Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno  
 

Cusco to Puno train. Courtesy Discoverbyrail.com

 

Taking the train in Peru...

Peru has several train services of interest to visitors, including the famous train to Machu Picchu where a confusing array of trains run by several different operators compete to take you to the Inca ruin from various different starting stations in or outside Cusco - this page will explain the options.

There are in fact two separate networks in Peru, the southern network which includes Cusco to Machu Picchu & Cusco to Puno on Lake Titicaca and the northern network which links Lima with Huancayo.

  Cusco to Machu Picchu for the famous Inca ruins.

  Cusco to Puno & Lake Titicaca

  Lima to Huancayao & Huancavelica


Useful country information

Train operators:

www.perurail.com (Cusco to Machu Picchu, Cusco to Puno (Lake Titicaca)

www.incarail.com (alternative trains to Machu Picchu)

www.ferrocarrilcentral.com.pe (Lima-Huancayo).

Time zone:

GMT-5 (there is no daylight saving time in Peru).

Dialling code:

 

+51.

Currency:

1 = 4.50 Nuevos Soles, $1 = 3.30.     Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.peru.info   Tripadvisor Peru page

Hotels:

 

Hotel search for Peru

Flights:

 

Cheapest flights to Peru

Visas:

UK citizens do not need a visa for Peru for tourist visits of up to 90 days.

Page last updated:

12 May 2019


Trains to Machu Picchu

  The ruined Inca citadel at Machu Picchu  
 

Take the train to Machu Picchu...  Regular train slink Cusco and Ollantaytambo with the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu...  Photo courtesy  of Tim Roberts

 

From Cusco to the Inca ruins...

Cusco is the base city for visiting the famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu and it's where most visitors stay.  You can hike all the way up the Sacred Valley on foot along the Inca Trail, but most tourists take a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu on the historic 3' gauge Santa Ana Railway.

There are 4 possible train boarding points, namely (1) Cusco San Pedro station located in Cusco itself, used by Inca Rail tourist trains and the local train for Peruvians only, (2) Poroy which is 13 km (8 miles) outside Cusco, used by PeruRail, (3) Urubamba which is 53 km (33 miles) from Cusco and (4) Ollantaytambo which is in the Sacred Valley itself, 89 km (56 miles) from Cusco.

There are two competing train companies, PeruRail is the bigger one, Inca Rail the smaller one.  Both operate a range of different trains & classes to suit different budgets.  This page will guide you through the options for an unforgettable visit to Machu Picchu.

Option 1, Cusco to Machu Picchu on the local...

This is not in fact an option at all unless you're a Peruvian national.  The local is a subsidised daily service for Peruvians, leaving from Cusco's San Pedro station in downtown Cusco.  Local trains also run 3 times a day between Machu Picchu and Hydroelectric station (for the Machu Picchu hydroelectric power station), 40 minutes beyond Machu Picchu.  For the record, here are the times of the Local:

Option 2, Cusco to Machu Picchu by tourist train...

Listen up, this is my top tip.  From 2009 until 2019, the only train to Machu Picchu leaving from Cusco's original city centre San Pedro Station was the Local for Peruvian nationals (option 1 above), which tourists can't use.  All other trains left from Poroy, an inconvenient 20-minute 13 km (8 mile) bus or taxi ride outside Cusco.  This meant missing out on the scenic part of the railway between Cusco & Poroy where the train climbs a mountainside using five switchbacks, known locally as El Zig-Zag.  I'm delighted to report that in May 2019 Inca Rail resumed running from Cusco San Pedro station.

Inca Rail trains leave Cusco San Pedro station in downtown Cusco at 05:00, 08:28 & 08:43, returning from Machu Picchu at  16:12 & 19:00.

So my top tip, choose www.incarail.com and select a departure from Cusco San Pedro Station, so you can leave conveniently from downtown Cusco, avoid an 8-mile bus or taxi ride, and enjoy the whole historic original railway experience from downtown Cusco to Machu Picchu, including the scenic switchbacks.

True, the train takes an hour from Cusco to Poroy, a bus or taxi takes 20 minutes, but as you'd have to allow for a safe margin between taxi & train at Poroy there's hardly any real time lost taking the train all the way, and you're here for the experience after all.  If you get any photos of San Pedro station, the Inca Rail trains or the scenery, please get in touch!

Which train to choose?  Inca Rail offer several types of train.  The 08:28 has Voyager Class & First Class carriages. The 05:00 & 08:43 have 360 Class.  To compare classes, see incarail.com/compare-train-services.  One-way fares in USD:  Voyager Class $78, 360 Class $110, First Class $230.

Check times & prices & buy tickets at www.incarail.com.

Option 3:  Poroy to Machu Picchu by tourist train...

PeruRail tourist trains all leave from Poroy, a local halt 13 km (8 miles) west of Cusco, and Inca Rail trains stop there too.  PeruRail's trains sadly stopped using Cusco central station in April 2009 and they have not resumed.

PeruRail is part of Belmond, the people who run the Venice Simplon Orient Express.  PeruRail took over operation of this network from the Peruvian railway company ENAFER in 1999.  However, competitor Inca Rail now runs an increasing number of trains, www.incarail.com.

How do you get to Poroy?  You'll need to take a bus or taxi from downtown Cusco to Poroy.  A 3-seat taxi from Cusco to Poroy costs around 20-30 soles (4-6 or $6-$9) per taxi, and takes around 20 minutes.  There's a local bus for 6 soles per person.

In the off-season January to April PeruRail now operate a 'bimodal' service by bus from Cusco to Pachar station to pick up the train there, the trains don't start at Poroy during this period.  So even more bus, even less train...

What if the trains from Cusco or Poroy are fully-booked?  Going all the way from Cusco San Pedro to Machu Picchu is the best option, with Poroy to Machu Picchu the next best.  But if you can't get a seat on one of the Inca Rail trains that start in Cusco San Pedro or (next best) the PeruRail trains starting in Poroy, don't worry.  There are a couple of trains from Urubamba to Machu Picchu (see option 3 below) and plenty of shuttle trains between Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu, see option 4 below.  It just means a longer bus or taxi journey from Cusco until you can board the train.

Which train to choose?  How much does it cost?  I'd choose Inca Rail as they provide trains once more from downtown Cusco.  But if you choose PeruRail, they run four different trains from Poroy to Machu Picchu every day, aimed at different budgets:

 Cusco ► Machu Picchu

 Company:

Inca Rail

PeruRail

PeruRail

PeruRail

PeruRail

Inca Rail

Inca Rail

 Train or class:

360

Expedition

Vistadome

Vistadome

Hiram Bingham

Voyager/First

360

 Cusco San Pedro station (city centre) depart:

05:00

-

-

-

-

08:28

08:43

 Cusco depart by taxi or bus:

|

(by taxi)

(by taxi)

(by taxi)

(by taxi)

|

|

 Poroy (13 km west of Cusco) depart:

05:55

06:40

07:35

08:25

09:05

09:28

09:43

 Ollantaytambo arrive/depart:

07:20

08:29

09:15

10:32

|

11:15

11:30

 Machu Picchu arrive:

08:48

09:54

10:52

12:11

12:24

12:41

13:06

 Machu Picchu ► Cusco

 Company:

PeruRail

Inca Rail

PeruRail

PeruRail

PeruRail

Inca Rail

 Train or class:

Expedition

360

Vistadome

Vistadome

Hiram Bingham

Voyager/First

 Machu Picchu depart:

15:20

16:12

16:43

17:23

17:50

19:00

 Ollantaytambo arrive/depart:

17:08

17:50

18:31

19:02

|

20:41

 Poroy (13km west of Cusco) arrive:

19:05

19:39

20:23

20:52

21:16

22:35

 Cusco arrive:

(by taxi)

|

(by taxi)

(by taxi)

(by taxi)

|

 Cusco San Pedro Station arrive (city centre):

-

20:35

-

-

-

23:35

Poroy to Machu Picchu is 86 km (54 miles). Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is 38 km (24 miles).  Poroy is 3486 metres above sea level, Ollantaytambo 2600m, Machu Picchu 2350m.

Option 3:  Urubamba to Machu Picchu by train...

Urubamba is 53 km (33 miles) from Cusco, and the next best option to joining a train at Poroy.  Only PeruRail operate from Urubamba.

Option 4:  Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu by shuttle train...

If you can't get a ticket for one of the PeruRail trains starting direct from Cusco or Poroy or Urubamba, don't worry, there are many shuttle trains from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, some run by PeruRail and others by Inca Rail.  Ollantaytambo is 89 km (56 miles) from Cusco, 1 hour 40 minutes by taxi, so a longer bus or taxi ride, shorter train ride.

First, buy your entry tickets to Machu Picchu Inca ruins at www.machupicchu.gob.pe...

Then buy train tickets online at www.perurail.com or www.incarail.com...

Where is the station at Machu Picchu?  How do you get to the Inca ruins?

The station referred to as 'Machu Picchu' is in fact located in the local town of Aguas Calientes, approximately 8 km (5 miles) from the ruined Inca city of Machu Picchu.  A bus link runs every 30 minutes from the station to the ruins costing US$24 return, payable in either US$ or local Peruvian currency.  To find out more about the Inca ruins, see www.peru-machu-picchu.com or www.machupicchu.org.

What's the journey like?

The Vistadome & Expedition trains (the latter previously known as the Backpacker) used to leave from Cusco's main San Pedro station on the Avenida Sol and spent half an hour climbing a series of Switchbacks or zig-zags up the mountainside to gain height.  Unfortunately, all trains now start from Poroy (the Hiram Bingham always started here), and so miss this interesting section.  After Poroy the train descends into the Sacred Valley and the Andean foothills, along the Urubamba river.  You'll pass colourful villages and herds of llamas.  Cusco to Machu Picchu is 107 km (67 miles), Poroy to Machu Picchu is 86km (54 miles).  The best views are on the left hand side of the train going up to Machu Picchu and on the right hand side returning, as the train follows the river and this is the side which the river is on, with the odd Inca ruin or terrace visible as the train runs along the Sacred Valley.  PeruRail won't assign seats on a particular side, but you can easily move over if there are empty seats after departure.

On the train to Machu Picchu, beyond Ollantaytambo   Mountains viewed through the roof windows of the Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu shuttle train

On the train to Machu Picchu...  This is a PeruRail shuttle train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. Courtesy of Tim Roberts

 

Viewing the mountain tops through the roof windows!  Photo courtesy of Tim Roberts

The train from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Peru   The tourist train to Machu Picchu in Peru

Above:  The Expedition train from Cusco to Machu Picchu running alongside the Urubamba River... Photo courtesy of Dennis Nichol

 

Above:  The Expedition train from Cusco approaches Machu Picchu.  Courtesy of 's'.

The PeruRail Vistadome train...

This is the mid-range option, a good choice.  The price includes complimentary snacks & non-alcoholic drinks served at your seat.

The Vistadome train to Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes station   Inside the Vistadome train

The Vistadome train at Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu).  Photo courtesy of  Nicola Herbert

 

Inside the Vistadome train.  Photo courtesy of www.andybtravels.com.

The deluxe Hiram Bingham train...

This is the luxury option, the most expensive of the trains to Machu Picchu and one in a category all by itself.  This luxurious train ride includes a gourmet brunch on the outward trip and dinner on the way back, a selection of Peruvian wine, cocktails, entertainment, bus connections, Machu Picchu entrance fee and a guided tour.

The Hirham Bingham train to Machu Picchu   Hirham Bingham dining car

The Hiram Bingham, showing the open-air observation car at the rear. Photo courtesy of www.andybtravels.com.

 

Hiram Bingham restaurant. Photo www.andybtravels.com

Dinner on the Hirham Bingham train   The train to Machu Picchu alongside the Urubamba River

An elegant dinner is served on the way back. Photo courtesy of www.andybtravels.com.

 

The Hiram Bingham train on its way to Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of www.andybtravels.com.

Cusco to Puno, Lake Titicaca

Better than the train to Machu Picchu?

PeruRail also run two excellent trains between Cusco & Puno on Lake Titicaca, a scenic 385 km. 

The Andean Explorer cruise train is all-new, it started running in May 2017.  Before May 2017 there was only a daytime train called the Andean Explorer - the name Andean Explorer now applies to the new luxury cruise train, the old daytime Andean Explorer is now renamed the Perurail Lake Titicaca train.  Bear that in mind when looking at reviews or info from past years on the internet!

 Cusco ► Puno & Arequipa

 From May 2017...

Perurail Titicaca Train

(formerly Andean Explorer)

Andean Explorer:

Spirit of the Water

Andean Explorer:

Peruvian Highlands

 Cusco Wanchaq station depart:

07:10  Wed, Fri, Sun

11:00  Tuesdays

11:00  Thursdays

 Puno arrive & night on board:

17:30  Same day.

22:15  Tuesdays

22:15  Thursdays

 Optional day on Lake Titicaca:

    - 

08:30  Wednesdays

08:30  Fridays

 Day ends at Puno station:

    -

15:30  Wednesdays

15:30  Fridays

 Puno depart:

    -

    -

17:00  Fridays

 Arequipa arrive:

    -

    -

15:30 Saturdays

 Puno ► Cusco

 From May 2017

Perurail Titicaca train

(formerly Andean Explorer)

Andean Explorer:

Spirit of the Andes

Andean Explorer:

Andean Plains & Islands

 Arequipa depart:

    -

    -

20:00  Saturdays

 Puno arrive:

    -

    -

??:??  Saturday

 Puno depart:

07:30  Mon, Thurs, Sat

12:00  Wednesdays

17:00  Sunday

 Cusipata arrive:

    |

 20:08  Wednesdays

    |

 Cusipata depart:

    |

 05:30  Thursdays

    |

 Cusco Wanchaq station arrive:

17:50  Same day

07:36  Thursdays

12:58  Monday

Cusco to Puno is 385 km (241 miles).

Fares & how to buy tickets...

Fares for Perurail Lake Titicaca train:  $202 - $346 per person in a seat, including meals.

Fares for Andean Explorer 1-night trips:  From $840 for one person or $960 for two people including lunch, dinner, breakfast & private en suite sleeper.

Fares for Andean Explorer 2-night trips:  From $2,140 for one person or $2,450 for two people including lunch, dinner, breakfast & private en suite sleeper.

How to buy tickets:  www.perurail.com for times, fares & online booking.

The Lake Titicaca train...

These photos show the original pre-2017 Andean Explorer, which has now been renamed the Perurail Lake Titicaca Train.  Feedback have been great - travellers say it's better than the train to Machu Picchu.

Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno   Andean Explorer lounge car

The Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno at La Raya. Photos courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com.

 

The bar-lounge in the Andean Explorer's tail-end observation car.

Inside the Andean Explorer from Cusco to Puno in Peru   The Andean Explorer train en route to Puno

The pullman-style interior of the Andean Explorer.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Nichol

 

The Andean Explorer at La Raya, showing the observation car with open-air viewing deck.  Courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com.

Scenery along the Cusco to Puno train line   Scenery along the Cusco to Puno train line

Scenery along the railway between Cusco and Puno.  Although these shots show the railway, they weren't taken from the train.  Photos courtesy of Tim Roberts

The Andean Explorer from Cusco to Puno stopped at La Raya for a photo opportunity   Lunch on the train from Cusco to Puno

The Andean Explorer , stopped at La Raya for a photo opportunity. Photo courtesy of Dennis Nichol

 

Ready for an elegant lunch... Photo courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com.

Lima to Huancayo & Huancavelica

Lima to Huancayo...

The railway between Peru's capital Lima and Huancayo was once the highest railway in the world, until the Chinese built the line to Lhasa in Tibet.  The air-conditioned Tren de Sierra links Lima & Huancayo once or twice a month (outside the November-April rainy season, at least), with touristico (1st) class & clasico (2nd) class & bar car.  The Touristico fare is around 385 Soles ($125 or 80) and includes breakfast and complimentary tea, coffee, water and soft drinks.  Clasico fares start at 230 Soles ($75 or 50).  You can check departure dates & book tickets online at www.ferrocarrilcentral.com.pe.  In Lima, the train departs from Desamparados or Monserrate stations.  Bear in mind that the high altitude doesn't suit everyone!

Train from Lima to Huancayo, Peru   Tren de Sierra from Lima to Huancayo

The Tren de Sierra from Lima to Huancayo.  Photos courtesy of Lynne Quayle

On board the train from Lima to Huancayo   Huancayo station

The Tren de Sierra from Lima to Huancayo.  Photos courtesy of Lynne Quayle

Huancayo to Huancavelica...

Until some years ago, twice daily trains used to link Huancayo with Huancavelica.  The route then ceased for several years but it's reported that in 2015 this line is back in action. 

Traveller Thomas Gisler reports (September 2015): "The famous Huancayo - Huancavelica railway (the 'Macho Train') is back to service! It is scheduled three times a week, leaving Huancayo on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 06:30 and leaving Huancavelica on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 06:30. as well.  The duration of the trip is roughly six hours though it can easily last longer.  The journey can be done as a long day trip, taking local transport from Huancavelica back to Huancayo but an overnight stay in Huancavelica is much more convenient.

On the day of my visit there was a huge queue at the train station in Huancayo as early as 05.45.  There is no seat reservation or booking of tickets in advance in Huancayo, so be early at the train station to avoid disappointment!  Ticket prices are very cheap at 9 soles (less than $1) 2nd class and 13 soles in the buffet car, also referred to as "first class".  This is the last remaining 'non-tourist-train' in Peru, serving the locals and offering a unique train experience to the few tourists who make it there despite the lack of any information available online. The journey is very scenic as the train is following the valley and its river, passing through tiny little villages.  On arrival in Huancavelica it is possible to buy the ticket back to Huancayo for the following day, which is definitely a good idea.

Huancayo to Huancavelica train   Huancayo to Huancavelica train

The 2015 Huancayo to Huancavelica train.  Photos courtesy of Thomas Gisler.


Recommended guidebooks

To get the most out of your trip to Peru, you'll need a decent guidebook.  For the serious independent traveller this means either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both guides have everything you need - plenty of background historical and cultural information, plus practical information.

Buy Lonely Planet Peru online at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Rough Guide to South America online at Amazon.co.uk

 

 


Accommodation in Peru

    

Favourite hotel search & price comparison: hotelscombined.com

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It's been named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site in the World Travel Awards and I recommend it to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling the same hotel for less.

Favourite hotel booking site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings in one place here. 

You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Flights...

Overland travel by train around South America is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But if a long-haul flight is unavoidable to reach it in the first place, try  Virgin Atlantic who now fly from the UK to India, a good choice for both price and service.

Or use the Skyscanner search tool to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

skyscanner generic 728x90

Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

Get a VPN for safe browsing when you travel.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use them myself.

 


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