Many people dream of one day visiting the lost city of the Inca – Machu Picchu. Being a lost city and all, it makes sense that Machu Picchu would be a bit hard to get to. Hidden away in the Andes, the ruined city actually lies a mere 50 miles from the bustling city of Cusco. Once the capital of the Inca empire, Cusco is now a international capital of tourism as it is the gateway to Machu Picchu. But how exactly does one get from Cusco to Machu Picchu? I’m glad you asked…
Visiting Machu Picchu by Train
Machu Picchu is actually most often reached by first making your way to the small town of Aguas Calientes, which is located in the valley below Machu Picchu. The town is cut off from the rest of the world with only the train line to connect it to Cusco. Thankfully, the train is a very fast and efficient method of reach not only Aguas Calientes but Machu Picchu.
To most quickly reach Machu Picchu book an early morning train leaving from Poroy, the train station 20 minutes outside of Cusco. Unfortunately, the Poroy station only has around 4 train departures per day which sell out fast. Your other option is to take a bus to another train station town Ollantaytambo, located around 2 hours away, where multiple train departs everyday for Aguas Calientes.
Reaching Machu Picchu by train is definitely the quickest and easiest method. Trains are a bit expensive but the train route through the Sacred Valley is breathtaking.
Visiting Machu Picchu by Trail
A very popular alternative to taking the train to Machu Picchu is to reach the city by hiking in. The Inca Trail hike is usually 4-5 days long and lets you experience the beauty of the Sacred Valley, walking along parts of the original Inca road, and seeing additional small Inca ruins. The trail is very popular though and due to overcrowding, the Peruvian government has now limited the number of hikers per day to 500. Permits sell out months in advance so if you are hoping to do this hike, you’ll have to plan ahead.
Alternatively, you can opt to take one of the less popular but just as magnificent trails to Machu Picchu. There are at least 6 other options with the Vilcabamba Route being one of the most rewarding. The trek is longer, ranging from 6 to 12 days depending on the starting point but it is also much less crowded. You will probably only see a handful or so of other hikers the entire time. The hike also offers you the chance to see a second lost city of the Inca – Choquequirao. While Machu Picchu is crawling with thousands of tourists everyday, Choquequirao remains a hidden, remote place where you can imagine what it was like when these grand, ruined cities were first discovered by outsiders.
Or for a more off the beaten path option…
While the above options are the most common ways to reach Machu Picchu, there are a few alternatives beyond the train or established trails.
While no roads technically reach Machu Picchu, you can get pretty close by car. First you would have to make it from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, the local power plant near Machu Picchu, which can be done by minibus, taxi, and/or hitchhiking your way through the towns of Santa Maria and Santa Teresa. Once there, hike for a few hours along the train tracks and you will reach Aguas Calientes. This is called the backdoor to Machu Picchu and while usually the cheapest option, it does take quite a bit of work.
For the adventurous type, there are also now specialized “Inca jungle treks” which combine hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, and ziplining to eventually get you from Cusco to Machu Picchu.