Cusco to Machu Picchu in One Day: Everything You Need to Know

Are you planning a trip to Peru and want to know how to do Machu Picchu as a day trip? You’ve come to the right place! Machu Picchu is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and seeing it in person is on most traveler’s bucket lists. You often hear of people doing the full Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which looks EPIC but takes a few days. Not everyone has that kind of time! Going from Cusco to Machu Picchu, or from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is totally do-able as a day trip. Keep reading for all the info!

cusco to machu picchu

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SEE ALSO: The Ultimate 7-Day Peru Itinerary for Adventure-Lovers

Machu Picchu Day Trip Overview:

  • Train to Aguas Calientes (4 hours from Cusco or 1.5 hours from Ollantaytambo)
  • Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (30 minutes)
  • Enter Machu Picchu during your allotted time slot and explore!
  • Beer with a view right outside of entrance
  • Either catch a bus back down, or hike down
  • Explore Aguas Calientes while you wait for your train back

Best Month to Go to Machu Picchu

best month to go to machu picchu

While Machu Picchu is open year-round, the best time to go is in the dry season (April – October). July and August are the peak times, so may be more crowded. I went in late September, and found it to be perfect weather and minimal crowds. Note: try to avoid going to Machu Picchu on a Sunday, as locals get in free on Sundays and it can be more crowded.

Should You Do a Guided Tour for Your Machu Picchu Day Trip?

ollantaytambo to machu picchu

If you aren’t a planner and don’t want to worry about buying your train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu Station, your bus ticket from Aguas Calientes up the hill to Machu Picchu, and your entry ticket to the site itself, then you may want to just do a guided tour.

For instance, this guided group day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu includes all the transportation + entry ticket and a guided tour of Machu Picchu, so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience!

However – you definitely don’t need to do a guided tour. I found it to be a pretty simple day trip to do on my own! Keep reading for all the deets.

First Things First: Buy Your Machu Picchu Tickets Ahead of Time!

Before you start planning your day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you need to purchase your entry ticket to Machu Picchu. Make sure you buy your tickets at least a month or so ahead of time to get your desired time frame and date. They sell out! Entry tickets cost between $40-65, depending on if you buy them from the official government site (which can be hard to navigate) or from a third party (linked above).

You have to buy your entry ticket for a specific one-hour window of time, and you must adhere to entering within that time frame. They are strict about this! Our tickets were for 11am entry. We got there at 10:55 and we had to wait 5 minutes before we were allowed to enter. Once you are inside, however, you can stay for up to 4 hours with the normal ticket. I found that this was plenty of time. We took our time meandering around and taking photos, and ended up staying inside the park for 2 hours.

Machu Picchu Ticket Options

There are few different options for the entry tickets to Machu Picchu:

  • Normal Entry
    • includes Circuits 1 and 2, which is where you’ll find the classic photo-ops
  • Huyana Picchu
    • Access to hike up the mountain that you see in the classic photo-op pictures of Machu Picchu, so you can get a birds eye view. This hike features steep and narrow stone stairs up to the top. There’s only 300 tickets per day, and it sells out fast! Book at least 4 months ahead of time if you want to hike this. Note that you can only access Huyana Picchu through Circuit 4. If you want to see the iconic photo-op spots of Machu Picchu, you will need to purchase a normal entry ticket on top of this, so that you can go to circuits 1 & 2.
  • Machu Picchu Mountain
    • Not as steep or challenging as the Huyana Picchu hike, but similarly epic views at the top!

I chose to just do the normal entry for my Machu Picchu day trip, since I was doing it on the front end of my trip and was still acclimating to the elevation. I also had other hikes planned during my 7 days in Peru and wanted to save my legs for those!

Next: Decide If You Want to Start from Cusco or Ollantaytambo

Cusco to Machu Picchu

When planning a trip to Peru, most people think to start their trip in Cusco, and plan to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu for their day trip. Cusco used to be the capitol of the Inca Empire, and has the architecture to prove it. There is so much to see and do in Cusco! It’s a 4-hour train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu station. The elevation in Cusco is 11,152 ft.

Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu

Ollantaytambo is a little village in the Sacred Valley. It’s super scenic with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings, and has some iconic ruins of their own. It’s a 1.5-hour train ride from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu station. The elevation in Ollantaytambo is 9,160 ft.

ollantaytambo to machu picchu
The streets of Ollantaytambo

Since Machu Picchu was on day 2 of my 7-day Peru itinerary, I decided to go from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu so that I could acclimate more slowly to the elevation (lower elevation than Cusco). Also, I had heard great things about this cute little town, plus it’s a way shorter train ride to Machu Picchu station!

However, if going from Cusco to Machu Picchu suits your travel plans better, that is also a great option. It will just be a bit of a longer day since the train ride is 4 hours each way (the train is scenic and fun, though!)

Next: Buy Your Train Ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Once you have your entry ticket secured, it’s time to book your train ticket to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). There are two train companies to chose from: PeruRail and Inca Rail. They both seem to be similar experiences, but I went with PeruRail and it was great! Pro tip: Try to get a seat on the left side on the way there for the best views.

How to Choose Which Train Time to Book?

I recommend booking a train that arrives to Aguas Calientes about 1.5 hours before your scheduled entry time to Machu Picchu. For instance, I took the 8am train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes that arrived at 9:30am, and I had 11am entry tickets. This timing worked out perfectly for my friend and me. We arrived, booked our bus tickets to go up the hill, bought some waters (and a fun hat) from one of the stores, went to the bathroom (note: bring change for this, it’s not free) and then got in line for the bus.

Tickets range (depending on which type of train you get) from $55-$125 one-way from Ollantaytambo, or from $75-$145 from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

Vistadome vs Expedition Train

The “Vistadome” train costs a little bit extra. They have panoramic views (windows on the ceilings) and the train itself is supposed to be nicer. I chose the Vistadome 601 train on the way there, and the Expedition 504 train on the way back (since it would be dark out anyways so I wouldn’t need the panoramic views for that leg).

If you are on a budget, there’s no dire need to splurge for the Vistadome. The views from the Expedition train are still great, and it seemed about the same quality of train to me to be honest!

The trains are nice. You get a table in front of your seat. If you’re traveling with friends, you could bring some cards or a game to play to kill some time (especially if you are going from Cusco to Machu Picchu). The views out the window of the train are absolutely incredible!

Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

There are two ways to get from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu entrance:

  • Hike (2.2 miles, 1,564 ft elevation gain)
  • Bus (30 minutes, $12 one-way)

I would consider myself an avid hiker, but I had no desire to hike from town up the switchback roads to the top of the mountain to Machu Picchu. It seems like the only main catalyst for doing the hike would be if you want to be one of the first ones at Machu Picchu (so you hike up before the busses even start running), which is not something we were doing, or if you are on a strict budget and don’t want to pay for a bus ticket.

I opted for the bus option to save time + save my energy for actually being at Machu Picchu. However, my friend and I did decide to hike back down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (downhill is much easier than uphill, unless you have bad knees). So you could do this combo if you are interested!

Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, it’s a quick walk across a bridge into the small town, where you will then buy your bus ticket. The town is small and as you walk through it, you can’t miss the sign that says “bus tickets”. Head there, stand in line, and buy your bus ticket. It’s $12 one-way or $24 round trip when you buy it at the counter.

If you are a planner and like to have all your tickets ahead of time, you could check out this option to purchase your bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in advance instead.

Once You Have Your Bus Ticket…

You should have a little bit of time to kill, but not too much! Lines start forming for the bus early, as people eagerly await their desired bus time to getting up the hill to Machu Picchu at the right time for their entry time slot.

We spent about 10 minutes buying some water from a local vendor, picking out a fun hat to wear for the day (there’s lots to choose from at these little shops adjacent to the bus lines), and used the bathroom (there are no bathrooms inside Machu Picchu). It was then that we realized there was already a line forming for the 10:30am bus, which is the one we wanted for our 11:00 start. We quickly got in line 30 minutes ahead of the bus departure time that we wanted in order to secure our spot.

The bus ride itself is on a nice charter bus, and is a quick 30-minute ride up some switchbacks to the entrance.

Exploring Machu Picchu

machu picchu day trip

Once you get there, wait for your time slot to start (they are strict about this and won’t let you in even 1 minute before your start time). Make sure you BRING YOUR PASSPORT for this Machu Picchu day trip. You need it to enter!

Note: There is a new(ish) rule that you need to have a guide with you to enter Machu Picchu. They do not enforce this at all. We did not have a guide, and it was totally fine. That being said, if you want a guide, locals will approach you in Aguas Calientes as well as at the Machu Picchu entrance that you can hire to come with you and be your guide.

Once inside, with the normal entry ticket you have access to Circuits 1 & 2. Follow the path that meanders up and around, and pretty soon after you will see your first glimpses of the iconic Machu Picchu view. Seeing this place in person was absolutely jaw-dropping. It looked even better than all the pictures I had seen! It is so special being there – this is a huge bucket list destination for so many people. There are several amazing viewpoints where you can take pictures from, and it didn’t feel crowded to me at all. My friend and I took a ton of pictures in one grassy spot that we liked and then just sat there, staring in awe at the view, for about 30 minutes. Just soaking it all in.

The trail then leads down to the agricultural terraces and ancient stone huts. It’s so cool to see the remnants of this mysterious ancient civilization!

After You’re Done Exploring Machu Picchu…

Once you leave Machu Picchu, you cannot re-enter.

There is a casual little bar right next to the entrance. 10/10 recommend getting a snack and a beer and have a drink with a view while you reflect on your experience seeing this iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site.

machu picchu day trip

If you have the budget (and the time) you can also get a nice lunch at the only hotel at the Machu Picchu entrance: Sanctuary Lodge: A Belmond Hotel. Even if you aren’t a guest, you are able to eat lunch in their lobby dining room. Fun fact: It is very expensive to stay here, but one of the many benefits is that you can be one of the first ones to enter the park before sunrise (before the busses start running).

Heading Back

To get back, you can either take the bus back down, or hike. It took us about an hour to hike all the way back down into town, for reference. Honestly, if I could do it again, I would just take the bus back down. The hike to town was not super rewarding, and we had to cross the asphalt road quite a few times. Towards the end of it, we were wishing we were already in town chilling. It’s a long, eventful day!

If you have time to kill before your train back to Cusco/Ollantaytambo, get some Pisco Sours at one of the bars along the river in town! There are a few spots to choose from, but we went to a place called Chullos Restaurant and sat at a table right along the river. It was just what we needed!

Make sure you get back to the train station at least 30 minutes before your train departure time, and then head back to Cusco or Ollantaytambo!

Cusco to Machu Picchu Day Trip Packing List:

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Enjoy!

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