When I was planning my trip to South America, I knew for sure I would NOT hike to Machu Picchu, Peru. I briefly thought about the idea but I’m too much out of shape and I’d worry too much about getting sick and feel miserable and I am not the camping kind of girl. So if I wouldn’t hike to Machu Picchu, how would I get there? After seeing some amazing images online, I knew I had to take the train to Machu Picchu! Of course, this train ride is on my impressive train journey bucket list, so I just had to go by train to Machu Picchu.
Buying train tickets to Machu Picchu
But it wasn’t all that easy as it seems. Or maybe it was. I walked into the offices of Peru Rail and Inca rail in Cusco a few times, but never could make a decision about what train ticket to Machu Picchu to purchase. Would I go to Machu Picchu in one day? Would I leave from Ollantaytambo or would I try to leave from Cusco. And how would I get to the train stations then? What were the prices, was there space? What time to go? How long would it take?
Getting a tour to travel to Machu Picchu
It seems nobody really had the answers. As I was walking around Cusco, inquiring for tours to take around Cusco, like the interesting Inca sites tour, I started talking to this girl who could arrange my trip to Machu Picchu too. She would buy my train tickets for me, schedule a pick up from my hostel to take me to the train station, arrange a place to stay in Aguas Caliente and a guide to tour the ruins of Machu Picchu.
By now, I had some idea in my head that I wanted to arrive in Aguas Caliente mid-day to relax a bit and get a good rest before a full day at the Machu Picchu ruins. I wanted one of the last trains back to Cusco the next day.
Unfortunately, she didn’t understand. Basically everything went wrong with this agency and I ended up buying my own entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (TWICE!) and my tickets for the train to Machu Picchu too.
Read more: How to buy tickets for Machu Picchu as an independent traveller?
Buying tickets for the train with Inca Rail Peru
And it was really easy. By now, I figured out the pricing and the schedules of Inca Rail train services and Peru Rail services and I opted for them both! I decided to spoil myself a bit and not take the most budget option. I’d take the afternoon train from Ollantaytambo with Inca Rail and I’d return the next day in the evening with Peru Rail.
All I had to do was walk into the offices and hand over my credit card and voila! I was the owner of brand new train tickets to Machu Picchu without any tour agency or anything.
Take the train to Machu Picchu with Inca Rail
Full anticipation I packed my bag! Tomorrow I’d travel to Aguas Caliente and I’d go by train! How exciting! The next morning, a driver picked me up at my hostel and we drove in 1.5 hours to Ollantaytambo. It is quite far from Cusco (from a Duchies perspective) but it seemed like the best option. My driver dropped me off at the train station of Ollantaytambo and I still had plenty of time to kill before my train to Machu Picchu would leave.
I had a little snack lunch and I managed to get on the Wi-Fi and share my excitement of my train journey with my parents back home.
Departure from Ollantaytambo train station
As the train rolled into the station, all the passengers lined up at the platform. All walking back and forth. Excited and full of anticipation. The platform was a bit of chaos with everyone checking their train tickets franticly every 2 seconds. What carriage are we in, what seat do we have, do we have a window seat, where to leave our bags?
As I only had a small backpack with me, I managed to board the carriage first! I looked around in amazement to the wide windows and the smaller windows in the ceiling. As everyone settled into their place, the excitement grew to enormous proportions. I smiled a bit in disbelief. People can behave so funny when they are stressed and excited.
With a loud whistle, the train left the train station of Ollantaytambo and chugged into the green hinterland of the Valley of the Incas.
Train ride to Machu Picchu
I sat in the opposite direction of the train to Machu Picchu, so it felt like I was sucked into the landscape. But there were plenty of things to see! The green hills, rolling valleys and little farm lands. With almost half an hour into the train ride to Machu Picchu, the river popped up on my right. I was a little gutted that I was on the wrong side of the train but I managed to get some really good looks, but not the pictures that I wanted.
But nevertheless, it was amazing. I maybe even got a bit emotional. Riding backwards, I saw the faces of most of the passengers and the carriage of the train. We were closed in on the left and the right by tremendous mountains. All covered in thick lush green bush. The river made quite some noise and I could see it meander into the distance where we came from.
There was no road, not even a path on the side of tracks. I know it is possible to partially hike to Machu Picchu along the tracks but that seemed impossible to me, sitting on the train. We stopped briefly at the drop off point for the Inca Trail but nobody got off. It seemed everyone was taking the train to Machu Picchu.
Arrive in Aguas Caliente by train
After a good 2 hours of green mountains and the river, we hauled into the small train station of Aguas Caliente (also called Machu Picchu village). I jumped off the train, happy to stretch my legs for a bit and excited I had arrived! My excitement fluttered in my stomach.
The train station of Aguas Caliente was an even bigger madhouse than the one in Ollantaytambo. People running around like they never travelled before. Stewards off loaded the luggage while tourists franticly yelled instructions to their party to stick together.
I hopped off the train and set out to find the exit of the station. I didn’t really know what to expect and I felt I needed a moment to gather myself. The train ride was a bit overwhelming to me, I must admit.
Outside the platform I was greeted by a man from my hotel and ran into my guide from (my horrible) hike in the Colca Canyon near Arequipa. That was almost 3 weeks ago and we meet again! What an odd chance. That is maybe the thing I love the most about travel, the odd encounters with new friends for life.
Visit Machu Picchu
When I finally settled into my hotel and sorted my issue with the tickets to Machu Picchu, (read all about the horror of this on my blog about getting tickets to Machu Picchu) it was already late. I looked at the pictures I took from the train ride and amazed myself, again, by how remote the train journey to Machu Picchu was.
I could never really believe it would be so difficult to reach Machu Picchu, but now that I experienced the long journey to little Aguas Caliente, I could very well imagine what it would have been like in 1917 by Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu.
Train back from Machu Picchu to Cusco
After my (AMAZING!!) visit to Machu Picchu, I was kicked out of the ruins and headed back to Aguas Caliente. I picked up my stuff at the hotel and made my way to the train station again, to take the train back to Cusco. This time I’d take the (more luxurious) train of Peru Rail. I wanted to travel with them from Puno to Cusco, but I opted for the cultural bus trip instead. Read more about this journey on the blog.
Unfortunately, it was already getting dark, so I didn’t get a do-over of the amazing landscape of the Valley of the Incas. But the train ride was fun nevertheless.
The waiting in Aguas Caliente train station for the train was horrendous though. So many people, all tired, confused and anxious not to miss their train. 4 trains would leave at the same time and it felt like it was the last train out (it wasn’t). People were impatiently waiting around, shoving anyone aside who wanted to pass. Ugh. Savages.
Train journey with Peru Rail
But once on the train, everything changed. I comfortable sat my sore body in the leather seat and kicked back a bit. The stewards clipped my ticket and asked me about my food and drink choices. This would be a luxurious ride!
Although I really enjoyed the luxury of Peru Rail, I found their show a bit too much. Luckily it was already dark out, but I would have been seriously annoyed if my gazing at the landscape would be interrupted by the constant questions about the fashion show being held by the stewards. Or maybe they only have the show because it is already dark outside.
The show consisted of some traditional knitted jumpers and jackets. It was paired with a lot of foolish behaviour that some people find funny and loud music. I was too tired for all that.
I stared into the dark and played back the impressive movie of my visit to Machu Picchu. Regardless of the numerous setbacks I had during my visit, I was happy to travel by train to Machu Picchu.
The experience of riding a train in Peru and the views of the landscape passing by on the train were something I had never experienced before, net even on the Trans Mongolian Railway. The river flowing besides our train route to Machu Picchu and the odd excitement of so many passenger around me, added a lot to my own excitement.
I know everyone has their own special feelings about their visit to Machu Picchu. Everyone remembers their travel to Machu Picchu differently. And so do I, I will cherish my train trip to Machu Picchu for years to come and I’m glad I got to experience it this way.
Have you travelled by train in Peru? How did you travel to Machu Picchu? Share your experiences in the comment section below!