The “Lost City of the Incas” Machu Picchu may have been lost for several centuries, but that was until American adventurer Hiram Bingham rediscovered the site and introduced the magnificent Machu Picchu to the world. The reason why the city was undiscovered till the year 1911 is largely thanks to its unique location.
It is because of its unique and relatively remote location that the question how to travel to Machu Picchu is one of the most common questions among people wanting to visit Machu Picchu. Basically there are two ways to get to Machu Picchu; either by train or walking.
Machu Picchu is located on the Urubamba River that runs from the Sacred Valley to the jungle passing by Machu Picchu. In the Sacred Valley, the valley itself is quite broad with large fertile lands that flood once a year along the river banks. From Ollantaytambo onwards the river valley becomes tighter and tighter till the point that the riverbanks go straight up into the granite walls of the surrounding mountains. This results in the fact that the river has not much space for the railroad let alone an additional road. The railroad runs down the valley with the river on the left hand side till you reach the village called Machu Picchu Town – better known as Aguas Calientes. The name Aguas Calientes comes from the Thermal Baths located just outside of the village.
Aguas Calientes is the town from where all the people, accept the people coming from the Inca Trail Hike; pass through to see the site of Machu Picchu. As the only access to the town is by railroad, everything that was used in the construction of the town of Aguas Calientes was “imported” by train! There are several different daily trains run by three different companies; PeruRail, IncaRail and the Machu Picchu Traveller. Peru Rail is the oldest company that besides tourist trains also operates the “local” trains – cheaper but only for Peruvian citizens- IncaRail is a newer company operating different touristic trains and the Machu Picchu Traveller is a small company with one train daily, departing from the Sacred Valley. PeruRail operates the most famous trains such as the Expedition Train (formerly known as the Backpacker Train), the Vistadome Train and the Luxurious Hiram Bingham Train in cooperation with Orient Express.
The other option is to hike to Machu Picchu. The most famous hike to Machu Picchu – maybe even the most famous hike on the continent- is the 4 day classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This hike takes you from the Urubamba Valley over several mountain ranges, valleys and highland plains to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The hike is a complete network of ancient paths made and used by the Inca as access to this sacred site. For people looking to hike but not to camp there is also the two day alternative that starts further down the Urubamba River Valley and takes one full day to reach the site. This hike also takes you over original Inca Paths and similar to the 4 day hike arrives to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.
Finally there is the Inka Jungle tour to Machu Picchu. This low cost tour is sometimes offered and is comprised of several different activities such as biking, rafting and hiking to get to Aguas Calientes. The tour takes you to the Malaga Pass at 4300 meters above sea level from where you can downhill bike till the village of Santa Ana. In Santa Ana you can spend the night in one of the local hostels and the next day set off for a wild water rafting trip before hiking the last 10 clicks to Aguas Calientes. The hike will take you through some fascinating landscapes till you reach the “hidroelectrica” the last stop of the train after Aguas Calientes. With some luck travellers of this route can hitchhike with the train the last couple of kilometers to Aguas Calientes.
There are and have been many plans to build a road to Aguas Calientes but so far all of these plans have been unsuccessful either due to the lack of funds or divided interests. As it looks like this will not change in the foreseeable future, we would like to stress that even though the journey takes its time and has its costs, the trip to and from Machu Picchu, whether by foot or by train is for many people one of the highlights of visiting this amazing Wonder of the World!
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