Llama in front of Machu Picchu

How to Get to Machu Picchu, Citadel of the Incas

Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel nestled high in the Peruvian Andes, is a dream destination for travelers worldwide. Situated between Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu has become one of the most popular historic sites to visit in the world.

If visiting Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, you’re not alone. And there’s good reason: it’s incredible! But the journey to this Andean wonder requires some planning. 

Unfortunately, we can’t all just amble up the beautiful Andean slopes like a llama. So, in this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to get to Machu Picchu, the stops along the way, and the historic sites you can explore on your journey.

How to Get to Machu Picchu: Train, Bus, or Hiking

While there are a multitude of tour companies you can book with to visit Machu Picchu, they all offer some combination of train, bus, and hiking services. The option you choose is entirely up to how you prefer to travel. So let’s check out what these three methods of transportation have to offer so you can make the best decision for your trek through time.

1. How to Get to Machu Picchu via Train

People on board the Vistadome, a great way to get to Machu Picchu

If you’re seeking a comfortable and scenic route to the world-famous Machu Picchu, traveling via train is an enchanting option that promises breathtaking views and a hassle-free experience. In this guide, we’ll explore how to get to Machu Picchu via train, making your journey to this iconic archaeological wonder both convenient and memorable.

  1. Choose Your Train Service: Two train operators offer services from Cusco or the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Depending on your budget and preferences, you can select from various train classes, including luxury options like the Hiram Bingham train.
  2. Depart from Ollantaytambo or Poroy: Most train journeys to Aguas Calientes begin either in Ollantaytambo or Poroy. Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley, offers a picturesque starting point with Incan ruins nearby. Trains run all year long out of the Ollantaytambo train station making it a convenient booking as well. Poroy, located closer to Cusco, provides convenience for travelers staying in the city. The Poroy train station, however, is closed during the rainy season (November to March). 
  3. Arrive in Aguas Calientes: Once you reach Aguas Calientes, you’ll be a short shuttle bus ride away from the entrance to Machu Picchu. These buses run frequently and take you up the steep, winding road to the citadel, offering panoramic views along the way.

To secure your train tickets, it’s advisable to book them in advance, especially during the peak tourist season. Additionally, make sure to have your Machu Picchu entrance tickets ready for a seamless transition from Aguas Calientes to the ancient citadel.

2. How to Get to Machu Picchu via Bus Line

Consettur buses in Aguas Calientes waiting to go to Machu Picchu

For travelers seeking a budget-friendly option to reach the legendary Machu Picchu, taking a bus line offers an affordable and scenic route. Let’s explore how to get to Machu Picchu via bus line, allowing you to embark on an exciting adventure while keeping costs in check.

  1. Start in Cusco: Your journey to Machu Picchu via bus typically begins in the historic city of Cusco. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco now serves as the main hub for travelers exploring the wonders of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The only direct bus routes from Cusco to the Lost City of the Incas are through tour companies that operate with approval from the Peruvian government. While you can make your own way on public buses via Santa Teresa and Hydroelectrica, it’s highly recommend to stick with a tour company for your bus journey. This way, you will not get lost, you will have an expert tour guide for the whole trip, and you can easily hop on and hop off where you need to be.
  2. Choose Your Bus Line: Several bus companies provide transportation from Cusco to the town of Ollantaytambo, which is the launching point for those traveling to Machu Picchu. These bus lines offer varying levels of comfort, so it’s essential to choose one that suits your preferences and budget. 
  3. Enjoy the Scenic Drive: The bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo takes you through the picturesque Sacred Valley of the Incas. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stunning views of terraced fields, charming villages, and the snow-capped Andean peaks that define this remarkable region. Plenty of history to see through the window!
  4. Arrive in Ollantaytambo: Once you arrive at the Ollantaytambo, you can explore the town’s well-preserved Incan streets and archaeological sites. It’s also a great place to stock up on any supplies you may need for your Machu Picchu adventure.
  5. Take the Train to Aguas Calientes: From Ollantaytambo, you’ll need to take a short train ride to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu. Trains from the Ollantaytambo train station run regularly and offer passengers a comfortable and scenic journey through the stunning Andean landscapes.
  6. Bus to Machu Picchu: After reaching Aguas Calientes, you can hop on one of the frequent shuttle buses operated by Consettur that will take you up the winding road to Machu Picchu. The journey itself offers breathtaking views, and it’s the final leg of your adventure before reaching the ancient citadel.
  7. Secure Entrance Tickets: To complete your journey smoothly, make sure you have pre-purchased your Machu Picchu entrance ticket. This will ensure a hassle-free visit to the archaeological site.

Traveling to Machu Picchu via bus line offers an economical way to experience the wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage site while immersing yourself in the rich culture and natural beauty of the Andes mountains. Whether you’re a budget-conscious traveler or simply looking for a different way to reach Machu Picchu, this route provides a memorable and cost-effective option.

3. How to Hike to Machu Picchu

People descending into Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail

For those seeking an authentic and immersive experience on their journey to Machu Picchu, hiking is the ultimate way to connect with the breathtaking landscapes and rich history of the region. In this section, we’ll explore how to get to Machu Picchu by hiking, providing insights into the most popular and rewarding trekking routes.

  1. The Classic Inca Trail: The Classic Inca Trail is undoubtedly the most famous hiking route to Machu Picchu. This iconic trek typically takes four days and covers approximately 26 miles (42 kilometers) – all along centuries-old roads built by the Inca themselves! Along the way, hikers traverse stunning high-altitude landscapes, ancient Incan ruins, and dense cloud forests before finally reaching the Sun Gate for their first breathtaking view of Machu Picchu.
  2. The Salkantay Trek: An alternative to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is a challenging and rewarding journey that leads you through diverse terrain. The trek begins in the small town of Soraypampa and ending in Aguas Calientes, and usually takes five days. This incredible trip offers hikers the chance to witness dramatic mountain scenery, pristine lakes, and a visit to the Llactapata Incan ruins for a unique perspective on Incan history.
  3. The Lares Trek: For a more culturally immersive experience, consider the Lares Trek. This route takes you through remote Andean villages, providing a glimpse into the traditional way of life of the local Quechua people. Along the way, you’ll soak in breathtaking natural beauty and Inca ruins at Pisac and Ollantaytambo before arriving at Machu Picchu.
  4. The Choquequirao Trek: Less crowded but equally captivating, the Choquequirao Trek leads you to the lesser-known archaeological site of Choquequirao before continuing on to Machu Picchu. This trek is known for its rugged terrain and isolation, offering a sense of adventure for the intrepid traveler.The trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu takes nine days – so come prepared!
  5. The One-Day Hike: If you’re short on time or prefer a less strenuous option, you can opt for a one-day hike up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. This challenging ascent provides an exhilarating experience and a deep sense of accomplishment as you arrive at the Sun Gate.
  6. Inca Jungle Trek: If you want to mix-in a bit of modern fun into your Machu Picchu trek adventure, the Inca Jungle Trek is a great option. This four day, three night hike takes you through the several incredible Inca sites on the way to Machu Picchu. Along the way, you’ll also have the chase to zip line, raft, and bike in the beautiful Andes mountains. 

Regardless of the hiking route you choose, it’s essential to plan ahead, obtain necessary permits, and be physically prepared for the journey. Remember, all of these hikes are at an extremely high altitude and altitude sickness is a real possibility. So give yourself a chance to acclimatize before setting out. 

With the right preparations, hiking to Machu Picchu allows you to not only witness the ancient citadel but also to forge a personal connection with the stunning Andean landscapes and the fascinating history of the Incas. It’s truly an adventure of a lifetime.

How to Get to Machu Picchu From Cusco

Bird's eye view of Cusco, Peru

While the journey to this ancient Incan citadel is an adventure in itself, it’s essential to plan your route carefully to make the most of your visit. In this section, we’ll explore the various options to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, the one time capital city of the Incan Empire.

  1. Train to Aguas Calientes: The most comfortable and picturesque way to reach Machu Picchu is by taking a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. The scenic ride offers breathtaking views of the Andean landscape. Once in Aguas Calientes, you can either take a bus or hike up to the citadel itself.
  2. Inca Trail Trek: For the adventurous at heart, the classic Inca Trail trek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This multi-day hike winds through breathtaking landscapes, lush cloud forests, and Incan ruins, culminating in the awe-inspiring arrival at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate.
  3. Salkantay Trek: An alternative trek for those seeking a bit more challenge and fewer crowds is the Salkantay Trek. This rugged route takes you through diverse terrain, including high mountain passes and lush jungles, before leading you to Machu Picchu.

Before embarking on your journey to Machu Picchu, it’s essential to obtain the necessary permits, especially if you plan to trek the Inca Trail or Salkantay. Additionally, check the current COVID-19 travel restrictions and guidelines, as they may affect your plans.

How to Get to Machu Picchu From Aguas Calientes

Statue of Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes, Peru

Aguas Calientes serves as the last stop on your journey before reaching the awe-inspiring Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. In this section, we’ll explore the final leg of your adventure and discuss the various ways to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

  1. Shuttle Bus to Machu Picchu: The most common and convenient way to reach Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes is by taking a shuttle bus. These buses operate frequently and offer a comfortable 25-30-minute ride up the steep and winding road to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Be prepared for breathtaking views along the way as you ascend through lush cloud forests.
  2. Hiking to Machu Picchu: For the adventurous traveler, there’s also the option to hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. This takes about 1.5 hours – so plan accordingly!
  3. Combined Bus and Hike: Some visitors opt for a combination of both bus and hiking. You can take the shuttle bus to the entrance, explore the citadel, and then hike down to Aguas Calientes. This allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds.
  4. Guided Tours: If you prefer a guided experience, consider joining a tour group that provides transportation from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Knowledgeable guides will lead you through the site, offering insights into its history and significance.

No matter which mode of transportation you choose, the journey from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is an integral part of the overall adventure. Remember to purchase your Machu Picchu entrance tickets and shuttle bus tickets in advance to ensure a smooth visit. With these options at your disposal, you’re well-prepared to embark on a memorable exploration of one of the world’s most iconic archaeological wonders.

Historic Sites to See On Your Journey

From amazing archaeological sites to colonial architecture, the journey to Machu Picchu is an immersive experience that connects you with the layers of history that have shaped this region. So, fasten your seatbelts and lace up your hiking boots as we embark on a journey through time and history, all in pursuit of the enigmatic Machu Picchu.

Historic Sites in Cusco

  • Plaza de Armas: The heart of Cusco, surrounded by colonial-era buildings and the stunning Cathedral.
  • Qorikancha: Once the most important Inca temple, now combined with the Santo Domingo Convent.
  • Sacsayhuamán: A massive Inca citadel with impressive stone walls, this site dates back to the fifteenth-century. In 1983, it was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Historic Sites in Aguas Calientes

  • Machu Picchu Museum: Learn more about the history and archaeology of Machu Picchu.
  • Mandor Waterfall: Take a short hike to this picturesque waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation. Once Inca farmland, it now plays home to hummingbirds.

Inca Ruins Along the Inca Trail

While hiking the official Inca Trail, you’ll encounter several remarkable Incan ruins:

  • Llactapata: An ancient ceremonial site with stunning panoramic views.
  • Runkurakay: A circular Inca archaeological site with impressive stonework.
  • Sayacmarca: A well-preserved Inca town with terraces and structures.
  • Wiñay Wayna: A complex of agricultural terraces and temples on the final stretch of the trail.

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