Approaching Machu Picchu by Train

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

I know everyone is looking forward to pictures of Machu Picchu, but if you don’t know me yet you’re probably figuring out that I love a lot of build up to the climaxes of my stories.  Therefore, we need to talk train rides and Aguas Calientes.

As you’ll recall from the second post, we had chosen to take a taxi to Ollantaytambo’s train station to catch our ride to Aguas Calientes (the town next to Machu Picchu).  Next to the train station is a completely nondescript cafe/restaurant.  We went over to kill some time (we had about an hour before our train left) and use the free wifi.  I also took that chance to enjoy one of my favorite drinks in the world.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

PISCO SOUR!

Pisco sours are the national drink of Peru (Chile claims it as well).  It’s simply great.  If you’ve never had pisco before, the mix of it and egg whites tastes like happiness.  You have to try one if you’re anywhere near Peru, Chile, or anyone (including your author) who brought some back from their trip to South America.

After a lunch of what I’m sure was some animal that used to be alive (my personal rule is if you think you should ask what noise the animal made was alive, don’t ask), we passed through the gate at the train station to wait for boarding.  Inside the train station we found a much nicer cafe that we both wished we would’ve spent more time at.  But that was ok, because as we were sitting there waiting, we saw something awesome pull up on the tracks.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Perurail Vistadome Railcar

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Vistadome Railcar

It was finally seeming real: we were heading to Machu Picchu!  We were both very excited, especially because we were riding the Vistadome.  Let me explain:

Perurail’s Three Cabin Types

If you’re heading to Machu Picchu, you’ll be able to choose from three different Perurail cabin types to Aguas Calientes: Expedition, Vistadome, and the luxurious Hiram Bingham, in honor of the explorer who “rediscovered” Machu Picchu in 1911.

We chose the Vistadome train because of the nice views promised from the huge windows and the ceiling windows.  The Expedition could be considered the equivalent to Coach, Vistadome like a Premium Economy, and the Hiram Bingham would be like the Singapore Suites of trains.  They price the Hiram Bingham pretty extravagantly too, but hey at least it comes inclusive of beverages and there’s a lounge, so not too bad I guess.  No loyalty program that I know of though…

Anyway, back to the train, we chose the Vistadome.  As you can see, the windows were enormous both on the sides of the car and on the ceiling as well.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Vistadome railcar

At this point I’ll take a moment and provide two very big pieces of advice:

  1. Sit on the left side (if facing forward) of the train, the views are much better
  2. If you’re bringing a camera, bring a polarizer for your lens to protect against window reflections (I didn’t and 90% of my pictures were ruined by reflections)

A smaller piece of advise to save your arms and make for a more enjoyable trip is to have a tabletop tripod like this one.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Manfrotto tabletop tripod

I think it ran my like 20 bucks and was wonderful for the hour and a half train ride.

The food was pretty good on board (I didn’t get any pics, sorry) but nothing to write home about (even though that’s exactly what I’m doing at this very moment), but everyone was pretty much glued to the windows as we wound our way through the mountains.

Then we came to a stop for a minute while another train WAS HEADING RIGHT FOR US.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

AIEEEEEEEEEE

Ok that was a bit dramatic, sorry.  That train also came to a stop and we backed up for a few hundred meters so the other train could change lanes, then continued upon our merry way.

Just as we were approaching Aguas Calientes we saw some ruins!

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Ruins!

It was the first bit we’d seen that looked anything remotely Machu Picchuish, so that was exciting.  As our excitement was at peak levels we pulled into the bustling tourist trap town of Aguas Calientes.

AC sits on a massive hill and serves as a base for the Machu Picchu tourism industry.  There are constantly buses running to and from Machu Picchu itself, trains coming and going, and overpriced restaurants and hostels wherever you look.

Bethany and I chose to stay at the Hotel La Cabana, which was nice enough for what we paid (about $100).  Aguas Calientes sits at the foot of a hill, but most of the hotels are straight up a HUGE incline.  Past all those hotels, further up the hill, is the La Cabana.  It was quite a trek, especially at altitude, but we didn’t let a little attitude temper our excitement.  I tell you what though, we were absolutely exhausted.  I looked at Bethany at one point and said “Hey remember this morning when we got kicked out of that restaurant in Lima’s airport because I was asleep on their seat?”  It seemed like weeks ago and felt like we were in another world.

We set out to see a bit of Aguas Calientes as night-time fell, since we’d only be spending one night.  We ate at a nicer restaurant for about $20/person.  And yes, of course I got a pisco sour.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Dang right.

The food was good and we took the long route back to the hotel so I could get some pictures around town.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Streetside (and railside) restaurant

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

About as close as it gets to the main street of Aguas Calientes

The town plaza was tiny but still crowded and had a statue of Incan leader Pachacutec.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Pachacutec Statue

We then paused for a moment at the bottom of Hotel Hill and snapped a pic before heading back to the hotel.

machu picchu pictures aguas calientes

Up up and…up

Tomorrow would be the day, Machu Picchu time!  Up next for you all though will be a post that serves as a bit of warning about the best ways to purchase tickets to Machu Picchu and how I almost ruined our trip.

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Wow, memories. When I went (June 2013), we had 8 people. Three got INSANELY sick in Aguas and it almost ruined our trip. Just be careful what/where you eat like any other country.

    Worked out as my girlfriend and I didn’t go up until 10am or so, and we got to experience MP ourselves rather than with the group.

    We had to split the next morning from the group to take the first train back to Ollyantaytambo as well too.. 5am if memory serves. Yuck.

    Reply
  2. Awesome pictures as always, Andy! Can’t wait for the next post.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing this blog with us ………..nice and informative for me

    Reply
  4. You took some beautiful – no stunning pictures on your way to machu Picchu! woah i am kind of jealous in fact.
    And glad to read you did enjoy the pisco sour as much as I did. Frankly speaking I actually didn’t know the cocktail before my trip to peru..but now i am sort of addicted! 😀

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  5. Great pictures from one of the most beautiful train rides in South America! Having along that tripod certainly seems to have helped!

    I still remember my first trip to Machu Picchu – much like you I was totally thrilled when I saw the first inca teracces along the train tracks. There was the smell of Machu Picchu in the air. Such a great feeling. Actually had goosebumps! 😛

    Reply
  6. I hiked the sacred valley . It was and amazing experience. Our tour guide Carlos was amazing , he was really knowledgeable and friendly. He took us on the way to Machu Picchu and explain us about it .
    You can find Carlos working in http://www.inkaltitude.com

    Reply
  7. Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

    Reply
  8. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is rated among the best trekking trips in the world because of the exquisite beauty of its natural surroundings; these include different ecological areas from high deserts to Andean Tropical rain forests.

    Reply

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