Taking a glimpse at the recently declared modern wonder of the world, Machu Picchu, is what most visitors to Peru centre their whole trip around. Machu Picchu´s isoluted nature is part of its allure. Built atop the spine of an ancient Andean mountain, nestled deep within the Peruvian cloud forest, it is not surprising that it was held secret for so long.
For the modern day tourist, direct access to this heritage site is still not possible by road; the only way to get there, is either by foot or by train. In 1999, Peru Rail, founded by Lorenzo Sousa, started operating the first touristic train service granting easy access to the most famous and most visited site in Peru.
The journey is renowned for its stunning scenery as the track snakes its way through the Andean countryside to the very base of Machu Picchu Mountain.
On the back of the global interest after Machu Picchu´s discovery (and subsequent tourism boom) the town of Aguas Calientes, which lies at the foot of the mountain on which the ruins lie, sprung to life as a modern mix of hotels and restaurants to cater to the daily influx of tourists drawn to the site.
It is to Aguas Calientes that Peru Rail brings you. From here, there’s shuttle buses that run every 5 minutes to the main entrance of Machu Picchu. Many travellers opt to spend the night here as part of a 2day/1night trip, taking the early morning bus up the mountain to enjoy a full day unrushed at the extensive ruins.
Peru Rail services do not leave from Cusco city itself. You can catch the train from the local villages of Ollantaytambo or Poroy, both of which are located outside of Cusco itself.
Most people opt for the train services that depart from Ollantaytambo as these run with higher frequency and are usually cheaper priced (price varies depending on service type and departure time).
Ollantaytambo is a roughly 2-hour drive from Cusco by road and from there, the train ride to Aguas Calientes is 1hour and 30mins. At an agency, your Peru Rail ticket will likely include a shared minibus transfer service from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in your package. There are also public minibuses departing with frequency from Cusco centre.
USEFUL TIP: If you are planning to take a Sacred Valley day tour, then Ollantaytambo is the last stop on these day trips before heading back to Cusco. Instead of returning to Cusco, you can arrange for you Sacred Valley Tour to end in Ollantaytambo, so you can take the train from there to Aguas Calientes. Most agencies do not mention this, because they will make more money if you buy to independent day trips. Save yourself 4 hours on the road!
Which train to choose? How much does it cost? Peru Rail runs four different levels of coach service to Machu Picchu every day, aimed at different budgets and different luxury levels.
Tickets can be purchased directly online through the official Peru Rail website or you could buy your ticket at one of the official Peru Rail offices if you prefer to book face to face.
If you are looking to purchase a Peru Rail pass in Lima, the nearest point of sale can actually be found within the international Jorge Chavez airport of Lima. Another central point of sale for Peru Rail is in the coastal district of Miraflores where most tourists stay.
Within this touristic hub is the commercial centre of Larcomar, where you can find another Peru Rail ticket office.
It is important to note that Peru Rail does not allow big suitcases or heavy luggage on their train. The permitted amount of luggage on their train per person is just 5 kg, so if you happen to lug around a lot of luggage, it’s best to leave the heavy stuff in a hotel or hostel in Cusco and only bring the necessary in a backpack or small travel bag.
Many hostels allow you to store your luggage in their storage area for a reasonable price. Prior to travelling, check if the hostel or hotel you are staying at has a storage room and can keep it for you until your return. Also check what is allowed and not allowed at Machu Picchu itself.
Visiting Machu Picchu is not simply a one ticket purchase trip. Depending on the route you decide to take, the transport consists of a series of connecting trips, primarily by bus and train: the bus ride to Ollantaytambo, the train ticket, the ticket for the bus that climbs the mountain to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes, and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu itself.
If you want to book in advance, booking each and every leg of the journey on your own can prove to be a complete and unwanted hassle to the planning stage of your trip.
The easiest way to avoid this headache is to purchase each and every stop as a package tour. There are many online operators that sell different tours and treks as a package deal. If you would like to book in advance, you can compare different prices of safe and reliable operators on FindLocalTrips.com.
However, if you are the type of person that plans on the go, you will also find an endless amount of street agencies selling tour packages in Cusco. With these agencies you can also opt for a Peru Rail ticket. Make sure you choose a reliable operator if choosing one on the street.
That’s all you needed to know about Peru Rail. Enjoy the ride!