Fantastic Train Journeys out of Cusco, Peru

Written by Peter Lauffer
July 2, 2020
Cusco is the home to two independent railway networks. "Ferrocarril de Santa Ana" is the railroad to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). The railway has a branch line from Pachar to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. This railway has a length of 185 km and is narrow gauged 914 mm. "Ferrocarril del Sur" starts at Matarani port, goes through Arequipa to Juliaca, and ends in Cusco. Branch lines go from Juliaca to Puno at the shores of Lake Titicaca and from Matarani to Mollendo at the Pacific coast. The railway is standard gauge 1435 mm and has a length of 940 km.
Incarail First Class Train on its way to Aguas Calientes
Incarail First Class Train on its way to Aguas Calientes

"Ferrocarril Santa Ana" from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

This train commences the first of four switchbacks (zigzags) immediately after departing from the San Pedro Station in Cusco. These switchbacks allow the train to ascend to the station of Poroy in the higher section of Cusco.

Railway Station Ollantaytambo
Railway Station Ollantaytambo

From Poroy, the train begins its descent towards Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, passing through another switchback, this time downhill, before reaching the station of Pachar. Pachar is the junction where the railroad from Cusco meets the one from Urubamba.

Every train to Aguas Calientes stops at Ollantaytambo.

Trains follow the Urubamba River as they continue towards Aguas Calientes. This small village is accessible only by train (there are no official roads going there).

Aguas Calientes is the departure town from which buses leave for the citadel of Machu Picchu.

The railway tracks continue 15 km downriver to the Hydroelectric Power Station ("Hidroelectrica"); however, recent floods destroyed the rail tracks between the Hidroelectrica and Quillabamba.

Ferrocarril Santa Ana - Railroad Cusco - Pachar - Aguas Calientes - Hidroelectrica
Ferrocarril Santa Ana - Railroad Cusco - Pachar - Aguas Calientes - Hidroelectrica

Trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes

There are currently three companies operating tourist trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes. There is one daily local train between Cusco and the Hydroelectric Power Station.

Sacred Vallvey Train to Ollantaytambo
Sacred Vallvey Train to Ollantaytambo

The Hiram Bingham Train

The luxurious way to travel to Aguas Calientes is aboard the Hiram Bingham Train, run jointly by the companies Belmond and Perurail. Named after Hiram Bingham, the re-discoverer of Machu Picchu in 1911, this luxury train runs daily May to mid-January from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. From mid-January to the end of April*, the train runs from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes.

Waiting for Dinner on the Hiram Bingham Train
Waiting for Dinner on the Hiram Bingham Train

*These dates can change due to the rainy season. Check with Perurail and Belmond before you book.

🚂 Travel Tip: During the rainy season, the journey on the Hiram Bingham Train is shortened so that it runs only from the Belmond Hotel in Urubamba to Aguas Calientes. For this reason, try to get an excellent deal when traveling during the rainy season because the official ticket price is high for the short train trip. Consider going on a regular train to Ollantaytambo, which takes only 90 minutes. Organize private transportation from there to Cusco.

Perurail Trains

The Sacred Valley Train is another luxury train to Aguas Calientes. Perurail has run this train since 2017 from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes. The Sacred Valley Train is the remodeled "old" Andean Explorer Train that ran previously between Cusco and Puno. The train has dining and an observation/bar car.

Vistadome Train
Vistadome Train

The Vistadome and Expedition trains are other regular trains to Aguas Calientes. The service quality and comfort on both trains are similar. These trains depart from Poroy near Cusco and from Ollantaytambo. A few Expedition and Vistadome trains stop in Piskacucho (km 82) for the hikers of the Incatrail.

🚂 Travel Tip: There is no significant quality difference between the Vistadome and Explorer trains, so I recommend not paying any hefty supplement for the Vistadome trains.

Incarail Trains

Incarail 360 Train
Incarail 360 Train

Incarail trains offer a variety of comfort options that compete with Perurail's Vistadome and Explorer Class.

Incarail runs the "First Class Train" from the Cusco San Pedro Station to Aguas Calientes daily from May to mid-November. The rest of the year, the train leaves from Ollantaytambo. The "Incarail First Class Train" has a small observation balcony, and the ticket includes a meal and transportation to Machu Picchu.

Incarail First Class Train Lounge Car
Incarail First Class Train Lounge Car

The "360 Machu Picchu Train" is Incarail's intermediate option. These trains run from Cusco San Pedro, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. The advantage of the "360 Machu Picchu Train" is the larger observation area, as compared to the "First Class Train." A box lunch is served onboard.

The "Voyager Train" is Incarail's regular train to Aguas Calientes and departs from Cusco San Pedro, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo.

Cusco San Pedro Station

Leaving from Cusco’s San Pedro Station has advantages for railfans and individual travelers. Railfans will especially enjoy the four switchbacks between San Pedro Station and Poroy. These switchbacks are all inside the city of Cusco and add a unique touch to the journey. In addition, there is no need to organize transport to Poroy, and travelers can reach the San Pedro Station on foot from hotels in Cusco's historic downtown.

Incarail Train at the San Pedro Railway Station
Incarail Train at the San Pedro Railway Station

🚂 Travel Tip: Visit Machu Picchu during the afternoon when it is much less crowded.

You cannot bring suitcases to Aguas Calientes, so just bring in your hand luggage what you’ll need for one night. Leave your suitcase in the storage room of your hotel in Cusco.

🚂 Travel Tip for Railfans: Travel in the morning from Cusco San Pedro to Aguas Calientes. Visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon. Book your journey to Cusco on the Hiram Bingham Train, and you’ll get a delicious dinner on board. Try to get a reasonable rate for the Hiram Bingham journey from Aguas Calientes to Poroy.

Trains to the Hidroelectrica

One daily train runs in each direction from Aguas Calientes to the "Hidroelectrica." Unfortunately, only locals can buy tickets for this train journey. It is possible to hike between Aguas Calientes and the "Hidroelectrica" in about 2-3 hours one way. The hike is easy and scenic, especially if you enjoy watching trains.

Andean Explorer Train in La Raya
Andean Explorer Train in La Raya

"Ferrocarril del Sur" from Cusco to Puno and Arequipa

Railway Map Ferrocarril del Sur Cusco - Juliaca - Puno and Juliaca - Arequipa

This route begins at Cusco's Wanchaq railway station, which is 3363 meters above sea level. The railway follows the Huatanay River until the river joins with the Vilcanota River, at which point the railroad follows the Vilcanota upstream. The highest station on the railroad is at La Raya (4,314 meters above sea level). After "La Raya," the railroad follows the Ayaviri river into the wide Altiplano, where the first large city passed is Juliaca. After Juliaca, Lake Titicaca appears, with Puno being the final destination (3830 meters above sea level).

The railroad from Juliaca to Arequipa reaches its highest point in "Crucero Alto" at 4480 meters above sea level. "Crucero Alto" is the third-highest railway station in the world. From there, the railroad winds down to Arequipa at 2335 meters above sea level. The entire trip from Juliaca to Arequipa is 304 km.

Branch Line Arequipa-Mollendo

This line follows the Rio Quilca from Arequipa and ends at the Port of Matarani, a distance of 172 km. There is then a short branch line to the neighboring city of Mollendo, which hosts the largest port in southern Peru.

Tourist Trains between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa

Belmond and Perurail operate the luxury trains south of Cusco. No regular passenger trains run between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa.

Also, no passenger trains run between Arequipa, Matarani, and Mollendo.

Andean Explorer Train between Arequipa and Juliaca
Andean Explorer Train between Arequipa and Juliaca

Andean Explorer Train

In 2017 Belmond introduced the Andean Explorer train, the first and only luxury sleeper train in Latin America. This train travels over the course of three days (including two nights on the train) from Cusco to Arequipa and from Arequipa to Cusco. The shorter two-day trip (with only one night on the train) goes from Cusco to Puno and from Puno to Cusco.

The journey onboard the Andean Explorer is quite marvelous. The ticket price includes all meals and some drinks, and though the price may be somewhat hefty, it’s well worth it if you are looking for an extraordinary rail experience.

🚂 Travel Tip: My favorite travel option is the journey from Cusco to Arequipa. This journey incorporates a large portion of the very pleasant daytime trip from Puno to Arequipa.

Timetable for 3 Days/2 Nights Journey from Cusco to Arequipa

Thursday: Dep: 11:00 AM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station
Thursday: Arr: 10:30 PM Puno Titicaca Port Belmond Station
Friday: Excursion Lake Titicaca
Friday: Dep: 04:50 PM Puno Titicaca Port Belmond Station
The train stays overnight in Saracocha.
Saturday: Arr: 03:30 PM Arequipa Railway Station

Timetable for 3 Days/2 Nights Journey from Arequipa to Cusco

Saturday: Dep: 8:00 PM Arequipa Railway Station
Sunday: Arr: 06:00 PM Puno Titicaca Port Belmond Station
Sunday: Excursion Lake Titicaca
Sunday: Dep: 04:50 PM Puno Titicaca Port Belmond Station
The train stays overnight in Marangani
Monday: Arr: 01:30 PM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station

Timetable for 2 Days/1 Night Journey from Cusco to Puno

Tuesday: Dep: 11:00 AM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station
Wednesday: Arr: 11:30 PM Puno Titicaca Port Belmond Station
The train stays overnight in Puno.

Timetable 2 Days/1 Night Journey from Puno to Cusco

Wednesday: Dep: 12:00 PM Puno Titicaca Port Railway Station
Wednesday: Arr: 09:00 PM Cusipata Railway Station (overnight stay)
Thursday: Dep: 05:30 AM Cusipata Railway Station
Thursday: Arr: 07:35 AM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station

Perurail Titicaca Train
Perurail Titicaca Train

Perurail Titicaca Train

The Perurail Titicaca Train is a 1920s-style Pulman train. The journey between Cusco and Puno takes 10 hours 30 minutes. From the open-air observation car, you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery. The ticket price includes meals and some drinks.

🚂 Travel Tip: The Perurail Titicaca Train travels during daylight, which means you can enjoy the beautiful scenery during the entire journey.

Timetable for Perurail Titicaca Train Journey from Cusco to Puno*

Departures: Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday

Dep: 07:00 AM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station
Arr: 05:30 PM Puno Main Railway Station

Timetable for Perurail Titicaca Train Journey from Puno to Cusco*

Departures: Monday, Thursday, and Saturday

Dep: 07:30 AM Puno Main Railway Station
Arr: 06:00 PM Cusco Wanchaq Railway Station

*This timetable is indicative only. Check the exact departure times with Perurail when you book the train journey, and arrive on time at the railway station.

Check our Small Group Tours for trips from Puno to Cusco and Cusco to Aguas Calientes. See "Buenos Aires to Lima: Mountain Lakes & Machu Picchu" and "Majestic Andean Rail Adventure" for details.