How To Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu: 3 Best Ways (2024)

Dreaming of visiting one of the new Seven Wonders of the World? Machu Picchu truly is a bucket list destination for so many travelers. However, the journey to Machu Picchu begins in Cusco. When deciding how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu there are a lot of factors to consider, which is why I am here to help!

Machu picchu views - cusco to machu picchu
Machu Picchu in November

I spent 6 weeks volunteering in Cusco, the gateway city to Machu Picchu. While volunteering I experienced many different day trips from Cusco on the weekend, but Machu Pichu was the most overwhelming with options. I finally settled to take the bus one way, hike up, and then take the train back. I got to experience all the different types of transportation, and I am here to share it with you now!

In this post, I will explain everything you need to know about how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. From the 3 different ways to get there, how to buy tickets, and the best travel tips, I share it all!

Table of Contents

How To Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu: 3 BEST Ways from Budget to Luxury

What is Machu Picchu? 

One of the Seven New Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Founded in 1913, by an American man, it is still a mystery how Machu Picchu came to be. Because of the mystery, many people flock here to see it for themselves—a beautiful Inca ruin nestled on top of beautiful jungle mountains.

Cusco to Machu Picchu distance isn’t too far, only 75 kilometers or 46 miles. However, to get here you must traverse the Andes Mountains, making the destination much harder to reach.

danika with machu picchu in the background

3 Ways to Get to from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Planning a trip to Machu Picchu can be a bit overwhelming. It’s not an easy destination to reach. Actually, there are three ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco.

  • Train

  • Bus/ Walk

  • Hike

Each of these ways leads you to a popular tourist town called Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Picchu. From here, you can take a bus or a quick 1-hour hike to Machu Picchu. Almost everyone visiting Machu Picchu from Cusco goes through Aguas Calientes first. But we will talk about that more later.

Let’s stick to the three main transportation types. A very quick overview is the most expensive and efficient way to get to Machu Picchu is by train. The cheapest way is by bus and walking. The most adventurous way is to hike.

NOTE: Train is the ONLY way to do a day trip to Machu Picchu. The bus and hiking will take 2-5 days.

Each of the three different ways has pros and cons, so let’s break them down.

Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Travel Time: 2-3 Hours One Way

Price: +$200 for Round Trip

peru rail train in the jungle from cusco to machu picchu
Peru Rain

The train from Cusco to Machu Picchu is the fastest, most convenient, and most comfortable way to travel between these two destinations. The train is also the most expensive option.

If you are short on time or don’t have days to dedicate to Machu Picchu, the train is the best option to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It is the ONLY way to visit Machu Picchu as a day trip. However, it will be a very long and tiring day trip.

The train departs from different stations around Cusco: San Pedro, Wanchaq, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo.

The closest station to the city center is San Pedro and the farthest is Ollantaytambo, about a 1 hour drive away. The best way to get to a train station is to take a taxi.

train station in peru from cusco to machu picchu
Machu Picchu Train Station

The train from Cusco to Machu Picchu takes around 2-3 hours depending on where you board at. 

The train takes you straight into the heart of Aguas Calientes, which is the town at the base of Machu Picchu. Here, you will need to exit the train, and either take a bus or hike to Machu Picchu.

But, we will cover what you need to do when you arrive in Aguas Calientes later in this post.

There are two train companies, the Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Peru Rail is the more luxurious choice, however they both are reliable and comfortable.

When booking your train, there are many different types of experiences you can book, from standard service to extreme luxury.

interior of peru rail train with big windows
Peru Rain Interior – Vista Dome

When I took the train, I booked the Vistadome Train on Peru Rail. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but it was extremely comfortable and enjoyable. The Vistadome Train has large windows, which means you can look out at the beautiful mountains along the way. And let me tell you, the ceiling windows make a huge difference! Without them, you wouldn’t be able to see the mountain peaks!

In my opinion, if you are gong to splurge on the train, you might as well book one with big windows so you can truly enjoy the journey.

The train from Cusco to Machu Picchu is probably the most popular route, therefore it is important to book it in advance, as it can sell out. BOOK HERE!

Bus from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Travel Time: 6-7 Hours One Way

Price: +$30 for Round Trip

The cheapest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by bus. As a backpacker, this is the route to go!

The bus is cheap, the views are beautiful, and you still get to see Machu Picchu.

The bus from Cusco to Machu Picchu actually is a combination of the bus and walking. 

First, you’ll need to purchase a bus ticket from Cusco to Hydroelectrica.

The bus ride is very basic, and you’ll want to bring your own water and snacks for the ride. The bus will probably make a few stops to use the toilet too.

I actually loved my bus ride. I found the views to be incredible (probably more beautiful than the train), and I usually love to look out the window or take a nap on a bus. I find it really relaxing.

trail head from hydroelectrica to machu picchu
trail head from hydroelectrica to machu picchu

Hydroelectrica is a very small town if you can even call it that. It’s more like one restaurant and a toilet. The bus from Cusco to Hydroelectrica takes about 6-7 hours and is only about $15. 

Once you arrive in Hydroelectrica, I suggest you have some lunch in the restaurant, and then begin your walk.

The walk is an 11-kilometer or 6.8-mile hike to Aguas Calientes. You will be walking alongside the railroad tracks. It is a long walk, but it is very flat and there are lots of people who do it. You will be in good company.

hike along railroad from cusco to machu picchu
hike along railroad to machu picchu

After a 7-hour bus ride, it will feel good to stretch your legs and head out on the long walk.

The walk is absolutely beautiful too. Walking gives you more of an appreciation of the nature around you, you have more time to take it in. This walk is filled with beautiful flowers and nature views, the whole 11k. You won’t be disappointed!

Hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Travel Time: 2-5 Days

Price: +$400 for Round Trip

Hiking is the most epic and iconic way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. So many people dream of the famous Inca trail hike, camping in the jungle, and reaching the epic views of Machu Picchu.

mountain views near Manchu Picchu

There are many different types of hikes and lengths to do, and I strongly recommend hiking if you have the time and the energy for it!

Unfortunately, during my time in Cusco, I was busy volunteering on the weekdays, so I didn’t have time to hike it. However, I spoke to many travelers who did hike on different routes, and here is what I have gathered.

Inca Trail

One of the most adventurous ways to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail is a 2-4 day hiking adventure that takes you along the famous Inca trail! It’s the most famous option, and what many people think of when they dream of hiking to Machu Picchu. This trail is the most expensive option because the permit costs a lot of money to obtain. 

Machu Picchu Ruins

The only way to hike the Inca Trail is with a company, that has the permits for you.

The Inca Trail takes you through the vast jungles of Peru, stops at other Inca ruins along the way, and allows you to walk in the famous footsteps of those before you.

In my honest review, I think the 4-day Inca Trail could be worth the time and money, however, the 2-day Inca Trail is not. The 2-day is still expensive, and only one day you will be going on a special route because day 2 will be a trail that everyone can take!

Salkantay Trail

If you have the time, the 5-day Salkantay Trail is absolutely a must-do when traveling from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This trail is widely known to be the hardest trail, but it is spread across 5 days. Additionally, it’s quite a bit cheaper than the Inca Trail, because there is no need to purchase that expensive trail permit.

beautiful lake with blue water and snow-capped mountains
Humantay Lake on Day 1 of Salkantay Hike

The Salkantay Trail is best done in a tour group, but can also be done alone if you have the equipment. 

The Salkantay Trail is the most popular route to Machu Picchu among backpackers. The adventure and lower prices are what attract many travelers. It’s also a great way to meet friends and other travelers because you spend 5 days with these people!

Along with the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trail, there are many other treks to Machu Picchu, these are just the two most popular.

Aguas Calientes Overview

No matter your route from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you will probably be stopping in Aguas Calientes at some point.

Aguas Calientes is a tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. Here you will find lots of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. It’s a small town that has no cars. The only way in is to walk or take the train. So, once you arrive everything is very walkable. 

The accommodations range from budget hostels to nicer luxury hotels. Many travelers choose to spend 1-2 nights here. Basically, you’ll be able to find everything you need here.

town at night with railroad from cusco to machu picchu
Aguas Calientes at Night

How To Get to Machu Picchu From Aguas Calientes

From Aguas Calientes, there are two ways to get to Machu Picchu, by bus or hike. Let’s break down both of your options.

By Bus: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

Taking the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is the most popular way up. The bus is a quick 15-minute ride that twists and turns you up the mountain. If you get motion sick, I recommend sitting near the front and bringing your medicine. It’s a short ride, but there are lots of turns.

The bus costs about $13 one way. It’s best to book the bus upon arrival in Aguas Calientes.

The bus begins running at 5:30 am, in preparation for the first entrance time to Machu Picchu at 6 am. 

By Hike: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

The hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu takes about an hour for those in good health. The hike is an hour of stairs, straight up in the jungle. It’s very steep, you’ve been warned!

Hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

However, the views on the way up are so incredible. I hiked my way up to Machu Picchu at 5 am, right when the trail opened. To see the sunrise over the jungle cliffs was something I will never forget. 

The hike is free to enter, you will just need to give them your name and passport information so they can keep track of who is hiking.

I would give 1.5-2 hours to get from your accommodation in Aguas Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu. The trailhead is a 15-minute walk or so from the town, so keep that in mind.

stairs to machu picchu
Stairs to Machu Picchu

How To Buy Tickets to Machu Picchu/ Make Reservations for Machu Picchu

Okay so now you’ve made it to Aguas Calientes and your ready to go to Machu Picchu! Of course, now you need tickets! Machu Picchu has a limited amount of tickets they give out each day. The best way to get a ticket is to reserve in advance. You can do this online here.

There are 5 circuits you can choose from. The most popular are circuits 1 and 2. These both give you the classic view of Machu Picchu which is the perfect picture opportunity. Circut 3 gives you the same views plus an additional hike. Circuit 4 and 5 are the two least popular circuits and include a lot of hiking.

The tickets sell out online months in advance, so if you are like me and a last-minute traveler, no worries. In the town of Aguas Calientes, they have a limited amount of next-day tickets available. I arrived in town around 4 pm and had no issues securing tickets for the next morning, but this isn’t always the case.

In the event that tickets are sold out online, you will need to stay an extra night in Aguas Calientes and book tickets in person. It’s best to go as early as possible so you can ensure you get a ticket.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Travel Tips and FAQ’s

Cusco to Machu Picchu Distance

The distance from Cusco to Machu Picchu is a short 75 kilometers, however due to the Andes Mountains, it is difficult to reach. By bus or car, the drive is 6-7 hours and by train it is a 2-3 hour journey.

When Is The Best Time of Year To Visit Machu Picchu?

The best time of year to visit Machu Picchu is between May-October. These months are the most popular and high tourist season because the weather is the best this time of year. There is little chance of rain.

May and November are considered the shoulder seasons for Machu Picchu. These months the weather is unpredictable, it could be very sunny or very rainy. I visited in the middle of November and had some clouds in the morning and a sunny afternoon. This isn’t always the case.

December-April is the rain season in the area. Because it’s the jungle, they receive a lot of rain. It will be less crowded during these months and you can probably get a better deal, however, the clouds may fog up your view.

Inca Ruins in machu pichu peru
Inca Ruins at Machu Picchu

What Should I Pack for Machu Picchu?

No matter the season, pack a rain jacket! It’s the rainforest, so you never know when it will rain!

There is no required dress code for Machu Picchu, however, I would recommend wearing clothes that are comfortable and good for walking.

There’s also known to be lots of mosquitos in the area, so long pants and long sleeves may be a good idea if mosquitos love you.

danika with machu picchu - cusco to machu picchu

Final Thoughts on How to Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu

When planning how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, there are many different things to consider. How much time do you have? What’s your budget? Do you want to hike? All of these questions play a role in what you decide to do. No matter what you choose, you will have a magical trip to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s truly a trip I will never forget, and I hope you enjoy it too.

danika with machu picchu - cusco to machu picchu

I’m Danika! A travel obsessed, Disney adult, with a knack for budgeting.

In 2020 I was furlough from my “dream” job at Disney and have pursued my first love of travel ever since. I have traveled to 33 states and 28 countries spanning 5 continents.

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