Getting to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, attracting millions of visitors each year. This ancient Incan city is located in the Andes Mountains, and getting there requires some planning and preparation. In this article, we will guide you through the steps to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu and explore the different transportation options available.
Step 1: Choose Your Mode of Transportation
There are two main ways to reach Machu Picchu from Cusco: taking the train to Aguas Calientes or trekking the Inca Trail. The choice depends on your fitness level, time, and budget. The train is the most convenient and comfortable option, while the Inca Trail offers a more adventurous and immersive experience. Here’s what you need to know about each option:
Option 1: Take the Train to Aguas Calientes
The train to Machu Picchu departs from the Poroy or Ollantaytambo train stations, both located about 1-2 hours away from Cusco by bus or taxi. There are several train companies to choose from, including PeruRail and Inca Rail, each offering different classes of service and prices. The journey takes around 3-4 hours each way, passing through scenic valleys and mountains. The train stops at Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu, where you can spend the night before visiting the site the next day. Tickets for the train should be booked in advance, as they can sell out quickly, especially during peak season (June-August).
Option 2: Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail is a 4-day trek that starts from the Sacred Valley and ends at Machu Picchu, covering a distance of 42 km (26 miles) through rugged terrain and mountain passes. This is a popular option for adventure seekers and nature lovers who want to experience the Andean wilderness and Inca ruins along the way. The Inca Trail is regulated by the Peruvian government, and only authorized tour operators can lead groups on the trek. You should book your Inca Trail permit and tour package well in advance, as they are limited and sell out months in advance. The trek is physically demanding and requires acclimatization to the high altitude, so it’s recommended to spend a few days in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before starting the trek.
Step 2: Book Your Tickets in Advance
Whether you choose the train or the Inca Trail, you need to book your tickets and permits in advance to secure your spot and avoid disappointment. The Machu Picchu entrance fee is also included in the train and trek packages. You can book your train tickets online through the PeruRail or Inca Rail websites, or through a travel agent in Cusco. For the Inca Trail, you need to book through a licensed tour operator, who will arrange your permits, equipment, food, and guides. The Inca Trail permits are released in January each year for the high season (May-September) and can be sold out within hours. Make sure to plan your trip accordingly and book early.
Step 3: Prepare for the Altitude
Cusco and Machu Picchu are located at high altitudes, ranging from 2,400 to 2,700 meters (7,874 to 8,858 feet) above sea level. This can cause altitude sickness, a condition that affects some people who are not accustomed to the thin air and low oxygen levels. To avoid altitude sickness, you should acclimatize gradually by spending a few days in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before heading to Machu Picchu. Drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and eat light meals. If you experience symptoms such as headache, nausea, fatigue, or shortness of breath, rest and seek medical attention if necessary. It’s also recommended to bring a small oxygen canister or medication prescribed by your doctor.
Step 4: Arrive in Cusco at Least a Day Early
To ensure a smooth and stress-free trip to Machu Picchu, it’s advisable to arrive in Cusco at least a day early and spend the night there. This will give you time to adjust to the altitude, explore the city, and organize your transportation and tickets. Cusco is a charming and historic city, with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, and ancient ruins. You can visit the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the Qoricancha Temple, and the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. You can also try the local cuisine, such as ceviche, lomo saltado, or guinea pig (cuy), and shop for souvenirs in the artisan markets.
Step 5: Get to the Train Station or Trailhead
On the day of your trip to Machu Picchu, you need to get to the train station or the Inca Trail starting point. If you’re taking the train, you can arrange transportation from your hotel or take a taxi or bus to the Poroy or Ollantaytambo stations, depending on your train schedule. Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure and bring your passport and train tickets. If you’re trekking the Inca Trail, your tour operator will provide transportation from Cusco to the trailhead, usually at kilometer 82 or 104 of the railway. You will meet your group and guides there and start the trek, carrying your personal belongings and sleeping bag. Make sure to pack light and bring appropriate clothing, footwear, and gear.
Conclusion: Enjoying Your Journey to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a unique and awe-inspiring destination that requires some effort and planning to reach. By choosing the right mode of transportation, booking your tickets in advance, preparing for the altitude, arriving in Cusco early, and getting to the train station or trailhead on time, you can enjoy a memorable and safe journey to this wonder of the world. Whether you’re taking the train or trekking the Inca Trail, make sure to savor the stunning views, fascinating history, and natural wonders of Machu Picchu. Don’t forget to take plenty of photos, stay hydrated, and respect the environment and local culture.
Additional Tips and Resources for Your Trip
- Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly. Machu Picchu can be rainy and cold, especially during the rainy season (November-April).
- Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes for walking and hiking. Don’t wear new shoes or high heels.
- Bring sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, and a raincoat or poncho.
- Don’t bring large bags or backpacks to Machu Picchu. Only small daypacks are allowed.
- Follow the rules and regulations of Machu Picchu, such as not touching or climbing the ruins, not littering, and not bringing food or drinks inside.
- Learn some basic Spanish phrases and customs, such as greeting people and asking for directions. Most Peruvians speak Spanish as their first language.
- Stay in authorized and reputable accommodations and tour operators. Don’t fall for scams or illegal services.
- Read some guidebooks or travel blogs about Machu Picchu and the Inca civilization to enhance your knowledge and appreciation of the site.