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We Took the Train to Machu Picchu

This was the most expensive tour we've booked so far, but it was worth it.


There are a few options when thinking about visiting the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu from Cusco. But, all of them are expensive.



The most adventurous option is the four-day, three-night trek along the Inca Trail. Unfortunately for Brett and me, two factors prevented us from taking this route:

  1. We are working. Yeah, we could've taken a few extra days of PTO to hike this legendary trail, but if there were a day-trip option, we'd prefer it.

  2. It's February, the rainiest month of the year, meaning the Inca trail is closed for most of the month anyway.

So, we looked into the day trip options. We found the cheapest one on GetYourGuide.com. It included a ride on this 'panoramic' train through the Andes and cost us around $300 per person.


I know, I know. That's like a round-trip plane ticket. But what were we going to do? Not go to Machu Picchu? Yeah, no. We were going.


If you want to hike, you're gonna shell out between $400 and $800 per person depending on the length of the trip and if you're going to go private or not. Granted, these treks all include a guide (you have to have a guide with you to hike the trail), food along the way, camping equipment, permits, and entrance fees.


We learned with Machu Picchu; you gotta pay to play.


Also, after we booked this tour, we met Raymond, the New Zealand guy with the incredible mullet. He had just been to Cusco and said he just took a bus the whole way there... So I guess there is a cheaper option.


But we had already mentally committed to going on the fancy train, and I'm so glad we did.



The nice part about booking through GetYourGuide, is that all the transportation is planned out and paid for with your tour purchase, and there are quite a few moving parts to getting to Machu Picchu.


We were picked up at 4:30 am for an hour and a half shuttle ride to the train station where we showed our train tickets to board the hour and a half train ride to Aguas Calientes, where we showed our bus tickets to catch a bus about 30 minutes up the face of the mountain to the visitor center at the top. And all of that on the way back too.


Oh yeah, and we had to double mask up and wear a face shield to board the train...



Side note: Peru has been the strictest country we've visited as far as Covid regulations and mask rules go. But, Lima just lifted its curfew the week we were there in February, so they may be loosening other restrictions soon as well.


Anyway, my friend back at the hostel said she booked each leg of the Machu Picchu journey herself (another option) and booked a tour with a guide when she got to Aguas Calientes. However, she admitted that the cost came out to about the same as what we paid to have it all taken care of. They did have the added flexibility to stay in Aguas Calientes for the night, thought, where they stumbled upon some hot springs. Spending the night also allowed them to grab the first bus up to the ruins. They had the place to themselves.


So, as you can see, there are many ways to get to Machu Picchu, but once you're there, the experience is the same - awe-inspiring magnificence.


The ruins themselves are very cool, but the part that struck me was how high we actually were from the river below, standing on a mountain that seemed to shoot straight up from the ground surrounded by others of equal majesty. The pictures I had seen of this wonder of the world before experiencing it myself failed to capture the magnitude of how high up the ruins sat.



I now understand why the Incans, who were highly spiritual, opted for this position atop the mountain to plant their roots. It really felt like we were closer to the heavens. Clouds were blowing in and around the ruins and the neighboring peaks, and the sun was piercing through periodically. It was magical.


Although it was raining most of the journey there when we emerged atop the lookout point, the clouds broke, and we had a perfect view of the ruins with Huayna Picchu towering behind them.


And as soon as we copped a few pics and started our descent to explore the ruins, it began to rain again. We timed it perfectly. We got to see the alpacas grazing in the field that used to be the central plaza, and one almost pushed us off the trail.



Then Brett ate alpaca for lunch, lol.


In summary:

There are a couple of ways to get to Machu Picchu, and I've listed the ones I know of below from most expensive to least expensive:

  1. A multi-day guided trek along the Inca Trail (you need to book this in advance because they only sell a limited number of permits for the trail)

  2. A day tour with a company that plans all your transportation for you, including the Pano train

  3. Booking your transportation yourself by train (this option may save you a few bucks, but you need to figure out the logistics yourself for transport and entrance fees, but you get more flexibility to stay the night in Aguas Calientes and go at your own pace)

  4. Booking your transportation yourself by bus (I don't have many details on this option, but I know it has been done!)

All in all, it was an epic day and definitely the most fantastic place I've been to so far.



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My boyfriend and I started our digital nomad journey in December 2021. We're just starting out and want to share all the ups and downs with you!

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