Your Complete Guide to Train Travel in Peru
South America is not known for its abundance of train travel options. However, Peru might be the one major exception. Reaching Machu Picchu, the most visited destination in Peru, almost certainly requires a train ride for non-trekkers via the country’s two major train companies – PeruRail and Inca Rail.
However, apart from the Cusco and Machu Picchu region, passenger train travel in Peru is scarce where cross-country travel is mostly done via flight or bus. Passenger train travel has come and gone out of style over the years in Peru. And the current rail network in 2018 is mostly concentrated around the heavily visited southern Peruvian cities like Cusco, Puno, and now Arequipa.
Due to the complex Andean geography, travel by train in Peru is in stark contrast to European trains. Built more for relaxation and sightseeing than for speed, Peruvian trains take patience. But they can be a great way to slow things down during travels and see Peru in a more intimate way.
Like so many things in Peru, good information for travelers is not readily available to the public. Most information on Peruvian train options is left to what PeruRail and Inca Rail decides to circulate on their websites.
In that vein, this guide to train travel in Peru endeavors to lay out information for any Peruvian traveler looking to travel Peru via rail
Trains Between Cusco and Machu Picchu
Getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco can be confusing. The city of Cusco sits about 75 kilometers away from the ruins through a maze of hills and mountains to arrive to Aguas Calientes – a small town that sits over 1,000 feet below Machu Picchu itself.
Between Cusco and Aguas Calientes lies the Sacred Valley, containing both the cities of Urubamba and Ollayntambo. From the Sacred Valley, the route to Machu Picchu really narrows down through a series of canyons along the Urubamba River. The difficult access to reach Aguas Calientes has made train travel nearly always required (with the exception of trekkers arriving via the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trail, or other trek that reaches Machu Picchu).
There are three principle departing trains stations to get to Machu Picchu, though it needs to be noted that none of these is in the city of Cusco itself. Below are the regional train stations and a listing of which trains depart from them (in order of their proximity to Cusco) –