What and where is Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel situated in the Andes Mountain of Peru. Given its hidden location, perfectly cut stone, and mysterious construction, it’s no wonder Machu Picchu is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Machu Picchu is a ~2 hour hike from the nearby town, Aguas Calientes. From Cusco, Aguas Calientes is ~4 hours by taxi/train.
Can I really do it in one day?
Yes you can, and with no rush! You’ll have time to hike up, explore, take your IG pics, hike down, and make it back to your afternoon train. However, if you want to go up to the top of Huayna Picchu, you are much better off arriving the night before to Aguas Calientes (more on that later).
Since our goal is to see Machu Picchu in one day, I will break down all of your options including time & costs so you can create your own day trip that suits your schedule!
What is Huayna Picchu?
Huayna Picchu is the very tip of the iconic Machu Picchu picture. Only 400 visitors are allowed per day and only 2 entry times: 7-8AM and 10-11AM.
You will not make it to the 7-8AM entrance if you arrive to Aguas Calientes the morning of. You can make it to the 10-11AM slot, however, you’ll need ~3 additional hours for Huayna Picchu.
If you really want to make the hike up then I recommend booking the 7-8AM slot, arrive to Aguas Calientes the night before, and reach the entrance by 7AM sharp.
Pro Tip: No mercy is given for those who arrive post their Huayna Picchu time slots. You will not be allowed up! No exceptions!
How do I book my Machu Picchu entrance tickets?
I’ll be honest with you, booking your Machu Picchu entrance tickets is unnecessarily complicated and a pain to do. It’s so bad that I’ve written a post about it: How To Buy Machu Picchu Tickets: A Step By Step Guide
Be sure to follow the instructions and bring everything as explained in the post to get your ticket.
How do I get to Machu Picchu?
The most common way to get to Aguas Calientes (the local town next to Machu Picchu) is by train from the East. There exists a very long way that’ll take you around by road (through Santa Teresa & Hidroelectrica), however, we’ll skip it since you’ll need a lot of time and it’s not straight forward. A lot of people try looking for alternatives to avoid the expensive train ride but it’s not worth it unless you have time & no other option.
You can buy a train ticket through: Peru Rail
Unlike the Machu Picchu tickets website, the Peru Rail website is straight forward. Choose your destination as Machu Picchu* and choose from 1 of the 3 departures:
- Poroy (Cusco**) [~3.5 hours] – From Cusco, you’ll have to take a ~25 minute cab ride to the train station in Poroy, costing 15 soles per cab (~5 USD).
- Urumbamba [~3 hours] – From Cusco, you can take a ~45 minutes combi (minibus) from Pavitos street costing 10 soles pp (~3 USD)
- Ollantaytambo [~1.5 hours] – From Cusco, you can take a ~1.5 hour combi (minibus) from Pavitos street costing 10 soles pp (~3 USD)
*The PeruRail Machu Picchu station takes you to the nearby town called Aguas Calientes. You will still need to travel by bus or foot from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
**The PeruRail Cusco train station is not actually in the city of Cusco. You will have to take a 25 minute cab ride to Poroy.
Which combination of routes should I take?
There are a lot of different combinations you can take. I will lay out a budget friendly method which goes through Ollantaytambo and provide all instructions from the airport.
- Cusco Airport –taxi–> Pavitos Street (combis to Urubama & Ollantaytambo)
- Pavitos Street (Cusco) —combi–> Ollantaytambo
- Ollantaytambo –train–> Aguas Calientes
- Aguas Calientes –by foot–> Machu Picchu
1. Cusco Airport –taxi–> Pavitos Street
When exiting the airport, make a right and follow the blue path as shown in the picture to the x. There will be a bus stop with a lot of people catching cabs there. The cab will cost you no less than 6 soles (2 USD). The ride will be around 15 minutes depending on traffic.
Pro Tip: Unauthorized cab drivers aren’t allowed to pick people up at the nearby bus stop. Even though there is a cop there, they try anyway. Some people walk further down, away from the cop, to catch a ride from anyone. However, it is recommended to stick with authorized drivers 🙂
2. Pavitos Street (Cusco) —combi–> Ollantaytambo
On Pavitos street there are many agencies that go to Ollantaytambo. They’re all the same. Pick the one that has the fullest combi. The sooner the combi fills up, the sooner you’ll head out. The ride to Ollantaytambo only costs 10 soles pp(3 USD).
3. Ollantaytambo –train–> Aguas Calientes
The combi will drop you off at the main square (Plaza de Armas). Ollantaytambo is a very small town. You can get everywhere on foot with no problem at all. From the center of Ollantaytambo, it’s a short 10 minute walk to the train station.
It’s a comfortable train ride with a clean bathroom 🙂
4. Aguas Calientes –by foot–> Machu Picchu
There are two ways up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes: (1) by bus or (2) by foot. If you arrive to Machu Picchu early, you will find an incredibly long line:
If you’re not traveling with kids or disabled, I highly recommend hiking up instead of taking the bus. People start lining up as early as 3:30AM! Plus, the hike up to Machu Picchu is not that bad. It’s a ~30 minute walk to the base of the hike, followed by 1-2 hour hike up the mountain with a lot of stairs.
We met a couple on the same train as us who had tickets to hike up to Huayna Picchu (7AM-8AM slot). They decided to wait for the bus while we hiked up. We made it up at the same time! Even though the bus ride is only 20 minutes, the wait in line bumped the full wait to 2 hours! Unfortunately, they weren’t allowed up to Huayna Picchu 🙁
To go to Machu Picchu by foot, follow the crowd as you exit the train. Ask someone to point you to Machu Picchu. Passing the bus stop from the previous video, continue down the road. You’ll cross the below narrow road:
Stop by the Machu Picchu sign to take your picture:
You’ll see the big and green welcome sign:
Stop by the security checkpoint and show your entrance ticket & passport:
Cross the bridge and don’t forget to look up!
Walk over to the base of the mountain and follow the green arrows all the way up to Machu Picchu!
I timed our hike and it took us: 1hr 6 mins
The hike is just a lot of steps but the view makes it worth it!
If you decide to take the bus, here are the one-way bus ticket prices:
My 1 Day Trip To Machu Picchu Breakout
We arrived in the early morning to Cusco. We headed straight to Ollantaytambo by combi to explore and spent the night. The next day, we did the following to go to Machu Picchu:
- From Ollantaytambo, we took the 5:05 AM Train 71 to Aguas Calientes, arriving at 6:40AM. (65 USD)
- From Aguas Calientes, we walked up to Machu Picchu arriving at 8:30AM (Free!)
- Once in the Machu Picchu site, we had plenty of time for pictures, exploring, and even hiked up further to the Sun Gate. We began to hike back down from Machu Picchu at around 1PM (Free!)
- We made it with plenty of time to our 2:55PM Train 74, arriving at Ollantaytambo around 4:30PM (70 USD)
Once in Ollantaytambo, we picked up our luggage from the hostel, had dinner, and took a combi back to Cusco.
Some final tips & reminders
- Purchase your Machu Picchu & train tickets on the same day
- Don’t forget that you can most likely leave you heavy luggage at your hostel for no charge
- You can buy a ticket to Machu Picchu with a different From & To (From: Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu then from Machu Picchu To: Poroy [Cusco])
- Give yourself extra buffer hours when planning. Don’t try to cut it close!
- Bring food and water up to Machu Picchu. It’s very expensive at the top. I brought a whole panettone to munch on for the hike up and down.
- People line up for the 20 minute bus to Machu Picchu as early as 4AM! Add an extra 1.5 hours of wait time for the ride up and 45 minutes for the ride down when planning your day.
- Most Important Tip: Machu Picchu ticket hours are very strict. You will not be allowed to enter Machu Picchu or the surrounding mountains outside of the ticket time slot! Don’t arrive to Machu Picchu on Train 71 (arrival 6:40AM) and expect to make the 7-8AM time slot for Huayna Picchu! You won’t make it!
I hope our trip helps you plan for yours. Feel free to leave any questions. As always, safe travels!