The competitive services offered by the three Cusco-based train operators – Perurail, Inca Rail and Machu Picchu Train – between Cusco and Machu Picchu provide one of the finest mountain train journeys in the world, with all the thrills and vistas associated with riding tracks through fantastic scenery, along with very good service and comfortable, well-kept carriages.
The longest of the train options (the others leave from Ollantaytambo and Urubamba), only offered by Perurail, rumbles out of Poroy station, 15–20 minutes by taxi from Cusco centre. The wagons zigzag their way through the backstreets, where little houses cling to the steep valley slopes. It takes a while to rise out of the teacup-like valley, but once it reaches the high plateau above, the train rolls through fields and past highland villages before eventually dropping rapidly down into the Urubamba Valley via several major track switchbacks, which means you get to see some of the same scenery twice.
The train reaches the Sacred Valley floor just before getting into Ollantaytambo, where from the windows you can already see scores of impressively terraced fields and, in the distance, more Inca temple and storehouse constructions. Ollantaytambo’s pretty railway station is right next to the river, and here you can expect to be greeted by a handful of Quechua women selling woollen crafts. The train continues down the valley, stopping briefly at Km 88, where the Inca Trail starts, then follows the Urubamba River as the valley gets tighter (which is why there’s no road) and the mountain becomes more and more forested, as well as steeper and seemingly taller. The end of the line is the new station at Machu Picchu Pueblo (also known as Aguas Calientes), a busy little town crowded into the valley just a short bus ride from the ruins themselves. From Cusco (Poroy Station) the journey takes 4 hours; it’s 2 hours from Ollantaytambo and 3 hours from Urubamba. Whichever route you’re taking, buy tickets well in advance online.