Machu Picchu is the number one reason why we all want to travel to Peru, there is no doubt. There are many ways to get to the sacred city of the Incas but getting there by train definitely adds a magical ingredient to your visit. In this post I’ll tell you more about my experience of taking the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu.
There are two things you have to plan in advance to visit Machu Picchu: the tickets and the way to get there.
While there are several ways to get to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend to do at least one of the two journeys by train, since it is really worth it because the views are simply amazing.
Train options to Machu Picchu
PeruRail is one of the companies that have train service to Machu Picchu. There are several routes and types of train with different rates.
The departure can be from the city of Ollantaytambo, Urubamba or Poroy (30 minutes from Cusco). All trains have a wide variety of schedules and frequencies. PeruRail also has two trains that go to Puno: the PeruRail Titicaca and the luxurious Belmond Andean Explorer.
You should note that trains leave you at Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, not at the actual ruins. To get to the ruins, you have to take a bus from the town (about half an hour’s journey) or walk.
These are PeruRail trains:
- PeruRail Expedition: it is the cheapest train. It departs from Poroy and Ollantaytambo.
- PeruRail Vistadome: it is the train in which I traveled so I will tell you more in a minute. Vistadome has panoramic windows and departs from Poroy, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.
- PeruRail Sacred Valley: this train makes the Urubamba-Machu Picchu route, crossing the entire Sacred Valley.
- Belmond Hiram Bingham: it is the most luxurious service, inspired by Pullman cars of the of the 1920s.
It is advisable to book your train tickets with anticipation to have all the schedules available.
Train from Ollantaytambo
The service I experienced on my trip to Machu Picchu was the PeruRail Vistadome. The departure station was Ollantaytambo. This town is one of the most important in the Sacred Valley as it still preserves the Inca urban planning. I decided to sleep in Ollantaytambo the night before the train trip since it departure was at 9:15.
How to get to Ollantaytambo? If you are going to take a train from Ollantaytambo, there are several ways to get there. You can take the Sacred Valley tour (there are plenty of tour companies offering it in Cusco) and stay in Ollantaytambo,instead of returning to Cusco.
There are also vans that leave from the terminal in Pavitos street in Cusco at all times. The journey costs 10 soles per person (about USD $3).
My boyfriend and I toured the Sacred Valley on our own in a taxi and the last stop was Ollantaytambo, where we arrived at around 3 PM to explore its ruins. Ollantaytambo is a small town so you can easily get to the train station on foot. It is advisable to arrive to the station 30 minutes before the departure of your train, so at 8:45 I was at the station.
Check out: what to do in Ollantaytambo on a day trip
PeruRail Vistadome train to Machu Picchu
It is important that you bring your printed tickets and check the number of your train, since there are many others departing at almost the same time.
Once at the station, there is a waiting room where you can rest until the train leaves. Once the train arrives at the station, the number and time of it is notified by auto-speaker so that all passengers are go to their assigned car. Before entering the train, they check the tickets and identity (don’t forget to bring passport or document).
All trains have space to store your suitcase although my recommendation is that you leave your luggage in Cusco and travel simply with a backpack or small bag with the clothes you plan to wear.
The journey between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu lasts 1h 30 min. The route is really beautiful because the train goes through the incredible landscapes of the Sacred Valley. Rivers, mountains, jungle, small villages, bridges … are some of the things that we can see from the train.
The Vistadome has huge windows both on the walls and on the ceiling so you can enjoy the views. The seats are of two or four people and these are assigned by order of purchase, you can’t select them.
Each seat has a table with tablecloths since the Vistadome includes a snack service. The train staff is super friendly and they offer you tea, coffee or juice. The snack may vary according to the train schedule but it is usually a sandwich + cookie or fruit.
Machu Picchu Pueblo or Aguas Calientes
Once at the Machu Picchu station, you have to cross a local market to get out of the station and reach the street. My hotel was just a few minutes from the station so it was very easy to get there.
Many people go directly to Machu Picchu when the train arrives. In my opinion it is not recommended as it is a long journey and you will be tired when you reach the sacred city. The best plan is to sleep one night in Aguas Calientes and go to the ruins the next day.
In my case, I arrived early at Machu Picchu, so I had almost the whole day to rest, buy the bus tickets to Machu and walk around the town. Tickets for the bus that goes to Machu Picchu from the town cost USD $ 24 (round trip) and can be purchased in Aguas Calientes (Av. Hermanos Ayar S / N) or in Cusco (Av. Infancia 433 Wanchaq).
The truth is there is not much to do at the town of Machu Picchu. It is full of hotels, restaurants, some stores and that’s it. The central square is small but beautiful. The hot springs of Aguas Calientes are a very popular activity for tourists who visit the town. I decided not to go because in a few days I would visit the incredible hot springs at Colca.
I had dinner and went to bed early to finally visit Machu Picchu the next day, which I will talk about in another post.
Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo
After visiting the sacred city, I returned to the town to take the train that would take me back to Ollantaytambo. My train left in the afternoon so I had almost the whole day to visit Machu Picchu.
The return journey is the same as the first, with the difference that the Vistadome includes entertainment on board. The first show is the Saqra dance, a traditional Peruvian dance that takes place during the feast of Virgen del Carmen. Then, the staff makes a fashion show to exhibit the baby alpaca clothes that you can buy on board.
Once back in Ollantaytambo I took a van back to Cusco. The vans stop right on the street where the station is. It is not difficult to find them because the drivers shouting the price and destination so they find people to fill the van
Vistadome or Expedition train?
There are several differences between the Vistadome train and the Expedition (the one with the cheapest fare). The main difference is that the Vistadome has panoramic windows significantly wider than the Expedition train, which has the simplest but still pretty wagon.
The second difference is that the Vistadome includes a snack and drink service on both ways and the Expedition does not include this service.
Finally, the traditional dance and fashion show are an exclusive service of the Vistadome, not the Expedition. In any case both trains make the same route and the views are beautiful no matter which you choose.
I loved traveling to Machu Picchu by train. It is easy and comfortable but the trip itself is unique and you are amazed by the landscapes. It was a beautiful experience of my trip to Peru and I would certainly repeat it.
I was invited by PeruRail. As always, all opinions are my own.
Other Peru posts:
- The ultimate Peru packing list + downloadable checklist
- How to visit Machu Picchu on your own
- Things to do in Lima in 3 days
- Things to do in Arequipa in one day
- Rainbow Mountain tour from Cusco