So, the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Machu Picchu is beckoning your call? But not sure whether you should hike the Inca trail, take the lessor known Lares Inca trail or opt for the scenic train ride? Digging through the endless options can be overwhelming so we've put together an ultimate guide on how to get to Machu Picchu. Discover below everything you need to know, and before long, you'll be wandering the ancient passageways of Machu Picchu.
Peru's city of Cuzco
How to get to Machu Picchu?
There are two main ways to get to Machu Picchu, by train and by foot. Taking the train is by far the quickest and least strenuous way to reach Machu Picchu, especially if you add on a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. If you're keen to hike in the footsteps of the Incas, you can opt for a multi-day hike along the Classic Inca Trail or the lesser-known Lares Inca trail. Better yet, join an organised tour like the Ultimate Peru Adventure for a deep dive into Peru's culture and landscapes. No matter which way you choose, there's no doubt you'll be mind-blown by the incredible landscapes along the way.
Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu
From Cuzco, you’ll either board a bus, train, an organised tour or drive yourself. All forms of transport will first take you to the town of Ollantaytambo, then you’ll take a train from here to Agues Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, or Machu Picchu Town). Aguas Calientes is located high in the Peruvian Andes, it’s the closest access point to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, and the only way to access Agues Calientes is by train from Ollantaytambo.
As your train journeys between the towns of Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes you’ll stop at a significant place called Kilometre 82. If you’re thinking about hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, this is where you’ll begin your hike. As the name suggests, this famous trail head is situated 82 kilometres along the railway from Cuzco, on the way to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
If you’re arriving in Cuzco from a low-laying homeland and you’re thinking about hiking an Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, it’s a great idea to take a couple of days to loosen up the legs after your flight, gently adjusting to the altitude of the Andes. A great way to do this is to explore the history, sights and sounds in the beautiful city of Cuzco, and join a group tour for a stunning bike ride through the Sacred Valley. You’ll find that most tour operators will recommend this transition process, as you’ll see in trips like our Ultimate Peru Adventure ‘Jaguar’.
Hiking to Machu Picchu
If you’re passionate about hiking, then you’ll be happy to hear you have a couple of multi-day options for hiking to Machu Picchu. It’s most popular to take 5 days and 4 nights to hike to Machu Picchu, and there are 2 hiking trails that will lead you to Machu Picchu in this time; the Classic Inca Trail, and the Lares Inca Trail. Each of the Inca trails delivers an array of awe-inspiring panoramic views, traditional villages and historical sites, but they both have their own unique characteristics.
Lares Inca Trail
- 4 nights/5 days
- The least crowded hiking option
- This is a slightly easier hike than the Classic Inca Trail. You’ll still hike to similar elevations, but the trail is far less technical
- The Lares Inca Trail is far less commercial than the Classic Inca Trail, and with fewer people around you’ll get a much more intimate experience with the local Peruvians, and their culture
- The Lares Inca Trail starts in the town of Lares, and finishes in Ollantaytambo. At the end of the trail, you’ll train to Agues Calientes, where you’ll spend the night
- From Agues Calientes you’ll take a bus to Machu Picchu. It’s a great idea to hike to the Sun Gate in the afternoon, when you’ll have unimpeded views of the ruins all to yourself
- The Lares Inca Trail only has 2 nights of camping, compared to the 3 nights of camping on the Classic Inca Trail
Classic Inca Trail
- 4 nights/5 days
- The most popular hiking option
- The Classic Inca Trail is by far the most famous means of getting to Machu Picchu, and the biggest bucket list hike in Peru… so book your trip early since the hiking passes will sell out
- After hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu you’ll arrive at the Sun Gate for sunrise
- On the Classic Inca Trail hike, there is 3 nights of camping, compared to 2 nights of camping on the Lares
- You cannot hike the Classic Inca Trail without being accompanied by a guide. Solo hiking is not prohibited
Learn More about hiking the Inca Trail
- 4 nights/5 days
- The most strenuous option, connects with the Classic Inca Trail
- Reaches an altitude of 4950 metres (16,240 feet)
- Covers a distance of 54 kilometres (34 miles)
- You need a permit to hike the Mollepata trail to Machu Picchu, which can sell out three months in advance
- Recommended for those with experience hiking at high altitude
Take the train to Machu Picchu
You can travel to Machu Picchu by train from Poroy Station in Cuzco, which is approximately 18 kilometres from the city centre. The train will take you all the way to Agues Calientes, and the total travel time from Poroy Station (Cuzco) to Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station (Agues Calientes) is approximately 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Peru Rail and Inca Rail offer a number of rail options, from luxury cabins, to economy and sightseeing cabins with panoramic windows.
If you’re hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, remember that your hike will begin when the train stops at Kilometre 82, situated between Ollantaytambo and Agues Calientes.
If you opt to book the train yourself, don’t forget to secure your tickets in advance using the Peru Rail or Inca Rail websites. Also, keep in mind that the number of trains per day is limited, try to pre-book your accommodation in Agues Calientes and consider how you’d like to get to Machu Picchu.
Decide if you’ll bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, or you’ll hike. Hiking will take approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes, and it’s around 9.5 kilometres (5.9 miles). The bus will take approximately 20 minutes, and it’s an extremely scenic drive. There’s a bus departing every 10 minutes, from 5:30am through to 5:30pm. You can buy your bus tickets from the ticket booth near the departure area.
Note: All Peru adventure tours take care of your rail transport to Machu Picchu
Take the bus to Machu Picchu
The bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo departs at Avenida Grau – which is a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute taxi from Cuzco’s main square. These coaches are called colectivos, they seat up to 16 people, and they have no set fare per person and no set timetables. You simply share the cost of the ride with your fellow passengers, and they generally depart when the bus is full (every 20 to 30 minutes) and they operate between the hours of 6am and 6pm.
The colectivos will drop you off at Poroy station (Ollantaytambo), where you’ll board your train to Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station, Aguas Calientes. If you disembark your train at Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station you’ll be able to catch a bus to Machu Picchu right across the road from the exit of the train station.
Note: All Peru adventure tours take care of your bus transport between Cuzco, Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
How to Self-drive to Machu Picchu
If you have plenty of time on your hands and you’re happy to be driving in a third world country, then taking your own vehicle could be for you. Seeing as you can only get to Agues Calientes by train, you’re best to park your car at Ollantaytambo and board a train from there.
The car journey from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo (on your way to Machu Picchu) will take approximately 2 hours, and it’ll take longer with stops. The train from Ollantaytambo to Agues Calientes will take approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.
The greatest down side to going for the self-drive option over taking a package tour, is that you won’t have a local guide to give you a local account of the rich and fascinating history along the way.
Important tips for your trip to Machu Picchu:
- Don’t forget to secure your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu well in advance. They are not sold at the gate and are limited to a certain amount of people per day
- Carry your original passport to the Machu Picchu entrance
- The entrance gate remains open from 6am to 6pm
- Entry tickets are valid only for a day. You have to buy a new ticket if you wish to spend another day at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu Adventure Tours
If you’re short on time, you’re keen to get off the beaten track and explore the lesser-known spots in Peru, immersing yourself in the local culture and history, it’s a great idea to consider travelling to Machu Picchu as part of an adventure tour.
An adventure tour takes the stress out of organising all the finer details – like transport, food, accommodation and hiking passes. You’ll never have to wait on a bus, you won’t need to stress about where your next meal or bed will be, all you need to do is enjoy your stunning Peruvian surroundings in the company of new friends.
For more ideas of what to do in Peru check out The Top 20 Things to do In Peru and read about some of the lesser-known but no less incredible activities and adventures in Peru.