Half the magic of Machu Picchu is getting there. While most would refer to the Inca Trail with that statement, I say look to the train!
The less affordable tourist train service starts at roughly US$50 each way on PeruRail. If you’re on a budget (and a more flexible timeframe) there’s also an incredibly unreliable local train that runs between Cusco and Aguas Calientes on the older train tracks. Be sure to check weather conditions and train schedules in the month before you leave and the day before you leave, as train service is often discontinued for months at a time without much notice.
The local was undergoing extensive repairs (read: no one moved blockage from the tracks for months) but we didn’t mind spending a little extra cash for the comfortable seats, shorter travel time and prettier route.
Schedule your four-hour train ride for the afternoon before your Machu Picchu visit and reserve space in a hostel in Aguas Calientes for the night you arrive. If you reserve tickets at least a few months before your trip, you won’t have to worry about a sold-out train. However, if PeruRail is fully booked from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by the time you make your reservation, just book from nearby Ollantaytambo, the first stop on the train from Cusco to Aguas, where many passengers will get off to see ruins (and make room for you!).
When the train stops to pick up cargo, mail, and additional passengers, some enterprising locals would walk beside the train cars selling homemade hot meals, breads, snacks and even flowers.
Sunrise over Machu Picchu cannot be missed, and you’ll need your beauty rest for that 5 a.m. bus departure to make the 5:30 a.m. daybreak. (If you want to go the lazy route, the best part of the sunrise happens between 7 and 7:30 a.m. so you can catch a slightly later bus up the mountain. However, the lines of tourists will be so long you may just have to leave at the same time!) Grab the bus at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station at the center of the city.
From there, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.
–Tara for TKGO