Machu Picchu; when discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 it was quite the odyssey to get to Machu Picchu; hiking through snowcapped mountains and hacking your way through the thick cloud forests. Even though more than hundred years passed ever since, we cannot say that getting to Machu Picchu has become a whole lot easier. You no longer necessarily need a compass or a machete but will need some time to visit this marvel. True, the journey ads up to the mysteriousness of the site as it takes some effort and one can partially feel Hiram Bingham’s traverse but things could have been a little easier. Basically there are two ways to get to Machu Picchu; on foot or by train.
There are only two hikes that actually arrive to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate; these are the 4 day classic Inca Trail and the 2 day short Inca Trail. The classic version starts a little after the town of Ollantaytambo and gets you to the Sun Gate on day 4 in the early morning. During these 4 days you will hike about 45km (28mi) go over a maximum altitude of 4,215m (13,828 ft) above sea level and spend three nights camping. The hike is very popular so booking well in advance is the key. The two day version takes you to a starting point at km104 of the train tracks to Machu Picchu from where you will start hiking for about 3 hours till you get to the site of Winay Wayna where the trail meets up with the classic 4 day version. From here it is another 2 hours to get to the Sun Gate. All other hikes promoted to take you to Machu Picchu (Salkantay, Lares, etc…) will take you there through the normal visitors entrance from Aguas Calientes where you will arrive either on foot or by train.
Since the closing of the Cusco city train station in 2009 there are only three other train stations; Poroy, located at about 40 minutes’ drive from Cusco, Urubamba at about 1 hour drive from Cusco and Ollantaytambo at 1.5 hours’ drive from Cusco. The Urubamba Station is only used during a couple of months in the year and only operates a few services. Therefore the two main stations are Poroy and Ollantaytambo. Poroy these days is often called Cusco Station and Ollantaytambo the Sacred Valley Station. From Poroy the journey to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) takes about 3.5 hours, from Urubamba 2.5 hours and from Ollantaytambo 1.5 hours. All these places can also easily be accessed by road from Cusco and therefore it is often time saving to travel to the Ollantaytambo station by car which is faster than in train.
There are two train companies each running their own trains from all three stations; Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Train departure times in both directions are daily from about 5.00am till 11.00pm. Both companies have three types of services; economy, superior and deluxe. The economy goes for about US$50 per person one way, the superior about US$80 per person one way and the deluxe versions are going for several hundreds of Dollars one way.
Keep in mind that no matter how you would like to go to Machu Picchu it will always be a combination of modes of transportation. You will need to take a car to the train station or the starting point of the hike and in Aguas Calientes make use of the buses to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Most trips to Machu Picchu will always return in train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy Station.