Machu Picchu Day Trip From Cusco
So you want to go to Machu Picchu. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. I couldn’t encourage you more to go! One problem. Of all Seven Wonders, I would consider Machu Picchu the most logistically challenging to reach. Because there are limited ways to get there, with limited access, Machu Picchu is an endeavor you must plan for. Whether you are taking the four day trek or the train, you want to plan ahead.
The only way to do Machu Picchu from Cusco in a day is by train. I will preface this blog by saying that our intended plans that we had set in stone for months before we left were debunked the day before we left. Cue panic attack. We received an email from our train company that all the trains on the day we were taking them were suspended due to a planned strike from the farmers on the railroads. Our original plan was to arrive in Cuzco and then to take the train to Aguas Calientes and spend the night there. The earliest trains leave around 8:00 am in the morning and with a 4 hour train ride we wanted to be to Machu Picchu by noon already. Aguas Calientes is the highest city you can stay in before Machu Picchu and from there it’s only about a 30 minute bus ride to Machu Picchu.
We wanted to be to Machu Picchu early because we had bought tickets to hike Huayna (Wayna) Picchu, which is the neighboring mountain you can hike to the top of to see a wonderful view looking down on Machu Picchu. With the purchase of this special ticket you have to begin that hike at 7:00 am or 8:00 am because they only allow so many people for those two hours to take the hike.
Since our train schedule was modified to the following day, we weren’t able to get to Machu Picchu till about 1:00 pm. Therefore we paid for the special tickets and didn’t get to use them, and had to cancel our hotel in Aguas, but it allowed us to spend an extra day in Cusco which turned out really nice.
Purchase your tickets in early!
Many days, tickets for the train and admission passes often get sold out weeks in advance. Earlier the better. You definitely don't want to try and maneuver getting to Machu Picchu while you're already in Cusco, unless you’re there for an extended stay. We bought our tickets from “Ticket Machu Picchu” and this was a great site as it explained the different types of hikes you can do and made the ticket availability with arrival times very easy to comprehend. Make sure to read the details on entrance times. You can only enter after your allotted time, not a minute before.
We purchased our train tickets through PeruRail on the Vistadome train and I would highly recommend this train company again. There are a few, and PeruRail is right in the middle of price, but if you can afford the extra few dollars, we were quite impressed with our service we received with them. Especially when the strike situation happened, they were very accommodating and was quick to resolve the situation. They changed our tickets to the next day for free!
We got up early and enjoyed a free breakfast from the hotel and got in our taxi that they organized for us at 7:00 am. It's about a 30 minute taxi ride from Cusco to Poroy which is the next town outside of Cusco. Poroy is the home to the main station people depart from to get to Machu Picchu and this is the train station we departed from. The train station is a single building with a cute little coffee shop and restrooms. When you arrive you’ll want to get your ticket verified by getting it stamped by the attendant at the front door. You need it stamped to get on the train. There aren’t any monitors so feel free to ask the attendants questions you may have.
Once we got on the Vistadome trains we were pleasantly surprised at the spacious seats, the large viewing windows and the professionalism of the staff. We made our way to our assigned car and assigned seat as indicated on our ticket and got comfortable for the long haul. They do have restrooms which is an added bonus.
Leaving the farm town of Poroy, you pass by livestock, agriculture and villages. The train ride was fun, as you got to see the biodiversity change as you go deeper into the jungle. Overhead announcements informed the passengers of history and culture of areas as you went by them, both in Spanish and in English. Because of the zig zag nature of the train path, the train can’t go very fast. Only about 30 mph, therefore it takes 3-4 hours to get to Machu Picchu. About a half hour into our trip, attendants bring out a small meal and beverages. In about another hour they made a stop in Ollantaytambo where additional travelers join our ride. Continuing up the mountain you follow the path of the river and can see the rapids and valleys around you. The Andes take shape around you and steep peaks shape.
After the long train ride, you arrive at Aguas Calientes where you need to find the ticket store to purchase a bus ticket to get to Machu Picchu. You can certainly hike the rest of the way. But give yourself at least 45 minutes to reach the top in whatever way you choose to hike as its all stairs. I recommend saving your energy and purchasing a bus ticket.
Cross the bridge over the river once you arrive in Aguas Calientes. Look for the yellow hanging sign that says “bus tickets”. The store is just a little tiny office in the alley off the main road, located about two blocks up the hill from where the buses load. They do take credit cards, but be sure to purchase round trip tickets. If you can’t find where to purchase a bus ticket, don't be afraid to ask. Everyone knows you are looking for it!
Walk back down the hill to where the buses are loading, you can’t miss it as its quite busy and next to the river out in the open. Here you pretty much just get in line and wait for the next availability. The buses operate all day long taking people up and down the mountain so there really isn’t a bus time requirement. The buses are large coach buses with AC which is an added treat in the hot summer months. The ride could cause some motion sickness as it’s a long winding road, peering strait down the mountain on a gravel road. A little nerve wracking I’ll admit. The ride takes about 30 minutes and drops you off pretty much at the front gate of Machu Picchu. At the base, there is a nice restaurant that includes a buffet, restrooms, lockers and guides for hire. Warning, there are no restroom inside the Machu Picchu complex and there is no reentry so once you are in, you have to hold any bathroom needs until you’re done.
Before you enter Q/A
Do you have to have a guide to enter?
No, we entered with no issue without a guide.
Can you have plastic water bottles?
Yes, we saw many people with single use plastic. I don’t encourage it, but they didn’t make you recycle them before entering as I have read on other blogs.
Can you bring in food?
Kinda. It’s not encouraged but we saw many people eating a nourishing snack. Follow the “leave nothing, take nothing” motto. There are no trash cans around, so if you have a granola bar, don’t be that jerk that leaves their trash on the ground.
Can I bring a backpack?
Yes, we each had one.
What to wear?
Tennis shoes are completely appropriate. I wouldn’t wear sandals, but I don't think full on hiking boots are necessary. Layers. The weather fluctuates often. Might be chilly in the morning, then hot and humid in the afternoon. I’d bring a rain poncho just in case. It is the rain forest so there is unexpected moisture at times.
Best time to go?
I’ve heard you want to wait till the afternoon because the morning fog has lifted by then, but we still would have liked to get there in the morning to do our hike and you miss most of the crowd in the morning. Also, I've read in various places that the month of May is ideal to go because its right before wet season so you can still have mild temperatures with less crowds.
Machu Picchu Inside
Once you enter, the paths are pretty self explanatory and they have arrows and signs showing you what way you should go. This is important because the paths are only one-way. So if you like something make sure you spend your time at it because you cant circle back around.
Hike around, see the alpacas, and marvel at the gorgeous Andes around you. Discover Machu Picchu as you walk through the ancient city and touch the very walls they once had. The architecture and plumbing features are truly mysterious and amazing and the surrounding view is breathtaking. All a wonderful experience I’ll never forget.
Two hours at Machu Picchu is completely doable, as that's what we did, and I do feel I had the opportunity to see all that I wanted. I think three hours would be optimal so you could take the time to just sit down and take in the memory. Don’t be rushed to get all the great pictures for the gram. Remember, that for most, you’ll realistically never visit again. So make sure you take a break and appreciate where you are. I wish I had done more of that, but we were on the two hour time frame.
Once you’ve seen all you can and your feet are sore, hop back on the bus and do your whole day in reverse. The train ride back to Poroy was entertaining because since the sun may have gone down over the course of your journey home, you can't see anything outside anymore, therefore they focus more on inside entertainment. First they serve you with a small meal and beverage again. Then, they do a dance act with one of the attendees dressed up as a demon from their folklore stories. Finally they end with a fashion show performance, showcasing beautiful alpaca fur apparel. At the end they walk through with a cart so you can purchase the apparel as well. It’s quite expensive, but nice quality!
Then they turn the lights down for those who want to take a nap or chit chat quietly. A relaxing ride back though. Once we arrived back to Poroy, we didn't have a taxi prepared ahead of time so we just snagged a taxi driver waiting outside. There are many so don't worry about not having a ride back! By the time we got back to Cusco it was around 8:00 pm. Nearly 13 straight hours of traveling, but so worth it!