From Cuzco to Machu Picchu

Part I: Getting There
Part II: Cuzco to Machu Picchu
Part III: Approaching Machu Picchu via Train
Part IV: How to Buy Tickets for Machu Picchu and How I Almost Screwed It All Up
Part V: Machu Picchu in Pictures
Part VI: Wrapping up the trip in Cuzco

The Gateway to Peru’s Sacred Valley.  Wow, that’s an incredible claim for a city.  Sounds epic, right?  Did Cuzco live up to it?

Let’s get you caught up

In my first post of this trip report, my friend Bethany and I went to Machu Picchu last August.  We found some cheap airfares and with a combination of paid flights and British Airways Avios flights found ourselves high in the mountains of Peru in one of it’s most famous towns: Cuzco.

cuzco peru machupichu

Our LAN A320 (thanks Rick!)

We landed very early in the morning on a Sunday, so most things were closed in the town.  There were quite a few taxis waiting for us.  I normally hate the melee of taxi drivers yelling for your business, but I speak Spanish pretty well and felt more in control of the situation.  There was a driver who was very calm and had a pleasant smile who I selected for negotiations.  So where would we go?

Plazas de Armas

In Spain, the main squares of the town are usually called Plaza Mayor.  In most of South America, they’re called Plaza de Armas.  Indeed Cuzco has a very famous Plaza de Armas and I thought that’d be a good place to kill some time, so we negotiated a fare (always negotiate before getting in a Peruvian taxi) and set off.

cuzco peru machupichu

Cuzco Plaza de Armas

The Plaza was awash in morning light and we searched for a place to grab some breakfast.  There was only one place open we found and it was right on the plaza, which meant we probably overpaid by double.  Prices were still very reasonable (about $10/person for a great breakfast of protein and…protein) so that was good.

cuzco peru machupichu

Our breakfast spot overlooking the Plaza

After breakfast we walked around the Plaza a bit to avoid falling asleep.

cuzco peru machupichu

Plaza fountain

This was my first ever trip with my new (at the time) camera, so I was eager to take a bunch of pictures.

Cuzco Peru machupichu

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco

There was some sort of ceremony honoring the police, so I was careful not to upset anyone by taking pictures.  We escaped off down an alley to find some authentic Peruvian coffee.

Cuzco Peru Machupichu

Alley in Cuzco, Peru

cuzco peru machupichu

Church Roof, Cuzco

You’ll hate me, but this is the “authentic” Peruvian coffee we found.

cuzco peru machupichu

Ouch.

The entrance to the Starbucks was actually pretty hard to find (that should’ve been our signal to find someplace more local, but I digress).  If you’re in Cuzco and you’re facing the Starbucks, it’s down the alley to your right.  Take the first left into the courtyard and walk up the stairs to your left and you’ll enter the Starbucks.  Look for this awesome door, the stairs go right above it.

cuzco peru machupichu

Cool looking door in the courtyard

But wait, why were we killing time you ask?  Well, getting to Machu Picchu is actually a pretty complex endeavor.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Yes, you usually need all three to get to Machu Picchu.  Cuzco is the nearest airport to the citadel and is where just about everyone flies into.  The town next to Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes (meaning: Caliente Waters).  As the crow flies Cuzco and Aguas Calientes are not that far apart, but man it takes a while to get there!

Option #1: You can take a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes direct.  But as always there’s a stipulation you need to be aware of: this train sells out quickly (tickets are incredibly easy to book at www.perurail.com).  Also, the train station from where this train departs is not in Cuzco, it’s in a small town about 10km away called Poroy.

Option #2: There’s a town called Ollantaybambo about halfway between Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  You can take a train from Ollantaybambo to Aguas Calientes direct (I called it the “we waited too late to book the Cuzco-Aguas train” town).  This town isn’t very big, nor very nice, but there are quite a few Sacred Valley of the Incas sites nearby so some people stay here for a night or two.  How do you get to Ollantaybambo?  You can either take a taxi (runs $30-35) or a small bus called a colectivo, which is much cheaper but will tend to run on its own schedule.

There is no way to drive to Aguas Calientes, it must be reached by train.

We chose Option 2.  We hired a taxi and were driven to Ollantaybambo.  It was an enjoyable ride except for the speed bumps every so often.  We stopped and purchased some Inka Colas (Coke’s brand down in Peru) for the driver and me while the driver got gas.  All in all a relatively pretty drive and we ended up in Ollantaybambo about an hour and a half later no worse for wear.

 

Up next: the train ride to Aguas Calientes as we prepare to set foot in one of the most incredible places the world has ever seen.

24 Comments

  1. LAN doesn’t have 737s, that’s an A320.

    It’s better to hire a driver for the day to go one-way from Cusco to Ollan, and stop at all the valley sites, like the Salt Mines. Costs a little more but well worth it.

    Reply
    • Youre absolutely right Rick, sorry about that, will update immediately.

      I wish we would’ve had time to see the Sacred Valley a bit more, but we were on a really tight schedule. Hopefully everyone will take your advice and see more than we did!

      Reply
      • Another tip for anyone who’s after good photography is to stay at Machu Picchu until the last possible train to Cusco, which during the summer months will allow you to catch the first half of the sunset. Because most people just go through the motions and take the day-trip by train, the crowds cleared out by about 2-3pm and the place was magical…..just lamas and chinchillas.

        Reply
  2. Starbucks? You’re killin me!

    Reply
  3. We toured Machu Picchu in August too. Wonderful isn’t it? Now there is another way to get there, one of three trains. We were lucky to travel on the Hiram Bingham, called the Orient Express of South America. Expensive, but quite an experience. There are no coach cars, only dining cars (and one club car). On the way up you’re served a three course lunch. On the way back a five course dinner. The drinks flow freely each way and the trip is all-inclusive.

    Reply
  4. May I ask which Camera you used and was it on automatic mode? The pictures are amazing!!

    Reply
    • Hi Vivek, I used my Sony a7 and i mostly shot in Aperture priority mode.

      Reply
      • Andy: what are your thoughts on vaccinations for Americans heading to Peru. CDC website says we should get Hep A and Typhoid. Did you do this? Any feedback is helpful.

        Reply
        • I did not get any vaccinations but to each their own.

          Reply
  5. helpful and easy tips

    Reply
  6. Hi andy
    You can take a bus to and from the hydro-electric dam to Cusco and back. Then walk 3+ hours to aguas … just for the record.
    I just got back from Peru, thought you might like this well written, short write-up about Cusco- the Gateway to Machu Picchu
    Cheers, I enjoyed your stuff. Just sharing

    Reply
  7. Hi! Going to Peru next month and was just wondering if you you can suggest any tour bus company to take from Cusco to Puno. Thinking of booking Inka Express but have read some not so good reviews about it. Any suggestion would be most welcome. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Marlene, unfortunately I cannot. We were considering a trip to Puno but just consulted Tripadvisor and Google, best of luck!

      Reply
      • No worries. I’ve learned so much from your website already:-) Thanks Andy.

        Reply
    • Hi Marlena, we have had guests use both Inka Express and Tourismo Mer, to date we have not heard any bad comments from any of them. There is also Wonder Peru but we have not had any guests use them so I have no idea if they are any good or not.

      Reply
      • Thanks Lyle:-) I’ll check out these 2 companies.

        Reply
  8. That breakfast spot looks so lovely. I still remember my first time in Cusco, walking the main square, and gazing up at all the ornate balconies. Needtheless to say i took the first over to enjoy a coffee up there (okay i opted for a pisco sour in the end).

    Btw..there is a way to reach Machu Picchu by car…sorta. You can get to Hydroelectrica station and walk the rest. Will take waaaay longer tho!

    Reply
  9. Hi Andy,

    I enjoyed reading your travel blog:) Anyways, I am travelling to RIO and then Peru next month alone. Would appreciate if you could help me giving tips from arrival at Cuz airport down to Machu Picchu and back to Cusco. I have not purchase my train tickets yet.

    thanks alot.

    Kate

    Reply
    • Hi Kate, you need to purchase train tickets ASAP!

      I speak Spanish and was able to get a taxi to the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, where we killed some time until we needed to head to Ollantaytambo. We paid around $35 US for the taxi ride to the train station at Ollantaytambo, which took us to Aguas Calientes, where you can buy a bus ticket for the following day. We were able to get a direct train back to Cuzco but it stops at a city outside of Cuzco, we had a driver from the hotel we were staying at meet us there instead of having to face the throng of taxi drivers at the station (it was a swarm).

      Reply
    • A few more points for you Kate, If you are planing to go directly to Ollantaytambo like Andy did, then depending on what time you arrive, you could get a driver and make stops ar some sites allong the way, kind of killing 2 birds with one stone so to speak.

      Normally we do not recomend the train back to Cusco (Poroy) as the options for times are very limmited and it is no faster than returning to Ollantaytambo and taking a bus, colectivo or taxi from there.

      My wife and I actually run a B&B outside of Cusco and regurly help guests with itinereraries, If you would like assistance with your itinerary feel free to contact me at gringowasi2012@hotmail.com

      Reply
  10. There’s another way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu: Hike

    The most well-known option is the Inca Trail. It takes 4 days and costs about $700/person, but includes permit fees, food, tents and transportation back. The transportation on the way back is a bus from Machu Picchu to Aquas Calientes, a train from Aquas Calientes to Ollantaybambo, and a private bus from Ollantaybambo to Cusco. There are alternate trails to Machu Picchu, but they are harder, longer, less famous and cheaper.

    It’s not the cheapest or most efficient way to get there, but a multi-day hike through the Andes is, by far, the most fun and memorable.

    Reply
  11. Since Pat mentioned treks, yes there are a variety of trek options, anywhere from 2 days up to over a week, the down side of these are that they take a large chunk of time, that most people do not have, and I honestly think that it is a shame to miss 3 days of visiting sites in the region in order to do a trek, but to each their own.

    Yes the Inka Trail is the most popular and can actually be done for around $500 per-person, but needs to be planned way in advance. Tickets are not available for purchase to the start of any year, and the prime months like June and July can sell out within weeks, so plan this on well in advance. Other common options are Salkantay, Lares and the Inka Jungle Trek and the cheaper of these can run around $300 per-person for the same 4 days.

    Reply
  12. This is awesome! I love Peru, and I can’t wait to check out some of these cool spots when I go back in Next. machu picchu tours, salkantay trek, inca trail, lares trek, Cusco day Tours, Andean Village Homestay. Call Now at : +5184232514 or info@inkachallengeperu.com

    Reply

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