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Having recently returned from Machu Picchu, I felt that the process of taking the train to Machu Picchu was a bit hard to understand from afar, but now that I’ve done it, taking the train to Machu Picchu was not that hard to do so I thought I would write a brief guide with some tips for taking the train to Machu Picchu
How to buy Machu Picchu train tickets
You can (at least in theory) buy Machu Picchu train tickets from the PeruRail website. The site looks nice, it’s available in English and should be fairly straightforward. I personally had some major problems completing a sale on the PeruRail website (READ MORE: It took me 15 tries to book Machu Picchu train tickets). I have read other people that have had problems, and have heard from other people who were able to book Machu Picchu train tickets on the PeruRail site with no problem.
The problem I ran into was at the end, when I was trying to pay with a credit card, it would either not even show me the iframe where I was supposed to put in my credit card information, or, if it got that far, it said it only accepted cards that had a “Mastercard Secure Code” or were “Verified by Visa”. All cards I tried were declined. I checked with my bank and they never even saw the transactions, so it was declined by PeruRail, not my bank.
You are also able to buy tickets at PeruRail stations in the Sacred Valley. If you’re traveling during the busy season (June – November), you run the risk of your train selling out. Our Machu Picchu train tickets were for June 1st, and I had no problems buying the tickets at the PeruRail ticket office on the grounds of the Tambo del Inka hotel in Urubamba. I paid with a credit card there (you can also pay in Peruvian Soles but I don’t believe you can pay in USD)
What’s the difference between Expedition train vs Vistadome train (vs Hiram Bingham train)
There are 3 different classes of Machu Picchu trains. Well, there is also a 4th type of train but it is only allowed for local people from Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) to access the rest of Peru, and since I’m pretty sure you’re not one of those people, we’ll ignore that in this comparison of different trains to Machu Picchu. The most common train to Machu Picchu is the Expedition class. We ended up taking the Vistadome train on the way TO Machu Picchu and an Expedition train on the way back.
The Peru Rail website lists a few other distinctions, but I did not really notice much of a difference between the Vistadome vs Expedition classes. As a comparison, here is the “snack” that they serve on the 2 trains – first the Vistadome train snack (carrot cake and juice)
and then the Machu Picchu Expedition train snack (a roll and the same juice as well as some corn nuts – not pictured)
I would not pay any premium for the Vistadome trains over the Expedition trains. In our case, the Vistadome Machu Picchu train tickets were 15% off and so comparable in price to the Expedition trains and at a time that is more convenient.
The Hiram Bingham train (named for the guy who “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1911) runs you over USD$400, and so I assume will not be most people’s first choice. It does come with much more as well as tickets to Machu Picchu and a guide while you’re there.
Taking the train to Machu Picchu – ride itself
The train to Machu Piccchu takes about 90 minutes from Ollantaytambo. Our 7:05 train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu arrived at about 8:30 a.m. There is only one train from Urubamba to Machu Picchu (on the site of the Tambo del Inka hotel). It leaves at 6:50 a.m. and arrives at 9:24 a.m. – so it takes about an hour longer. The train must have to go slow through Ollantaytambo, or maybe it stops at Ollantaytambo station, as a taxi ride from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo is only 20-25 minutes. As I’ve mentioned before, the trains to/from Urubamba are usually priced USD$20-30 more per person one way than trains to/from Ollantaytambo as well.
We felt that a day was enough for Machu Picchu though of course there is always more to see everywhere. We had a 7:05 train from Ollantaytambo which arrived to Machu Picchu Pueblo at 8:30 a.m. After getting bus tickets and taking the bus up to Machu Picchu itself (see below), we were inside on the grounds by about 9:30 a.m. We hiked up to the Sun Gate (Intipunku) and walked all the way through the ruins, and were down back by the train station by 1:30 p.m. or so.
Another option would be to overnight in Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu Pueblo. You’ll definitely need to do that if you want to be at Machu Picchu for sunrise or stay late in the afternoon (after most of the tourists have gone), or if you’ve also got early tickets to hike up Huayna Picchu.
What to do when you’re done taking the train to Machu Picchu
When you get to the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes), you’ll leave the train station, walk straight through a giant covered market filled with people selling touristy things. That will put you in the town itself, where you’ll cross a bridge over the Urubamba River, take an immediate U-turn down to the street itself. That will put you right at the place you need to be to buy your bus tickets to go up to Machu Picchu itself. Here’s an annotated map – base map copyright OpenStreetMap contributors
The bus tickets cost USD$12 per person. You can also pay in Peruvian Soles, and you can pay with Mastercard or American Express (no Visa), but with an additional surcharge. We paid in Soles.
You then queue up for the bus – buses come along very frequently, though depending on when you get there, the queue can get long I’m sure. We arrived to Machu Picchu Pueblo at about 9:30 a.m. and the line was short and we got on the first bus that came – no more than a 5 minute wait.
You can also hike up / down from the town to Machu Picchu. It’s a series of steep stone steps and will take about 45-60 minutes to go up. You are allowed to take the bus up and hike down if you want to as well. We paid for roundtrip bus tickets.
Readers – any other tips for taking the train to Machu Picchu?