How to get to Machu Picchu

The dramatic peaks and valleys of the Peruvian Andes mountains draw millions of visitors every year. Read more...

The stunning combination of ancient ruins, breathtaking scenery and exotic vegetation continue to woo travellers into exploring this tranquil part of the world.

The ruins of Machu Picchu, in the heart of the Andes, are Peru’s best known adventure expedition that bring bragging rights for life. They were built around the 15th century during the height of the Inca empire - the largest empire in the world stretching 4000 kilometres and supported a population of around 10 million people. Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain” in the Quechua language) was abandoned during the Spanish conquest - and historians are still mystified as to why the site was suddenly vacated. The ‘Lost City’ was rediscovered in 1911 and has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the quintessential destination for all travellers visiting South America. But hidden deep in the Andes, how does one actually get to Machu Picchu?

The ruins have a daily limit of 2,500 people so tickets sell out during peak season (July-August). The peak season also happens to be the ‘dry season’ – or rather, the ’not-so-wet season’ as it’s never totally dry in the Andes – so to avoid the crowds you might want to consider travelling in late April–June or early October. At an altitude of 7,972ft (2,430m) above sea level, getting there is no walk in the park. In fact it’s a four day trek through the lush forest cloud and mountain scenery and involves a LOT of steps. However, for those not up the challenge, short on time or prefer a less arduous route, there is also a train (can we get an “amen”?!).

Getting to the Inca ruins on foot are strictly for those who trust their thighs. The hike will give your lungs a workout too as you cover 41km up hills and steps through lush mountain valleys. The classic Inca Trail is the most popular as it follows the route the Inca’s would have taken though the Sacred Valley. It’s beautifully scenic and takes 3–5 days but can get crowded. It’s trekked by 75,000 people each year and has a daily limit of 500 people, 300 of those spots earmarked for guides, so be sure to secure your trail pass well in advance. This trail is closed in February but you can still tour the ruins.

There are other trails to choose from, each ranging in length and difficulty, one even including downhill cycling, zip-lining and river rafting for the adrenaline junkies out there. It’s prohibited to hike the trails solo, but by going with a tour operator means you can find one that will provide and sometimes even carry all the basic equipment you’ll need to get there.

All Machu Picchu treks are in high altitude, putting hikers at risk of altitude sickness, so it’s important that you understand the symptoms and the process of acclimatisation before you begin your journey. We suggest spending a few days in Cuzco beforehand to adjust to the altitude as it’s higher than the trails. The best time of the year to trek is between May and September, but to avoid crowds we recommend April to May / late September to early November. It will be warm and humid during the day but freezing at night, and you’ll almost always encounter rain on the trail regardless of the season.

Hiking to Machu Picchu is definitely the more challenging option but also much more rewarding. So if you’re feeling fit, and want to experience a much more memorable way of reaching the Lost City, there’s nothing more satisfying than approaching Machu Picchu on one’s own two feet.

For those of us after a much less arduous journey to Machu Picchu, we owe a great deal of thanks to the railway line, built in 1928 (praise where praise is due!). However, there’s no station at Machu Picchu itself – trains arrive into Aguas Calientes, where you then need to jump on a bus for the 25 minute journey to the site. Or of course you can opt to walk the 8km up a steep mountain - a nice compromise if you choose not to do the full Inca Trail hike (and want to fool friends and family into thinking you did).

The scenic train journey takes approximately 3.5 hours from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. Trains no longer depart from the historic main station in Cuzco itself, but from Poroy station, 13km west of the city – a 20 minute bus or taxi ride away.

There are three different options for the train journey, aimed at different budgets. The Hiram Bingham - super deluxe and the most expensive but includes gourmet brunch/dinner and a selection of Peruvian wine and entertainment. Tickets also include bus connections, site entrance and guided tour. The Vistadome - a mid range option including snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. And The Expedition - this is the basic option but similar to the Vistadome except you buy your own snacks and drinks in the buffet car.

Taking the train to Machu Picchu will set you back anywhere from AU$100-$330 per person each way but with panoramic windows you get a great view of the pristine mountain scenery from the comfort of your carriage, arriving fresh and ready to explore the ruins. If you’re short on time this is a great option to get to the ancient citadel in the clouds.

Tempo offer a great range of packages to experience Machu Picchu for yourself, including hiking and non-hiking options. It's an experience you'll never forget... and your thighs will thank you for it.