How to get to Machu Picchu
I love a good clichéd tourist attraction, whether it’s picking up the Taj Mahal, climbing into Petra or hiking the Great Wall of China, I can’t get enough of the 7 new wonders of the world! So when I was in South America, sitting atop the viewpoint overlooking Machu Picchu was high up the list of things to do, but how to get to Machu Picchu?!
I had taken my mum on an overland adventure all the way from Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru (public transport, night buses the whole way, well-done mum!). So with my 60-something-year-old mother in tow, hiking the Inca Trail wasn’t so much of an option, we had decided to take the gorgeous scenic train up to Machu Picchu, and hike the last hour or 2 ourselves, and what a trip it was.
How to get to Machu Picchu:
From Lima to Machu Picchu:
You first have to get to Cusco, and there are essentially 2 options to get to Cusco from Machu Picchu – fly or bus.
Flights – they normally run around $200 – $300 return, towards the more expensive side if you book last minute, which when you’re traveling, is often the case.
Bus – this is the option my mum and I took! A lot more hardcore, and a lot cheaper ($65-$85 each way). However, at 20 hours, it’s not for the faint hearted. But you get to see a lot more of the countryside, and it feels more like ‘real travel’ when you overland. The buses are all pretty comfortable coaches, with reclining chairs and meals on board so it’s not so bad. My mum and I took the bus from Lima to Cusco for the adventure but then flew back.
From Cusco to Machu Picchu :
From Cusco, there are 2 main options on how to get to Machu Picchu – the Inca Trail hike, or taking the train from Cusco (Poroy station) to Machu Picchu (Aguas Caliente station).
Inca Trail – I’ve only ever been to Machu Picchu once, and as I was with my mum, we decided against hiking all the way there! That being said, the Inca Trail hike is often regarded as one of the top 5 hikes in the world. There are many different options but the standard, most popular choice is a 4-day hike, leaving Cusco on Day 1 and arriving at Machu Picchu for sunrise on Day 4. Prices vary depending on the tour company but it’s approximately $600 or so. If you want a guaranteed place, book as early as possible, as the places are often all full. More on the Inca Trail below.
The train to Machu Picchu – If you worried about fitness levels or budget, or maybe you simply don’t have the time to spend 4 days hiking the Inca Trail then a train is an awesome option. From Cusco (actually it’s a station called Poroy outside Cusco) to Machu Picchu (the station is called Aguas Caliente), the train takes about 4 hours and costs roughly $150 for a return ticket.
You buy your train tickets from PeruRail.com, again they sell out so you can’t buy them the day before, you have to be a little more organised! It’s ridiculously overpriced, but the journey is beautiful, and hey – it’s Machu Picchu, so you’re kinda happy to pay whatever. More on the train journey below.
HOW TO BUY TICKETS FOR MACHU PICCHU
Only 2500 tickets are available each day, and during high season (June to September) they will sell out, so if you’re going around this time, book online in advance!
NOTE: If you book on an Inca Trail hike, the tickets are included so don’t worry, but if you book the train to Machu Picchu you have to organise the Machu Picchu tickets yourself.
You buy the tickets online at http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/, HOWEVER, their system constantly breaks down. It literally refused my credit cards (4 of them) every day for weeks, give it a try yourself by all means though. In the end I booked through an agency for an extra $15 (I used Responsible Travel Peru), they have an office in Cusco and I then picked them up personally when I arrived. Stress averted. I’d massively recommend this.
You can also buy tickets in person in Cusco ( Ministerio de Cultura – open Mon-Sat, 7AM-8PM) and Aguas Caliente (Machu Picchu Cultural Centre – Mon-Sun, 5AM-10PM). In my opinion though, sorting it out online is much more secure and less risky.
HOW MUCH ARE TICKETS TO MACHU PICCHU?
There are 4 types of tickets (only 2,500 issued in total per day!), my mum and I chose Option 1.
Option 2 is the most popular and there are only 400 available per day, so again you have to book in advance if you want this one (it’s the best option, you climb another mountain beside Machu Picchu and get amazing views).
Options 3 and 4, in my opinion, are nothing special.
- Ticket Machu Picchu Only ($37): Gives the option to visit only the Inca city of Machu Picchu.
- Ticket Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu ($41): Besides visiting the Inca City include the income to climb the mountain Huayna Picchu in two groups:
- Group 1: 07:00 hrs. – 08:00 hrs.
- Group 2: 10:00 hrs. – 11:00 hrs.
- Ticket Machu Picchu + Mountain ($40): Visit the Inca City with this ticket, you can hike to a mountain that is higher than the Huayna Picchu but more moderate access.
- Ticket Machu Picchu + Museum ($44): You can access to the Inca city of Machu Picchu and visit the Site Museum, located in the village of Aguas Calientes, where the train arrives from Cusco, it is 20 minutes from the city Inca.
The Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu
How to get to Machu Picchu via the Incan Trail. I’ve never taken this so I had to get the information from a lot of my friends who have done it. The traditional trail is the ‘Classic Inca Trail’ and it takes 4 days hike to Machu Picchu. There are alternative hikes, short hikes and also longer (like the Salkantay to Inca Trail – all 7 days of it!), but if you’re this far you probably want the main event, so let’s have a look:
It varies between companies but averages around $700. If it’s less than $400, it’s probably a scam! Around $500 is a super cheap deal with basic accommodatione etc, $1500 is luxury.
BOOKING THE INCA TRAIL:
BOOK IN ADVANCE! You can check availability online here, it’s limited by the Peruvian Government to 500 people per day. You must book with an authorized tour operator well in advance of the date when you wish to walk the trail, as it is not allowed to organize the trek yourself. Don’t expect to pick up last-minute cancellations either, as tour organizers must register client passport numbers with the government, and they are strictly checked at control points on the trail. Aim to book AT LEAST a couple of weeks in advance, more during peak season.
NOTE: If it’s sold out and you’re super keen to hike to Machu Picchu, enquire about alternate treks, there are other options that aren’t as famous.
WHEN TO GO ON THE INCA TRAIL:
The rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to April, the hikes still go but you’ll be very wet (with the wettest January to April). The best months are April to October but that’s peak season so book well in advance and don’t bank on cancellations during that time. And remember the trail is closed each February to clean it up.
ON THE INCA TRAIL:
Some points of the hike is over 4000m altitude (12,000ft), so don’t jump straight from Cusco to the hike. Explore Cusco a little and get used to the altitude, you don’t want to jeopardise your once in a lifetime trip.
The company you’re trekking with will supply you with a list of stuff you need, but in a nutshell, it’s standard hiking stuff. The organiser will take care of tents, bedding, food etc. You can hire a porter to carry your bag too, figure between $100 to $150 for the 4 day hike for that.
THE TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU
How to get to Machu Picchu via train. The train won’t actually take you all the way to Machu Picchu, it takes you to the nearest town, Aquas Calientes, 9km from the ruins where you either sleep or, if you’re in a rush, connect to a shuttle bus.
My mum and I choose the train, and it’s a great option for anyone who is short on time, or doesn’t want to hike for 4 days and sleep in tents! You can book your tickets through Peru Rail but try to book at least a day in advance so you get the time of your choosing.
TRAIN TIMES AND COSTS:
The are 4 daily trains from Poroy Station (near Cusco) all departing between 5AM and 9 AM, arriving at Aguas Calientes before 1 PM. There are 3 classes, the Expedition ($160USD return), Vistadome (glass top) and the ridiculously priced Hiram Bingham ($700 return ticket!). All the trains take about 4 hours and both the Expedition and the Vistadome are nice trains, with great views along the way.
CUSCO TO MACHU PICCHU DAY TRIP?
You can actually ‘do’ Machu Picchu on a day trip if you leave Cusco super early, arrive in Aquas Calientes around noon, shoot up to see Machu Picchu, shoot down and get the later trains back to arrive in Cusco late evening. It’s not ideal though, and you would only get 2 hours at Machi Picchu.
TIP: The best way to do it is to take a leisurely day, and take a breakfast train to Aguas Calientes, spend the day and night there, it’s quite a cute town. I climbed Putucusi Mountain that day, 10 minutes outside Aguas Calientes, where you get gorgeous views and you can even see Machu Picchu, from a distance, at the summit. It’s super quiet too.
The following morning then, take a shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes up to Macchu Pichu and spend the whole day there, and take a late train back to Cusco that evening.
AQUAS CALIENTES TO MACHU PICCHU
You CAN walk but it’s hard, hot and not beautiful, but it’s free! It’ll take around 1.5 to 2 hours.
Most people, me included, take the shuttle bus. The first one leaves at 5.30 and it’s $12/$24 one-way or return. It takes about 25 minutes. If you want the first bus up, turn up at 4.30am at the latest!
FINALLY, YOU’RE IN MACHU PICCHU!
You made it! So what now?! You’re free to roam around pretty much as you please, but the grounds are big, and steep so bring your walking shoes, there’ll be a lot of climbing.
The CLASSIC Machu Picchu shot is from the Watchman’s hut, so head straight there (follow your map!) first thing in the morning for the best pics.
The other ways to spend your day are to hike to the Sun Gate (if you came from Aquas Calientes that is, the Inca Trailers will enter from here), for amazing views of the whole area. Once you’re there, anywhere you go is spectacular, so roam freely apart from ensuring you hit the Watchman’s Tower, no-one is allowed to miss a selfie from there!
So now you know how to get to Machu Picchu. Not so hard right? The best options then are that you either book an Inca trail well in advance or be a little more leisurely and take the train, sleep in Aguas Calientes and spend the following day there. Simple!