Machu Picchu: It’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, hidden away high in the mountains of Peru. The Incans who engineered and built this incredible site intended to keep it a secret, as it was used as a royal retreat. They succeeded: It was so well-concealed that Spanish conquistadors never discovered it. Today, travelers have a number of options for getting to the site. Let’s take a closer look.
Schedule Travel Months in Advance
Visiting Machu Picchu Peru calls for plenty of planning. To begin with, ensure that you can actually visit on the day(s) you are considering. The reason for this is that in order to reduce tourism impact at the site, there are a limited number of reservations per day. Your tour operator may be able to handle everything on your behalf, or you have the option of buying your ticket to Machu Picchu online, in advance. It is a very good idea to discuss your options with your tour operator before you buy a ticket – again, we have to stress that advance planning is key. In the event that you’d like to gain entrance to Huayna Picchu mountain as part of your tour, you will need to book at least two to three months ahead of time.
Since helicopter operations were shut down several years ago, there are no direct flights to Machu Picchu. For most people, the first step is to fly into Lima, and then to take a connecting flight to Cusco, which offers the closest airport to Machu Picchu.
If you have time and you’d like to see more of Peru, you can take a bus from Lima to Cusco. The best way is via Huacachina and Arequipa. This method takes far longer than flying but it gives you the opportunity to view the landscape and it exposes you to higher altitudes gradually, which can be a bit easier on your body.
From Cusco, you have the option to hike, take a bus, or hop onboard a train to Machu Picchu. It’s best to take at least two days to acclimate – consider taking some day trips or just enjoy Cusco before continuing on to the mountain.
Ready for a closer look at how to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco? Here’s a breakdown of some different ways to get to this amazing destination and witness one of the new seven wonders of the world for yourself.
One of the most fascinating things you’ll discover if you decide to go by foot is that at 7,972 feet, Machu Picchu elevation is actually lower than Cusco’s altitude, which is 11,152 feet. Whichever route you take – even if you choose the shorter Inca Trail – you’ll be going over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). All routes are challenging so be sure to focus on training before you go. Stairclimbing and climbing a treadmill set on a challenging incline are two gym workouts that will prep your muscles for the steep hills you’ll encounter along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as well as along other routes.
Hint: Even if you’re not trekking, it’s a great idea to get plenty of leg days in before your trip. The entire site is hilly, with thousands of stairs to climb as you explore. You’ll be thankful that you spent plenty of time working out once you arrive.
Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Take the Train
If you have a limited amount of time to spend, then consider taking the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. This is fast and convenient, and there are now quite a few different services to choose from:
The Vistadome is a premium train travel experience, with railway cars that feature massive windows along both sides as well as overarching skylights that provide an exceptional view of the mountaintops and forests. Live entertainment features local dances, and passengers are treated to snacks made with local ingredients. Non-alcoholic beverage service is included with the price of your ticket. PeruRail train stations are equipped with WiFi.
The Expedition features beautiful, comfortable passenger cars minus some of the windows on the higher-priced Vistadome option. You can purchase food and beverages and you can choose from a range of departure times.
Belmond Hiram Bingham Luxury Train: If you’d like to travel in style, then you’ll appreciate everything the Hiram Bingham Luxury Train has to offer. It runs on the same rails as other trains, however it is exclusive in that it has seats for only 84 passengers at once, and its appointments are designed to offer the best experience money can buy.
Each car has been beautifully outfitted so that the interior resembles an original 1920s Pullman carriage, complete with comfortable seats, polished wood, and stunning details everywhere you look. Meals and drinks are included, plus there is a bar car to enjoy. The observation car offers astonishing views, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, and on the return trip, you’ll be treated to live entertainment.
IncaRail: IncaRail offers choices that range from economical to luxurious, with different ticket levels to choose from. You can take IncaRail from Cusco, San Pedro, or Ollantaytambo, but double-check to see which level of service is available on your chosen travel dates to ensure that you get the experience you want.
- The IncaRail Voyager is basic, with nice panoramic windows, folding tables, snacks, a variety of hot and cold beverages, and background music.
- The 360 Degree offers taller, wider panoramic windows that give you an enhanced view of the natural surroundings you’ll be traveling through, plus it features an outdoor observatory wagon. You get a box lunch along with hot and cold beverages, and there’s in-train entertainment available as well.
- The Firstclass features large panoramic windows, an observatory lounge with an outdoor balcony, a bar, complimentary drinks, a gourmet menu, and live music. It’s designed to give each passenger more space and the seats are more luxurious than those offered on Voyager and 360 trains. This level of service includes a bus ride to the Citadel.
- For the ultimate in luxury, consider a private carriage just for you and your companions. This spectacular train car is equipped with panoramic windows, as well as its own outdoor balcony. You’ll have access to a gourmet menu, along with a bar and complimentary drinks. Live music is part of the experience, plus you’ll be treated to a private bus ride to the Citadel.
If rail travel is your chosen mode of transportation, you should be aware that while it is possible to purchase your tickets in person, most people choose to book in advance to ensure that they’ll have a seat. The train will take you to Aguas Calientes and from there, you can walk or catch a bus to the royal retreat.
The train to Machu Picchu provides incredible views of the landscape.
Take the Bus
The easiest way to ride the bus to Machu Picchu is to combine a bit of rail travel with some bus travel. From Cusco, take the collectivo to Ollantaytambo. From there, take IncaRail to Aguas Calientes. Note that you will probably need a train reservation for your IncaRail trip, so plan in advance if you’d like to try this option. From Aguas Calientes, you can take a bus to the entrance point, or you can walk to the site.
Conclusion: There’s More to Explore!
Ready for more? Be sure to read Part One of our complete Machu Picchu travel guide, where you’ll learn more about the site’s history and prominent features. Be sure to check out our packing list while you’re there, learn more about different lodging options, gain insight into Machu Picchu’s weather patterns, and take a look at some other activities to round out your trip. However you travel and whenever you visit, this destination promises a world of discoveries and memories to last a lifetime.
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