Cusco to Machu Picchu by Bus and Train
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Cusco to Machu Picchu
Like many people our trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu started with a dream. When I was 13 my Father gave me a book about the discovery of Machu Picchu in Peru and from that moment I was spellbound and promised myself that if it was ever possible I would go there someday.
Fast forward 44 years later and my dream finally came true.
Getting from Lima to Cusco
Because we were working on a tight time frame (4 days) we decided to fly from Lima to Cusco. The flight from Lima to Cusco took 1 hour and 20 minutes, and passed over some of the most spectacular scenery of snow-capped Andean Mountains.
If you have more time you can catch a bus from Lima to Cusco, the journey is a long one, taking 20 hours or more to reach Cusco.
I have to admit I was a little anxious about altitude sickness (having read to many horror stories) and as we edged closer to Cusco my apprehension grew. You can imagine my relief when I disembarked from the plane and I could breath normally, this lasted until I started walking up a small ramp, suddenly I felt like I was ascending the North face of Mt Everest.
That’s the way Altitude Sickness affected us, one minute we would be feeling great, the next huffing and puffing. We found that most people young and old, were suffering varying degrees of altitude sickness.
Hotels recommend chewing Coca leaves or drinking Coca tea which was pleasant to drink and did help. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol also helps the effects of altitude sickness.
Built on Inca ruins, the city of Cusco shows its Spanish colonial influence with every turn you take. Strolling through the city you can’t help being inspired by the architecture of the townhouses, Cathedrals and Plazas.
The Plaza de Armas was a perfect example of these influences. This majestic square houses two picturesque Spanish Colonial Churches, the Tempo de la Compania de Jesus and the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. We paid an entry fee to tour the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and were rewarded by the splendour of the individual chapels, each adorned with artworks and statues of the Virgin Mary, all wearing lovingly embroidered, jewel encrusted robes.
Despite the Spanish influence, when looking into the faces of Cusco’s residents it’s not hard to imagine them being transported back in time to a place where they wore the Inca finery of their ancestors.
In fact walking the streets you will find many women opting for brightly coloured clothing which is a mixture of Spanish Colonial peasant dress and Pre- Spanish styles. Many carrying children on their back secured in a K’eperina, a large carrying cloth of intricately woven fabric which is knotted at the front.
Exploring the back streets that lead off Plaza de Armas we discovered many small shops selling colourful handcrafts, beautifully crafted mirrors, textiles and souvenirs as well as art galleries selling exquisite paintings and sculptures.
Moving further away from the main square, we came across the Mercado San Pedro. This mind-blowing market is full of colour and excitement as sellers coax buyers with their wares.
There is a vast array of exotic fruits and vegetables, and interesting varieties of chilli and corn. Cheeses, poultry, meat, pigs, herbs and spices are plentiful. You will also find gruesome selection of half heads, the nose and mouths of some animal, possibly an Alpaca.
At the bottom of the market there are a lot of small food venders selling delicious dishes, not knowing the name we just pointed to something we liked and took a chance. Some of the other exotic dishes we tried while in Cusco were Cuy (Guinea Pig) which was delicious a cross between chicken and pork.
On our final day in Cusco we were lucky enough to find a festival in progress. Processions of brightly dressed dancers made their way around the square to the clash of drums, brass and singing, a carnival atmosphere which was electrifying.
Cusco to Machu Picchu
There are a few options when it comes to getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
- Trek up to Machu Picchu
- Book online with Peru Rail (Vistadome and Expedition class don’t include bus, entry or tour fees)
- Book online with tour companies like Viator
- Book a tour when you get to Cusco.
In the end I decided that with only a 4 day window I didn’t want to take a chance with my dream so I took the easy option and the booked online with Viator and chose the Expedition Train class. This tour included train, entrance, bus and tour fees.
If you have plenty of time and have no time frame in mind I would definately book a tour from Cusco and try to have at least one night in the beautiful town of Aguas Calientes which is in the valley below Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu by Bus and Train
Waking early, we were picked up by a minibus and whisked through the streets to a bus station where we lined up to catch one of the many buses that would take us on the two-hour drive to meet our train.
The day was overcast and as we drove through the outer suburbs of Cusco it started to rain. Through the rain we drove out into the country side passing farmhouses, farms with varying livestock and crops. We wound our way through mountains and valleys, crossed rivers and streams, passed towns large and small catching glimpses of everyday life, until we arrived at the railway station.
At Pachar we boarded the train for the two-hour journey. The train was clean and comfortable, the staff were efficient and friendly. During our journey we were served drinks and a light snack.
The scenery was spectacular, with lush vegetation and shear mountain walls, from time to time we would spot Trekkers making their way up to Machu Picchu.
We continued our trip, following the river as it snaked its way to Aguas Calientes. Arriving at Aguas Calientes we were assigned a guide according to language and taken to another bus to take us up to Machu Picchu.
Walking up a steep hill from the bus station, the sun came out just as we caught our first sight of Machu Picchu, it was everything I dreamed it would be.
Everyone has seen the iconic pictures of Machu Picchu, but what you don’t see are the even higher mist shrouded mountains that surround it.
Watching the river flow way down in the valley below, you have to admire the Incas for this astounding architectural achievement. Around 200 structures with astronomical, ceremonial, religious and agricultural significance dot the stone terraces that make up Machu Picchu.
With our Guide we climbed the stairs and walkways of Machu Picchu, learning about Inca culture, and about the many unsolved mysteries that make this place so famous. We were struck by the beauty of the gardens, where an iridescent hummingbird collected nectar from the flowers, and Llamas grazed on the terraces.
Back To Cusco
In the afternoon we took the three buses and train back to Cusco, picking up exhausted Inca trail Trekkers along the way. Listening to their stories you couldn’t help but admire and respect their achievement.
A big thank you to Peru Rail who manage to transport so many people to Machu Picchu a day with such efficiency and smiles.
We were captivated by Peru and sad to leave this fascinating country. In taking the journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu I have fulfilled a life long dream, it is an experience I will never forget.
Where to stay in Cusco
Hotel Ramada Costa del Sol Cusco is a short taxi ride from the airport and was our home for our stay in Cusco.
The Hotel Ramada Costa del Sol Cusco is a converted 17th century mansion which is traditionally decorated, and a short walk to the The Plaza de Armas and other Cusco tourist attractions. The Ramada Paprika Restaurant serves and traditional Peruvian and international cuisine. We tried Alpaca with chocolate sauce at which sounds unusual but was surprisingly delicious. Coca tea is available all day for those suffering altitude sickness.
Advantages…Close to Plaza de Armas and other tourist attractions, great restaurant, free Wifi.
Comfort level…Very good, clean rooms, warm helpful Staff.
Stay at the Hotel Ramada Costa del Sol Cusco
For a relaxing getaway in a first class hotel, with on site fine dining restaurant serving international and Peruvian cuisines in the heart of Cusco we recommend Hotel Ramada Costa del Sol Cusco. Check out the latest prices and more details.
Have you visited Machu Picchu? If so please share your experience in the comments below.