The journey to Machu Picchu wasn't easy. For us, it involved an international flight to Lima, a 1 hour domestic flight to Cusco, an early morning, taxi ride from our hotel to the Ollanta Train Station, a 1.5 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes (Machupicchu Pueblo), and then a 20 minute shuttle bus ride up the mountain to the archaeological site. It was adventure just getting to the citadel. 

Planning this journey seemed overwhelming at first. Each stage of the journey required a reservation and a ticket. Each stage had different upgrades and options, and each stage required more decisions. A few of the questions we faced, our decisions, and the lessons learned are highlighted below. There were probably better and cheaper ways to make the journey happen, but here's what worked for us:

Should we hike the Inca Trail?

We knew right away that we lacked the time necessary (~4 days!) to hike the full Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and immediately stopped researching this option. We found out later some tour companies also offer a 2 day hike that covers a shorter portion of the trail. Note that reservations should be made at least 4 months in advance since permits sell out quickly. Also take a few days to acclimate to the altitude before attempting the hike.

How do we get tickets for the train/bus/admission?

It's probably possible to book all the required tickets independently online, but we used a local tour operator. Our full day tour included the round-trip train ride, all transfers, the entrance fee (the ticket allows multiple same-day entrances), a guided tour of the site, and lunch. We have to admit it was nice to be met by a company representative at each phase of the journey and walked through the next required steps. The guided tour was also helpful since there was little information about the ruins on site.

Do we select the Expedition Train or the Vistadome Train?

The Vistadome train advertises faster service (1.5 hours compared to 2 hours), increased comfort, and complimentary snacks/refreshments. We splurged and upgraded to the Vistadome train, but it was an unnecessary expense.

^^morning snack on the train to MP^^

^^about that baggage policy^^

What about the train baggage policy?
Our tour instructions indicated that only a backpack was allowed on board the train to Machu Picchu, and we should leave our luggage at our hotel before embarking on the journey. We found out later there are storage options at the Ollanta Train Station and carry-on size luggage can be brought on the train for an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes.

Should we eat lunch in town or at Restaurant Tinkuy (on the mountain)?

We paid the premium for the buffet lunch at Tinkuy Restaurant since it's located next to the Machu Picchu entrance. We wanted to take advantage of our one-day ticket and easily return to the ruins after lunch rather than spend time transferring to and from the restaurant in town. It worked for us, but most people in our group were done exploring the site after the morning tour.

Note if you eat lunch in town and want to return to the the ruins, you'll need to purchase another set of round-trip bus tickets.

Should we stay the night?
We spent the night in Aguas Calientes after our tour. We wanted to get full use out of our one-day ticket to the ruins and see the site outside the peak tourist hours. We also thought it would be best to spread the journey to and from MP over two days. This worked as planned and allowed us to view the ruins at our own pace, but we wasted an entire day waiting for our train to depart the next afternoon. We'd consider the day trip next time.

Good luck planning your journey!


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