Trains to Machu Picchu
Basically there are two ways to travel from the Sacred Valley or Cusco to Machu Picchu; on foot or by train. With the following article we will try to explain the difference between the companies, trains offered as well as routes available. Hopefully with this we can offer you the information sought about traveling to Machu Picchu by train.
Trains to Machu Picchu - Train Companies
Since 2010 the government opened up the concession of the railroad to Machu Picchu resulting in a second company entering the market. Before there was only one company called Peru Rail that was operating this route and now a second company called Inca Rail entered the market. Peru Rail therefore enjoys better name recognition due to many extra years of operation they have over the other company. Both companies offer a economy, a superior and deluxe level of trains. Nonetheless, names such as the Expedition Train (before Backpacker Train), the Vistadome Train or the Hiram Bingham are household names in the Peru travel industry and enjoy much better name recognition than the competing Voyager Train, the 360º Train as well as the First Class Train by Inca Rail. This being said, train levels, services and prices nowadays are very much comparable between the two companies.
Peru Rail is the longer standing company of the two and the one that offers most departure times both from Poroy as well as Ollantaytambo Station. Peru Rail offers three types of trains to Machu Picchu; Expedition Train (Economy), Vistadome Train (Superior) and the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train (Deluxe).
Expedition Train; the economy class train to Machu Picchu and the cheapest train from Peru Rail. Before this train was called the Backpacker Train before marketers renamed it Expedition Train. This is a comfortable train with oversized windows and rooftop windows allowing you to enjoy the scenery to the fullest. The train has a snack service on board but does not have any beverages or snacks included with the service.
Vistadome Train; this is the superior level train to Machu Picchu from Peru Rail and the together with the Expedition train the train with most frequencies. Slightly more expensive, this train provides the same types of carriages with the rooftop windows as the Expedition train but with less seats per wagon allowing for more legroom and wider seats. The train has air conditioning and includes a snack and nonalcoholic beverages. On the return journey a local dance & fashion show are presented for the traveler’s entertainment.
Hiram Bingham Luxury Train; the luxurious Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu by Peru Rail is operated together with the Belmond Luxury Hotel chain and provides the most luxurious (and expensive) way to travel to Machu Picchu. Traveling in an original Pullman Train decorated with classic wooden touches, plush seating and tables with nightlights, traveling in this train will take you back to the old days of luxury train journeys. This train, named several times as one of the best train experiences in the world, considers even the smallest details to make the journey to Machu Picchu unforgettable. The train journey to Machu Picchu starts with a welcome cocktail and includes an extensive brunch on board. The return journey includes a 4 course dinner including all beverages. The train also has a bar carriage with an open bar with live music throughout the journey and viewing carriage on the end of the train.
Inca Rail Inca Rail started their operations in 2010 and initially only operated a handful of train services from Ollantaytambo Station. Nowadays they are fully operational from all train stations and offering several types and train times available. Like Perurail, Inca Rail also operates 3 types of services to and from Machu Picchu; Voyager Train (Economy), 360º Train (Superior) and First Class Train (Deluxe).
Voyager Train; the Voyager Train is the economy level train from Inca Rail. Plush seats, panoramic and rooftop windows, included nonalcoholic beverages and a snack on board are some of the perks of this train. 360º Train; before this service was called the Executive Train but nowadays operates under the name 360º Train. The 360º name reflects the oversize panoramic windows and rooftop windows allowing to fully appreciate the beautiful surroundings. This air conditioned train also has an Outdoor observatory wagon and includes a snack and beverages with the service.
First Class Train; the First Class Train by Inca Rail is their luxury version to travel to Machu Picchu, providing an exclusive and top end travel experience. Large panoramic as well as rooftop windows, a bar with complimentary drinks, a gourmet brunch or dinner and an Observatory lounge with outdoor balcony are some of the special features this train provides.
Train Stations to Machu Picchu - Poroy & Ollantaytambo
Before the main train station was the station in Cusco also called San Pedro Station. This station got closed in 2010 leaving only two operation stations from where you can take your train to or arrive from Machu Picchu. The first is called Poroy Station and is also sold as Cusco station as this is the station closest to the city of Cusco. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Poroy Station from Cusco and both train companies have daily trains departing from here. Most of these depart in the early morning and arrive in the late evening. Poroy Station only serves about 30% of all trains running to and from Machu Picchu and is best known as the principal departure station for the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham Train. The more popular station is Ollantaytambo Station. Ollantaytambo is located on the end of the Sacred Valley about one and half to two hours drive from Cusco. This is the station with most departures and arrivals to and from Machu Picchu and both companies offer all three levels of trains available from this station. The main reason, apart from offering more departure times, why this is the more popular station is because the location of this station allows passengers to spend the night before in the Sacred Valley, an option that newly arrived travelers often take in order to have a better acclimatization to the altitude. Another reason is that by using Ollantaytambo Station you can reduce the travel time with about 1 hour each way. The trains departing in Poroy also stop in Ollantaytambo and take about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Ollantaytambo meanwhile via the road, which takes almost the same route, the drive from Cusco is under 2 hours. Therefore, especially with early departures or late arrivals, departing from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu may be the better option. Finally there is also a third station called Urubamba Station located in between Poroy and Ollantaytambo Station. This station is very little used, mostly during the low season (January through March) when there are no trains operating from Poroy Station. During these months Urubamba is the main station for the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Station
Machu Picchu Station is the only station to arrive to or depart from before or after your visit to Machu Picchu. The town is called Machu Picchu Pueblo but in former years also called Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters) after the Thermal Baths in town. Therefore you will probably also hear Aguas Calientes or Aguas Calientes Station throughout your trip to Machu Picchu. For most people this station is the end of the line even though there is a small final station at about 10km further than Machu Picchu Pueblo. This station is only operated by the local (no tourist) trains for people coming from Santa Teresa. The Machu Picchu Station can be quite hectic at times as there are a lot of trains arriving and departing around the same time. The station is also not made for the amount of people it has to process daily coming from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu or from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo.
Trains to Machu Picchu overview;
- Two companies; Peru Rail & Inca Rail
- Two main stations; Poroy Station and Ollantaytambo Station
- One additional station for special trains or low season; Urubamba Station
- Three levels of trains for each company (Economy, Superior & Deluxe)
- Travel time; Poroy - Aguas Calientes; 3.5 hours
- Travel time Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes; 1.5 hours
- Travel time via road Cusco - Ollantaytambo; 1.5 - 2 hours
- Cheapest train tickets to Machu Picchu start around US$55 one way
Train tickets; Tickets for both train companies can be purchased online on their respective websites; www.perurail.com or www.incarail.com or at their offices in Lima (Larcomar & Airport) and Cusco (main square, airport and Plaza Recojios).