formerly the Orient Express) is certainly the most luxurious train service currently operating the route. Though the train carriages are reasonably new, they are built and decorated in the style of 20s Pullmans, harking back to a golden age of travel. Carriages are kitted out with luxurious seating and decorated with polished wood. It can carry a maximum of 84 passengers on board who have use of an observation car with a bar and two dining cars. The Hiram Bingham is a daily service operating from Poroy station. The round-trip cost starts at US $875 and includes lunch on the way there, dinner on the return, entertainment, wine and cocktails, transport to and from your hotel, entrance fees to Machu Picchu and a guided tour of the site.  

Vistadome

The Vistadome is the mid-range option and the most popular. Though it may not be as charming at the Hiram Bingham, the cars do have huge panoramic windows including skylights maximizing the views of the surrounding Andean countryside. The seats are comfortable, and guests are offers complimentary snacks and hot drinks for the journey. The service runs daily from both Poroy and Ollantaytambo stations, making it easy to catch for those staying in the Sacred Valley. The round-trip cost starts at US $207 (though it is cheaper from Ollantaytambo) and will get you in slightly earlier than the Expedition train.

train-poray-to-aguas-calientes

Train from Poray to Aguas Calientes

Expedition

The Expedition train is the budget option, however, do not let this put you off. Like the Vistadome, the Expedition also has large windows on both the side of the bars and roof to allow guests to enjoy the scenery. No snacks or drinks are offered, but they are available for purchase. The seats are comfortable and there have a decent amount of leg room. They have multiple departures from both Poroy and Ollantaytambo every day throughout the year. The round-trip cost starts at US $177 from Poroy , though the timings are not quite as good as the Vistadome.

Getting to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

Most visitors end up spending at least one night in Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Doing this gives you the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu twice – once in the afternoon when you arrive, and again the following morning when you can visit the site early to see the sunrise. There are plenty of options for guest houses, hotels, and hostels in town, though be sure to book in advance during the high season. Reaching Machu Picchu can be done in two ways. A very steep walk which takes around an hour, or a shuttle service which leaves every 15 minutes or so and costs US $24 return. Please note that entrance tickets for Machu Picchu cannot be bought at the site and must be purchased in advance.

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