Getting to Machu Picchu
We receive a large number of questions about getting to Machu Picchu, which is located around 50 miles (80 km) from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco at the extreme end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This incredible site is visited by over 450,000 people on Machu Picchu tours each year and there are technically 3 ways to get there. This is our quick guide to the different options.
Take the Train & Bus
This is by far the most popular way to tour Machu Picchu with around 80% of visitors taking the train from either Poroy or more commonly from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley itself. Train services for tourists no longer leave from the train station in Cusco as it was deemed a waste of time and effort to negotiate the endless switchbacks required to climb out of the city.
If you are not staying at one of the hotels actually in the town of Ollantaytambo, or at the Libertador Tambo del Inca Hotel in Urubamba with its own train platform, you will require a road transfer to the train station to get on board. This transfer will either be to Poroy station, 25 minutes from your Cusco hotel or to Ollantaytambo, 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Cusco.
Once at the train station you will board your train which, depending on your budget, will be one of the eight different services being offered by three different companies. Until 2 years ago only one company was operating the train service, Peru Rail, and a virtual monopoly existed. Now three companies operate the route with Inca Rail and Andean Railways now both offering services. There is a wide range of comfort levels on offer from the Hiram Bingham luxury train to the much more economic Expedition and everything in between.
Most services depart in the morning, returning in the afternoon although there are some options at other times of the day. The total journey time is around 3½ hours including transfers to the train station depending on the particular service. The journey follows the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is a beautiful trip through the countryside which turns ever more tropical.
The different services are: Expedition, Auto Vagon, Executive, Panoramic, Vistadome, First Class, the Special Service and the luxury Hiram Bingham. All of the above services offer a reasonable amount of comfort and are quite modern. All trains have reserved seats, restrooms and staff on board to serve drinks and snacks, or in the case of the Hiram Bingham, brunch on the outbound journey and dinner on the return.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Trekking the famous Inca Trail is a great option for the more active travelers who wish to arrive at Machu Picchu on foot. The Classic Inca Trail takes four days in total with most of the last day spent at the site itself. The trek passes through beautiful and varied scenery with a number of Inca sites en route. Most campsites on the trail have a simple toilet and washing facilities.
In addition to the four day Inca Trail there is also a shortened version whereby you take the train most of the way before getting off at ‘km104’. From km104 there is an uphill section to the lovely site of Winay Wayna after which you join the regular Inca Trail, normally arriving at the site around 3 to 4 pm.
Please note that the Inca Trail has a limited number of permits available each day, so reservations should be made well in advance to avoid disappointment. The Inca Trail is shut for the month of February. The Salkantay trek takes four days before arriving at the town of Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu. This trek takes in some beautiful mountain scenery ending at the hydroelectric train station from where people normally take the train the last short distance to the town of Aguas Calientes. From the town, passengers tend to visit the site of Machu Picchu the following day.
Machu Picchu from the air
The helicopter service to Machu Picchu can be somewhat intermittent with ecological concerns about the use of helicopters potentially affecting wildlife and the structural integrity of the site. In 2012 it was not allowed.
When operable this service departs twice a day flying between Cusco airport and a helipad in Aguas Calientes. The flight time is around 30 minutes to Aguas Calientes from where it is a 25-minute bus ride up to the ruins themselves.