Getting there & away
At the time of research there was only one way for diehard travelers to avoid taking the train to Aguas Calientes. But check with locals to see if the following route is still feasible before setting off! First, board a bus from Cuzco bound for Quillabamba and get off at Santa María, where there’s a simple lodge, run by Lorenzo Cahuana (email@example.com), where you can stay overnight and hire local guides to trek to Aguas Calientes via Santa Teresa. Otherwise, you can usually catch a minibus leaving Santa María in the wee hours of the morning for Santa Teresa (US$1.50, two hours), where there’s an adrenaline-fueled cable-car river crossing. It’s about a two-hour walk from there to the hydroelectric plant, then another two hours along the defunct train tracks to Aguas Calientes. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s a memorable one, and it’ll save you loads of money, too. You can also do this route as a guided multisport tour.
Except for a nearby hydroelectric plant, Aguas Calientes is the end of the line from Cuzco. Tourist trains arrive at the new station close to the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. You can buy tickets in front of the station, but during high season make reservations as far in advance as possible. Trains from Cuzco arrive in Aguas Calientes after about four hours, while cheaper services from Ollantaytambo take around 1½ hours.
The Vistadome services (one-way/round-trip US$66/113) leave at 3:30pm and 5pm daily, and are usually full with returning day-trippers. They are scheduled to arrive in Cuzco at 7:20pm and 9:25pm, respectively. The other Cuzco-bound backpacker train (US$46/73) leaves at 3:55pm, arriving in Cuzco at 8:20pm. If you want to speed things along a little, catch a taxi back to Cuzco’s city center from Poroy station (around US$5).
The Sacred Valley line to Ollantaytambo runs three Vistadome services (one-way/round-trip US$47/66) that return from Aguas Calientes at 8:35am, 1:20pm and 4:45pm, arriving in Ollantaytambo at 10:05am, 2:40pm and 6:15pm, respectively. There’s also a high-season (April 1 to October 30) backpacker train (round-trip only US$57) leaving Aguas Calientes at 4:20pm and arriving in Ollantaytambo around 6pm.
Check www.perurail.com for updated schedules, fares and reservations.