Are you planning a trip to Peru and wondering how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu? Worry not.
Visiting the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the bucket list items in Peru, thanks to its stunning views, fascinating history, and unique culture.
However, getting to this Seven Wonders of the World is not the easiest feat, especially since it is situated high in the mighty Andes Mountains.
After a painful time planning our visit to Machu Picchu from Cusco ourselves, we knew we had to write a guide so that other travelers don’t have the same struggles as us.
Whether you choose to take the train, bus, or even hike (ex. Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek), this guide will help you find the best way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu!
Where Is Machu Picchu In Respect To Cusco?
One of the biggest misconceptions about Machu Picchu is that it is very easy to get to from Cusco, but that is not the case.
Though the distance between Cusco City and Machu Picchu is approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles), the ancient citadel sits on top of the Andes Mountains in the Urubamba Province, above the Sacred Valley.
Despite its close proximity, Machu Picchu’s remoteness makes getting there from Cusco quite challenging.
That is why a 1-day tour from Cusco to Machu Picchu isn’t very popular because you’ll spend most of your day getting there and back.
What Is Aguas Calientes, AKA Machu Picchu Town?
Aguas Calientes, more commonly known as “Machu Picchu pueblo‘ is the gateway to the Machu Picchu ruins and is just a 30-minute bus ride (or 1.5-hour hike) from the world-famous site! It is the closest settlement to the historical site of Machu Picchu, which is why it’s often referred to as Machu Picchu Town.
Nestled along the Urubamba River, this tourist town (pretty much the only industry here is tourism) is home to hot springs, the stunning Mándor waterfall, the Mercado Artisanal craft market, and plenty of restaurants and hotels.
This small town can only be reached by train as there are no roads to it, this is due to the fact that it is surrounded by a thick cloud forest and mountains.
It is important to know about Aguas Calientes, since you’ll most likely be taking a bus from here to the entrance of Machu Picchu, or staying there for a night (unless you are doing a day trip).
Getting From Aguas Calientes To Machu Picchu
Before we figure out how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you’ll need to figure out how to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Like we said, Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and it is a must that you’ll end up in Aguas Calientes one way or another (unless you are doing the original Inca Trail).
There are two ways to visit the Machu Picchu ruins from Aguas Calientes. The first (and easiest) option is to take a short bus ride (approx. 30 minutes) from the town to the Machu Picchu entrance gate, but this is also the most expensive option, as a return bus ticket will set you back a whopping $24 USD per adult.
For kids aged 5 – 11, the return ticket will cost just $14 USD, and handily, kids under 5 years are free!
Note: The prices listed in this post are at the time of writing. It might not be the same price as what you see in person.
The second and best option for budget travelers is to hike 3.4 km from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu; this will take between 1.5 to 2 hours and is pretty strenuous as you will be gaining around 380 meters in total elevation!
Another good option is to take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and hike back. That way, you save some money (a one-way bus ticket is $12 USD), get your steps in, and enjoy the easiest part of the trail, aka the hike downhill!
The buses regularly leave from the bus stop at Avenida Hermanos Ayar, but they don’t follow a set schedule; they will simply leave when full. The first bus of the day departs at 5:30 am and the last at 3:30 pm.
Your alternative to the above is to hike approximately 1.5 hours (3.4 km) uphill to reach Machu Picchu. The first section of the hike is 1.7 km long and gets you to the checkpoint to enter Machu Picchu trail. To get here, you will need to walk from town along the road in the direction of Hidroeléctrica.
A ticket attendant will check your photo ID and Machu Picchu tickets here and won’t allow you to step foot onto the trail until about an hour before the entry time on your Machu Picchu tickets.
The second section is known as the Camino Peatonal, and that is also 1.7 km long, but it’s quite strenuous as you will be climbing up stone steps through the jungle.
If the stairs start to tire you out, you can go onto the road and walk up that way, which is slightly longer but easier as it has a more gradual incline.
How To Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu?
There are many different ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, and depending on your style, budget, and comfort, deciding which option is best for you can be a daunting task. Here are the various ways to visit Machu Picchu from Cusco.
How to Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu By Train?
The most convenient way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by taking the train from San Pedro train station in Cusco city center (near the San Pedro market) to Aguas Calientes. This particular train to Machu Picchu is only offered by Peru Rail and includes a stop at Ollantaytambo.
Note: Train service from Cusco to Ollantaytambo only operates between late April and late December.
You can choose from the Expedition, Vistadome, or the Hiram Bingham Train (named after the person that discovered Machu Picchu) to Machu Picchu with Peru Rail. The train service from Cusco to Agua Calientes, including the stop at Ollantaytambo, should take 5 hours.
Instead of the above, many tourists choose to get a bus to Ollantaytambo and catch a direct train to Aguas Calientes from there. This also works out significantly cheaper – there’s more competition as both Inca Rail and Peru Rail operate this route.
You can opt to buy basic economy Machu Picchu train tickets which will cost an average of $140 round-trip, or splurge on a luxury experience that includes meals; prices for this start at a whopping $500 USD per train ticket.
There are loads of direct train routes with Peru Rail from Ollantaytambo station to Agua Calientes, the first Machu Picchu train leaves around 5 to 6 AM, and the last train leaves at around 7 pm.
There are slightly fewer options with Inca Rail, but many tourists will tell you their trains are more comfortable and luxurious. They also have 3 options of various luxury – the Voyager, the 360°, and the First Class. The departure times are more spread out, but the first Machu Picchu train leaves at around 06:40 am and the last one at 7:27 pm.
How To Get To Ollantaytambo Train Station From Cusco?
To get to Ollantaytambo station from Cusco historic center, you must either hop on a bus from the bus station, collectivo, or taxi. The journey is 72 km and will take between 1.5 – 2.5 hours, depending on the mode of transport you choose.
This is where you can get a minivan to Ollantaytambo from Cusco. Sometimes you’ll need to hop off at Urubamba and get on another minivan to get there.
How To Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu By Bus?
A cheaper alternative is to take a 6-hour and 40-minute bus trip from Cusco to Hidroelectrica Station. This route is operated by many different companies as it is the cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu.
You can organize that transfer with the tour companies in Cusco, or go on Redbus and see the schedule of the minivans. You can also get the bus tickets on there and it’s what we used when we were in Peru.
When you reach Hidroelectrica, which is a tiny village with a few snack stalls and a large hydro-electric plant, you can either walk along the train tracks for 2-3 hours until you reach Aguas Calientes or take a train with Peru Rail direct from Hidroelectrica station to Aguas Calientes, which should cost around $30 USD and take 40 minutes.
If you decide to hike, you will need to sign in at the checkpoint first. There’s no fee; the authorities just need to know how many people are walking next to the tracks. Remember, this is an active train line, so always exercise caution.
Note you will need to spend the night in Aguas Calientes before catching the bus or hiking to the Machu Picchu entrance gate the next day. This means if you decide to take the bus to Machu Picchu, you’ll need a total of two days.
It’s worth noting that this is a full day of travel, but it’s undoubtedly the cheapest way of getting to Aguas Calientes. So, if you’re an adventurous traveler who’d like to save money and enter Machu Picchu in a non-traditional way, this is the best option for you.
How To Hike From Cusco To Machu Picchu?
Hiking to Machu Picchu is one of the best things to do in Peru. That is why there are so many treks to choose from. Below we will talk about some of the most popular ones!
1. Inca Trail
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Inca Trail; this famous hiking route was once used by the Incans hundreds of years ago. It’s 43 km long and takes 4 days and 3 nights to complete. As you can guess, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the world, and so it sells out quickly.
You used to only be able to book through an authorized local travel agency at least 6 months in advance because only 500 people can hike it each day, but now you can book online as well.
This is truly a bucket-list-worthy hike that passes through the Sacred Valley, stunning jungle landscapes, and other ancient ruins. Although it’s rated as moderate, the trail’s relentless uphill and downhill nature will challenge even the most experienced of hikers. Amazingly, over the space of 4 days, you will climb up to an impressive 13,828 feet (4,215m meters) in elevation at Dead Woman’s Pass.
2. Salkantay Trek
Another equally beautiful but less famous hike to Machu Picchu is the 74-kilometer-long Salkantay Trek, which will also take 4 days and 3 nights to complete. It passes by the stunning bright-blue Humantay Lake, so it’s a very popular option for many tourists.
It’s more challenging than the Inca trail due to its mountainous terrain and the fact that you’ll be getting up to 15,090 feet (4,600 meters) in elevation. Plus, it’s 20 miles (32 km) longer!
But, the good thing is it’s cheaper and much easier to book than the Inca trail. In fact, there are so many tour operators offering this hike that you could book it for the next day if you wanted.
3. Other Various Treks Such As Lares, Choquequirao, Ausangate
Other popular Machu Picchu treks are the Lares Trail, the Choquequirao Hiking Route, and the Ausangate Trek.
The 33 km Lares Trail will take 4 days and 3 nights to complete. It starts in the little town of Lares and ends in Ollantaytambo, from where you will need to catch a train to Aguas Calientes. It’s recognized as the easiest hike to Machu Picchu and the scenery along the way is breathtaking; expect to see glaciers and snowcapped mountains as you hike.
The Choquequirao Hiking Route from Cachora to Machu Picchu is a lot longer and will take 8 to 9 days. It’s around 75 km long and passes by the memorable Choquequirao Ruins.
The Ausangate Trek starts in the town of Tingui, and it’s arguably the most difficult trek into Machu Picchu. This high-altitude hike is 70 km long and will take 4 to 5 days to complete. This trek winds through one of the least-visited areas of the country – the Cordillera Vilcanot, so it’s a great choice for adventurous travelers with a good level of fitness.
Machu Picchu Tours From Cusco
Because getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu can be very challenging, taking a guided tour from Cusco is very popular. Depending on your budget and how many days you have, there are different tours perfect for you.
1-Day Tour From Cusco To Machu Picchu via Train
If you’re short on time, you can easily book a one-day tour from Cusco to Machu Picchu online. But keep in mind that at around 12 hours in duration, it will be a long day.
Most one-day tours to Machu Picchu involve a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and a guided tour of the fascinating ancient site.
2-Day Budget Tour From Cusco To Machu Picchu via Bus and Hiking
A 2-day guided tour from Cusco to Machu Picchu is a better option for those with limited time as it feels less rushed. Most 2-day tours involve a bus journey to Hidroelectrica, and from here, you’ll walk on the train tracks to Aguas Calientes.
What’s great about the 2-day guided tours is that this is the cheapest and quickest way to visit Machu Picchu, and travelers get to experience a little bit of hiking in the Sacred Valley. Most meals and local tour guide are also included.
3-Day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu
A 3-day tour of Machu Picchu enables you to take a more adventurous route to the ancient Inca citadel. Most three-day tours include mountain biking, rafting, and ziplining along the route, so this is the perfect choice for thrill-seeking tourists.
Most of your meals, two nights’ accommodation, your Machu Picchu ticket, and a knowledgeable guide are included in the price. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to do a little bit of hiking.
4-Day Inca Trail
This unforgettable 4-day, 3-night guided tour along the Inca Trail is one of the most bucket-list-worthy tours in Peru. Not only will you get to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Inca people, but you will get to enter Machu Picchu via the iconic Sun Gate.
All transfers, meals, a guide, and porters to carry shared equipment are provided. And your three nights accommodation camping-style is included in the price too!
This longer tour will give you the opportunity to hike up to Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the Inca citadel), also known as the ‘Stairs of Death!’ It’s one of the best things to do in Macchu Picchu and offers awe-inspiring views!
5-Day Salkantay Trek
The 5-day Salkantay Trek offers travelers the opportunity to explore the Andes Mountains and part of the Sacred Valley over the course of 5 days and 4 nights. It is one of the most scenic hikes to Machu Picchu and offers unparalleled mountainous landscape of the region.
Camping-style accommodation, all transfers, all meals, a local guide, and a 2-3 hour tour of Machu Picchu are included in the price. Porters are available for an additional price.
Getting From Cusco To Machu Picchu Independently Without A Guide
It is absolutely possible to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco without a guided tour. All you need is some careful planning and determining how you plan on getting there. Generally speaking, you’ll need to decide between getting a train, or opting for the minibus to Hidroelectrica and hiking combo.
Cheapest Way To Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu Independently
The cheapest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu independently is to get a 6-hour and 40-minute bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica. From Hidroelectrica, walk along the train tracks for 2-3 hours until you reach Aguas Calientes; this is completely free.
Note that you will need to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, but there are lots of affordable accommodation options in this tourist town.
From Aguas Calientes, to further save some money, you can choose to hike 1.5 hours (3.4 km) uphill to the Machu Picchu entrance gate, which is also free to do.
Most Convenient Way To Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu Independently
The most convenient way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu without booking through a tour operator is to get a bus, taxi, or collectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo train station.
This journey will take between 1.5 – 2.5 hours. From there, hop on a 2-hour train ride to Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, the most convenient way of reaching the famed Incan ruins is to catch a 30-minute bus to the entrance gate.
What Is The Bimodal Transport Service to Get To Machu Picchu From Cusco?
The bimodal service is offered by both Peru Rail and Inca Rail and is a popular way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This ticket includes a private bus from Wanchaq station in Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
It is one of the most popular ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, since it combines affordability and convenience.
Cusco To Machu Picchu FAQs
How Long Does It Take To Get To Machu Picchu From Cusco?
The journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu can vary in length depending on the mode of transportation and the route you choose. If you choose to take the train to Machu Picchu, it can take about 4 hours. If you decide to hike to Machu Picchu, it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days.
Can You Do A Day Trip to Machu Picchu From Cusco?
Yes, it’s possible to do a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco, but it makes for a very long day. The train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest to Machu Picchu, takes about 3-4 hours each way. Then, from Aguas Calientes, it’s a 20-30 minute bus ride up to the site of Machu Picchu itself.
What is The Cheapest Way To Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu?
The cheapest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is through the Hidroeléctrica route. To do this, you’ll need to catch a minivan to Hidroelectric from Cusco, then walk along the train tracks from Hidroelectric to Aguas Calientes, and then do a 3.4-km hike up to Machu Picchu.
How Do I Get From Cusco Airport to Machu Picchu?
To get from Cusco Airport to Machu Picchu, you’ll first need to get to either one of the Cusco train stations, take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, then take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
Should I Go To Cusco or Machu Picchu First?
Even though it is better to go to Machu Picchu first because of its lower elevation, it is not possible to do so. Cusco is the gateway for Machu Picchu and it is where travelers will need to depart from in order to get to Machu Picchu.
How Much Time Do You Need In Machu Picchu?
One full day in Machu Picchu is enough to explore the entire archaeological site. You’ll have time to explore the citadel, climb up Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu, as well as some time to explore the Machu Picchu Town – Aguas Calientes.
As you can see, getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco is no easy task. Not only are there multiple ways to get there (train, bus, or hike), but they also have varying costs, which could influence which method you ultimately decide.
One final note is that it is highly recommended that you book your tours and transfers well in advance, especially if you are planning to visit Peru during the peak season. This is when everything gets sold out quickly and the prices ramp up to not-seen-before prices.
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