Getting to Machu Picchu

 

Getting to Machu Picchu

Getting to Machu Picchu Map

The first thing that you will notice from the map above is that the starting point of all routes to Machu Picchu is the city of Cusco, the historic capital of the Incas located about 120km to the south-east of Machu Picchu. Cusco is a beautiful and fascinating city and the perfect place to base yourself for a few days. The second thing you'll notice is that there are no direct roads between Cusco and Machu Picchu. There's a good paved road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo which is in the Sacred Valley but the river valley between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes (the town nearest to Machu Picchu) is so narrow and winding that there is only just enough room for a single line railway which hugs the edge of the fast flowing River Vilcanota and passes through several tunnels (it is prohibited to walk along the railway track for obvious reasons). Therefore unless you plan to trek to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail then you will end up taking a combination of bus and train to Aguas Calientes and then take the short bus ride from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins at Machu Picchu.

Getting to Machu Picchu by Train

Visiting Machu Picchu by using a combination of bus and train from Cusco is, by far, the most popular method of transport. Around 80% of visitors use this method (60% taking the train from Ollantaytambo and 20% taking the train from Poroy, a station located just outside Cusco).

Option 1: Train from Ollantaytambo Station (most popular method)

Take a bus or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Station in the Sacred Valley. 2 hours > Travel by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. 1 hour 30 minutes > Take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. 25 minutes > Visit Machu Picchu > Return to Cusco by the same route.

Option 2: Train from Poroy Station

Take a bus or taxi from Cusco to Poroy Station. 20 minutes > Travel by train from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. 3 hours 15 minutes > Take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. 25 minutes > Visit Machu Picchu > Return to Cusco by the same route.

What you need to consider:

If you plan to organize a trip to Machu Picchu yourself without buying a ready-made package from a tour operator then you will need to break down the booking process into its separate stages and tackle them one at a time.
1. Transport from Cusco to the train station (Ollantaytambo or Poroy) - can easily be arranged when in Cusco
2. Train tickets to Aguas Calientes (train station and town nearest to Machu Picchu) - you have to decide to do a day trip or spread the journey over 2 days (recommended) - book in advance
3. Hotel accommodation in Aguas Calientes (only necessary if staying the night and not required for day-trippers) - book in advance
4. Bus tickets from Aguas Calientes up to the Machu Picchu ruins (Shuttle Bus) - can be arranged in Cusco or Aguas Calientes
5. Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu - decide what type of entrance ticket you want - If you want just the standard Machu Picchu Only tickets we would recommend booking at least 3 days in advance during the high season. It is possible that they may sell out quicker so why risk waiting until you arrive in Cusco. We would recommend booking at least a few weeks in advance to avoid any problems. During the low season it may still be possible to buy your entrance tickets the day before you visit Machu Picchu. But, again, why risk waiting. If you want to buy the Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu combo ticket then you should really try to buy this ticket several months in advance to avoid disappointment.

See our web page Planning Your Trip for more info about organizing your own independent tour to Machu Picchu

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Trekking to Machu Picchu by road of trekking, bus and train (about 20% get there by some sort of trek. We estimate about 7% arrive by way of the 4 day Inca Trail, 2% via the shorter 2 day Inca Trail and 11% via the Santa Teresa route)
ALL of the treks to Machu Picchu below have to be booked through a tour operator. You cannot organize these treks on your own. The tour operator will therefore make all the arrangements to buy your trek permit (required for the Classic Inca Trail and the Short Inca Trail), your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu and your transport back to Cusco after the trek. The only thing you need to do is decide which trek you want to do, research a suitable tour operator and book your trek. Everything else is taken care of.

Option 1: Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu* (4 days).

You can't do this trek independently, you have to book it through a licensed Inca Trail operator. Trek permits have to be bought several months in advance. The tour involves:
Taking a bus from Cusco to the start of the trek at km82 (about 6 km beyond Ollantaytambo) > trekking from km82 to Machu Picchu (3 nights camping) > Visit Machu Picchu > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes > Travel by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo Station > Take a bus from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco.

* This trek arrive at Machu Picchu by way of Inti Punku (Sun Gate) offering spectacular views of Machu Picchu weather permitting. The trail then descends to the Machu Picchu

Click here for more information about the 4 day Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek

Option 2: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu* (2 days):

Again this trek has to be organized with an authorized trekking company and trek permits have to be purchased several months in advance. The tour involves:
Taking a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo station > Travel by train Ollantaytambo to km104 > Trekking to Machu Picchu (you usually don't get the chance to visit Machu Picchu on this day) > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (1 night in hotel in Aguas Calientes) > Take the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu > Visit Machu Picchu > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes > Travel by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo Station > Take a bus from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco.

* This trek arrive at Machu Picchu by way of Inti Punku (Sun Gate) offering spectacular views of Machu Picchu weather permitting. The trail then descends to the Machu Picchu

Click here for more information about the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Option 3. Santa Teresa Trek (5 days):

Bus from Cusco to Mollepata > trekking to Hidro-Electrica (Santa Teresa Valley) > Train from Hidro-Electrica to Aguas Calientes 40 mins > Bus Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu 20 minutes > Machu Picchu > Bus Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes 20 minutes > Train Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo 1 hour 30 minutes > bus/taxi Ollantaytambo back to Cusco 2 hours

Click here for more information about the Santa Teresa trek to Machu Picchu

Getting to Machu Picchu by road via Santa Maria & Santa Teresa

This is a long, tiring and potentially dangerous bus ride from Cusco to Santa Maria via Santa Teresa and then either continuing by foot to Aguas Calientes or taking the train from Hidro-Electrica. This journey is hardly worth considering unless (a) you are really really counting your pennies (b) you decide to mountain bike down much of the down hill section of road between Abra de Malaga and Santa Maria which is quite spectacular but still quite possible you will meet face to face with a large truck on the wrong side of the road during any of the numerous hairpin bends along the route (c) all Peru Rail train tickets have sold out and this really is your last hope of seeing Machu Picchu.
There are a number of travel agents in Cusco advertising Machu Picchu by private car - it's this route they are referring to. Good luck.

Next >> Planning Your Trip to Machu Picchu