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Taking the Train to Machu Picchu: PeruRail or Inca Rail?

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While doing research on ways to get to Machu Picchu, I couldn’t decide which was better: PeruRail or Inca Rail? After arriving in Peru, I was able to visit Machu Picchu twice, and try each train operator. Below I’ve written a review of both PeruRail and Inca Rail.

Taking the Train to Machu Picchu

For starters, there are three ways to get to the famous 15th century Inca site of Machu Picchu:

  1. Hiking
  2. Train
  3. Bus or Car ( A lesser known option and, depending on whom you ask, maybe dangerous).

Both train operators share the same track that winds along the Urubamba River and passes breathtaking mountains.

View from the train window on the way to Machu Picchu

View of ruins from a train window on the way to Machu Picchu
The train passes ruins on the way to Machu Picchu

Important things to know about train travel to Machu Picchu

  1. There is no train station exactly in the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Both PeruRail and Inca Rail actually bring you to the small town of Aguas Calientes, which is just beneath Machu Picchu. You must then take a 20-minute bus ride up a mountain to get to Machu Picchu.
  2. There are a lot of options for departure points and times, so be sure to play around with them to see which ones are most economical for you and will allow you to spend the right amount of time sightseeing. For example, you could book a train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. You could then take a taxi to Ollantaytambo and spend a couple hours there sightseeing before catching the train.
  3. You’ll notice below I put the “starting price” of each train class. That’s because prices vary (even within the same class) depending on what time you choose to depart, and which city you choose to depart from.
  4. PeruRail advertises that there is a route from Cusco to Machu Picchu–please note the departure point is actually Poroy, just outside the city of Cusco, and you will need to either take a bus or a taxi to get to the train station.
  5. Some of the trains leave at night, which means you won’t get to enjoy the beautiful view. Keep this in mind before booking a night train.

Quick Comparison Chart: PeruRail vs. Inca Rail

PeruRail
(Departs from Cusco, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo)
*Prices shown are for departures from Ollantaytambo
Inca Rail
(Departs from Ollantaytambo)
ClassesApproximate Starting PriceClassesApproximate Starting Price
Expedition$45Economic$55
Vistadome$58Executive$47
Hiram Bingham$385.50First$135
  Presidential
(by request only)
 

Option 1: PeruRail

PeruRail is the most popular option, with the largest selection of departure times and cities. I went with PeruRail on my first trip to Machu Picchu.

Classes:

Expedition (Starts at $45)

Ample light from side windows and rooftop windows

Inside the PeruRail Expedition Train

When you book, make sure you get an actual window seat. As you can see, my “window seat” was missing…a window.

 

Modest snacks are included with the ticket purchase. They serve tea, coffee, and some pastries.

Snacks on PeruRail's Expedition train

Vistadome (Starts at $58)

The beautiful Vistadome train gets even more light from larger windows, plus more legroom and a large table.

Inside the PeruRail Vistadome train

Bigger snacks are included with the purchase of a Vistadome ticket. They serve tea, coffee, a sandwich…

Snacks in the PeruRail Vistadome train

And dessert!

Headed to Machu Picchu? Check out these tours!

Dessert and a drink on the PeruRail Vistadome train

A wacky fashion/horror show is also included with the purchase of a Vistadome ticket (though I kind of wish it wasn’t).

Traditional Peruvian costume during a PeruRail Vistadome show
Yeah, I don’t know either.

Hiram Bingham (Starts at $385.50)

I am too poor to afford this fancy service. But if you are able to shell out almost $400 for a one-way ticket, then go for it! And send me photos!

My Overall Experience of PeruRail

I was very impressed with PeruRail. The staff was friendly, the trains were extremely clean and well-kept, and I met awesome people (not guaranteed with each ride, of course).

[box type=”info”]*A Note on Purchasing Tickets from PeruRail*
I tried to buy tickets on perurail.com before leaving the U.S., but both of my credit cards were rejected several times. I emailed their customer support for help, but never received any assistance. This seems to be a common problem for travelers to Machu Picchu, which is why my mom and I ended up paying for our train tickets in person at the PeruRail office once we arrived in Cusco. Even then, we had problems with our credit card. The issue is PeruRail’s offices are located in England. Because we had alerted our bank that we were traveling in Peru, when the charge went through from England, our bank blocked it. To get around this, we withdrew dollars from the nearby ATM and paid in cash.[/box]

Option 2: Inca Rail

Inca Rail is a slightly lesser known option, with fewer departure times and only one departure city (Ollantaytambo). So if you’re staying in Cusco, you’ll need to take a private taxi or a combi/colectivo (shared van) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo to catch the train. This company is newer, having started in 2009, 10 years after PeruRail. Note that the Inca Rail First Class service runs only between April 1 to November 14 and December 21-31. Presidential Service runs by request only. I took IncaRail during my second trip to Machu Picchu.

Classes:

Economic (Starts at $55)

The Economic Class of Inca Rail differs slightly from Peru Rail’s Expedition class in that it has more legroom. Where PeruRail’s Expedition seating is more like airline seating, Inca Rail’s Economic class has each two seats facing another set of two seats, and a small table in between.

On this train, they also served us hot or cold beverages and a small snack. However, an employee told my friend that snacks and beverages are usually NOT included with the Economic ticket, but they were just “trying it out” at the time to see how it goes. So I’m not sure if it will be included in the future.

Executive (Starts at $47)

If you’re wondering why the Executive train, which is a step above Economic, is actually a few dollars cheaper, I have no idea why.

Anyway, notice the windows are a tad bit smaller than PeruRail’s Vistadome.

Inside Inca Rail's Executive train

The roof of IncaRail's Executive Train

Snacks are included with the purchase of an Executive ticket. My friend was a HUGE fan of their iced lemongrass tea!

First Class (Starts at $135)

As far as expensive purchases go, this one is more “economical” than PeruRail’s $385 Hiram Bingham train.

My Overall Experience of IncaRail

I was really surprised to find out Inca Rail is a newer company than PeruRail because the trains certainly seemed much older. The seats weren’t as shiny, the tables looked a little worn, and worst of all, the trains shook pretty badly. On the train from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo, it was shaking so badly I was afraid my coffee would go flying all over the place; going to the restroom was nearly impossible (I had to hold on for dear life). Later, I noticed a mechanic getting his tools out and looking down at the floor rather worriedly. When I asked an employee what was wrong, he assured me everything was okay, but the train was just shaking more than normal, so the mechanic was going to examine it and fix the problem. We were delayed for about 30 minutes as the mechanic fixed the problem.

If I were to do it again, which train company would I choose?

PeruRail. Not only were the trains much newer and the ride much smoother, but also the snacks were better (and I’m all about food). Plus, where else can you get a wacky fashion show like that one? Since the price differences between the two train companies are very slight, might as well go with the one with a more enjoyable experience.

Don't forget travel insurance to protect your trip in case of injury or delays! Get World Nomads

Want to check out full Machu Picchu tours with train tickets included?

Check out my other Machu Picchu posts!

  1. My Trip to Machu Picchu Part 1: What I Thought of This Famous Inca City
  2. My Trip to Machu Picchu Part 2: How Much It Cost & How I Did It 
  3. 10 Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu
Amy

Amy founded The Wherever Writer in June 2012 and handed this site on to a new owner in April 2019. An avid traveler and passionate entrepreneur, Amy continues to explore the world and encourage others to follow their dreams.

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