The treks, along with the luxury train, are the most popular and recognizable ways to get to Machu Picchu. You’ll walk through the incredibly diverse landscapes of the Incas and see other ruins along the way. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the experience, the trek may be the right option for you.
The Inca Trail
This is the most famous of all the trips to Machu Picchu, and the 4- or 5-day trek is something you will never forget. You’ll travel the sacred Inca trail through ruins and mountains, and then arrive at the Sun Gate where you will first lay eyes on Machu Picchu.This trek is popular for a reason, and it’s one of the best ways to get to the ruins. The trail is one of the most expensive ways of getting there, though, and you have to buy your ticket months in advance.
This is the top alternative to trekking to Machu Picchu, and is perfect for last-minute travelers. While you’ll need to book the Inca Trail months in advance, you can book this trek the day before while you are in Cusco. It costs around US$180, which is a fraction of the price you’d pay to do the Inca Trail. You’ll hike to a lagoon, see snowy mountain tops, travel over a mountain pass, and end up in the jungle. It’s a fantastic alternative if you’re on a budget or have not had time to plan ahead.
The Luxury Train
This is an expensive option at about $100 each way. You can take a train from Cusco that goes straight to Aguas Calientes, or you can take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. If it is within your budget, this is a fun experience, and you don’t even have to break a sweat.
The Cheapest Option
Buses and Combis
This is, without a doubt, the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu, but it’ll take a bit of work if you need to save money.
From Cusco you can take a bus to Santa Maria, which runs all day and costs about 15 soles (US$5). The ride there takes about six hours, so bring some food with you. From Santa Maria you can catch a combi that’ll take you directly to Santa Teresa and, if you can negotiate, they might be able to take you to the Hydroelectric Station, from where you’ll begin your hike to Aguas Calientes.
Once at the Hydroelectric Station, you can take a train (20 soles or US$6) to Aguas Calientes, or you can walk along the train tracks; this will take around three hours. If you choose to walk, which a lot of people do, there are plenty of restaurants along the way and the scenery is beautiful. You’ll walk straight past the gate to Machu Picchu and finally arrive in Aguas Calientes.