Millions of people make their way to Machu Picchu every year. Situated in the Urubamba Valley, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Incas, consisting of intricate buildings made of stones and agricultural terraces.
This is Peru’s most famous landmark and tourist attraction, and draws visitors from all over the globe to see the isolated mountain ridge where Machu Picchu lies. But getting there isn’t necessarily straightforward: its isolation means that there’s not just one direct route to the famed lost city.
The price to get to Machu Picchu will vary depending on where you’re heading from, but usually people will make their way to Cusco – and then from there, you can choose between a train, or a long trek (depending on how adventurous you’re feeling). If you are looking for information on how to get to Machu Picchu you are in good hands: I have been there many times and have used every possible means to get there.
Continue reading, and I will tell you how to get to Machu Picchu and share tips to make the most of your experience.
How To Get To Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
This is the route that most people will take to get to Machu Picchu. It is the quickest way to get between Cusco and Machu Picchu, with the train stopping at Aguas Calientes – a hot spring town that acts as the gateway to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, and is in fact known as Machu Picchu Pueblo.
The journey between the two stations is served by different types of trains (the main ones are highlighted below), but usually it takes around three and a half hours to complete – in fact, most people plan to spend at least a night in Aguas Calientes to break their journey.
EXPEDITION TRAIN – The Expedition train is the most budget friendly option. But because of this, it is often booked up way in advance. It’s not a good idea to turn up and try to buy tickets on your chosen day of travel. Instead, you should book your tickets online, from somewhere such as GetYourGuide or Viator.
Get your Expedition Train tickets on GetYourGuide here, or on Viator here.
VISTADOME TRAIN – The next option is the Vistadome train – a step up from the Expedition train, with large panoramic windows (hence the name) so that travelers can really soak up the majestic Andean scenery on the way to Machu Picchu. This is understandably another really popular way to visit the city.
Get your Vistadome Train tickets on Viator here or on GetYourGuide here.
HIRAM BINGHAM TRAIN – Finally, if you really want to splash out on one of the best train rides in the world, there’s the Belmond Hiram Bingham train, named after the explorer who “discovered” Macchu Picchu. This is a super stylish option: think Old World brass and polished wood, designed to emulate the luxury Pullman trains of the 1920s.
It’s the kind of thing you’d have for a special occasion, with meals served with wine on white tablecloths. But it definitely costs a lot. The price, however, also includes dinner, drinks, hotel pick up and drop off, luxury bus from Aguas Calientes to the site and a tour of Machu Picchu (inclusive of admission tickets), and even an afternoon tea at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
You can book your Hiram Bingham Train here.
Note that when you are catching a train from Cusco, the train station isn’t actually located in Cusco – but in Poroy, a nearby town. To get there, it’s a simple matter of a low-cost taxi ride, but you should make sure to leave enough time to tackle the Cusco traffic so you don’t miss your train.
Once your train gets to Aguas Calientes, you will have two options to make your way to the site.
Walk from Aguas Calientes
No matter if you’re getting the train or the bus, and even on some of the hikes, you will find yourself in Agua Calientes before you can make your way to Machu Picchu – the last step of the journey. So you will wonder how to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.
From here, it’s an uphill walk to the main visitor center for Machu Picchu. It takes around two hours and it is mainly up a series of switchbacks and steps. Although this is tough going, it does feel rewarding once you arrive in Machu Picchu – and, of course, it doesn’t cost you any money.
There are no taxis that ferry people between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, so if you don’t feel like walking, the only other option is the bus.
Bus from Aguas Calientes
Buses connect Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu throughout the day and every day. The bus departs from Avenida Hermanos Ayar, which is close to the train station. The ride takes around half an hour.
Buses leave every 10 minutes from 5:30 am to 3:30 pm. When you want to leave Machu Picchu, you can also use this same regular bus as it takes people back to Agua Calientes. The return buses leave from outside the main gate of Machu Picchu, and travel from 6:30 am to 5:45 pm.
You can buy your tickets in Agua Calientes before you get on the bus, but there will be a line at the counter. A round ticket costs $24 USD, and a one way ticket costs $12 USD. You can also get your tickets in advance on sites such as GetYourGuide – for more information, click here.
Bus or colectivo to Ollantaytambo then walk along the railway
If your main concern when looking for how to get to Machu Picchu is budget, or if you are looking for a more adventurous (and at the same time cheap) way of getting there, you will be glad to know that there are some extremely budget friendly ways to get there – though obviously these require a bit more work.
This journey will require multiple days of walking, which in turn means having to spend the night at a hostel or hotel. So if you are really watching for the pennies, make sure to factor in all the costs.
This is how to do it.
First of all, catch a bus or colectivo ride from Plaza de Armas in Cusco, to the town of Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley. This journey takes around two hours and costs approximately $5 USD. Once in Ollantaytambo, you have the option to hang around in the town and see the sights for a while (it’s actually very worth it, and probably the nicest small town in the entire valley) before the next leg of your journey.
Then it’s a walk to Aguas Calientes along the railway for a total of 32 kilometers (around 20 miles). As you’ll be following the railway, it’s really easy to navigate – and it’s signposted, too. You’ll spot other visitors and locals along the path as you’re walking.
But be warned: this is not an easy walk. It takes around seven hours, and you will need to be careful of the trains. On the plus side, you will be immersed in beautiful Andean nature, walking alongside the Urubamba River with spectacular valley views to accompany you.
While this is one of the cheapest ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you will need to be prepared with food and an adequate water supply with you, as well as decent trekking gear.
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, you’ll need to stay the night there – a 32-kilometer hike is no mean feat, and you really won’t have time to also walk up to Machu Picchu on the same day. There are a handful of hostels and budget hotels in Aguas Calientes – but they are very basic.
From Aguas Calientes, you have the option of walking up to Machu Picchu, or taking the bus – as I outlined above.
If your question on how to get to Machu Picchu us all about comfort and easy, then you may want to join an organized tour. These can be arranged before you even arrive in Peru, or once you’re in the country.
There are various options for tours, which run the gamut from multi-day hikes across the valley to luxury tours where you won’t have to worry about a thing. Many tours also include different options, such as visiting sites along the Sacred Valley as well, cultural encounters with local communities, and a number of adventure activities.
Basically, there are so many different tour options that you are bound to find something that’s perfect for you. And because of that you should make sure to do your research – and only use reputable tour companies that come highly recommended, or have glowing reviews from happy customers.
For information on guided tours departing from Cusco, click here. For guided tours from Aguas Calientes, click here.
Walk the Official Inca Trail
If your question on how to get to Machu Picchu is all about the adventure and challenge, then you will want to hike there – best if on the Inca Trail.
Also known as Camino del Inca, the Inca Trail is a classic trekking route to reach Machu Picchu. Rather than walking along the railway line from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes, the Inca Trail actually follows a centuries-old paved route through varying Andean environments. This makes it a much more attractive option for people who want to hike.
The Official Inca Trail starts off in Ollantaytambo, and then continues on to Machu Picchu itself for 45 kilometers (about 28 miles), taking three and a half days to complete. On this route you’ll hike through smaller Inca sites along the way, and ascend through mountain passes, stopping off in various places along the way.
This iconic route, however, is not for those seeking luxury or comfort. There are no fancy accommodation options, or even hostels, along the way. You’ll be sleeping in a tent and not having access to showers for the duration of the hike.
But if you feel like your fitness is up to it (remember you’ll be walking at an altitude), and you want an unforgettable adventure, then this challenge will be for you.
Hiking the Inca Trail does come at a cost, however, with a permit required by the Peruvian government. The trail is also limited to 500 people per day, which includes the guides and porters. In addition, you can only get a permit through an approved tour provider.
So if you are traveling in high season, and you want to trek the Inca Trail, you should make sure to book in advance (a minimum of 4 months!) to avoid being disappointed. You may also need to save some money: tours cost upwards of $700. But if that’s what you want, of course, the experience is worth it.
Various companies run the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. You can very easily book it online here or here.
I have walked the Inca Trail twice, and wrote extensively about it. Make sure you read my post Walking The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu.
Walk the short (one day) Inca Trail
If you don’t have the time – or the budget – to take on the classic full length Inca Trail, don’t worry: there is the option to take a one-day hike along the trail. That said, there is just one particular section of the trail open to single day hikers – you won’t be able to choose any section to walk along (due to the permit situation).
To tackle the one-day version of the Inca Trail, first you will take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. However, you will alight half an hour before you arrive at Aguas Calientes at the KM104 stop.
From here, the trail – which is well marked – crosses over the Urubamba River via a footbridge, before reaching the Chachabamba ruins (a former religious site). Then it’s a matter of around a six to seven hour ascent alongside mountain terraces, all the way to the Sun Gate for your first glimpse of Machu Picchu from afar.
There is a separate permit required for walking the one-day stretch of the Inca Trail. But because it is less in demand than the full length Inca Trail permit, they usually do not sell out so quickly, and will be more likely to be available for the time of year you are visiting.
Again, these permits can only be booked through an approved tour provider. You can book it here.
Finally, keep in mind that even though the hike is just one day, the overall experience will require two days.
Other ways of getting to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail isn’t the only hiking route that connects Machu Picchu with the outside world. There are actually a series of different routes that you could opt for – and not all of them require permits, either, so they could be a better option depending on what you prefer. Keep in mind that none of these hikes ends at the Inti Punku – the Sun Gate. So if you are dreaming of seeing the sun rise over the site, this is not how to get to Machu Picchu.
Taking four days and three nights, the Lares Trek is named for its start point – Lares, where there are thermal baths surrounded by nature. For the first few hours of this hike you will be taking in amazing views of the beautiful valleys and Andean peaks, with glacial lakes to gaze at, too. Then you’ll be heading to the village of Cuncani to stay the night.
The next day is a hard trek up to the Condor’s Pass, while on the third day of hiking the Lares Trail you’ll arrive in Ollantaytambo. From there, since a permit is required for the Inca Trail, the fourth day you’ll take a train to Aguas Calientes.
Unlike the Inca Trail, the Lares Trail is open all year round (the Inca Trail is closed in February). There is also no daily restriction on hikers.
You can book your Lares Trek here.
Inca Jungle Trek
A truly adventurous option, the Inca Jungle Trek is how to get to Machu Picchu if you really want to challenge yourself. It is usually offered in the form of a four-day, three-night itinerary.
This option does not just include hiking, but also cycling and ziplining, as well as river rafting, as part of the journey. Unlike other hikes, you’ll mainly be staying in hostels for this trek. You’ll also be staying the night in Aguas Calientes before you hit up Machu Picchu.
For more information about the Jungle Trek, click here.
This trekking option is one for those who really want to get out into nature and off the beaten track. This is a moderate difficulty hike, a perfect alternative to the Inca Trail, but taking a lot longer, with around an eight-day duration. It must be done with a guide.
The hike is named after Choquequirao – an Inca citadel located over 3,000 meters (9,842.5 feet) above sea level – while the hike itself begins just outside Cachora. Days one and two are difficult, heading into the Apurimac Canyon, and ascending the other side, when the ruins of Choquequirao first come into view.
The next few days of this trek see you continuing over peaks and ridges, along challenging pathways that are almost completely isolated. Then over the final few days, the Choquequirao Trek connects up with the better known Salkantay Trek. Lastly, you will end up at Hydroelectrica to take a train to Aguas Calientes, and then a bus to Machu Picchu.
You can book your Choquequirao Trek here.
The Salkantay Trek is a good mix of aspects of treks, and takes five days to complete. It’s another great alternative to the Inca Trail, as again a permit is not required, yet it takes in much of the same breathtaking scenery, with remote passes and beautiful Andean landscapes to soak up.
The Salkantay Trek can also include optional activities such as ziplining, horseback riding and hot spring visits. It is one of the cheaper trekking options to Machu Picchu.
You can book your Salkantay Trek here.
For more tips to plan your trip to Peru, you may want to read these posts:
- The Best Things To Know Before Visiting Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Peru
- The Best Hikes In Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Cusco
- The Best Day Trips From Cusco
- A Short Guide To Ollantaytambo
- A Short Guide To The Sacred Valley
- How To Get Machu Picchu Tickets
- What To Pack For The Inca Trail
- Everything You Must Know To Hike Marcahuasi
- The Best Things To Do In Lima