There are 3 ways to get to the citadel of Machu Picchu: the Inca Trail, the train ride from Ollantaytambo and the alternative route coming from Hidroeléctrica. Each of them offers a totally different experience and varies in terms of the section you will take and the prices. The choice you make will depend on the type of experience you are looking for.
Machu Picchu Travel Tours
Route 1. Inca Trail Route to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail begins in the city of Cusco. Then you will travel to kilometer 82 of the route by train. From that point you will begin the walk that lasts 4 days to reach the citadel of Machu Picchu entering through the attraction called Intipunku or Sun Gate, an ancient structure where the transit to the ancient Inca citadel was controlled. Through this path you can know and observe other Inca archaeological sites of great interest to the visitor.
Route 2. Route of the train trip to Machu Picchu
The visitor has to choose between different companies that offer the service of transportation by train as well as their own train stations, although most tourists choose the Ollantaytambo station due to its location, ease of obtaining tickets and being able to complement their trip through Cusco by visiting this historic town. To follow this route, the visitor has to take a bus from the city of Cusco. The train ride takes 1 hour and 45 minutes from Ollantaytambo station and ends in Aguas Calientes, the small town located at the foot of the wonder of Machu Picchu.
Route 3. Map of the alternative route through Hidroeléctrica
For this option that begins in the same way in the city of Cusco you have to board a bus to the town of Santa Maria (this takes approximately 5 hours of travel). There you take another mobility to the town of Santa Teresa and another stretch to the hydroelectric plant (2 hours). Finally, you can finish this route walking (or you can also take the train) to the town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of the historic citadel. The advantages of this route is that you can get to know very nice tourist destinations and have unique experiences between the sections of the trip, such as visiting the hot springs of Cocalmayo, 10 minutes from the town of Santa Teresa, which is a tourist destination of great concurrence.
How to go to Machu Picchu on your own?
You can choose the route that best suits your plans, time and budget to reach the citadel of Machu Picchu on your own. However, it is important to emphasize that the tickets to enter the wonder are scarce in much of the year due to the high number of visitors, so it is recommended to purchase these in advance and even better if you do it through a travel agency as it will facilitate the process while you can enjoy your stay quietly.
If you chose the Inca Trail route, you must book the tour through the website of a tourist agency 5 to 6 months in advance.
If you chose the train route, you must buy the tickets to Machu Picchu as well as the train tickets 3 to 4 weeks in advance.
If you chose the alternative route by Hydroelectric, you should only buy the tickets to Machu Picchu in advance.
The Inca Trail
For visitors who enjoy outdoor hiking, the best way to get to Machu Picchu is to hike the classic Inca Trail.
This hike is ranked among the top 5 most impressive and satisfying trekking routes on the entire planet. It was built by the Incas as part of a network of trails throughout their empire hundreds of years ago to connect in a faster and easier way the points of Machu Picchu with the city of Cusco.
It combines incredible archaeological complexes with the landscapes that give the Andes mountain range and the Amazon rainforest, this strategic point of its location provides it with unique flora and fauna with which the visitor will coexist throughout his journey. In addition to Machu Picchu you can visit the citadels of Runkurakay, Phuyupatamarca, Sayacmarca and many other destinations.
The Inca Trail lasts 4 days, 3 nights and covers approximately 39 kilometers. During the hike, the highest point reaches 4,200 meters above sea level (13,779 feet). After visiting several points of great cultural value, you will arrive at the ancient gateway to Machu Picchu, known as the Intipunku.
Permits to hike the Inca Trail are limited and must be booked several months in advance through the website of a tourism agency that has the respective permit for this tour.
The train ride through Ollantaytambo
Tourists looking for a comfortable and not time-consuming trip should opt for the train ride from Cusco (or one of its alternative train stations) to the final station located in Machu Picchu town.
Most visitors choose to travel by train from Ollantaytambo station, located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The train route is considered one of the most impressive short train routes in the world, with unique landscapes and a definitely unforgettable experience. This section goes along a little more than 30 kilometers in a journey of 1 hour and 45 minutes, approximately. During the trip you can appreciate the beautiful landscapes that rise on the banks of the Vilcanota River, the Andes mountain range as well as the traditional Andean villages that inhabit along the route.
After arriving at the train station of Aguas Calientes or also called Machu Picchu town, the visitor must take one of the buses that ascend for 10 kilometers until arriving at the entrance door to the archaeological site of Machu Picchu. This last journey takes only 30 minutes and if you opt for it you can climb this stretch walking up a series of stairs that ascend to the citadel.
Train tickets can be purchased online through the websites of Peru Rail or Inca Rail, which are the only two companies that operate the train route to Machu Picchu.
The alternative route through Hidroeléctrica
Tourists looking for a more economical alternative to Machu Picchu can choose the route that heads to the wonder passing through the village of Hidroeléctrica. This trip also includes a short hike through landscapes rich in vegetation.
To start with this option you start in the city of Cusco, you will take a transport that will take you to the town of Santa Maria (it will take about 5 hours). Once there, you will take an additional vehicle that will take you to the town of Santa Teresa or directly to the Hydroelectric station (approximately 2 hours of travel).
From the Hydroelectric station you can reach Aguas Calientes on foot (approximately 2 hours). However, it is also possible to take a train that will take you in 20 minutes.
Despite the length of the journey (almost 8 hours), it is still the most economical way to get to Machu Picchu.
Once located in the town of Aguas Calientes, it is recommended to spend the night in a lodging and visit Machu Picchu the next day, so you can enjoy your guided tour of the wonder with all the energy possible since it takes approximately 2 hours of walking through everything that makes up the wonder.
To take this option by Hidroeléctrica it is not necessary to buy any ticket online. The buses to Santa Maria leave from Av. Antonio Lorena in the city of Cusco.
It is not recommended to take this alternative route during the rainy season (January to April). On those days there may be landslides caused by heavy rains that delay your arrival and disrupt your experience.
Recommendations to go to Machu Picchu on your own
If your ticket includes the Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountains, you should take the train very early in the morning. Another option is to spend the night in Aguas Calientes and visit the mountains very early on the first schedule the next day.
The high season in Machu Picchu (May – September) requires that tickets are purchased well in advance. Especially the ticket that includes the Huayna Picchu mountain (3 or 4 months in advance).
Train tickets should also be purchased online 2 to 3 weeks in advance as they sell out quickly.
Tickets to Machu Picchu have discounts for university students, children under 18 and citizens of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Questions and answers about the route to Machu Picchu by yourself
1) Is going on my own cheaper than going on a tour to Machu Picchu?
Yes, going on your own allows you to choose an economical trip or one with all the luxuries. If you choose the first option, the cost is cheaper compared to traveling with a tour.
2) Yes or yes, should I buy my Machu Picchu tickets in advance?
Tickets to Machu Picchu must be purchased 1, 2 or 3 weeks in advance. The ticket that you must buy 3 or 4 months in advance is the ticket ‘Machupicchu with Huaynapicchu mountain’.
3) Can I do the Inca Trail without a tour?
No, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can only be done with a tour previously organized by a tourist agency operating in the city of Cusco.
4) Can I hike Salkantay without a tour?
Yes, this route can be done with a tour or on your own. For the latter option it is necessary to organize the necessary utensils and food products.
5) Is the route to Machu Picchu through Hidroeléctrica dangerous?
No, the route is safe. However, it is recommended not to do it during the months of heavy rains: January, February and March. The rest of the year the route is very safe and does not present major inconveniences.
6) What should I take on the route to Machu Picchu by Hidroeléctrica?
During this route it is recommended to wear sportswear with long sleeves and pants, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, poncho in case of rain, among others.
7) Can I walk from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu?
No, this route is too long to walk, the best way to get through this route is by train. The best way to get there on foot is by the Hidroelectrica route.
8) Is it possible to walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu?
Yes, this 10 kilometer route is free for everyone. However, due to the fatigue it produces, it is advisable to take the bus to Machu Picchu.
9) Can I get a tour guide in Machu Picchu on my own?
Yes, at the gate of Machu Picchu you can get tour guides for the trip on your own. The price varies from 10 soles per person in shared service.
10) Where to have a cheap lunch in Machu Picchu?
On the trip to Machu Picchu you can have lunch in the town of Aguas Calientes. In the local food market you can have lunch from 8 Peruvian soles.