For many travellers, visiting Machu Picchu, or the 'Lost City of the Incas', is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This ancient citadel was built in the 15th century during the reign of Inca king, Pachacuti, and now stands as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The site is 110 kilometres northeast of Cusco, with the closest towns being Aguas Calientes (just 9 kilometres from Macchu Picchu), followed by Ollantaytambo (32 kilometres away).
There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu depending on the type of experience you're looking for. If you're a keen hiker or want to follow in the footsteps of the Incas, you might want to tackle the classic Inca Trail or the lesser-trafficked Quarry Trail. If you need a more accessible means of travel, or if you'd prefer a little more luxe, taking the train is also an option.
Whether you hike or take the train, travellers usually make their way to Cusco as their starting point as it's where most tours begin. If you’re coming from the capital of Lima, you can either fly to Cusco (around 1.5 hours), take the train (approx. 10 hours), or jump on a bus (approx. 24 hours).
Hiking to Machu Picchu
Littered with incredible sites and boasting some of Peru's most spectacular scenery, it's no wonder hiking to Machu Picchu is on so many travellers' bucket lists. There are three hiking routes to or via Machu Picchu:
- The Inca Trail
- The Quarry Trail
- The Choquequiraro Trail
The Inca Trail
- Duration: 4 days
- Distance: 26 miles (43 kilometres)
The Inca Trail is what most people imagine when you say ‘Machu Picchu’. It’s one of the world’s most famous trekking routes, attracting thousands each year. You'll hike through the Sacred Valley to the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and up to the iconic Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu. Although rated moderate, the relentless uphill (and downhill) hiking is tough. As a rule of thumb: the fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy it. With profound cultural encounters and sublime views, this journey will stay with you for a lifetime.
The Quarry Trail
- Duration: 2.5 days
- Distance: 16 miles (26 kilometres)
The Inca Trail may steal the limelight, but the Quarry Trail is quickly gaining traction. Though it doesn't lead directly to Machu Picchu, you'll take a 30-minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes on the fourth day to visit the site. What this trail does offer is access to some lesser-known ruins and attractions including the stunning Perolniyoc Cascade, the towering peak of Kuychicassa, and the intriguing archaeological ruins of Inti Punku. The Quarry Trail might not be as iconic, but it’s shorter, quieter and still low on the tourist radar (for now!).
The Choquequirao Trail
- Duration: 8 days
- Distance: 103 kilometres (64 miles)
If you’re a keen hiker or you want to immerse yourself in as much ancient Inca history as possible, the Choquequiraro Trail might be for you. On this challenging trek, you’ll traverse through high altitudes over mega mountain passes to the well-preserved Inca city ruins of Choquequiraro – an ancient city three times the size of Machu Picchu. You’ll trek for up to 10 hours each day, so a reasonable fitness level is required. Like the Quarry Trail, it doesn't lead to Macchu Picchu, but you'll have a full day after the trek to explore the site.
Taking the train to Machu Picchu
The train is a great option if camping or hiking isn’t your thing, or you’d rather sip on a cocktail while admiring the scenery. As you can imagine, views don’t get much better than this! Trains depart from Cusco, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo with PeruRail and Inca Rail, and terminate at Aguas Calientes. From here, you can hop on a bus for the last 30-minute leg to Machu Picchu.
The train journey from Cusco takes just over three hours, and only 1.5 hours from Ollantaytambo. There are several departures throughout the day, making it possible to leave in the morning, explore the ruins, and be back at your hotel in time for dinner.
There are different ticket options to suit your travel style and budget, but even the cheapest fare (starting at around USD $65 per person for a one-way ticket), has reclining seats, big windows (trust us, you'll need them!), and a refreshments service. If you’re keen to splash out, a first-class ticket (approx. $200 one-way) includes a welcome cocktail, a set menu and live music.
Learn more about taking the train to Machu Picchu
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