Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, has captivated the hearts and minds of travelers for generations.
Its towering stone structures, nestled amidst the cloud-kissed peaks of the Andes, paint a picture of an ancient civilization frozen in time.
Like many, I’ve dreamt of visiting this iconic site. Yet, the thought of trekking for days through rugged mountain terrain often made me wonder if the experience was out of reach for people who aren’t seasoned hikers.
But here’s the thing: Machu Picchu isn’t just for the seasoned hiker.
The question I asked myself, and the one that many others might be pondering is, “Can you get to Machu Picchu without hiking?” And I’m here to tell you that the answer is a resounding yes.
This article delves into the various ways you can experience the magic of Machu Picchu, without the demanding trails.
Step 1: Take the Train
For many, the journey to the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu begins with an adventurous trek across the challenging Andean trails.
But for those who prefer a more relaxing and scenic route, or perhaps are limited by time or physical ability, there’s a wonderful alternative: the train.
Navigating through the heart of the Sacred Valley, these train services offer not just a means of transportation but an experience in themselves. With panoramic views of the majestic mountains, roaring rivers, and quaint villages, the ride becomes a prelude to the magic of Machu Picchu.
Whether you’re seeking luxury, cultural immersion, or simply a comfortable seat with a view, there’s a train journey tailored for every traveler.
Let’s explore the two leading companies offering this service: PeruRail and Inca Rail.
PeruRail: Your Scenic Gateway to Machu Picchu
Since its establishment in 1999, PeruRail has become synonymous with the iconic journey to the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu.
Seamlessly weaving through the heart of the Sacred Valley, PeruRail trains provide passengers not only with a means of transportation but an unparalleled visual feast.
From the lush greenery of the Andean landscapes to the shimmering Urubamba River, the journey itself becomes a memorable prelude to the wonders of Machu Picchu.
Many travelers opt for PeruRail because of its reliability, diverse service options catering to various budgets, and the promise of an immersive cultural experience.
In essence, PeruRail doesn’t just offer a ride; it offers a passage through time, culminating in the mystique of Machu Picchu.
PeruRail offers a number of different experiences;
The PeruRail Expedition service is designed to provide travelers a comfortable yet immersive journey through the ever-changing landscape of the Sacred Valley. Offering a blend of affordability and scenic views, this service is a favorite among many.
- Budget-friendly: One of the primary draws of the Expedition is its affordability. For travelers keen on experiencing the majesty of Machu Picchu without breaking the bank, this is a prime choice.
- Scenic Views: Despite being a budget option, Expedition does not compromise on the beauty of the journey. Panoramic windows allow travelers to soak in the picturesque Andean landscapes, from verdant valleys to imposing mountains.
- Reliable Service: Being a popular choice means the frequency of this service is high, providing flexibility to travelers in terms of choosing their preferred departure times.
- Cultural Immersion: The interior of the Expedition trains often showcases Andean motifs, offering travelers a taste of the local culture. Moreover, the journey is often accompanied by regional music, further immersing passengers in the local ambiance.
- Accessibility: Expedition trains depart from multiple stations, including Cusco, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo, making it convenient for travelers based on their location.
- Basic Amenities: As a budget option, the Expedition is not outfitted with luxury amenities. While the seats are comfortable, they don’t offer the same level of plushness or spaciousness as some of the pricier train options.
- Crowded: Given its affordability, the Expedition can often be crowded, especially during peak tourist seasons.
- Limited Onboard Services: Unlike some of the luxury train options, the Expedition does not offer gourmet meals or extensive onboard entertainment.
- Luggage Restrictions: While this is common to most train services to Machu Picchu, passengers should be aware that there are stringent luggage weight and size limits on the Expedition.
The PeruRail Expedition service, with its blend of affordability and scenic beauty, is an excellent choice for those looking to experience the journey to Machu Picchu without excessive expenditures.
However, travelers seeking a more luxurious and intimate experience might want to explore other options.
Designed to embrace the astonishing beauty of the Sacred Valley, the Vistadome service by PeruRail stands out for its near 360-degree views, allowing passengers to feel even more connected to the magnificent Andean landscape.
- Panoramic Views: The Vistadome’s most distinguishing feature is its expansive windows, not only on the sides but also overhead, which provide passengers with breathtaking views of the picturesque valley, towering mountains, and flowing rivers.
- Cultural Entertainment: Going beyond just the visual, Vistadome offers a multi-sensory experience. Passengers are often treated to traditional Andean dances and a showcase of locally-made alpaca wool clothing, enriching their journey with a taste of Peruvian culture.
- Comfortable Seating: The train is outfitted with plush seating, ensuring that passengers enjoy a comfortable ride as they take in the vistas.
- Refreshments Included: Unlike the Expedition service, Vistadome passengers are usually offered a light snack and a beverage, enhancing the onboard experience.
- Direct Journey: Vistadome trains often provide direct services, ensuring quicker access to Machu Picchu from various departure points.
- Price Point: While the Vistadome offers an enhanced experience compared to the Expedition, this comes at a higher price, making it less appealing for budget-conscious travelers.
- Limited Availability: The Vistadome is popular and has fewer services compared to the Expedition, which means it often gets booked up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
- Less Immersion Than Hikes: While the Vistadome offers a phenomenal view of the landscape, some travelers feel that it still can’t compare to the immersion one gets from trekking through the Sacred Valley.
- Luggage Restrictions: Similar to other train services to Machu Picchu, the Vistadome also has luggage restrictions, which might be inconvenient for some travelers.
The PeruRail Vistadome is a wonderful choice for travelers who want to blend comfort with an immersive visual and cultural experience on their journey to Machu Picchu.
However, as with any service, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons to determine if it aligns with one’s preferences and budget.
Belmond Hiram Bingham
Emanating elegance and luxury, the Belmond Hiram Bingham train, named after the explorer who brought global attention to Machu Picchu, is not just a train journey—it’s an opulent experience. Meant for those who wish to journey to the Incan citadel in the lap of luxury, this service provides a top-tier experience from start to finish.
- All-Inclusive Experience: The ticket price covers more than just the train ride. It includes transfers to and from the train station, entrance to Machu Picchu, a guided tour of the archaeological site, and meals onboard.
- Gourmet Dining: Passengers are treated to gourmet meals prepared using local ingredients. Brunch is served on the outbound journey, and a four-course dinner is provided on the return, accompanied by a selection of fine wines.
- Elegant Carriages: The train’s design is inspired by the 1920s Pullman-style carriages, reflecting a bygone era of luxury rail travel with polished wood, brass finishes, and lavish furnishings.
- Live Entertainment: The journey is enhanced with live music, with traditional Peruvian artists performing during the trip, adding to the rich cultural experience.
- Observation Car: The train features an open-air observation car, allowing passengers to enjoy the fresh Andean air and panoramic views of the majestic landscape.
- High Cost: The most significant drawback is the price. The Belmond Hiram Bingham is considerably more expensive than other train options to Machu Picchu, making it inaccessible for many travelers.
- Less Frequency: Due to its exclusive nature, there are fewer services compared to other train options, which could limit flexibility in choosing departure dates and times.
- Advanced Booking Needed: Given its exclusivity and limited availability, travelers often need to book well in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
- Not Ideal for Budget Travelers: While the experience is unmatched, budget travelers or backpackers might find it not aligned with their travel ethos or simply out of reach financially.
For travelers who wish to indulge in an unparalleled luxury experience and for whom cost is not a constraint, the Belmond Hiram Bingham offers an unforgettable journey to Machu Picchu. However, its premium nature means it’s not the go-to choice for everyone.
Inca Rail: A Modern Passage to Ancient Wonders
Founded in 2009, Inca Rail has quickly risen as a favored choice for voyagers bound for the legendary Machu Picchu. Offering a blend of contemporary amenities with traditional Andean touches, Inca Rail is dedicated to ensuring not just a journey, but a memorable experience.
With its modern fleet, varied service classes, and emphasis on passenger comfort, the company caters to a broad spectrum of travelers.
From panoramic windows that bring the Sacred Valley’s beauty right to your seat, to gourmet offerings inspired by local flavors, Inca Rail weaves the old with the new.
Travelers are drawn to its reliable service, diverse options that suit different budgets, and the promise of a seamless transition from the bustling cities to the serene peaks of Machu Picchu.
Let’s delve into the different options that Inca Rail has to offer;
A popular choice among Inca Rail’s offerings, The Voyager is designed to provide passengers with comfort and mesmerizing views as they traverse the Sacred Valley en route to Machu Picchu.
- Affordability: Positioned as one of Inca Rail’s more budget-friendly options, The Voyager allows many travelers to experience the scenic journey without a hefty price tag.
- Panoramic Views: Equipped with large windows, The Voyager ensures passengers don’t miss out on the captivating Andean landscape, ranging from lush green terraces to dramatic mountain peaks.
- Comfortable Interiors: The train boasts ergonomic seating and modern interiors, ensuring a comfortable journey for passengers.
- Onboard Amenities: Even at its budget-friendly stance, The Voyager offers passengers complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and a snack, ensuring they’re refreshed during the journey.
- Convenient Schedule: With multiple departures daily, travelers can find a time that fits seamlessly into their itinerary.
- Basic Service: While The Voyager offers a comfortable journey, it lacks some of the luxury touches and services found in Inca Rail’s premium classes.
- Limited Onboard Entertainment: Unlike some of the higher-tier trains, The Voyager may not offer extensive onboard entertainment or cultural showcases.
- Peak Season Crowds: Given its affordability and popularity, The Voyager can be quite crowded during peak travel times, potentially affecting the overall experience.
- Luggage Restrictions: As with many train services to Machu Picchu, The Voyager has specific luggage restrictions that passengers must adhere to.
The Voyager by Inca Rail offers an excellent balance of comfort and value, making it a favored choice for many heading to Machu Picchu. However, travelers seeking a more luxurious or intimate onboard experience may wish to explore other train classes.
As the name suggests, The 360° train by Inca Rail offers passengers a more comprehensive view of the breathtaking landscapes surrounding the railway. It’s a step above The Voyager, both in terms of amenities and the immersive experience it provides.
- Unparalleled Views: The train’s key feature is its panoramic windows, including on the ceiling, allowing travelers to enjoy almost uninterrupted views of the Sacred Valley, the mountains, and the Urubamba River.
- Observation Deck with Bar: Unique to The 360°, this outdoor area allows passengers to feel even closer to the Andean landscapes while enjoying a drink.
- Entertainment and Info: Screens onboard display valuable information about the journey and the places the train passes by, ensuring travelers are informed and engaged throughout their trip.
- Culinary Delight: The train offers locally-sourced snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, giving passengers a taste of the region’s culinary offerings.
- Comfort and Space: With wider seats and more space compared to The Voyager, passengers can travel in greater comfort.
- Pricing: Being a premium offering, The 360° comes at a higher price point than The Voyager, which might deter budget travelers.
- Less Frequent Schedules: Compared to The Voyager, The 360° might have fewer departures, which could pose a limitation for those needing specific timings.
- Luggage Restrictions: Similar to other services, The 360° has luggage size and weight limitations, which could be an inconvenience for some passengers.
- Potential Overwhelm: While the panoramic views are a selling point, some travelers might feel overwhelmed by the extensive openness and prefer a more traditional window setup.
The 360° by Inca Rail provides a unique, immersive experience for those wishing to absorb the beauty of the Andean landscapes fully. It’s a middle ground between basic and ultra-luxurious services, catering to travelers who are willing to invest a bit more for an enhanced journey to Machu Picchu.
Inca Rail’s First-Class is a luxurious travel experience designed for those who wish to journey to Machu Picchu in the epitome of comfort and elegance. Reflecting a commitment to top-tier service and amenities, this service is a cut above the rest.
- Luxury and Comfort: The First-Class carriages are designed with spacious seating, refined interiors, and an overall ambiance of opulence, ensuring passengers travel in utmost comfort.
- Gourmet Dining: Passengers are treated to a gourmet menu created using the finest local ingredients, along with a selection of fine wines, making the journey a culinary delight.
- Observation Lounge: This dedicated area allows passengers to enjoy panoramic views of the Andean landscape, complete with plush seating and a bar.
- Live Entertainment: The journey is enhanced with live music performances, adding a touch of local culture to the luxurious experience.
- Welcome and Farewell Gifts: Emphasizing its premium nature, First-Class passengers often receive gifts, adding a memorable touch to their journey.
- Priority Boarding: First-Class passengers get the advantage of priority boarding, making the process smoother and more exclusive.
- High Price Point: Unsurprisingly, the premium experience comes with a premium price tag, which might be out of range for many travelers.
- Limited Seats and Availability: Due to its exclusivity, there are fewer seats available on the First-Class service. This means it can get booked up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
- Less Interaction with Other Travelers: Given the spacious and exclusive nature of the service, there’s less opportunity for social interaction compared to other classes.
- Luggage Restrictions: Despite its luxury stature, the First-Class service still adheres to luggage restrictions, which can be inconvenient for those not prepared.
Inca Rail’s First-Class is the perfect choice for those who prioritize luxury, comfort, and an all-encompassing premium experience on their journey to Machu Picchu. It’s a world apart from regular train services, designed to cater to the most discerning travelers.
Step 2: Take The Bus
Taking the Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
- Duration and Distance: The bus ride takes about 20-30 minutes, covering a distance of approximately 8 kilometers (about 5 miles).
- Winding Roads: The route is a series of switchbacks up the mountain, which can be quite steep at times. While the drivers are experts, those prone to motion sickness might want to take precautions.
- Frequency: During peak seasons, buses run frequently—starting as early as 5:30 a.m. and as late as 3:30 p.m. Depending on demand, a bus departs approximately every 5-10 minutes.
- Tickets: Purchase bus tickets in advance, either online or at the ticket offices in Aguas Calientes. It’s a good idea to buy your return ticket at the same time. Remember to keep your ticket for the return trip.
- Queuing Up: Expect queues, especially early in the morning, as many travelers want to catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu or have early entry tickets. The queue system is organized, but it can still get crowded, so arriving early is a good strategy.
- Seating: The buses are comfortable and modern, typically seating around 30 passengers. Windows offer first glimpses of the site as you near the top.
- Drop-off Point: Buses drop passengers off right at the entrance of the Machu Picchu site. From here, travelers enter the site, either exploring on their own or meeting with their tour guides.
- Return Journey: Buses for the return journey to Aguas Calientes run until the closing time of the archaeological site. Sometimes there’s a wait, so it’s wise to head down earlier if you have a train to catch or other time-sensitive plans.
- Respect the Environment: The route travels through a sensitive ecological area. It’s essential to keep the surroundings clean, carry out all trash, and avoid feeding or disturbing local wildlife.
- Prices: Prices for the bus tickets can vary, so it’s wise to check current rates before your journey. There are often separate prices for foreign tourists and national or local visitors.
Traveling from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by bus offers a smooth, comfortable way to reach the site, allowing travelers to conserve energy for exploring the ancient ruins.
Just remember to plan ahead, be prepared for waits during peak times, and always travel with respect for the environment and local guidelines.