WHERE IS MACHU PICCHU?
The closest town and base for visiting Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes, a small ‘pueblo’ tucked away in the mountains, 93km north-west of Cusco.
The train will take you all the way there and most people spend a minimum of one night in the town before climbing up to the ancient grounds the next morning.
IS IT WORTH TAKING THE TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU?
Yes, trains are always a much more enjoyable mode of transport. Here are three reasons why it’s worth taking the train to Machu Picchu:
- The journey is faster (just under 4 hours) and much more comfortable compared to taking the bus (9 hours)
- It takes you all the way to Aguas Calientes. If you take a bus, you get dropped off at Hidroelectrica and will have to walk 3 hours from there to Aguas Calientes
- The route through the Sacred Valley is incredibly scenic and you can just sit back, relax, enjoy the views, and take pictures to your hearts content.
TAKING THE TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU IN 2021: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Trains depart from Poroy station just outside of Cusco. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic services are reduced to bimodal transport.
This means you’ll be taken by mini-bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. From here you will board the train to Aguas Calientes. San Pedro is the departure point for both bimodal transport and transit to Poroy station.
If you have time to spare and want to save money, then check out the other two options for getting to Machu Picchu here in our detailed guide.
Machu Picchu Train Service Summary
We’re not going to lie and tell you it’s easy to figure out. It feels purposefully complicated to make you pay more.
We’ve provided an in-depth summary of the services, prices and timetable below; hopefully, this clarifies the process.
- Two companies; Peru Rail and Inca Rail, run services from Cusco to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) – they also run services to and from Ollantaytambo and Urubamba.
- Each company has three train services: 1) ‘first-class’, 2) ‘second class’, and 3) ‘third-class’.
- There’s little difference between Peru Rail and Inca Rail aside from departure times.
- ‘First class’ service provides a gourmet lunch, but the carriage is the same as the second. The ‘second class’ service has bigger windows than third and includes food and refreshments as part of the ticket. The ‘third class’ offering has smaller windows, and you pay for food and drinks.
- A one-way ticket (from Cusco) for ‘2nd‘and ‘3rd‘ class services ranges from $60 – $105.
- A return trip (to Cusco) for ‘2nd‘ and ‘3rd‘ class services range from $130 – $210.
- The earliest departure from Cusco is around 04:00AM.
- The latest departure from Machu Picchu is around 21:30PM.
- It is possible to make the round trip from Cusco and visit Machu Picchu all in one day.
- The train station just outside of Cusco is called Poroy. The newest one, close to the main square is called San Pedro,
- Bimodal services mean you get a mini-bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then take the train to Machu Picchu – the same is on offer when returning from Machu Picchu.
Tips For Booking The Train To Machu Picchu
- Decide if you want to spend the night in Aguas Calientes or do it in all one day, then plan your journeys around that.
- After checking train availability, buy your Machu Picchu entrance ticket first, then book your train ticket. Otherwise, you may find the entry time you wanted for Machu Picchu isn’t available.
- Book well in advance – more than three months before if possible to avoid inflated prices or lack of availability
We’ve covered everything you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu including booking tickets and the new rules as of 2020 here.
HOW MUCH DOES A TRAIN TO MACHU PICHU COST?
Peru Rail - Vistadome
A special train with large windows and large skylights to ensure you have an immersive journey through the Sacred Valley and can enjoy more of the scenery. Onboard, you’ll be treated to typical Andean music as well as receiving a snack and refreshment.
All the trains have viewing carriages with open windows for you to stick your head out of to see the views better and take photos.
Peru Rail - Expedition
The Expedition train is the cheaper version of the Vistadome. It still has skylights, but the windows are smaller, meaning your view may be impeded slightly. You won’t receive a refreshment or snack, but they’re available to purchase.
Peru Rail Cost & Times
Cucso; San Pedro (SP) and Poroy (P) to Machu Picchu
- Expedition: $60 – $75
- Vistadome: $85 – $105
Departure times: 06:40 (SP/P) / 07:30 (SP) / 07:35 (P) / 08:25 (P)
Machu Picchu to Cusco; San Pedro (SP) and Poroy (P)
- Expedition: $70 – $85
- Vistadome: $85 – $105
Departure times: 15:20 (P) / 16:43 (SP/P) / 17:23 (SP/P)
Round trip cost:
- Expedition: $130 – $160
- Vistadome: $170 – $210
Inca Rail First Class
You’ll be treated to a gourmet lunch and receive refreshments. Travel in comfort and style while you enjoy the breath-taking views.
- Departs Cusco: 08:28 – $292
- Departs Machu Picchu 19:00 – $204
For more information on Inca Rail First Class head here.
Inca Rail 360
Similar to Vistadome with the large windows.
360 (Train only)
- Departs Cusco: 05:00 – $86
- Departs Machu Picchu: 16:12 – $95
360 + Bimodal transport
- Depart Cusco: 08:50 / 09:55 – $91 / $85
- Departs Machu Picchu: 10:32 – $82
Inca Rail Voyager
Inca Rail’s version of the Expedition train. Head to their website for more information and pictures of the carriages.
Voyager (Train only)
- Departs Cusco: 08:28 – $66
- Departs Machu Picchu: 19:00 – $82
Voyager + Bimodal transport
- Departs Cusco: 04:10 – $75
- Departs Cusco: 16:15 $82
- Departs Machu Picchu: 14:30 – $79
- Departs Machu Picchu: 21:30 – $60
Both the Voyager and 360 services have a bimodal option meaning you travel to Ollantaytambo via mini-bus and then take the train to Machu Picchu. For the return, you take the train to Ollantaytambo and then a bus back to Cusco.
For more information on the Voyager carriage, head here.
BELMOND HIRAM BINGHAM TRAIN
You may have heard the name Hiram Bingham before. If so, it’s because he is famous for bringing the world’s attention to Machu Picchu in 1948 with the release of his book ‘The Lost City of the Incas’.
His name is now attached to the luxury train to Machu Picchu.
Tickets will set you back $450 per person EACH WAY. You do the math; it’s certainly not a viable backpacker option.
The ticket includes your bus to Machu Picchu and your entrance, think of it as a package trip. Although I’m still not sure it’s worth it.
The train is stunning with a wood-panelled interior and brass finishes. You’ll feel as if you’ve travelled back to the early 1900s. On the journey, you’ll be treated to sparkling white wine, followed by a four-course lunch. Drinks and cocktails are available from the bar.
This is for those of you who enjoy the finer things in life.
- Depart Cusco: 9:05 / Arrive in Aguas Calientes: 12:24
- Depart Machu Picchu: 17:50 / Arrive in Cusco: 21:16
Up to 30th April 2021, the train is only operating once a week on Wednesday. Otherwise, the service runs daily apart from Sunday.
Operated by Peru Rail, you can find more information on their website.
HOW LONG DOES THE TRAIN TAKE TO MACHU PICCHU?
The most common reason people take the train to Machu Picchu is to save on time.
Here are the journey times to and from each station:
- Poroy (Cusco) > Aguas Calientes – 3hr50m
- Ollantaytambo > Aguas Calientes – 1hr40m
- San Pedro (Cusco) > Ollantaytambo – bus taking 2 hours.
- Cusco > Poroy Station (Cusco) – taxi taking 30 minutes, cost £7 ($10)
The alternative to taking the train is a bus. The bus journey takes between 8-9 hours and only takes you to Hidroelectrica. From here, you have to walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes which takes 2-3 hours.
We’ve outlined this process along with how to get to Machu Picchu via one of the popular treks here.
WHERE DO YOU BUY TRAIN TICKETS TO MACHU PICCHU?
The easiest way to buy tickets is online from the official websites. After paying you’ll be emailed the ticket.
Travelling with different operators is perfectly fine, and you’ll see that departure times are spread throughout the day across both companies.
We’d recommend booking the train well in advance as there are limited spaces.
Alternatively, if you want to speak to someone in person you can buy tickets from their offices in Cusco. Both offices are found on Plaza de Armas.
BUYING ENTRANCE TICKETS TO MACHU PICCHU
If you’re visiting by train, you will need to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu beforehand. The cheapest and best way to do this is using the official government website.
We’ve covered everything you need to know about visiting Machu Picchu and the new rules as of 2020 in our article here.
MACHU PICCHU BY TRAIN: SUGGESTED ITINERARIES
Visiting by train is the best option for those with limited time but extracash to burn, or those of you who just want to enjoy the incredible views of the Sacred Valley.
Taking the train will free up some time compared to the bus, so you have a couple of options for how to plan it.
Machu Picchu By Train In One Day
This option is perfect for people on a short holiday or with limited time.
It is possible to get the train to Machu Picchu, visit the site and return all in one day visiting by train. It might be a costly day, but if you only have one day spare, then it’s worth the money.
- Take an early morning train to Aguas Calientes
- Once you arrive, take the bus up to Machu Picchu (from Aguas Calientes)
- Spend a few hours touring the site
- Take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes
- Have some lunch overlooking the Urubamba River before taking a train back to Cusco.
If you leave Cusco on a really early train, you could also take the bus back to save money. Taking the bus back requires walking along the train tracks to Hidroelectrica. Buses leave from here and take 8-9 hours.
Machu Picchu By Train - 2 Days / 1 Night
This option is the best choice for those of you who don’t want to rush. It’s also a good option if you are wanting to get up to Machu Picchu for sunrise and beat the crowds. However, you don’t have to do this as you can visit at any time in the day and still get the last train back to Cusco.
- Take a mid-morning train to Aguas Calientes
- Visit the market or the Machu Picchu museum in Aguas Calientes followed by a meal overlooking the Urubamba River
- Have an early night. Wake up at 4AM and climb the stairs to Machu Picchu for sunrise
- If you don’t want to climb the stairs, you can take the bus
- Spend a few hours touring the site
- Walk down the stairs and return to Aguas Calientes (again the bus is an option)
- Leisurely lunch followed by an afternoon train back to Cusco
Nothing is stopping you spending more nights in Aguas Calientes if you want to take things even slower. There isn’t a lot to do, but this bizarre town has an enchanted feel to it hidden away among the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu. At most spend one more night here for a super chilled visit.
We recommend staying at Supertramp Hostel. A quirky, hippy, colourful hostel that will feed you in the morning with a lovely breakfast before you venture up the mountain.
WHICH TRAIN OPTION IS BEST FOR VISITING MACHU PICCHU?
In our view, taking a mid-morning train is nice and relaxed, with no early starts required.
You can arrive unflustered and take time to chill and explore Aguas Calientes a little. You can then get an early night and either get up at early to explore Machu Picchu at sunrise or go later in the day.
In terms of which class to go with, go with third class and save the money.
You won’t notice the difference in window sizes and the snacks and refreshments will always be overpriced. You can simply get up and go to one of the viewing carriages and stick your head out of the window there if you want to take photos or get a better view.
And if the price still bothers you then just take a bus back to save a bit.
As bi-modal transport is now in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no much point paying for a ticket straight from Cusco as half of the journey will be by mini-bus. Why not head to the Sacred Valley/Ollantaytambo on your own first for a couple of days and take a tour? You can then hop on the train straight from there.
Prices and times as of October 2020. Be aware that if visiting during the global coronavirus pandemic, there may be an impact on the services on offer.
Where’s your next stop in Peru? If your heading back to Cusco then check out more of our guides here:
- Cusco City Guide & Best Things To Do
- Cusco & Machu Picchu 5-Day Itinerary
- Best Hostels In Cusco
- Where To Eat In Cusco
- Nightlife In Cusco
Another alternative for getting to Machu Picchu is the famous 5-day Salkantay Trek. Check out our guides here to see if its for you: