How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit

cusco to aguas calientes

Are you looking for a seamless journey from the historic city of Cusco to the enchanting gateway of Aguas Calientes, located beneath the iconic Machu Picchu?

As a passionate traveler who has navigated this route, I bring you firsthand insights and practical advice for a smooth and unforgettable experience. From transport options to hidden gems, here’s what you can expect:

  • Discover the scenic Cusco to Aguas Calientes train journey.
  • Compare Inca Rail and Peru Rail for the best travel choice.
  • Explore budget-friendly colectivo and hike alternatives.

In this article, unlock the secrets to a hassle-free Cusco to Aguas Calientes expedition, ensuring your adventure to Machu Picchu is as memorable as the destination itself.

Where is Aguas Calientes?

Located in the Urubamba Valley, Aguas Calientes, formerly known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the gateway to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. Situated 112 km northwest of Cusco, this cosmopolitan hub is perched just below the Inca City. Serving as the capital of its district, it plays a pivotal role in facilitating access to the iconic ruins, a mere 5 km away.

Connected by a 1.5-hour walk to the archaeological zone, Aguas Calientes stands as the small but vibrant link between travelers and the ancient wonders of Machu Picchu. As the main access road, its strategic location makes it an essential stop on your journey through the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Why Visit Aguas Calientes?

How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit -

Aguas Calientes heartbeat revolves around facilitating the travel of backpackers, families, and friends to and from Machu Picchu. The train station serves as a central hub, and early morning hotel breakfasts accommodate those with early entry into the historic site. Despite its popularity, Aguas Calientes maintains a distinctive charm, offering more than just a transit point. Explore souvenir shops, indulge in local daily specials, or soothe your trek-weary muscles in the hot springs.

In the midst of its tourism-centric activities, Aguas Calientes retains a unique allure, heightened by its proximity to Machu Picchu. Take a stroll through the enchanting cloud forest or engage in souvenir hunting—every corner of this town contributes to the excitement of exploring the iconic Inca ruins.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train – Most Popular Option

The most popular option for getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes involves taking the scenic train journey, approximately four-hours in duration.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train

How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit -

The Cusco to Aguas Calientes train journey is the epitome of comfort and speed for your Machu Picchu adventure. Revel in the breathtaking views as the train weaves through majestic mountains, offering an experience in itself. However, note that the train doesn’t reach Machu Picchu directly; it stops in Aguas Calientes. From there, a short walk or bus ride gets you to the entrance.

For an unforgettable experience, opt for a train running entirely in daylight. Peru’s equatorial location ensures consistent daylight hours, making journeys beyond 6 pm less scenic. Be cautious when booking, as some services are bimodal, combining bus and train segments. Confirm your choice to avoid surprises.

Note that outside of peak months, most trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes are bimodal. These entail a bus ride from Cusco to either Ollantaytambo or Poroy before the train journey to Aguas Calientes. While the majority passes through Ollantaytambo, consider booking via Poroy for a more extensive train experience. High-season travelers might benefit from direct, train-only services.

Inca Rail vs Peru Rail: Which is the Better Option?

Choosing between Inca Rail and Peru Rail for your Cusco to Aguas Calientes journey offers little variation in ticket prices, comfort, and service quality. Both companies provide similar journey lengths with equally distributed departures throughout the day. The decision boils down to personal preferences, such as departure times or pricing. Opt for the company that aligns best with your schedule and budget, as the overall experience with either Inca Rail or PeruRail remains consistent.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train Cost

The Machu Picchu train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes starts at approximately 70 USD one-way. Whether you choose a direct or bimodal journey, the cost remains the same. Consider upgrading for enhanced views on the Vistadome (PeruRail) or 360-degree (Inca Rail) trains, featuring larger windows for a more immersive experience.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train Schedule

The Cusco to Aguas Calientes train schedule offers morning departures, mainly between 5 am and 9 am, with Inca Rail providing convenient afternoon options. Although the first train leaves Cusco at 3.20 am, it doesn’t align with the early Machu Picchu entry slots. The earliest direct train arrives in Aguas Calientes close to 11 am, requiring midday or later entrance tickets.

Returning from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, most trains depart in the mid-afternoon. Be mindful of seasonal and daily variations, checking online for your travel dates. If planning to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain with an early ticket, staying overnight in Aguas Calientes is advisable to ensure timely access.

How to Book the Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train

For the best Cusco to Aguas Calientes train prices, book directly through the Peru Rail or Inca Rail websites. Keep an eye out for offers, especially during the low season, where sales can slash prices by about one-third. Tickets, specific to your booked service, are exchangeable up to 24 hours in advance.

After online booking, a confirmation email is sent, but remember, you must visit a ticket office before boarding to collect your physical ticket and get assigned a seat. Don’t leave this to the last minute to avoid potential seat splitting among the last available seats. Both Cusco and Aguas Calientes train stations’ offices facilitate ticket exchange, and this can be done days before your journey.

Luxury Option – The Hiram Bingham Train Cusco to Aguas Calientes

For the epitome of luxury from Cusco to Machu Picchu, indulge in PeruRail’s Hiram Bingham train. This first-class experience offers not only exquisite travel but also includes a welcome show, lunch, dinner, and onboard music. The ticket covers Machu Picchu entrance, a bilingual guide, a small group site tour, round-trip bus travel to the entrance, and afternoon tea at the Belmond Hotel near Machu Picchu. Starting at 535 USD per person in the low season, services operate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, providing a lavish and unforgettable journey to Aguas Calientes.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Colectivo & Hike

Opt for a budget-friendly alternative from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by taking a colectivo to Ollantaytambo at the heart of the Sacred Valley. From there, embark on a challenging yet cost-effective full-day hike covering 28 km along the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes. This option offers a unique and economical journey, though it demands some physical effort.

Cusco to Ollantaytambo Colectivo

To catch a colectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, head to Calle Pavitos, walkable from the centro historico. Follow the yellow “collectivo Ollantaytambo” signs. The journey takes 1.5 to 2 hours, with the cost per person being 10 Soles. Expect stops to drop off and pick up passengers along the way. This budget-friendly option provides a scenic route through the Sacred Valley, leading you to Ollantaytambo for your onward journey to Aguas Calientes.

Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes Hike

How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit -

Go on a challenging 28-km hike along the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Once begun, there’s no turning back; you must commit to the journey. Begin by reaching KM82, accessible by colectivos with a 30-minute ride costing a few soles. The early morning start is crucial, given the approximately 8-hour hike duration, ensuring arrival in Aguas Calientes by late afternoon.

Staying overnight in Ollantaytambo is advisable. While tough, the day hike is doable, emphasizing the importance of packing light for this adventurous trek.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes Bus & Hike

Another budget-friendly option is taking a bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, approximately 10 km from Aguas Calientes. From the end of the road nearest to Machu Picchu, walk along the train tracks to reach your final destination. This combination of bus and hike offers another economical yet adventurous journey to Aguas Calientes.

Cusco to Hidroelectrica Bus

How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit -

Opting for the bus to Hidroelectrica offers a budget-friendly compromise with a shorter hike. Brace for a bumpy 7-8 hour journey along winding mountain roads, particularly in the last hour on rough dirt roads. Minibuses from various agencies, not public buses, usually depart around 6 am. Avoid back seats, carry travel sickness medication, and expect two stops for meals during the ride. Upon arrival at Hidroelectrica, you’ll be dropped near a local restaurant, providing an opportunity to eat if you haven’t already, before continuing your journey to Aguas Calientes.

Cusco to Hidroelectrica Bus Prices

The bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica costs 60 soles each way. While initial offers may be slightly higher, successful negotiation down to 60 soles is common. Given it’s not public transport, prices aren’t fixed, emphasizing the importance of knowing the reasonable rate for effective haggling. Secure your tickets through agency offices in Cusco. To ensure availability, especially during peak season (June to August), it’s advisable to book at least a couple of days in advance for a smoother journey to Aguas Calientes.

Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes Hike

Upon leaving the bus at Hidroelectrica, you might feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Head away from the restaurant, opposite the bridge, until you reach a checkpoint where Machu Picchu rangers gather details. Follow a few signs guiding you to the train lines, ensuring a safe and popular route.

The walk along the tracks is straightforward, with few trains passing. As you approach Aguas Calientes, divert from the tracks near a tunnel, signaling the journey’s end. However, it’s still a 30-minute walk to the center of Aguas Calientes. Though seemingly remote, this hike offers a well-trodden and secure path, making it a popular choice for those seeking a unique and budget-friendly approach to reach Aguas Calientes.

How Difficult is the Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes Hike?

The Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes hike is relatively easy, featuring mostly flat terrain. However, challenges arise from abundant mosquitoes and biting insects due to the lower altitude than Cusco. To combat this, covering up and using insect repellent is essential. The lower altitude also brings warmer and more humid conditions, and during the rainy months, unexpected downpours can occur, potentially leaving both you and your belongings soaked through.

When is the Best Time to Visit Aguas Calientes?

How to Get From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town): 3 Best Ways and Why to Visit -

The best time to visit Aguas Calientes aligns with the optimal period for exploring Machu Picchu: the dry season from April to October. During these months, the weather is dry, hot, and clear, offering ideal conditions for capturing stunning photos of Machu Picchu amidst sunshine. This period, however, attracts a higher number of visitors.

In contrast, from November to March, Aguas Calientes experiences the rainy season, featuring heavy rainfall, cloudy skies, and muddy roads. The Vilcanota River, bordering the town, may overflow. If you don’t mind rain and humidity, and prefer a quieter experience with fewer visitors, the rainy season might be suitable for you.

Can you do a day trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes?

While technically possible, doing a day trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is not recommended due to the lengthy journey. The transportation options, whether by train or bus, require several hours, making it impractical for a single day. Moreover, to fully appreciate Machu Picchu, a day trip may not provide sufficient time. It’s advisable to plan an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes, allowing you to explore Machu Picchu more leisurely and enjoy the town’s atmosphere.

How to Get From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Bus

To reach Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes by bus, board a Consettur Machupicchu bus from the stop on Av. Hermanos Ayar. Operating from 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., buses depart when full or every 15 minutes. The 20-minute journey ascends the steep Carretera Hiram Bingham road, reaching the main entrance of the ruins.

Note the last return bus to town departs at 5:30 p.m. Roundtrip bus fare is typically included in Machu Picchu tour packages. Secure tickets online via the Consettur website or purchase them at offices in Cusco, Aguas Calientes, or at the main entrance to Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Walk

The walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu presents two options: a 4.5-mile (7 km) dirt road or a steeper, 4.5 km stepped footpath. While the road offers a more gradual ascent, the footpath provides a challenging and scenic route for those seeking an Andean hiking experience. Both paths lead to the entrance of Machu Picchu, allowing visitors to choose based on their fitness level and preference.

Is Aguas Calientes Close to Cusco Airport

Aguas Calientes is not close to Cusco Airport. The primary mode of transportation between the two involves a train journey from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, followed by a bus or taxi to Cusco. The train ride takes about 1.5 to 3.5 hours, depending on the chosen service, and the subsequent ground transfer adds extra time.

Can You Take a Bus From Cusco to Aguas Calientes?

No, you can’t take a bus directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. However, after arriving in Aguas Calientes via train, you can easily catch a bus to Machu Picchu, which takes about 20-30 minutes and costs $12 each way.

Can You Take the Train From Lima to Aguas Calientes?

No, there is no direct train from Lima to Aguas Calientes. To reach Aguas Calientes, you must first travel to Cusco by flight, bus, or car. From Cusco, you can take a train or hike to Aguas Calientes.

Can Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train Tickets Be Shown Digitally?

Certainly! Train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes can be displayed digitally, but it’s advisable to carry a printed copy for in-person presentation.

Do Children 2 and Under Need Train Tickets?

No, children under 2 years old don’t need train tickets. They can board the train by presenting their identity document or passport and will share the seat with their parent or guardian.

Can Train Tickets Be Cancelled?

Yes, train tickets can be canceled, but there may be a penalty for the cancellation process.

Can I Buy My Train Ticket the Same Day as My Trip?

Yes, you can buy train tickets on the same day as your trip, but it’s not recommended due to limited availability. It’s advisable to purchase tickets online a few weeks in advance for better prices and to secure your seat.

Are Train Tickets Personal?

Yes, train tickets are personal and non-transferable. They are strictly for the use of the named ticket holder and cannot be used by someone else.

Can I Claim a Refund if I Miss My Train?

No, refunds are not provided in case of lateness or if you miss your train. Once the train has departed, there is no reimbursement for missed trips.

What Happens If I Lose My Train Ticket?

If you lose your train ticket, you can either print another one or request an extra ticket at the PeruRail, Inca Rail office, or through the tourism agency that facilitated the purchase.

How Early Should I Arrive at the Train Station?

It’s advisable to arrive at the train station at least 30 minutes to an hour before the scheduled departure time. This allows for ticket verification, security checks, and ensures a smooth boarding process.

What’s the Altitude Difference Between Cusco and Aguas Calientes?

Cusco is situated at a higher altitude than Aguas Calientes. Cusco’s altitude is approximately 3,400 meters (11,150 feet), while Aguas Calientes is at a lower altitude of around 2,040 meters (6,690 feet).

Is Aguas Calientes Worth Visiting?

And that concludes our comprehensive guide on traveling from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, covering various transportation options, ticket details, and travel tips. We trust this guide has equipped you with the necessary insights to plan your journey seamlessly.

If you’re still contemplating the best way to reach Aguas Calientes, our top recommendation is taking the scenic train ride, providing both comfort and stunning views.

Wishing you an incredible journey from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and an unforgettable exploration of Machu Picchu. Should you have any specific queries or wish to share your travel experiences, feel free to drop a comment below. Safe travels!


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