Machu Picchu Trains: Virtual Tour and Information
Everyone who goes to Machu Picchu, must take a train at some point. Even hikers take the train for the return journey to Cusco because the Inca Trail hike is one direction only. And it's not surprising that there's confusion about train service to Machu Picchu. The internet is not always your friend. Apparently, neither is the Perurail website which displays conflicting information! Here's what you need to know about the service, the cost and the benefits of each level of train service. I've also included links to a virtual tour for each of the 3 levels of service.
How to Get to Machu Picchu
The only way to get to Machu Picchu is by hiking the 4 day Inca Trail or by taking the train. There are no roads to Machu Picchu except one from the backside that ends at the Hidroelectrica station. Even if you had access to a vehicle, it's not possible to drive.
Which Tickets Should You Buy First? Train or Machu Picchu Entry
Always confirm there are places for entry to Machu Picchu. But I recommend buying train tickets first. The reason is that if you are in possession of valid train tickets and for some reason, Machu Picchu has sold out, last year (2016) the government would sell you entry tickets. They don't want people traveling all that way and not be able to get in to see "the wonder." Take your valid train tickets to the the Machu Picchu ticket office in Cusco. (we haven't needed to use this method yet in 2017. We hope they do it again this year)
Train Service Providers
Perurail - the largest and most well-known railroad operator in Peru. Has the most extensive year round schedule of train service to Machu Picchu. During the rainy season (Jan 1 - April 30) The Hiram Bingham Luxury train service is bi-modal. Meaning that you take a bus from Poroy station and ride about 2 hours to the station in the Sacred Valley, where you board the train.
Inca Rail - limited service year round with about 6 roundtrips per day between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu stations. During the rainy season (Jan 1 - April 30) They offer bi-modal service beginning in San Pedro in Cusco. You board their private bus to ride to Ollantaytambo, then transfer to the train. Departs 4:50 AM Daily. Returns 16:12 PM Daily - travel time 4 hours. It's $79 USD pp and this is a great deal considering it actually begins in Cusco. (Note: when purchasing tickets online with credit cards, Inca Rail requires that you must produce the ACTUAL credit card in Peru when you pick up your tickets in person. This system would not work for anyone who plans to purchase tickets for someone else, and will not be traveling)
Four train stations serve visitors who travel to Machu Picchu. There is no public transportation to any train stations. On the Perurail website, you see an option for train service from Cusco. There is no train station in Cusco city center for visitors going to Machu Picchu. The Cusco station refers to the station located 25 minutes by car in Poroy. It's misleading. There is no train station in Cusco except for the Andean Explorer Train which goes to Puno and Arequipa.
- Poroy - located about 25 minutes by car outside the city of Cusco (closed during the rainy season from Jan 1 - April 30) Limited service other times of the year. This is the only station for Hiram Bingham Luxury service. - travel time 3 hr/15 min - 45 min each way
- Urubamba - located about 1 hour by car in the village of Urubamba near the Tambo del Inka hotel. One train departs daily at 6:50 and returns at 15:48 - travel time 2.5 hours each way
- Ollantaytambo village - located about 2 hour drive from Cusco, at the "end" of the Sacred Valley. This is the main station for the majority of trains going to and from Machu Picchu - travel time 1 hr /40 min each way
- Machu Picchu - the station is located in the village of Aguas Calientes. (sometimes referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo) This is the end of the line for all trains. Then you walk to the bus stop and board shuttle buses for the 30 minute ride to the main entry of Machu Picchu (there are no motorized vehicles in the village except for buses that go to Machu Picchu)
Choose From 3 Levels of Train Service
Expedition is the most budget-friendly option. Vistadome is slightly higher in cost. And the Hiram Bingham luxury train is the most expensive. I have included a quick overview of each option including a link to a virtual tour. In case you have heard about another train, called the "Backpackers" train. There is no such train. There is however a local train for people who live in Aguas Calientes. Tourists do not use this service. Sometimes the guides and porters will use it.
What's the Difference Between Expedition and Vistadome Train Service?
For most visitors, if you clicked the links above and viewed the inside of each train, you can see that there is very little difference in the look and the comfort of Expedition and Vistadome cars. Yet, tickets for the Vistadome train cost more. The main reason for the difference in cost is due to the on board snack service and the live fashion show on Vistadome. (with the opportunity to purchase the locally made textiles if desired) I suggest you choose the train service that best meets the needs of your schedule.
Note: while Expedition and Vistadome cars both have panoramic windows, Hiram Bingham wagons do not. However there is a deck on the back of the Observatory car to enjoy the scenery
Train Tickets for Guides
Why is my guide not riding on the train with my group? Guides who escort groups will accompany them in Cusco, Sacred Valley, on multi-day hikes and tours of Machu Picchu. But guides will sit separately from groups on the trains and here's why. Perurail gives a small discount to guides since they wait until the last minute to book their tickets. Even though the tickets for travelers are purchased up to 30 days prior to riding the train, the guides will not get their tickets until 24-48 hours before. Perurail counts on guides to have flexible seating to be able to sit anywhere. This allows Perurail to keep groups together and use guides to fill in single seats where available. Guides may also be booked on trains at different departure times when groups are riding the more expensive trains. Guides can be booked on a different train where the ticket is cheaper. Most operators will book the guide on a train right before or after the group they are guiding so as to maintain the continuity of the trip. However, for the 1 Day Inca Trail hikes, the guides usually go on the same train as groups they are guiding because they have to be with them to go through the check point and to the hike. But they will be seated in a different car.
Is it possible to have my guide seated with my group on the train? Yes, if you are willing to pay the full price for the guide's ticket, the guide can sit with your group. This must be arranged and booked at the same time your group tickets are purchased. Your tour operator must know in advance.
Luggage on the Train
Size. 5 kg/11 lb per passenger, 62 lineal in/157 cm (height + length + width) It is not necessary to take all your luggage to Machu Picchu because trips are usually no longer than 1-2 days. And it is not easy to lug large bags in Aguas Calientes. The streets are steep, uneven and cobbled, rendering bags with wheels pretty useless. There are no vehicles so it doesn't matter if you have a budget that allows you to hire assistance. It's not available. It doesn't make sense to take large bags. All hotels in Cusco and Sacred Valley will store bags. And visitors traveling by train are expected to limit their personal belongings to only the essentials for 1 or 2 nights. You can hold a small bag in your seat and stash a larger duffle bag or carryon bag at the end of the car in the bag storage area, or behind the backs of the seats. I'm guessing the airlines have trained people to pay attention to bag size limits. I've never seen anyone try to board trains with huge bags. And I've never seen Perurail agents prevent any passengers from boarding because their bags are too large.
Cost of Train Tickets (prices here are average)
Hiram Bingham Luxury morning train one-way from (Cusco) Poroy to Machu Picchu:
$380 USD pp from Jan 1 - April 30 (during the rainy season Bi-modal service is provided by bus + train)
$500 USD pp from May 1- Dec 31
Note: the morning service includes entry ticket to Machu Picchu and small group guided tour of the ruins
Hiram Bingham Luxury afternoon train one-way from Machu Picchu to Poroy (Cusco):
$380 USD pp from Jan 1 - April 30 (during the rainy season Bi-modal service provided by train + bus to your hotel in Cusco)
$500 USD pp from May 1 - Dec 31
Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
Cheapest train is EXP 51 departing Ollantaytambo at 19:00 ($66 USD pp)
Most expensive is VISTA 203 departing Ollantaytambo at 10:32 ($101 USD pp)
Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo
Cheapest train is EXP 50 departing AC 05:35 ($66 USD pp)
Most expensive is VISTA 304 departing AC 15:38 ( $120 USD pp)
Important Things to Know
- Trains are subject to delay. Sometimes the delay may occur before boarding. Other times it could happen while you are on the train. It is not recommended to book flights out of Cusco on the same day as your train ticket.
- It is not possible to choose seats on any train. Groups who book their tickets in the same transaction are likely to be seated together. But this is not guaranteed.
- Train service can be mixed and matched. It's not necessary, nor is there any advantage to book the same train service roundtrip. There is no roundtrip discount.
- Valid tickets can be transferred to someone else provided you follow the instructions and pay the penalty ($6 USD 1-way / $12 USD Roundtrip) and must do so no later than 24 hours prior to scheduled departure. If you're unable to go in person, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you miss your train due to delayed flights, strikes or verified health conditions, Perurail reserves the right to evaluate case by case, and if available, may offer alternative tickets on other travel dates. However, will not issue any refunds for any reason, unless they cancel the service.
- You can change the date and time of your ticket if done more than 24 hours before departure. In some cases, you will pay 10% penalty and if the rate of the new service is higher, you will pay the difference.
Hidroelectrica Station to Machu Picchu
This station is part of the jungle trek to Machu Picchu. From Cusco it takes at least 8 hours to drive through the Sacred Valley, up over the Abra Malaga pass (4316 m / 14,160 ft) then down into the semi-tropical jungle through small towns to Hidroelectrica. People can buy a train ticket in the village of Santa Teresa. Tickets cannot be purchased anywhere else including at the Hidroelectrica station. There is no online schedule. The best option is to spend the night then go to the ticket office first thing in the morning to buy your ticket. From Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes by train is about 30 minutes or by foot you can walk about 1.5 - 2 hours. On flat terrain!
If you have specific questions about trains, feel free to contact our US office. We're happy to help you get the answers you need to make the best choices for your trip to Machu Picchu.