The latest trend is for travelers to organize their own trips from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back in one day. But this was not always the case. And there's a good reason. I'm getting emails from people who are struggling with the tight transitions between trains, buses and entry times. Starting in 2024 the Machu Picchu National Park authorities implemented a 30 minute tolerance for late entry at the main gate. Why did they do that? Let's break down the trip step-by-step so you can judge for yourself and decide what's best for you.. 

Why do travelers want to go to Machu Picchu and back to Cusco in one day?

We believe that people think it's the right way to do it. They think it's normal to get from civilization in Cusco, to the middle of nowhere in the Andes Mountains, and back, in one day, because there are people who have done it. Not long ago, it was quite normal for most visitors to set up a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu. However, we've seen an increase in travelers who portray their one-day trips as a desirable experience. This gives the impression that it's not only easy, but that's the way all the kids are doing it this year. Don't get me wrong. It is possible to get to Machu Picchu and back to Cusco in one day. But should all travelers attempt to synchronize the various precision arrangements needed to pull off a 1 day trip? Are there advantages to going to Machu Picchu in 1 day? Let me explain. 

The average travel time from Cusco to the village of Aguas Calientes is close to 5 hours. Each way. This does not include the time you spend exploring the ancient ruins. Just a couple of years ago, it was uncommon for travelers to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back in one day. My, my how times change. The distance and travel time to get to Machu Picchu have not changed. The trains and buses have not changed, except that now there is train service that begins in Cusco. 

If you break out the varous modes of travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you'll see why 1 day is pushing it. It takes an average of 2 hours by private van to get from Cusco to the village of Ollantaytambo. It takes a little longer by bus or train from Cusco. From Ollantaytambo you take the train another 2 hours to the Machu Picchu gateway village of Aguas Calientes. Keep in mind that although the train schedule indicates a 1.5 hour journey, the trains sometimes stop on the tracks to let oncoming trains pass. This is unpredictable and can add 15 minutes or longer to your train ride each way. We always plan for at least a 2 hour window for this segment of the trip. From the village of Aguas Calientes, you wait in line for the bus for an unspecified amount of time and ride 30 minutes to the main entrance at Machu Picchu. Then, literally everyone makes a stop at the only restrooms before they enter the park. You can see why it takes an average of 5 hours to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. And you can see why some people are late. That's why we recommend a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu. 

What are the advantages of organizing an all-inclusive 2-day trip to Machu Picchu?

  • Flexibility to allow extra time to stand in line for buses, restrooms or entry. 
  • Time to explore the various archeaological ruins and cultural sites in the Sacred Valley on the way to the train station in Ollantaytambo
  • Customize your trip. Skip Sacred Valley if you prefer to spend one afternoon exploring Machu Picchu, then stay overnight and return to Machu Picchu the next morning. 
  • It's less complicated to organize the various components over the course of two days, than one.
  • Time to take care of your needs on the way. Use the restroom, dine, explore little things that pop up.
  • Enjoy the pace of the journey to Machu Picchu with stops along the way. The journey itself becomes a destination. 

Is is quicker to use train service from Cusco to Aguas Calientes?

Train service from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (whether you use direct or bi-modal) is slightly longer than traveling by car through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo, then boarding the train to Aguas Calientes. This is one reason we rarely book trains in and out of Cusco. We prefer to arrange private transfers by van bewteen Cusco and the village of Ollantaytambo. The experience is better overall, it takes less time, and we take people directly to their hotels. 

Is it cheaper to do a one day trip to Machu Picchu?

I don't believe it is. The fixed expenses are the same whether you go to Machu Picchu in one day or two days. You still need at least 1 entry ticket to Machu Picchu, roundtrip train tickets, transport between your hotel and the train station, round trip bus tickets, a hotel, and meals. The only limitation is that if you are staying at a hotel in Cusco on points, there are no hotels in Aguas Calientes that take points. 

Is it possible to do a 2-day hiking trip to Machu Picchu instead of taking the train?

Yes, as long as permits are available. Typically, permits for the 1-day Inca Trail are available most of the time. But these permits must be acquired through a licensed tour operator at least 5 days prior to the beginning of the hike. Here's a link to view the Adios 2-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu itinerary.

Trains from Cusco to the village of Aguas Calientes

Trains now operate from Cusco with limited direct service, and more frequent bi-modal service to the gateway village of Aguas Calientes. This means you spend 2 hours riding through the Sacred Valley of the Incas by bus to the village of Ollantaytambo, where you jump off the bus and hustle onto the train for the 2 hour ride through the Urubamba Valley to Aguas Calientes. Passengers on the direct train service will go by train from Cusco through an alternative route to Ollantaytambo and continue to Aguas Calientes. (only during the dry season May 1-Dec 31.) From there you walk to the bus stop and ride 30 minutes to get to Machu Picchu main entrance. 

The main train station is located in the village of Ollantaytambo which is roughly 1.5 - 2 hours drive each way. Not too long ago this was the only station except for a small satellite station in Poroy open during the dry season, May 1 - Dec 31. (Poroy is a small village about 30 minutes drive outside Cusco). 

Given that there has never been any organized public transportation from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, the only way that people could get to the station was by private transport through their hotels, or hire a private taxi. A third option was to set up a full day guided tour stopping at various archaeological and cultural sites in the Sacred Valley on the way to Ollantaytambo. From there you could take a late afternoon or evening train to the village of Aguas Calientes.

If a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu is that great, would a 3-day trip be even better?

No. Here's why. The village has limited infrastructure and there's no entertainment or things to do other than to go back and forth to Machu Picchu. Once you have visited Machu Picchu once or twice, you're kinda done. Cusco is a great hub for exploring Peruvian culture, cuisine and history. I recommend spending at least 1 or 2 days there.

Sample 2-day Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu Itinerary

Day 1 - Sacred Valley full-day tour by van (Choose Pisac route or Chinchero weavers - Moray - Maras) / Train to Aguas Calientes

8:30 AM Our guide and driver pick you up from your hotel, then drive 30 minutes to the Chinchero weavers’ village where local Quechua women demonstrate traditional Incan weaving and dyeing techniques. (textiles are for sale and 100% of sales supports the women’s textile community.) Continue to Moray to explore unusual geologic sink-holes, that the Inca reconstructed into concentric terraces to create a landscape masterpiece. Its purpose has been debated for decades since it was rediscovered from the air in 1931. (there are toilets available). Drive to Maras terraced salt ponds - a cascade of pink-hued salt crystals from an actively flowing underground stream that has evaporated and pooled on the surface. Each pond is owned and harvested by a local family. Continue to Ollantaytambo, to the train station for the 2 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes. From there it's a short walk to your hotel. Bring 1 small overnight bag/backpack for the train and store excess luggage at your hotel in Cusco.
Hotel: 3* in Aguas Calientes (we can reserve the hotel for you or you can do it yourself)

Includes: private van, driver, English-speaking tour guide, entry tickets, guided tours, train tickets and 1 night in 3 * hotel with private bath and breakfast (upgrade hotels available on request)
Not included: hotel in Cusco, meals, drinking water, tips, travel insurance
(note: all the trains we reserve have panoramic windows and full size seats)

Day 2 - Machu Picchu Guided Tour / Return to Cusco (train + private van)

7-8AM. Adios tour guide will meet you at your hotel lobby and walk to the bus stop. Ride 30 minutes by bus to the main entrance. Once you enter the park, you begin the guided tour (2-3 hours) on the circuit of your choice. Get up close to real functioning fountains, walk through original Inka houses, observe religious and astrological features, and learn about the many sacred elements and mysterious carved rocks of one of the noblest ancient civilizations to inhabit the earth. After you exit, take the shuttle bus back to the village where you have time for lunch (at your expense.) Ride 2 hours by train to Ollantaytambo where Adios driver will be waiting to take you the final 2 hours by private van to your hotel in Cusco. Arrive by 6-7pm

Hotel: Cusco (self booked)
Includes: 1 Entry to Machu Picchu on the circuit of your choice, private guided tour, roundtrip bus tickets, train tickets to Ollantaytambo, private transfer to your hotel in Cusco
Not included: hotel in Cusco, meals, drinking water, tips, travel insurance
Whether you need a little hand holding or a full support team, give me a call in Virginia. My assistant Heather and I, not to mention our superhero behind-the-scenes, native Peruvian partner, Vidal, in Cusco, have the latest up to date info on how to pull all these elements together to help you create your amazing adventure to Machu Picchu.

Here's how you can set up a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu:

  • send email to (or click the tab CONTACT at the top right of our website page) We'll send you instructions 
  • tell us your dates if you know them so we verify availability for entry tickets
  • include number of people in your group and their ages. 
  • let us know where you want to begin if you have reserved your hotel (name/address of hotel in Cusco or Ollantaytambo)
  • let us know where you want to return after the 2 days (name/address of hotel in Cusco or Ollantaytambo)