The Trip to Cusco es un maravilloso for lack of better words. As one of the seven wonders of the world, it is a must see especially seeing as it is so accessible. However, getting there is not quite as simple as it may seem. It can become quite the headache arranging entrance tickets, bus travel, and train tickets. Take a deep breath, devise a plan and remember, half the fun is the travel.
First things first. Cusco is four hours from Machu Picchu.
CUSCO -train- AGUAS CALIENTES -bus- LAS RUINAS DE MACHU PICCHU
To get to the City of Aguas Calientes
Take a Train – To board the train requires a train station.
Step one: get yourself to the train station.
There are two stations outside of Cusco. The closest is in the district of Poroy, and sits about 25 minutes outside of the Center of Cusco. A taxi ride between downtown Cusco and Poroy for a mere 30 ./s. ( do not settle for 40 soles, the people in Cusco know you are American, and expect you to fall for steeper prices. Save your pride and demand a cheaper trip. Always ) You may also take a collectivo which will cost you 10 to 15 soles, however these stop running at 9pm -as I am told- so plan ahead if you are looking to save the extra 20 soles.
Inka Rail vs. Peru Rail
Peru Rail and Inka Rail travel on the same tracks. Inka Rail is a more liesurely ride, while Peru Rail is the more economic option. These tickets are easy to come by, and can be purchased online. There is also a Peru Rail kiosk in the airport in Lima and Cusco. If you stumble upon this kiosk during operating hours, hop in line. Purchasing your train ticket in the airport can knock off hours of your time waiting in line at the train station.
The second option is the train from Ollantaytambo which sits about 2 hours outside of Cusco. This route is the road most travelled and most recommended for those who wish to spend a bit more time immersed in the Ancient Inca culture. Along the route from Cusco to Ollantaytambo you will pass through the ruins of Pisaq, an ancient Incan village which is much higher than Machu Picchu and gives a great view of the flood planes of the Urubamba River.
There are tours that are offered that will take you from the city center of Cusco to ruins which sit along the route. While the tour will take you back to Cusco if desired, you can simply hop off in Ollantaytambo and board your train.
The tour will leave at 8am and arrive in Ollantaytambo around 4:30pm. Make sure and give yourself enough time to switch from the tour to the train. The train leaves about every two hours from each stop. The train I took left at 7pm which gave me enough time to walk around Ollantaytambo after having separated from the tour.
Step two: Arrive at Aguas Calientes and buy your bus ticket.
The train will take you directly to Aguas Calientes. It is a very small town in the valley of the Ruins, and consists mostly of hotels and hostels where you can stay the night. There are also camp sights along the Urubamba Riverside.
To get to the ruins of Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, you have the option to climb a set of rustic stairs, or take a bus. The bus to the top will cost you 12 USD, and take you to the entrance of the ruins which will save you the hour trek up the mountainside. I recommend taking the bus. While I love to hike and was hesitant to buy the trip, taking the bus will save you time and put you at the entrance in time to beat the crowds. Once at the top you can explore the ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain.
Step three: Get to the bus station as early as possible the morning of your visit
Your hotel will most likely provide breakfast as early as 5am so that you have time to load up on carbs before your trek. If you plan to check out that day, the hotel may offer to hold onto your things if needed. If for some reason they do not, there are also luggage lockers at the train station.
My ticket allowed for one day entrance and included the mountain of Machu Picchu. The first bus up the mountain leaves at 5:30am and the ruins open at 6am. I walked to the bus stop just before 6am and stood in line for almost an hour.
Step four: Arrive to the entrance, find a guide.
As of July 1, 2017 they have enacted a rule that one must enter Machu Picchu with a licensed tour guide. During my visit, I was not asked, nor did they check to see if I was with a guide. I have a hunch this is a mere suggestion. If for some reason they stop you, do not fret, there are plenty of guides who stand outside of the entrance and wait for people.
I went with a one, I suggest it, but again, I do not believe it is mandatory.
Important: check with your hotel when you leave to tour the Ruins about check out time. Usually they require you check out before the trip, however most will gladly hold onto your things.