Cusco opens up to your eyes as you arrive from the east over the Andes, the valley city careening like a meniscus from its slopes down to the airport and city center. You might just get that feeling in your chest; you know, the feeling of excitement to get out and see it all.
Once checked in to Pariwana Cusco, you’ll start planning for that ever-important trip to see one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Pichu. You could opt to get to Machu Pichu by road and foot, but if you’re not so inclined, perhaps a much faster train ride sounds enticing.
PeruRail operates the trains that bring several thousand tourists per day to Aguas Calientes and on to Machu Pichu. You can visit their website to book online, or you can opt to buy tickets in any number of travel agencies throughout Cusco (though, it might cost a bit more!).
Trains leave from Cusco from the Poroy station some 20 minutes from downtown. Trains depart early in the morning and generally return in the evening. The journey takes about 3 hours. You can opt to hang out in Aguas Calientes for a day or two, or you can book your ticket for a same-day return, but that is not recommendable as you’ll want to spend as much time as possible in the citadel.
There is also the option to jump aboard or debark at Ollantaytambo. To Machu Pichu the trip takes 1.5 hours. Departing from Ollantaytambo, you can have a Sacred Valley adventure travel along with the Machu Pichu experience. There are more options for you to board trains at Ollantaytambo in the morning and early afternoon than in Cusco. Just check out the website.
You have a choice of trains. There are three types that go to Machu Pichu (the Andean Explorer train goes to Puno). Your cheapest option is the Expedition. At around $60, this will generally be the backpacker’s choice. You’ll be seated at tables, two chairs on each side facing each other. The panoramic windows allow you to watch the jungle as it shoots by. They also play Andean music the whole trip.
The Vistadome costs around $70. This train offers panoramic glass windows and the roof is dotted with glass skylights to enjoy a 360-degree view of the natural environment you’ll be passing through.
Finally, an option that generally does not convince backpackers to hop aboard is the Hiram Bingham luxury line. You’ll have to throw down a whopping $300 for this one, but it might just be worth it if style is your cup of tea. The upholstery is elegant, and the 4 wagons hold a suitable 84 passengers only. The trip is said to be one of the best train journeys on the planet. That price also includes the entrance to Machu Pichu, a guided tour, the bus to the citadel, afternoon tea at the Sanctuary Lodge, and brunch and dinner aboard the cars.
Keep an eye out for packages and special offers on PeruRail’s website. Also, if you can organize a group from the hostel, you can get a 5% discount for 10 passengers, or a 10% discount for 15!