Cusco is the home to two independent railway networks. "Ferrocarriles de Santa Ana." is the railroad to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). The railway has a branch line from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. This railway has a length of 185 km and is narrow gauged 914 mm. "Ferrocarril del Sur" is the railway to Arequipa.
This railway has branch lines from Juliaca to Puno and from Arequipa to Mollendo. The railway is standard gauge 1435 mm and has a length of 940 km.
The train does four Switchbacks (Zigzag's) as soon as the train leaves the San Pedro Station in Cusco. These switchbacks allow the train to climb up to the high part of Cusco and to reach the station of Poroy.
From Poroy, the train begins its descent towards Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. The train passes another switchback downhill before it reaches the station of Pachar. Pachar is the junction where the railroad from Cusco meets the railway from Urubamba. Every train to Aguas Calientes stops at Ollantaytambo.
The trains continue their way towards Aguas Calientes following the Urubamba River. There is not an official road going to Aguas Calientes. The small village is only accessible by train. Aguas Calientes is the departure town from where the buses leave to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
The railway tracks continue 15 km downriver to the Hydroelectric Power Station ("Hydroelectrica"). Recent floods destroyed the rail tracks between the "Hidroelectrica" and Quillabamba.
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.
The luxurious way to travel to Aguas Calientes is aboard the Hiram Bingham Train. The company Belmond and Perurail together run the Hiram Bingham Train. They named the train after Hiram Bingham, the re-discoverer of Machu Picchu in 1911. This luxury train runs daily from 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.
*These dates can change due to the rainy season. Check with Perurail and Belmond before you book.
🚂 Travel Tip: During the rainy season is the journey on the Hiram Bingham Train short. During this time, the train runs from the Belmond Hotel in Urubamba to Aguas Calientes only. Try to get an excellent deal when traveling during the rainy season. Consider going on a regular train to Ollantaytambo, which takes only 90 minutes.
The Sacred Valley Train is another luxurious train to Aguas Calientes. Perurail runs this train since 2017 from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes. The Sacred Valley Train is the remodeled "old" Andean Explorer Train that ran before Cusco - Puno. The train has dining and an observation/bar car.
Vistadome and Expedition Trains are regular trains to Aguas Calientes. The service quality and comfort on both trains are similar. These trains leave from Poroy near Cusco and from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. A few Expedition and Vistadome trains stop in Piskacucho Km 82 for the hikers of the Incatrail.
🚂 Travel Tip: There is no significant difference between Vistadome and Explorer Trains. I recommend not paying a hefty supplement for the Vistadome Trains.
Incarail trains offer a variety of comfort options aboard their trains. All compete with Perurail's Vistadome and Explorer Class.
Incarail runs the "First Class Train" from the Cusco San Pedro Station to Aguas Calientes. The train runs 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. The train ticket includes a meal and the transport to Machu Picchu.
The "360 Machu Picchu Train" is Incarail's intermediate train option. The trains leave from Cusco San Pedro, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. The advantage of the "360 Machu Picchu Train" is that it has a larger observation area than the "First Class Train." The food served on board is a box lunch.
The "Voyager Train" is Incarail's regular train to Aguas Calientes. The train departs from Cusco San Pedro, Poroy, and Ollantaytambo.
🚂 Travel Tips: Leaving from Cusco San Pedro Station has advantages for railfans and individual travelers. Railfans will enjoy the four switchbacks between the San Pedro Station and Poroy. These switchbacks are inside the city of Cusco, which adds a unique touch to the train journey.
Leaving from Cusco San Pedro Station is also interesting for the individual traveler. There is no need to organize transport to Poroy. You can reach the San Pedro Station on foot from your hotel in Cusco's historic downtown.
You cannot bring suitcasesses to Aguas Calientes. Bring what you need for one night in your hand-luggage. Leave your suitcase in the storage room of your hotel in Cusco. 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. You get a delicious dinner on board. Try to get a reasonable rate for the Hiram Bingham journey from Aguas Calientes to Poroy.
One daily train runs in each direction from Aguas Calientes to the "Hidroelectrica." Unfortunately, locals-only 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 if you like trains.
This route begins at Cusco's Wanchaq Railway Station. Wanchaq Station is at 3363 m.a.s.l. The railway follows the Huatanay River until it confluences with the Vilcanota River. Then the railroad follows the Vilcanota river upstream. The highest station on the railroad is at La Raya at 4,314 m above sea level. After "La Raya," the railroad follows the Ayaviri river into the wide Altiplano. The first large city the train passes is Juliaca. After Juliaca, the Lake Titicaca appears. Puno is the final destination of the railroad. Puno lies at 3830 m.a.s.l.
The railroad from Juliaca to Arequipa reaches its highest point in "Crucero Alto" at 4480 m.a.s.l. "Crucero Alto" is the third-highest railway station in the World. From here, the railroad winds down to Arequipa at 2335 m.a.s.l. The train travels 304 km from Juliaca to Arequipa.
The railroad follows the Rio Quilca from Arequipa and ends at the Port of Matarani. The distance of the railroad between Arequipa and the Port of Matarani is 172 km. There is a short branch line to the neighboring city of Mollendo. The Port of Matarani is the largest in southern Peru.
Belmond and Perurail operate the luxury trains south of Cusco. No regular passenger trains are running between Cusco and Puno and Arequipa. No passenger trains are running between Arequipa and Matarani and Mollendo.
Belmond introduced the Andean Explorer Train in 2017. This train is the first and only luxury sleeper train in Latin America. The train travels in three days (two nights on the train) from Cusco to Arequipa and from Arequipa to Cusco. The shorter two day trip (one night on the train) goes from Cusco to Puno and from Puno to Cusco.
The train journey on board the Andean Explorer train is a fantastic experience. The ticket price includes all meals and some drinks. This journey has its price, but it is well worth it if you like an extraordinary train travel experience.
🚂 Travel Tip: My favorite travel option is the train journey from Cusco to Arequipa. When you travel from Cusco to Arequipa, you enjoy a large part of the trip from Puno to Arequipa during the day.
The Perurail Titicaca Train is a 1920 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. That means that you can enjoy the beautiful scenery during the whole journey.
* The timetable is indicative only. Check the exact departure times with Perurail when you book the train journey. Be on time at the railway station.
Check our Small Group Tours for trips from Puno to Cusco and Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Have a look at "Buenos Aires to Lima: Salt-Flats, Lakes and Machu-Picchu" and "Majestic Andean Rail Adventure" for details.