Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes can be an all-out adventure, opting to hike the Inca Trail or walk alongside the railroad tracks, or it can be straightforward and quick by taking the train or bus. However you decide to get there, the end goal will be amazing because you need to go from Cusco to Aguas Calientes to get to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
After seeing Machu Picchu on the first of two days, I vividly remember checking into Supertramp hostel in Aguas Calientes then cracking a beer at the hostel bar and striking up a conversation with a couple who had walked alongside the Machu Picchu train tracks to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.
They got to the ruins and spent a whopping ZERO dollars on transportation. Having spent $163 USD on the cost of a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, I just hung my head and cracked another beer.
Had I known what they knew, I could’ve saved a boatload of money getting to these majestic Inca ruins located in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Luckily for you, you’ve got this article to help you find the best deals along the way!
How to Go From Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
There are four options for getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes: train, bus, taxi or hike/walk. Hiking the Inca Trail costs the most at around $400, then it’s the train at $75 to $200 each way, a taxi at $100 to $150, a bus at $10 per person (plus some walking) and the cheapest way to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is walking along the train tracks for free.
1. Cusco to Aguas Calientes Train (Peru Rail or Inca Rail)
The quickest and easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is to cough up the money and buy train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. There are only two rail lines: the Peru Rail, which is cheaper, and the Inca Rail, which is much more luxurious. Both options will run you a pretty penny.
My round-trip ticket on the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes set me back $163 USD (not budget-friendly travel) for the departure and return times I needed. It would’ve been a little cheaper had I planned the trip further in advance or could have settled for different times. I was on a strict time crunch, so I had to bite the bullet and pay up.
Riding the Machu Picchu train is nice because you can sit back and take in the scenery with a hot cup of coffee and a comfortable seat or just sleep on the way, but I’d opt for the former.
If you decide to take the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes station), budget for about $120 per person round trip. It’s not cheap. If you’re a budget traveler like me and have more time than I did, I highly recommend looking into one of the other options.
If you’re taking a day trip from Cusco, the train is your only option because it’s the only reliable source to get you there and back in a single day. Plus, there are so many amazing things to do in Cusco that you may wind up staying there longer than at Machu Picchu.
Cost of Train From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- $120 USD to a lot more if you choose to take the Inca Rail’s glass ceiling train.
How Long Is the Train From Cusco to Aguas Calientes?
- 3.5 to 4 hours
2. Hike the Inca Trail
This option is for the hardcore adventurers out there! I haven’t done it (yet), but someday I’ll go back to Peru and hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu! For now, I’ll just help you out with a few facts. The trail is about 51 miles long and only allows about 200 hikers per day on its well-trekked paths. It typically takes hikers in good shape about four days and three nights to reach Machu Picchu.
That means you’ll have to camp for three nights, so be sure to bring enough supplies, food and water to last you that long. Since I’m not an expert on hiking the Inca Trail (yet), I highly suggest you check out The Broke Backpacker’s post about the ups and downs of hiking the Inca Trail.
Cost to Hike the Inca Trail From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- ~$500 USD depending on the trek
- Estimated Time: 4 days
3. Take a Taxi
Getting a taxi to take you from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is the most cost-effective and efficient way to travel if you have a group of three or four people and don’t mind being in a car for an extended period of around four hours.
You’ll need to hail a taxi to Ollantaytambo or Santa Teresa because taxis can’t go all the way into Machu Picchu due to the lack of roads leading into the Sacred Valley. You can only reach Aguas Calientes by train or foot. (I’ll dive deeper into walking alongside the railroad tracks in the fifth option.)
A taxi will cost you from $100 to $150 USD, depending on your haggling skills. If you split the fare among two to four people (the maximum number of people you can comfortably fit in a four-door taxi), you’ll wind up cutting through the high cost of a train ticket.
If you stop at Ollantaytambo, you can either take the train the remainder of the way or walk alongside the train tracks. But if you’re going to walk alongside the tracks, you may as well have the cab take you to Santa Teresa because it’s a shorter walk. From Santa Teresa, it’s about a 4-mile walk beside the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes.
Cost to Take a Taxi From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- $100 to $150 USD split among all riders
- Estimated Time: 3.5 hours to 8 hours
4. Ride the Bus
I only wish I would’ve known about the bus option during my trip to see the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. It would’ve saved me more than $100 USD — and it could still save you that much or more!
The bus is for budget travelers like myself. But it’s not all fun and games. You’re going to have to walk quite a bit and it’s going to take almost the entire day. For those travelers wishing to save a bunch of money and don’t mind long treks, a little bit of walking and seeing the beautiful countryside of Peru, here’s what you can do:
- Board the bus in Cusco at Terminal Santiago
- Get off the bus in Santa Teresa (about 4 hours)
- Take a taxi to the Santa Teresa Hydroelectric Power Plant (about 10 minutes and $5)
- Walk along the train tracks from outside the power plant until you reach Aguas Calientes (about 4 miles)
The entire trip will cost you about $10 USD. This is the most affordable way to get to Aguas Calientes from Cusco if you don’t want to walk the entire way from Cusco. You can also opt to take the Peru Rail or Inca Rail from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, but it’s going to cost you way more than the free version of walking.
You may want to take a flashlight or have a fully charged phone to use the camera light during the final walking stretch because it may be dark by then. You can also stay at one of the few accommodations in Santa Teresa for a few dollars if you wish to take your time and travel at daybreak.
You’ll likely have to wait for different buses to arrive when you’re shuttling from place to place, so even though the journey looks like it only takes a little more than 8 hours to complete, it’ll likely take you from sun up to sun down.
Cost to Ride the Bus From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- About $10 USD per person
- Estimated Time: 8 to 10 hours
5. Walk Alongside the Railroad Tracks
The cheapest option on the list (because it’s entirely free!) is to walk alongside the railroad tracks from the train station in Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes. It may be the cheapest option on the list, but it’s by far the longest option.
The walk alongside the railroad tracks is a solid 45 miles (73 km). That takes the average person 18 hours to walk non-stop, but you’ll want to stop a few times along the way.
You can stay the night in Ollantaytambo, Santa Teresa or Maras for just a few dollars per night to break the trip into sections. Plus, each town has some pretty cool stuff to explore. If you have the time, this walk is probably worth every step.
NOTE: If you decide to walk along the train tracks at any point on your journey, please remember to be extremely careful! There are active trains on the track all day long, so watch out for them and stand a solid distance away when they’re passing by.
Cost to Walk the Railroad Tracks From Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- Free! You’ll just have to pay about $10 USD per night to stay somewhere if you don’t want to camp.
- Estimated Time: 14 to 18 hours (broken up into two separate days if necessary)
Best Way to Get to Machu Picchu From Cusco
The best way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco is either taking a train into Aguas Calientes or hiking the Inca Trail directly into the ruins high in the mountains. While the train is the quickest, less stressful way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, the Inca Trail is by far the most scenic and rewarding.
Cheapest Way to Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu
The cheapest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by walking alongside the railroad tracks and then hiking from the town of Aguas Calientes to the ruins of Machu Picchu. However, this option will take you a few days because the walk along the train tracks is 45 miles and it’s another 3 or 4 miles from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
How to Get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
You don’t have many options when deciding how to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. In fact, there are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, the small village at the base of the mountain with lodging, restaurants and shops.
1. Bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Taking the bus from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu is quicker than hiking (about 20 minutes to the top), but it’s also more expensive and doesn’t offer as much adventure.
Although, the narrow and winding roads combining with the death wish of bus drivers create a unique experience that makes you feel like you’re about to fall off the side of a cliff or run into another bus head-on at any second. So, beware, you’ve been warned that the ride can be a little sketchy.
The first bus of the day leaves the station at 5:30 a.m. each morning. Bus tickets are for specific days and don’t have specified times, so you’ll want to line up to board at least an hour before your designated entry time begins.
People line up in droves starting at 4:30 a.m., so you seriously want to get there as early as possible. I began the hike to the top around 4 a.m. the second day and there were already about 50 people lined up for the buses.
You can buy bus tickets to Machu Picchu in-person in Aguas Calientes or online through the official government website. I highly recommend buying your bus ticket the day before you’re set to go up because lines can get pretty long.
- Cost: $24 USD for adult foreigners; $12 for children foreigners; $15 for adult nationals; $8 for children nationals
- Estimated Time: 20 minutes
2. Hike to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Hiking from Aguas Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu is an incredible experience, but the decision to hike or not lies solely in your physical fitness level. I am by no means the fittest person in the world (nor am I even within the top 30 percentile), but I hiked it fairly easily.
The hike begins in Aguas Calientes at about 6,500 feet above sea level and you must hike to an altitude of 8,200 feet above sea level to get to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
Before I explain to you the trials and tribulations I went through to get to the top, I must tell you that I stayed up drinking (pretty light drinking) in the hostel until about 12:30 a.m. The alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m. — a mere three hours after my head hit the pillow — and it was time to make a run at the mountain.
I got about a quarter of the way up when I realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast and started getting a little sick. I told myself it was due to lack of sleep and being slightly hungover, but it was probably a combination of not sleeping, not eating, not consuming enough water the past few days and a little bit of altitude sickness coming into play.
Anyway, I had to push through. I took a solid five-minute rest for every 10 minutes of walking and it helped tremendously. I got to the top in about an hour and a half. You can easily make the trek in 45 minutes if you get ample sleep and do things the right way.
The path is old stone-laid steps the entire way to the top. It can accommodate about two people in width, so it isn’t tough to do. Hiking Machu Picchu Mountain is another story, though.
Oh, and I should probably tell you that I stupidly brought along my 15-pound backpack with me on the hike instead of leaving it locked away in the hostel.
- Cost: Free!
- Estimated Time: 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
How Long Does It Take to Get to Machu Picchu?
It just depends on what kind of transportation you take to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes and then what kind of transportation you take to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.
It could take you a few days if you hike the Inca Trail or walk alongside the train tracks. But you could be there in just about 5 or 6 hours if you take the train to Aguas Calientes and then the bus to Machu Picchu, assuming your entrance ticket gets you in at the allotted time.