Flexible Booking Plan: We understand the world is uncertain right now so to help we've introduced our "Flexible Booking Plan" for new bookings. Read more here.

How To Visit Machu Picchu

Published: 19th October 2015

Machu Picchu is one of the greatest and most iconic travel destinations on our planet. The ruin is a truly ingenious and magical place, full of inspiration, mystery, adventure and beauty. Ever since Hiram Bingham III first "discovered" the ruin in 1911 and unleashed it upon the world in the subsequent National Geographic publication Machu Picchu has been an aspirational travel destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists, and today it is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.

Machu Picchu was a "lost city", hidden deep within the valleys of the valleys around Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire in Peru, and this means that access to Machu Picchu isn't straightforward - you can't just take a bus from Cusco for example!, so it is important to plan your trip to ensure you pick the best way to visit Machu Picchu.

Share this article with your friends:

How to visit Machu Picchu

The single most important piece of advice we can give you is: DON'T JUST TURN UP!

Entry permits to Machu Picchu are limited to 2500 each day by the Peruvian govenment, a new policy that was introduced recently in an effort to control tourist numbers to protect the site... so if you just turn up in Cusco, or particularly if you just turn up in Machu Picchu, there is always a chance that entry permits for that day will have sold out - particularly in the high season, so always book in advance and book through a reputable travel agency or tour operator.

What are the different ways to visit Machu Picchu?

The first thing you need to decide when planning your holiday to Peru is which way you want to visit Machu Picchu, as there are a number of options.

One thing that many people do not realise until they reach Peru is that THERE IS NO ROAD TO MACHU PICCHU! The road ends near Ollantaytambo, at the end of the Sacred Valley, so access to Machu Picchu is restricted to other methods. The major ways to visit Machu Picchu are:

1. Train. By far the most popular option, trains run regularly from Cusco, through the Sacred Valley, and eventually to Machu Picchu.

2. Walking / Trekking. Reaching Machu Picchu on foot is possible by completing one of the treks to Machu Picchu. The official Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most popular, but there are also many alternative treks to Machu Picchu, including the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. It is also possible to walk to Machu Picchu via modern steps from the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, in the valley deep below the Inca ruin.

3. Horse-Back. Horse-riding to Machu Picchu is one of a number of new adventurous ways to reach Machu Picchu. However be aware that horse-riding tours to Machu Picchu will usually arrive at Aguas Calientes, the town in the valley below Machu Picchu, rather than the ruin itself, so check this before booking.

How To Take The Train to Machu Picchu

Taking the train to Machu Picchu is the most popular option to reach the ruin, and the journey is a beautiful, inspiring and romantic journey to make.

Train to Machu Picchu

Taking the train to Machu Picchu is relatively straightforward, as all it requires is a ticket for travel like any other train service. However train tickets can sell out for the most popular journey times at the most popular times of year, and it is important that your train tickets are linked both with your Machu Picchu entry permits, and hotel reservations in Cusco and / or Machu Picchu so that the trip runs smoothly, so for this reason it is advisable to book train tickets and entry permits through tour operators who are more able to package these items together with no risk to travellers.

The Train Line: The train line to Machu Picchu runs from Cusco, via the Sacred Valley, to the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo in the valley below Machu Picchu. To get to Machu Picchu from the station there are buses that run very regularly from the station up a winding road to the entrance for Machu Picchu ruin. Return buses then travel back to the town for return train journeys back to Cusco.

The Train Journey: If possible, we always recommend that you travel during the day, rather than select one of the evening departures, so you don't miss out on the view. The train journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu is through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, through stunning landscapes, along river ravines, passing Andean snow-capped peaks, and passing Inca ruins and terraces - quite simply, it is a fascinating journey, so don't travel in the dark or fall asleep and miss the fun!

Journey Time: The train journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes in each direction, and the train journey from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

Train Stations: As trains run through the valley it is possible to catch the train to Machu Picchu from Cusco, or from one of the stations in the Sacred Valley, such as Urubamba or Ollantaytambo. This allows people that have visited the Sacred Valley to get the train to Machu Picchu from the valley, without having to waste time (and money) returning all the way back to Cusco simply to take a train from there. Time is valuable on any holiday, so keep travel-time to a minimum to allow more time for sightseeing.

Train Times: Trains depart regularly from Cusco to Machu Picchu between 6am and 9am, and from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu between 5am and 3pm, as well as some later departures in the evening. Return trains also run regularly back to Cusco. For precise times please check train websites.

Which Train Time Is Best: This all depends on your preferred itinerary. Most people would catch an early train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo and arrive in Machu Picchu mid-morning, which allows time to explore the ruin for a late return back to Cusco on the same day. For people that want to observe the sun-rise over Machu Picchu it is better to take one of the late evening trains to Machu Picchu, sleep overnight in Machu Picchu Pueblo, then get one of the early buses up to Machu Picchu ruin the following morning.

Expedition Train to Machu Picchu

Train Companies: There are currently two train companies that operate trains to Machu Picchu: Peru Rail, and Inca Rail. Both companies offer very similar services, and in our opinion there is little advantage or disadvantage in travelling with one or the other.

Class of Travel: Peru Rail operates three standards of train journey: Expedition, Vistadome, and Hiram Bingham. Expedition trains are comfortable, have windows in the roof for almost 360-degree views of the valley during the journey, and includes snacks and air-conditioning. The Vistadome service contains tables, and has onboard entertainment such as dancing. Hiram Bingham is a first-class luxury train service, featuring welcome snacks, wine, entertainment, a bar, and on-board full dinner service.

How To Walk To Machu Picchu

If you do not want to complete the official Inca Trail, or one of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu, it is still possible to walk to Machu Picchu on foot. The town of Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, is the final stop on the train-line from Cusco, and is the departure station for Machu Picchu. From this town there is a modern stairway that rises steeply up the valley, following the route of the road, and it is possible to walk up these steps and reach the modern entrance to Machu Picchu on foot.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

There are countless trekking options in Peru, and the region in and around Cusco features some of the best and most famous options in South America. Not all treks are direct to Machu Picchu though, so be careful you have chosen the correct trek. The options for trekking to Machu Picchu are:

Trekking to Machu Picchu1. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: There is only one official Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and this is the only way to arrive at Machu Picchu on foot via the traditional Inca Sun Gate entrance. It is technically possible to walk to Machu Picchu on foot via a stairway that leads deep within the base of the valley near the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo, up the valley side, and to the modern entrance-way to Machu Picchu, but if you want to arrive at the Inca Sun Gate, the traditional entranceway, you must complete the Inca Trail. The traditional Inca Trail is a four-day trek from an access point near Ollantaytambo, with three nights camping along the length of the trail. The itinerary involves three days of trekking followed by a tour of Machu Picchu on the final day. The trek route passes by a large number of other Inca ruins, including Winaywayna and Llactapata among others, and the trek is the only way to see some of these incredible Inca sites. For those on a shorter break or who don't fancy the full four-day trail there is also a two-day "Short Inca Trail", consisting of one day of trekking followed by a tour of Machu Picchu on the second day. Inca Trail permits are required for both the full Inca Trail, and the Short Inca Trail. Book well before your travel date to guarantee your permit, as Inca Trail permits can sell out up to 6 months in advance.

2. Lares Trek to Machu Picchu: This is probably the most popular of the "alternative" treks to Machu Picchu. The Lares Trek is a four-day trip, the first three days of which are trekking through the Andes towards Machu Picchu, and the final day is a tour of Machu Picchu. Unlike the official Inca Trail this trek does not arrive at Machu Picchu itself, but arrives at Yanahuara in the Sacred Valley, and from there you take the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, the town in the valley below Machu Picchu. The third night is therefore usually spent in a hotel in this town, with travel to Machu Picchu by bus the following morning (although it is possible to walk up the valley from the town).

3. Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: Similar to the Lares Trek, the Salkantay Trek is another of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu, the key difference being that the Salkantay Trek is a day longer with four days of trekking, and arrival at Machu Picchu on the fifth day. Like the Lares Trek this trek does not arrive at Machu Picchu, but finishes in the Sacred Valley near the Inca ruin of Llactapata, and the final night is usually spent in a hotel in Machu Picchu Pueblo, with travel from there to Machu Picchu either by bus or on foot. One of the advantages of the Salkantay Trek is that it visits the Llactapata ruin, which is observed from a distance on the Inca Trail but not actually visited.

For more information on the Inca Trail see our Inca Trail guide - click here.

Inca Trail

This article was written in 2015 - access to Machu Picchu is constantly changing and being updated by the Peruvian authorities so always check with us for the most accurate and up to date information for your dates of travel.

Make an Online Enquiry