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Updated: 2nd September 2017
Sweaty and smelly, I stacked my now filthy duffle bag on the rack and hoped whoever was seated next to me on the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu didn’t have much of a sense of smell.
Two hours away in the touristy city of Aguas Calientes, a hot shower and real bed were waiting. I’d heard good things about the mesmerising train ride through the Andes, but in all honesty, I was more about the destination (said shower) than the journey right now.
My three-day relationship with baby wipes was coming to an end.
Take a scenic tour from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu on board Peru rail. This magical trip through The Sacred Valley is not to be missed.
The Lares Trek followed by scenic train
The Lares Trek had been magical, from sleeping under the Milky Way to sharing Coca leaves and later learning they are the raw ingredient for cocaine with locals. The lesser-taken hike around the Cusco region of Peru had far surpassed my expectations, and I couldn’t believe just how few other tourists we had encountered on the route.
At over 30km long and peaking at a 4800-metre altitude, it had been a rewarding challenge, yet right then, as much as I am a sucker for beautiful train rides, my mind was more focused on being clean than being amazed.
Within a few minutes of pulling out of Ollantaytambo station, however, that had all changed.
After spending the past few days admiring rugged landscapes, clear lakes and snow-topped mountains of the Andes out of breath due to the altitude, now being able to sit back in comfort and marvel out the window all seemed too easy.
Not that I was complaining.
The Inca Trail arrives on foot
I spared a thought for the ladies I had met earlier in the week who were now on their final day of the Inca Trail; they were going to arrive at Machu Picchu for sunrise tomorrow feeling as filthy and tired as I was at this moment.
To be honest, while I had always thought I would arrive at Machu Picchu on the same route, taking the train with the chance to rest before exploring the lost city suddenly seemed like a no-brainer. Having read the things to know before doing the Inca Trail, I was aware of just how tough that hike is, and even though it’s ‘cheating’ coming by train, my leg cramps were not feeling guilty.
Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu by train
The train journey from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu takes just under two hours, winding along the sometimes single-track route. Clinging to the valley river for most of the voyage, the views from the window are sublime. It’s a bit of a no-brainer if you’re wondering how to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu without hiking.
Crashing white rapids meander aggressively down the river before turning a bend and settling into a calmer trickle. Stone houses sit against the dominating backdrop of the Andes, sometimes complete with a fresh snow dump at the top.
Inside the tourist class carriage is just as impressive, with rooftop windows, locally crafted tablecloths and the chance to enjoy a sweet local drink made of purple corn, Chicha Morada, you are well looked after.
Even if you get the aisle seat, you will still have spectacular views thanks to the huge glass windows.
It is possible to take an extended service from Cusco although this doesn’t depart from the centre of the city. Chances are you will be visiting the charming village of Ollantaytambo to admire its archaeological site anyway. Taking the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu as a pose from Cusco will also help decrease the costs.
With a single from Ollantaytambo coming in around $50 minimum, this isn’t a cheap journey. The other reason any group tour in this part of the world may seem expensive is that With different types of trains, some including traditional entertainment, others more basic if you are travelling DIY or solo, it’s advisable to select the dates and service that most suit your budget.
Machu Picchu train as part of a tour
As I was going on the G Adventures Lares Trek tour, all of the ticketing had been taken care of for me. Booking in advance for trains, and especially the Inca Trail, is essential to ensure your travel dates are possible.
Is it worth the price? I’d say so. I only spent a few dollars to take my favourite train journey in the world, the Kandy to Ella train in Sri Lanka, but with Machu Picchu raking up around a million visitors a year, it’s a simple case of supply and demand.
After snaking your way slowly through the breathtaking scenery, you’ll arrive at Aguas Calientes, a town built at the base of the Machu Picchu mountain and a complete tourist overload after the remoteness of hiking in the hills.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Buses shuttle visitors up to the entrance of Machu Picchu, a different ticket to the train. It is around a 45-minute hike from the town to the entrance.
The queue for the bus at certain times of year and day is hectic. We started waiting around 5 am (the first bus is at 5.30 am), and after two hours, we finally got onboard. If it hadn’t been a cloudy and rainy morning hiding the sunrise, I would have gone on foot.
The rules for visiting Machu Picchu have recently changed. Instead of being allowed the whole day to marvel, ticketing is separated into a morning or afternoon session.
I expected to be under whelmed with this part of the tour, but Machu Picchu and the train ride both surpassed my expectations, I guess some places truly deserve all their hype.
Getting the ‘Instagram famous’ shot of Machu Picchu and learning the Inca history from our awesome guide Rudy was a perfect ending to my short but sweet week-long adventure in the Cusco region.
Whether you decide to train, run, hike or magically skydive into Machu Picchu, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is you don’t madly miss this modern world wonder, thinking it’s just too touristy.
Yes, it is ‘too’ touristy. Yes, it’s one of the most Instagrammed places in Peru. But trust me, it is with good reason.
Just leave the selfie sticks at home; they are thankfully banned.
A seven-day The Lares Trek trip with G Adventures is priced from £749pp. This includes all accommodation (four nights in hotels and two nights camping), most main meals (allow US$170pp for meals not included), all transport once joining the tour, and a dedicated specialist Lares Trek chief experience officer throughout. Travellers will also experience three ‘G Adventures for Good’ projects on this tour. Prices do not include flights. For more information or to book, please visit www.gadventures.co.uk.
* I was on assignment with Lonely Planet and G Adventures on this tour. All opinions are my own.