You’ve finally decided to embark on a trip to Machu Picchu and now you have to figure out exactly how to get there. Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, sits up in the mountains of Peru. There are no roads suitable for vehicles to drive on to get to Machu Picchu. The only way there is either by train or hiking. Getting to Machu Picchu takes a bit of planning and strategizing. This article will show you the ways to travel to Machu Picchu from Cusco.
The Journey to Machu Picchu Starts in Cusco
Note before we get started: There are a lot of companies that you can hire that will do everything for you from arranging your flights, hotels, train ticket, entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and even include other activities. Some tours will even include some meals. All of that comes at a much higher price than arranging everything on your own. At first it seems very complicated but it’s actually pretty easy. You’ll save a lot of money if you do it all on your own.
It’s nearly impossible to get to Machu Picchu without first starting in Cusco. You’re most likely to arrive in Lima, the capital of Peru, when flying to see Machu Picchu. So from there you’ll have to get to Cusco. There are several options.
I would suggest spending a few days in Lima since you’re there. There’s plenty to see and do so take advantage of it. 1 – 2 days should be enough time in Lima.
The quickest and most popular way to travel from Lima to Cusco is by plane. There are dozens of flights from Lima to Cusco every day. A one-way flight costs between $45 to around $150. The flight is pretty quick, only taking around 1.5 hours.
The second option is to take a bus. This is the cheapest option, however it will take you almost a whole day to get there. You can find buses here. A bus from Lima to Cusco will cost around $35 one way. Thankfully these are nice buses with air conditioning and toilets.
My thoughts: Taking the plane will save you a whole day leaving you with more time to explore Cusco and Machu Picchu.
The third option is to rent a car or hire a private driver but this is the most expensive and time consuming of all. It will still take you nearly 24 hours to reach Cusco and then you’ll have to leave the car there while you catch another form of transportation to Machu Picchu. You cannot drive the car all the way to Machu Picchu.
Arriving in Cusco
Cusco sits at an elevation of 11,152 feet above sea level but Machu Picchu sits at a lower elevation, just 7,972 feet. Most people spend a few days in Cusco getting acclimated to the higher altitude. You might experience some altitude sickness so be prepared for that. Take ibuprofen for any headaches, drink lots of water, and rest. Peru is also known for using Coca Leaves to relieve altitude sickness. You’ll even see them in a basket at the airport where you can grab some to go. You just put them in your mouth between your cheek and gums. Restaurants also offer Coca Tea to help with the altitude sickness.
I love the town of Cusco. It’s super cute and there is actually quite a bit to do in Cusco. I wish I had spent more time there. Here’s just a few things to see while in Cusco.
- San Pedro Central Market
- Cusco Cathedral
- Inca Museum
- Q’enco Archaeological Complex
If you need instructions to purchase your ticket to Machu Picchu, read my article on How To Buy A Ticket For Machu Picchu in 2023.
Travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Before you leave from home, you need to schedule your transportation from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Do not wait until you arrive because you might have a hard time finding a seat available. You have lots of options to choose from so let’s get into it.
Taking the Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Taking the train from Cusco is the most popular and fastest way to travel to Machu Picchu. There are two rail lines, Inca Rail & Peru Rail that goes to Machu Picchu. There are also several types of cars to choose from. All trains end in the town of Aguas Calientes which is the town that sits right below Machu Picchu and where the hotels and restaurants are.
Inca Rail – The Voyager Bimodal
With the Voyager Bimodal option you’ll take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then get on the train from there to Machu Picchu. The train has Panormaic Windows so you’ll have great views all the way there. The journey takes about 3 hours.
This ticket starts at $57 and inlcudes the bus to Ollantaytambo and the train to Machu Picchu. It also includes a waiting room at Ollantaytambo Station and luggage storage.
Starting at $105, this ticket includes everything that the Light ticket has plus a Spanish speaking guide for Circuit 1. It also includes the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
This ticket starts at $165 and includes everything the Plus has AND it includes your Machu Picchu Ticket for circuits 1, 2, 3, or 4. If you want to hike one of the mountains you’ll have to buy a separate ticket.
Inca Rail – The 360° Bimodal
You get everything the Voyager Bimodal Light ticket has PLUS large Panoramic Windows and a USB port. $85+.
Everything the Voyager Bimodal Plus has PLUS the large Panoramic Windows and a USB port. $141+.
All the things the Voyager Bimodal Flex Plus has and large Panoramic Windows and a USB port. $207+.
Inca Rail – The Premium & Lounge Bimodal
This ticket has everything the Voyager Bimodal Light ticket above has PLUS more comfortable seating, a snack, a bar, and live music. $93+.
You get what the Light ticket has PLUS a Spanish/English Guide and your bus ticket up to Machu Picchu. This ticket is $149+.
With the All Inclusive ticket you get everything the Plus ticket inlcudes PLUS your entry ticket for circuit 1, 2, 3, or 4. This ticket is $215+.
Inca Rail – The First Class
This rail service has an Observatory Lounge, a gourmet menu (food to buy), a bar, an outdoor balcony, large Panoramic Windows, and comfortable seats. This service only runs on certain dates and on request.
Inca Rail – The Private
The most exclusive of Inca Rail’s train services, this is a chartered train service to Machu Picchu. You will receive a welcome bottle of Champagne and Pisco Sours (Peru’s signature cocktail) as well as an Observatory Lounge Bar (open bar), a 3-course gourmet meal, live music, and a private bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. You will have the entire train carriage to yourself and those traveling with you. There is contact information on the Inca Rail website to arrange for this service.
Peru Rail has four different ticket options to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu. All four options leave from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes. There is luggage weight restrictions of 11 lbs/05 kg. This is the train I used and they did not weigh the luggage but we did use a carry-on size luggage and stored our other things at the hostel in Cusco since we were coming back there to stay again after Machu Picchu. We also each had a backpack.
The PeruRail Expedition ticket starts at $120 roundtrip and leaves from two train stations in the Cusco area as well as the Ollantaytambo Station. It includes ambient music and Panoramic Windows.
Wanchaq Station to Machu Picchu: 4 hours.
Poroy Station to Machu Picchu: 3.5 hours.
Ollantaytambo Station: 1.5 hours.
The PeruRail Vistadome ticket starts at $180 roundtrip and leaves from the three train stations in Cusco as well as the Ollantaytambo Station. It includes ambient music, a snack, Panoramic windows, and a live performance on the way back to Cusco.
Wanchaq Station to Machu Picchu: 4 hours.
Poroy Station to Machu Picchu: 3.5 hours.
San Pedro Station to Machu Picchu: 4.5 hours.
Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu : 1.5 hours.
The Belmond Train is a luxurious train with an all inclusive service from Poroy Station in Cusco to Machu Picchu. It includes a show of Peruvian dances and live music. You’ll also receive a welcome drink, and a three course gourmet meal. The train also has an Observatory Car for the amazing views of the country. It comes with an entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, a guide, and a private bus to Machu Picchu. This roundtrip train ticket is around $1000.
The PeruRail Vistadome Observatory ticket is a bimodal service and starts at $215. You’ll take a 2 hour bus ride from the Wanchaq Station in Cusco and travel to the Ollantaytambo Station where you will then board the train for the 1.5 hour ride to Machu Picchu. You will also have live music, snacks, coffee, and water.
How Do I Buy My Train Tickets to Machu Picchu?
Buying your train tickets online before you leave home couldn’t be any easier. Both Inca Rail and Peru Rail have a pretty straightforward website that’s easy to navigate. You’ll find their sites in both Spanish and English. There are 3rd party sites that sell tickets as well but I would just stick with the rail’s website to get your tickets. Below I explain exactly how to buy your train tickets to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Inca Rail Train Tickets
Step 1: Go to the Inca Rail Website
Step 2: Click the heading that says “Discovering Machu Picchu”.
Pick a route from the rightside column. You’ll choose Cusco or if you’ve chosen to go to Ollantaytambo on your own, you’ll choose that one.
Step 3: Scroll down until you see “Buy Tickets”
Choose the dates you want, how many people, and whether you want a one-way or roundtrip ticket in the window on your left of the screen. Then click “Buy Tickets”.
Step 4: Click the route you want to take
Step 5: Chose a ticket
The earlier you book, the more options there will be. Choose a time for your train ride to Machu Picchu and choose which train service you want.
Step 6: Next, choose a return ticket
Again, choose the time and which type of train service you want. You do not have to choose the same kind of ticket that you picked on the way to Machu Picchu. You can choose a different one if you want.
Step 7: Enter your information and pay for your ticket
And that’s it! Now, just print your ticket and bring it with you. Make sure you have your passport handy when you board.
Peru Rail Train Tickets
Step 1: Go to the Peru Rail Website
Step 2: Choose your route and dates at the bottom of the page
There are a few options if you’re in one of the other towns on the way to Machu Picchu.
Step 3: Scroll through the options and choose a train
Step 4: Next, scroll down and choose a return ticket back to Cusco
After you choose your return ticket scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click “continue”.
Step 5: Enter your personal information for your ticket and pay
Print your ticket and take it with you to Peru.
Hike to Machu Picchu
If you’re feeling really adventurous and you have the time then you might want to consider hiking to Machu Picchu. Yes, you can hike to Machu Picchu but it will take you 4-5 days to get there. You’ll have to choose a company and pay them because you cannot take the trek on your own. You MUST have a guide. There are several out there to choose from.
4 Day Trek
The 4 day trek starts in Llactapata, just 45km / 28 miles from Machu Picchu. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and driven to the starting point of the Inca Trail. From there, you’ll hike through mountains and pass scenic waterfalls as you camp in remote areas on the trail. On the final day you’ll wake up early and catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. The tour includes breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tents, your guide, a personal porter, entrance fees for Machu Picchu, and your train back to Cusco. You’ll have to rent a sleeping bag and air mattress from the tour company.
Alpaca Expeditions: $735.
There are other companies that also offer the Inca Trail Hike. Some aren’t as difficult as others and only have a few hours of hiking and then drive you to your next stop to sleep in a tent on the trail. If you prefer not to fully commit to a 28 mile hike then this might be the trek for you.
Alpaca Expeditions: $550
Arrival at Machu Picchu
Your train will arrive at Aguas Calientes which is the town right below Machu Picchu. To get to Machu Picchu you’ll have to buy a bus ticket or you can hike. The bus will take about 20 minutes while hiking takes around 2 hours.
Bus Tickets up to Machu Picchu
You’ll see buses coming and going from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu so watch where they are picking people up from. There is a ticket booth near the pickup area. You’re likely to see a line of people trying to get tickets. A roundtrip ticket is $24. Here’s what the ticket booth looks like and the line of people trying to get the first buses of the day to Machu Picchu.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is the Bimodal Service?
The Bimodal Service involves a combination of taking a bus and the train to Machu Picchu. The majority of the ride is on the bus (2 hours) and the last 1.5 hours is by train.
Can you just travel to Machu Picchu from Cusco by bus?
There isn’t a bus that goes directly from Cusco all the way to Machu Picchu. You’ll either have to take the train or walk. If you don’t want to take the train here is how you can get to Machu Picchu.
- The furthest a bus can go is to the town of Santa Teresa.
- From there you’ll have to get a collective taxi (a shared ride) to the hydroelectric power station.
- Then you have two choices from there: walk the 3 hours to the town of Aguas Calientes or you catch the train which will take around 45 minutes.
Can you take the train to Machu Picchu from Lima?
No, there isn’t a train that goes from Lima to Cusco.
How long is the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu?
The train ride takes around 3 – 3.5 hours.
Which rail service to Machu Picchu is best?
Inca Rail offers the bimodal service of taking a bus for the first half and a train for the second half of the trip. But Peru Rail has a straight train service from Cusco and has more daily departures. If you plan on seeing some of the sites between Cusco and Machu Picchu then you could choose Inca Rail and just catch the train in Ollantaytambo.
If my luggage can’t be more than 11lbs what do I do with the rest of my things?
Since you’ll be coming back to Cusco when you leave Machu Picchu you can likely store it at your hotel/hostel. Ours had a large storage room just for that so that is your best bet. If you’re leaving from the Ollantaytambo Train Station they have free storage for passengers.
Should I take the train to Machu Picchu or hike? Which one is better?
It all depends on what kind of experience you’re wanting and whether you have time to do the hike which takes 4 days. So if you only have one week to spend in Peru, you’ll be cutting it close. But it’s still possible with good planning.