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What is Machu Picchu
Constructed in 1450, the ruins of this small city continue to attract visitors from around the world. Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was a citadel reserved for the upper class and, amazingly, was only used for 80 years before it was abandoned.
Today, it is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where is Machu Picchu Located?
Precariously situated on a mountain ridge in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, Machu Picchu’s location is starkly picturesque. At 2.5 km (1.5 miles) above sea level, it is often touching the clouds and providing striking views of the surrounding Urubamba Province.
Machu Picchu located is 75 km (46.5 miles) from Cusco, Peru and 300 km ( 185.5miles) from Lima, the capital of Peru
The gateway to Machu Picchu is a small town called Aguas Calientes. It is located about 75 km (46.5 miles) northwest of Cusco and about 500 km ( 310.5miles) east-southeast of Lima.
Unless following the Inca Trail, all visitors to Machu Picchu have to travel through the town of Aguas Calientes en route to Machu Picchu.
Due to Machu Picchu’s remote location, getting there is not the simplest task. There are a number of ways to make the journey, with one for every budget and level of fitness.
How to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco
There are several ways to go get to Machu Picchu, including multi-day hikes, as well as a more easy option that requires you to take a bus or a train to the closest town of Aguas Calientes.
Hike the Inca Trail
The most adventurous option is to hike to Machu Picchu via the famous Inca Trail. Originally constructed by the Incas themselves, this 82 km (51 miles) journey is quite the undertaking. You’ll sleep in tents, hike for 6 or more hours per day, and battle potential altitude sickness along the way. Despite these things, it is no doubt an experience of a lifetime and highly sought after by travelers from around the globe.
However, due to government restrictions on tourist volumes, it can be quite difficult to get the necessary trekking permit as they often sell out 6 or more months in advance.
Luckily, there are lots of alternative hikes to Machu Picchu, like the beautiful Salkantay Trail, Lares Trek, and many others. Since all of these treks end in Aguas Calientes and not Machu Picchu itself, there are more permits available for them.
Take the Bus from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
Less athletically inclined tourists usually opt to visit Machu Picchu by train or by bus, departing from Cusco. The buses that travel down the route from Cusco to Aguas Calientes are more like minivans, and although they are cheap, they make for a longer and more dangerous journey.
The trains are a more comfortable option and offer a more unique and enjoyable experience.
It is important to note that all trains and regional buses terminate in the town of Aguas Calientes. Travelers will still need to take an additional 30-minute bus ride from to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
Take the Train to Machu Picchu
Taking the train to Machu Picchu is a fantastic comfortable and scenic option, but requires some logistical planning ahead of time.
What You Need to Know About Taking the Train to Machu Picchu
Each offers four different levels of comfort ranging from lower tier budget options to luxurious first-class locomotives.
The backpacker trains have fewer amenities and only sell basic snacks on board, but they offer a good value for the price.
The middle tier trains have panoramic windows and sometimes even glass roof domes to allow the riders the perfect chance for photographs.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham train operated by the Peru Rail is considered to be one of the most extravagant trains in the world. It features gorgeous decor, full meals on board, and is complete with a full-service open bar. The Inca Rail equivalent is also the height of luxury and only operates upon special request reservation.
Where to Start your Journey by Train to Machu Picchu
There are three different stations where you can board your train to Machu Picchu. You can start in Cusco, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo.
The journeys require 3.25, 2.5, and 2 hours respectively. A roundtrip ticket on the backpacker trains for both the Inca and Peru rails will cost you $140 while the same route on the Hiram Bingham train will set you back more than $1,000.
You can combine both the Peru Rail Vistadome train and the Hiram Bingham train tickets with full day tours to make the most of your experience. All of these tours include skip-the-line tickets and an in-person guide.
All trains traveling to Machu Picchu will terminate in the town of Aguas Calientes. In order to make the most out of your visit, you’ll want to spend at least one night in this town either before and/or after you visit the ruins.
How to get to Machu Picchu From Aguas Calientes
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, there are a number of ways to reach the actual site of Machu Picchu. The most popular choice is the bus which takes around 30 minutes to reach Machu Picchu. This is a local bus with no fixed schedule.
Instead, the buses leave every few minutes whenever they are full. Keep in mind that lines can get extremely long, especially in the morning when everyone is trying to go. We personally waited an hour just to get on the bus. A roundtrip bus ticket will cost you $40.
Another option is to hike up to Machu Picchu, a two-hour route uphill to the site.
The first part of the hike is actually a walk along the same road that the buses take. After about a half hour on this road, you will reach the trailhead which is clearly marked near the Machu Picchu museum. The trail separates from the road for most of the hike thereafter, but there are a couple of instances where you will have to cross the road again. Be careful of the tour buses on these narrow switchback roads.
The walk up might not be as enjoyable as a multi-day Machu Picchu hike, but if you have the time and energy, you might want to consider walking down to return to Aguas Calientes. Walking the trail is free, so it’s a great option for those traveling to Machu Picchu on a budget.
Machu Picchu Tickets & Tours
There are numerous ways to book your tickets for visiting Machu Picchu, but you will definitely need to book them in advance. (These tickets usually don’t sell out but since it is such a popular trip, best not to take chances.) Here are a few of the available Machu Picchu tours.
Machu Picchu Entrance Ticket
The most basic Machu Picchu tickets you can get is an official Machu Picchu entrance ticket which will cost you $65 and is valid for 5 hours. This doesn’t include a guide or any additional activities or transportation.
Purchase an official Machu Picchu entrance ticket
Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain
If you want to do a hike while you are visiting, you can purchase a combination ticket for both Machu Picchu itself and the nearby Machu Picchu Mountain. Visitors are allowed access to the mountain in two different groups from 7 to 8 am and from 9 to 10 am.
The hike itself should take two or three hours. With a difficulty rating of “moderate,” this Machu Picchu hike requires a good physical condition. Tickets cost $93.
Machu Picchu & Huyana Picchu
You can also purchase Machu Picchu tickets that include entrance to both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, the neighbouring mountain peak that provides a fresh and stunning view of the more famous ruin site.
This is a unique opportunity to see Machu Picchu from a new perspective, as well as a great way to deviate from the crowds since only 400 people are allowed access to Huayna Picchu per day. The sheerness of Huayna Picchu is hair-raising so if you have a fear of heights, make sure to skip this trek.
This Machu Picchu ticket will cost you $99 and is valid for an entire day, with entrance times to Huayna Picchu at 7 or 10 am. Again, a guide is not included but can be hired upon arrival.
Hiring A Guide for Machu Picchu
We highly recommend hiring a guide when visiting Machu Picchu. Although it is an extra cost, it is well worth the money in order to learn about the ancient citadel and really get a peek into the history of the Incan civilization. Not hiring a guide was our biggest regret from visiting Machu Picchu.
While we did enjoy our visit and made sure to read a lot about the lost city before and during our time in Machu Picchu, we feel like we missed out on many details and unique stories about the site that we would have gotten from an official guide.
Plus, hiring a local guide is another great way to support a local economy and make your visit to Machu Picchu a bit more sustainable, so we say, DO IT!
Morning or Afternoon Visit?
Most tickets for Machu Picchu tours have the option of a morning or afternoon entrance. In our opinion, the morning entrance is the far better choice. Not only will the crowds be thinner, but the sun will be less intense as well.
To book your Machu Picchu tours, you can either go online or go to a tour provider in Cusco or Aguas Calientes.
If you’re booking online, we highly recommend booking a tour through a reliable tour provider like Get Your Guide. It is much easier to navigate than the Peruvian government website and still offers great value for your money.
If you are buying your tickets in Cusco, head to the Ministerio de Cultura (the ministry of culture) any time between 7 am and 8 pm, Monday through Saturday.
To buy your tickets in Aguas Calientes, visit the Machu Picchu Cultural Center in the main square. Make sure to bring cash with you as credit cards are not accepted here. If you are buying your tickets in person in Peru, don’t forget to also bring your passport.
In general, you will need four or five hours to explore the best of Machu Picchu. Make sure to time your visit well so you don’t miss your train back to Cusco.
Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes
Although Aguas Calientes is a small town, its role as a travel hub for Machu Picchu means it has plenty of options for room and board. Here are a couple recommendations of great places to stay.
Intillaqta Machu Picchu
Intillaqta Machu Picchu is a small hotel is a perfect budget option for your stay in Aguas Calientes. Its rustic, the homey decor makes the place feel very comfortable, and breakfast is included. The staff at Intillaqta speak English and are very helpful in answering any questions you might have.
Eco Machu Picchu Pueblo
The Eco Machu Picchu Pueblo is a great option for the environmentally conscious traveler. Not only do they value sustainability, but they also have a variety of wellness services and massages on offer. Breakfast is also included at this hotel.
What to Budget for your Trip to Machu Picchu by Train
It is possible to experience Machu Picchu on a tight budget. But luckily, with some many ways to get to Machu Picchu your trip can be customized to fit your allotted budget.
Here is an example budget from the itinerary we personally followed when visiting Machu Picchu by train:
Peru Rail – Expedition Train to Agua Calientes: $75 x 2 people = $150
Peru Rail – Vistadome Train to Cusco: $77 x 2 people = $154
Machu Picchu ticket (entrance): $70 x 2 people = $140
Aguas Calientes hotel: $37 including breakfast
= $481 total for 2 people
All things considered, taking the train to Machu Picchu is a fantastic and worthwhile experience and we recommend it to anyone traveling to the famous Incan landmark.
Have you taken the train to Machu Picchu? What was your experience?
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