Trip Date 01/18/2018
Posted On 10/02/2018 17:30:00
Destinations | Peru | Ollantaytambo | Aguas Calientes | Machu Picchu | PeruRail Vistadome Train Service | Machu Picchu Train Service | How to Get to Machu Picchu
While those who desire adventure travel hike from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, we saved our feet for our visit at the site rather than traveling to the site. Our round trip travel via the PeruRail Vistadome was perfect for getting us between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes. After an afternoon of exploring and a partial night of sleep, we had easy access to the bus which would take us to the entrance of the incredible Inca site.
If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu, take a look at this post for everything that you need to decide if the train is the right means of transportation for you, as well as step-by-step instructions on making reservations. While it is certainly more expensive than hiking, the ride aboard the train is very enjoyable ... and, if time is an issue, riding the train will save you almost 4 days!
Buying Tickets for PeruRail
Although reservations for 2019 travel became available earlier, we began our search for the PeruRail Vistadome train schedule many months before our trip. Schedules for 2018 travel were finally made available in November 2017, and we quickly made our reservations. We chose the 10:32 AM train for our trip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and the 3:48 PM train for our return one day later.
Purchasing tickets over the internet is straightforward, and the confirmation emails provide instructions for picking up the actual documents required for travel at one of the many PeruRail offices. We had planned to pick-up our tickets while in Cusco, however during our flight layover at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru, we noticed a PeruRail ticket counter. We presented the required information and the agent quickly printed and reviewed our four round-trip tickets (which included seat assignments) for accuracy.
Ollantaytambo Train Station
With your tickets in hand, arrive at the Ollantaytambo boarding platform with time to spare. After making ourselves comfortable on the concrete benches right near what appeared to be the boarding area, we realized that we were at the ticket windows. We still needed to walk a little further down the road to reach the boarding platform.
Finding your assigned seats as well as storage space between the seat backs for your backpacks should be easy once you are allowed to board. We were assigned to Carriage A - Seats 25, 26, 27 and 28, and by following the recommended luggage guidelines, we had plenty of room to put our bags between the seats and out of the way for our journey.
PeruRail Train Travel from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
In just over an hour and a half, you will travel alongside the Rio Vilcanota and Rio Urubamba while enjoying the views through the panoramic windows.
Similar to the trek along the Inka Trail, your train ride will take you through valleys, tunnels and near bridges - but without requiring near as much effort! In fact, if you keep your eyes open, you may even be able to find a brave soul hiking along the narrow path through the jungle not very far away from your comfortable seat aboard the train.
When traveling aboard the Vistadome, you will be offered a light snack. During our morning journey, the snack included an apple and a blueberry elderberry pastry served with a selection of beverages including mango juice. During one of their walks down the aisle of our train car, the attendants also offered some souvenir items for sale.
The lush scenery was enjoyable during our entire journey. Tall mountains, rushing river waters and falling water from a few cascades ... as well as some rain falling from the sky as we neared Aguas Calientes. In addition to background music, there was some audio commentary broadcast with information on sites along the route. At times, the audio was difficult to hear due to the background noise on the train, however we lucked out as we were seated across from a couple who had hired a private tour guide whose voice often carried across the aisle!
The view along your journey will frequently change as you get nearer to Aguas Calientes. You'll even travel by some ancient buildings nearby land that was likely terraced hundreds of years ago.
As you ride from your starting point to Aguas Calientes, don't miss the opportunity to look up through the windows to see the view overhead!
Aguas Calientes Train Station
Upon arrival into Aguas Calientes, all passengers are routed on a walk through Mercado de Abastos (a large handicraft market) in order to get anywhere. As you might expect, catching your return train will require you to walk through the market again! Situated in the center of town, access to many of the sights in Aguas Calientes is easy from the train station and market. Hopefully you can plan your visit so that you have at least a half day to tour the museum and botanical gardens and soak in the hot springs.
After nearly 24 hours in Aguas Calientes, including a rainy and cloudy morning in Machu Picchu, we contemplated an earlier return to Ollantaytambo. The staff at the Aguas Calientes PeruRail train station were extremely helpful. We inquired about changing the departure time of our originally scheduled 3:48 PM return journey to the 1:37 PM departure. Within several minutes we had new tickets, this time in Carriage B - Seats 47, 48, 49 and 50.
PeruRail Train Travel from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo
Once aboard your return journey, you will again be offered a snack. As our return was aboard an afternoon train, our snack was a tasty focaccia bread ... served with my drink of choice Chincha Morada - a sweet and flavorful purple corn juice!
Since your journey will follow the same route with the same scenery (just in the opposite direction), the PeruRail staff puts on a show which includes local music and a performance of the saqra dance complete with the traditional costume and mask.
Following the saqra performance, you will be entertained with a fashion show featuring both men's and women's clothing including scarves, wraps, sweaters and dresses - all made from local alpaca fibers.
As you might expect, the clothing on display will be offered for sale following the show!
At a total round trip cost of $160.00 per person, the PeruRail Vistadome service between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) is quite enjoyable. Although not inexpensive, the train will save wear and tear on your body by eliminating the 4 day hike, and the light snacks and beverages, great scenery and onboard entertainment on the return journey are all included in your ticket price.
Tips for Planning Your Train Journey with PeruRail
After months of research and planning, here's a few tips that should help with planning your train ride with PeruRail:
- Visitors to Machu Picchu can choose to start their train trip at either the Poroy Station (about 20 minutes from downtown Cusco) or the Ollantaytambo station. PeruRail also offers a selection of several classes of train service including Expedition (the most economical), Vistadome (our chosen service) and Belmond Hiram Bingham (for those with higher standards who prefer to purchase a package including their transportation to, and tour of, Machu Picchu).
- The railway between Cusco and Ollantaytambo is closed annually from January to April. Due to the closure, train service is not offered between the two cities during this 4 month period leaving travelers with two options. One option is to ride the bus offered through PeruRail which takes passengers from the Wanchaq Station (5 minutes from Cusco) to Ollantaytambo. The second option is to find your own transportation between the two cities.
- Rather than using the service available through PeruRail, reserving a taxi tour through Taxidatum provides travelers with year round transportation between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. There are a variety of options available, each allowing some time to stop and explore the Sacred Valley along the way. (For additional information, see our post titled Traveling Through Peru's Sacred Valley.
- For those who choose to ride the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, your return journey can be booked for the same route, or if you prefer, you can return to Cusco for a slightly higher fare. Other options for your return from Ollantaytambo to Cusco include either a taxi or collectivo . Taxi and collectivo drivers will be available as you exit the train station. At S/.10 (about $3.50 USD) per person, travel via collectivo allows you to experience a journey with the locals . (We rode in a 19 passenger van which made about six very quick pick-up / drop off stops as we traveled the Peruvian countryside through Urubamba, Chinchero and Cachimaya during the two hour trip to Cusco.)
- It is recommended that reservations be made at least three months in advance for those traveling during peak season (April 1 to November 14 and December 21 to December 31). Although we were traveling during the rainy (low) season, we actually purchased our train tickets prior to making reservations for entrance into Machu Picchu. (Tickets for the archaeological site are not made available until several days before year end. The good news, however, is that Machu Picchu tickets don't typically sell out during low season.)
- Even when purchased online, tickets must be picked up a minimum of one hour before scheduled departure at either a PeruRail sales location or train station ticket office. While there are a number of convenient options, if you have an extended layover in Lima, Peru, consider picking up your tickets at the store inside of Jorge Chavez International Airport. This will ensure that you have your tickets prior to your trip, will allow you a little more time to see the sights and won't require you to get to the train station over an hour before your departure.
- As there are no luggage cabins, only carry-on luggage is permitted to be taken aboard the train. PeruRail defines carry-on luggage as a bag or back pack with a maximum weight of 11 lbs. (5 kg.) and measuring (height + length + width) no more than 62 linear inches (157 cm.). For those wishing to store larger pieces of luggage, PeruRail passengers can leave luggage at the train stations in Poroy, Ollantaytambo or Machu Picchu. If you would like to avoid the hassle of bringing your luggage to a train station, many hotels will provide luggage storage for their guests at no additional charge.
Navigating the PeruRail Website
To find the most up to date information on train service and ticket availability, visit the PeruRail website at https://www.perurail.com. A brief description of the information provided on each tab is as follows:
- Trains: Information which will help you learn about the classes of train service available so that you can select the best one for you and your companions. (The "Compare" option provides the same information that is provided on the "Service Details" tab.)
- Schedule: Arrival and departure times for the class of service and date of your choosing.
- Service Details: Provides a table summarizing the amenities (gifts, food, beverages, extra costs, etc.) provided with each class of service.
- Promotions: Information, terms and conditions for any currently available promotion(s).
- Destinations: Helpful tourist information for the selected train destination.
- Travel Recommendations: General tourist information for the area including required travel documents, transportation, health, climate, currency, etc.
- Find Us: Locations of stores, ticket offices and train stations for ticket purchases and/or pick-up.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Buying Train Tickets
When you are ready to purchase your tickets, visit the PeruRail website at https://www.perurail.com and follow the steps outlined below:
1. Select "Round Trip" or "One Way". (If you prefer to start and end your journey at two different locations, you'll need to
buy two one way tickets. For example, Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu with a return trip from Machu Picchu to Cusco.)
2. Select your destination from the provided list. (If you plan to purchase round trip tickets from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, select Machu Picchu.)
3. Choose the start/end point for your trip (Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba).
4. Select your outbound travel date.
5. Select your return travel date.
6. Increase or decrease the number of adult/child tickets until the number is accurate for your transaction.
7. Select "Find Train Tickets".
8. Scroll down to select the radio button for your preferred time and outbound class of service (Expedition, Vistadome, etc.). If purchasing round-trip tickets, continue scrolling down to select your preferred return service and time. (You do have the option of selecting two different classes of service if you so desire.)
9. Scroll down to confirm the total price per passenger, review the printed information and select "Continue".
10. Review all details of entire itinerary including total cost. To make any changes, select return, and follow steps 9 and 10 above again. Once itinerary is correct, select "Continue".
11. Fill in all required information for Passenger 1, including whether or not passenger wishes to receive promotional emails. If Passenger 1 is "purchaser" (i.e. person who will be submitting payment, select "Purchaser details").
12. Complete information for additional passengers, making sure that "Purchaser details" is selected only for the one person submitting payment.
13. Select "Continue".
14. Review all details of entire itinerary, passenger information and total cost. To make any changes, select return, and follow steps 11, 12 and 13 above again. Once all information is correct, select "Continue".
15. Select method of payment, agree to all "Terms and Conditions" and complete required details.
- Selecting "PayPal" followed by "Pay Now" immediately takes you to the Pay Pal express checkout page in the name of the "Purchaser" selected in step 11 or 12 above.
- Selecting VISA or MasterCard followed by "Enter your card number" brings up the fields for you to enter your "Payment Details" (card number, expiration date and security code). Select continue and follow the onscreen instructions to complete your purchase. (Note: If paying by VISA or MasterCard, your credit card must be issued by and registered with a bank offering "Verified by VISA" or "MasterCard SecureCode" or your payment will be declined.)
After completing your purchase, confirmation emails will be promptly sent to the email addresses input for each passenger. The emails contain your purchase code, instructions for picking up tickets, boarding information, your itinerary as well as some helpful links with additional information.
For some ideas on spending your time in Aguas Calientes (either before or after your visit to Machu Picchu), take a look at our post titled How to Spend an Afternoon in Aguas Calientes. You'll find a variety of ideas that include getting even more exercise, learning more about the Incas and Machu Picchu, relaxing, shopping and more.
When planning to visit an attraction such as Machu Picchu, how do you typically like to travel:
- in the most inexpensive way possible, even if it means hiking for several days?
- in the most luxurious form of transportation at a much higher price? or
- in a moderate and more economical means?
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