Machu Picchu can only be reached by hiking the Inca trail, or alternatively by taking a train. Traveling to Machu Picchu by train is a spectacular journey through the Andean foothills following the Urubamba River, leading you into the cloud forest to arrive at the small town of Aguas Calientes. From the station of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, you take a thirty-minute bus ride up to the iconic ruins.
There are two train companies that operate the train route to Machu Picchu – PeruRail and Inca Rail – both offering trains with a variety of schedules and service levels to suit luxury travelers and backpackers alike. The most luxurious way to travel by train to Machu Picchu is on board the luxury Hiram Bingham service, or privately chartering Inca Rail’s Private Machu Picchu train. Aracari arranges train tickets to Machu Picchu as part of any tailormade trip to Peru, not as a standalone service.
Trains to Machu Picchu – all ending at Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu – principally depart either from Poroy, twenty minutes outside of Cusco (13km / 8 mi), and Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, which is around a one and a half hour drive from Cusco (86km / 54mi). There are also more limited departures from Urubamba, also in the Sacred Valley. Furthermore, the luxury hotels Belmond Rio Sagrado and Tambo del Inka also have their own stations, operating limited schedules for guests staying in these properties. Trains leaving these hotels stop in Ollantaytambo for other travelers to board on their way to Machu Picchu.
Whether you depart from Poroy or Ollantaytambo will depend partly on where you’re starting from and whether it is rainy season or not; in rainy season a bi-modal road/train service operates as trains do not leave from Poroy but from the stations in the Sacred Valley. If you’re already in Cusco, departing from Poroy is usually the most convenient option. The train journey time from Poroy to Aguas Calientes is three and a half hours one-way. If you’re already in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo will likely be more convenient to get to. An exception might be if you’re staying in the Sacred Valley but taking the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu, when you might want to consider driving back to Poroy and board at the starting point to make the most of this luxurious journey. As the Sacred Valley is closer to Machu Picchu, the train ride from Ollantaytambo is shorter than from Poroy, taking only one and a half hours.
If you’re looking for the shortest journey time, keep in mind road is quicker than rail. This means that if you’re in Cusco it’s possible to drive to Ollantaytambo (as opposed to taking the train from Poroy), and from there take the train to Machu Picchu, for an overall shorter journey time. Similarly when you’re returning from Machu Picchu, getting back to Cusco is slightly quicker if you disembark in Ollantaytambo and drive the rest of the way, as opposed to continuing by train to Poroy. This can be particularly useful if you’re leaving Machu Picchu in the late afternoon or evening and don’t want to get back to Cusco too late.
PeruRail and Inca Rail both offer a wide choice of trains. Luxury travellers can choose between the top trains of each company respectively: the magnificent Hiram Bingham, or privately chartering Inca Rail’s The Private Machu Picchu Train. These both offer gourmet dining and entertainment to travel to Machu Picchu in style. Premium trains available are the First Class Train (Inca Rail) and Sacred Valley train (PeruRail), while comfortable options to admire the views are The 360 (Inca Rail) and Vistadome (PeruRail). Inca Rail also operates The Voyager, geared towards backpackers.
PeruRail and Inca Rail both have trains operating from the stations of Poroy and Ollantaytambo. Each train has a different schedule, so not all trains leave from both stations. The Private Machu Picchu train, available only for private charter, only leaves from Ollantaytamboo. The premium Sacred Valley Train only departs from Urubamba. Contact us to speak to an expert travel planner about choosing the best train to Machu Picchu and plan a tailormade trip to Peru.
With trains to suit all travel styles and budget, you might also like to consider combining two different trains, for example taking a comfortable service like the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu, and rounding off your trip to Machu Picchu with a return to Cusco aboard the luxurious Hiram Bingham train, enjoying intimate dining and an open bar.
All trains travel to, and end in, Aguas Calientes. As the trains follow the river on the way, we prefer the views on the left hand side on the way to Aguas Calientes – keep a look at for Inca ruins during the journey – and on the right hand side on the return. We highly recommend you travel in the daytime for at least one of your train rides otherwise you will miss the views after the sun has set. You need to be at the train station half an hour before your train departs – if you’re travelling on the Hiram Bingham you’ll enjoy a glass of bubbly and live music as you wait to board.
Here we provide a round-up of the different trains you can choose from to travel to Machu Picchu.