Thursday, April 6, 2017

4 Ways to Get to Machu Picchu without Hiking the Inca Trail

Machu Picchu has quickly grown in popularity among travelers after being voted one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World" in 2007. In visiting the 15th century Incan city, the first thing that comes to mind is a strenuous hike traversing the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to reach the ruins located at an altitude of about 8,000 ft. Which, to many minds, doesn't necessarily sound like a "vacation." Rarely do I consider something a vacation if there isn't a toilet.

As such, when we launched our "Taste of Peru and Machu Picchu Tour" some of our travelers hesitated on joining because of the common misconception that the only way to reach the ruins was by means of hiking and camping. Although there are many multi-day treks which accomplish that goal (and work up a serious appetite), we're here to set the record straight that there are other ways to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site without the need to train like an athlete beforehand.

The city of Cusco is most often the starting point for a journey to Machu Picchu. Travelers arrive to Cusco via flights from the capital of Lima. Although there are buses that make the journey, we recommend the 1 hour 20 minute flight since there are numerous daily departures on LATAM and Avianca Airlines and they are relatively budget-friendly.

LAN flight from Lima to Cusco, now LATAM Airlines

In addition to the travel options I mention below there are also alternative treks, hikes, and walks which will lead you to Machu Picchu. However, I'm assuming if you're not interested in a 4-day trek on the Inca Trail, you're probably not interested in a 32 km walk to Aguas Calientes. Wild assumption, I know. That said, here are 4 ways to reach Machu Picchu without breaking your back:

Step 1: Travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (also referred to as Machu Picchu village) 
We recommend transiting to Aguas Calientes at least one day prior to your visit to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a small town approximately 6 km from the ruins; it is primarily a tourist hub with hotels, restaurants, and a train station to serve travelers on their way to the ruins.

1. Train from Cusco - From Cusco you can catch a taxi to Poroy, a small town about 25 minutes away, which has a train station. The train journey is about 3 hours and 20 minutes and stops once on the way to Aguas Calientes. This route is operated by PeruRail and IncaRail.

2. Bus/Drive + Train from Cusco - Given that Cusco is at a higher altitude (approximately 11,000 feet), we recommend spending time in the Sacred Valley (approximately 6,000 feet) before slowly progressing to Machu Picchu and then Cusco. If you choose this option, you can first fly into Cusco, then take a taxi or private vehicle directly to Urubamba or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. From Ollantaytambo you take the train to Aguas Calientes which is about a 1 hour 50 minute train journey.

Views driving through the Sacred Valley on the way to the train station in Ollantaytambo
A PeruRail train arriving in Aguas Calientes

Step 2: Travel from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Ruins
After arriving by train to Aguas Calientes we recommend staying at least one night. The train track runs through the middle of the town so it's easy to access most hotels on foot.

3. Bus - Starting at 5:30 AM every day, there is a circuit of buses which ferry travelers on a 25 minute ride to the entrance gates of the ruins. Tickets for the bus should be purchased in advance and you can take the bus round trip to return to Aguas Calientes.

4. Hike - this one might actually break your back a little. However, this is the only alternative from Aguas Calientes to reach the ruins. If you wish to hike to the ruins entrance gates, it is an 8 km hike from town, up a steep mountainside path.

Waiting for the first bus of the morning to take us to Machu Picchu Ruins!

On our 9-day small group tour of 12 people maximum, we crafted an itinerary which gives you the best of both worlds. You get the breathtaking views looking out over Machu Picchu, with the creature comforts of some of Peru's finest award-winning lodges and accommodations. We use a combination of private transfers in air-conditioned vehicles, train travel, and the Aguas Calientes bus to reach Machu Picchu. We take the guess work out of buying tickets, securing entrance times, and all of the finicky logistics. For more information on our itinerary and whether it's the best fit for you, please email us at or call 425.894.8976.

Main square and cathedral in Cusco

Cheesemakers in the markets in the Sacred Valley

Visiting the Maras Salt Mines

Right before we jumped on paddleboards on this serene lake

A lesson in roasting at the coffee museum

One of the best sandwiches in Lima - yum!

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