Because there are no roads that take you to Machu Picchu, travelers can either hike or walk the Inca Trail or take a train to Aguas Calientes.
The train to Machu Picchu takes about 2 to 4 hours depending on what train station you depart from, either in Cusco or the Sacred Valley.
For travelers with limited time, the train is the easiest and fastest option. On the other hand, the iconic Inca Trail is a multi-day trekking adventure through towering Andean peaks. (Learn more about the Inca Trail and alternative treks to Machu Picchu.)
For travelers taking the train, the natural beauty of the region is the on-board entertainment. Between Cusco and Ollantaytambo the railway meanders through a narrow gorge flanked by steep mountains before dropping down into the Sacred Valley. The train tracks then mirror the path of the Urubamba River into lush, tropical terrain as they approach Machu Picchu.
PeruRail and Inca Rail operate trains to Machu Picchu. Both companies offer various levels of service (from high-end luxury to more economic options) with different departure times for each train.
PeruRail is a Peruvian-British company, part of the Belmond Group, that operates the majority of railway services to and from Machu Picchu. There are four classes of service: Expedition, Vistadome, Peru Sacred Valley and the first-class Hiram Bingham.
If you’re looking for the most economic option without sacrificing comfort, all aboard the Expedition. Carriages have comfortable cloth seating and basic snack service at an extra cost.
There is slightly less legroom to be considered a luxury experience, but the panoramic side windows to take in the beautiful landscapes make up for it.
Expedition service departs from two stations: Cusco (Poroy) and the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo).
The panoramic side and overhead windows are the focal point of this train. From the comfort of your seat, spectacular views of the Andean Mountains are the definition of a “sensory experience.” Carriages have leather seats, and light snacks are served free of cost.
During the return journey from Machu Picchu, the train staff performs a fashion show wearing alpaca and other textile items while lively Andean music plays. All items shown during the fashion show are for sale.
The Vistadome has three stations of departure for their trains to Machu Picchu: Cusco (Poroy), Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo) and Sacred Valley (Urubamba).
Need a little luxury but also want to afford it? This service is for you. You will get the same accommodations on their luxury wagons as with the Hiram Bingham, including lunch and dinner, but without the extra entertainment (see below). This service starts at the Rio Sagrado station, going through Ollantaytambo and then Aguas Calientes. Also take note it only has two daily departures.
Named for the man who reintroduced Machu Picchu to the world more than 100 years ago, this luxury train offers signature service to the Inca citadel.
Polished wood and plush seating decorate the interior of this exquisite train. The train has two dining cars, an observation and bar car, and a kitchen car.
To Machu Picchu, brunch and entertainment are included onboard followed by tea time at the famous Sanctuary Lodge adjacent to the Inca citadel. The return trip features a gourmet Andean-inspired meal paired with wine and onboard entertainment.
PeruRail offers bimodal transportation (a combination of car and train service) to Machu Picchu during the rainy season. This occurs because the section of track between Cusco and Ollantaytambo closes on account of higher risk of landslides. Dates for bimodal transportation vary each year.
As with PeruRail, Inca Rail offers rail service from San Pedro, Poroy and Ollantaytambo stations to Machu Picchu. They offer three different category trains: the Voyager, 360° and First Class. There’s a fourth, charter option called “The Private,” which allows you to book a whole wagon for yourself or any number number of passengers, up to 8.
This train is great for travelers who want to minimize expenses. As Inca Rail’s most affordable option, it’s a no-frills ride, but snack and beverage service is included on selected schedules, and the seating is comfortable. This train runs daily all year round between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.
This train offers bigger and wider panoramic windows in addition to an observatory wagon, allowing train goers to explore the Andean landscape like never before. It runs daily all year round. Service includes a box lunch as well as warm and cold beverages.
Onboard The First Class, you will sure be pampered. Service includes a welcome cocktail and a gourmet meal prepared with Andean ingredients from the Sacred Valley, including an exclusive selection of wines. Live music, an outdoor balcony, a bar, and private transportation to the Inca citadel are all included.
This is Inca Rail’s most decadent train service. Sip on a welcoming glass of champagne while enjoying top-notch service. Savor the flavors of Peru while eating a three-course meal and cruise to Machu Picchu in style. It offers many of the same features as The First Class, but with an extra notch of exclusivity.
Cover photo: Andina
This article has been revised and updated from its original publication on January 13, 2020.
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