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how to get to machu picchu

Machu Picchu Travel: How to get to Machu Picchu and what you need to know

The sun rises slowly and spreads a magical glow over the ruins and the surrounding peaks of the Andes.

Seeing the sight of Machu Picchu, the lost ancient city of Incas, you feel surreal.

What is so special about Machu Picchu?

Just the idea of this city, that once was built by human hands on top of a mountain peak of 2400 meters deep in the jungle, is already impressive.

The massive boulders were brought up high on the peak by hands to create the city for the powerful Incas.

The centuries-old ruins with the mysterious history and today llamas chewing grass around the ruins peacefully, will make you understand why Machu Picchu still keeps attracting people all over the world.

how to get to machu picchu


The Inca civilization lived in the highlands of Peru from the thirteenth century with the city of Cusco as their administrative, political and military center.

At the peak of their power, the Inca Empire stretched over their land about four thousand kilometers, all the way from the south of Columbia to the northwest of Argentina and Chile.

It is believed that the Incas built the city of Machu Picchu around 1440 under the leadership of Pachacuti.

The Spanish conquest eventually ended the power of the Incas in 1532.

Because of Machu Picchu’s inaccessibility, it was never found by the Spaniards and it remained as one of a few Inca cities intact.

Only in 1911 did Hiram Bingham III rediscover the ancient Machu Picchu, which was hidden under a thick layer of greenery.

Since then, the hidden city of Machu Picchu has become a popular tourist attraction in Peru.


machu picchu travel

Cusco and Altitude sickness

A trip to Machu Picchu starts in Cusco for most travelers.

Once being the capital of the Incas, Cusco has many historical sites to visit.

Not only the beautiful cathedrals and its famous stone pavements, but also the central point of the city, the Plaza de Armas, can offer visitors lots of cozy bars and restaurants as well.

One thing you have to be careful before arriving in Cusco is to prepare yourself for altitude sickness.

Cusco is at the altitude of more than 3300 meters.

It is a good idea to take your itinerary slowly in Cusco, so you can be sure that you will not suffer from altitude sickness while traveling to Machu Picchu.

How to get to Machu Picchu: Walking or Trains?

Machu Picchu lies deep in the interior of Peru on a high mountain peak of 2400 meters.

(Surprisingly the ruins of Machu Picchu are  actually located at lower altitude than the city of Cusco!)

It is possible that you walk the 45-kilometer Inca trail, the same path which the people of ancient Incas used to walk, if you have enough stamina for it.

But if you prefer a more relaxing journey, train would be a perfect alternative.

Taking a train from Cusco to a village called Aguas Calientes through the mountains, you will have the opportunity to pass by the beautiful view of serene countryside, small village markets and children playing on the street.

There are four Peru Rail trains with levels of service ranging from economy to luxury that you can choose for your journey to Machu Picchu.

1. Perurail Expedition Train

The most affordable offer is a trip by the Perurail Expedition train, the so called  “backpacker” train.

If you are on a budget or you don’t care much about the train journey but more about the destination itself, than this is a great option.

The train itself is still comfortable enough and you can also buy snacks and beverages onboard.

2. Perurail Vistadome Train

The second option would be the Perurail Vistadome train.

The Vistadome is equipped with giant sunroofs and panoramic windows.

You will get to see the impressive views of the Andes and clear blue skies with unbelievably white clouds from the Vistadome windows.

A small snack and drink service is also included.

The drink menu even includes the Peruvian signature drink, Chicha Morada (non-alcoholic drink made of purple maize and fruit), too.

perurail vistadome machu picchu
Inside the Perurail Vistadome train

3. Perurail Sacred Valley Train

The third option would be the Perurail Sacred Valley Train.

The Perurail Sacred Valley train is accommodating only 33 passengers.

When riding this train you will feel like you are back in the 1920s which are reflected in the elegant interieur, the sumptuous Dining Car and Observation Bar Car.

Enjoy an Andean infusion in the Observatory Bar Car while taking in the beautiful landscapes of the Sacred Valley.

You will also be served a gourmet lunch while going to Machu Picchu and on the way back you will be served dinner.

If you are traveling with Rail South America, we will visit Machu Picchu by taking the Sacred Valley Train.

The trip to Machu Picchu is part of our 21 day Buenos Aires to Lima tour. See the full itinerary here.

4. Belmond Explorer Hiram Bingham Luxury Train

The fourth option would be the “Hiram Bingham”.

It is the most luxurious train with nothing else but premium services but also a premium price tag.

The guests will be offered cocktails whenever they want accompanied by live music and dances.

In terms of luxury this train can’t be beaten by any other trains, as a train ride on the “Hiram Bingham” is an experience of itself.

You are required to take another  1 hour bus ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and again a bit of additional walk to the ruins.

It is true that this whole Machu Picchu trip could be a long one but the trip is definitely worth it!

Pro tipp: After visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu, it is probably a good idea to stop by at Aguas Calientes to enjoy the hot spring of the village.

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