The standard adventurous traveller way to get to Machu Picchu is to do a four-day mountainous hike along the Inca Trail. You can’t move in Cuzco for people offering these accompanied treks and shops selling and renting appropriate equipment. But I know my limits and had discounted this option a long time before I got here. I was going the lazy way by public transport.
I was under the mistaken impression that I could catch a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes (the ugly tourist town that serves the ruins) but it turns out that the train only runs all the way from Cuzco in the dry season. This being the wet season, I had to catch a collectivo (a minibus that leaves when all the seats are taken) to the village of Ollantaytambo and catch the train there. There are a variety of classes of train at different prices. They all do the short 40km journey in about an hour and a half but vary in comfort and quality of catering (which is included in the price). I’d bought my tickets in Cuzco already – the mid-range price service out and the cheap one back. The main difference between these was that the slightly more expensive one had all the seats facing forwards and was made up of fewer carriages. My carriage also included three generations of a loud and self-satisfied US family, but that may not have been part of the standard package.
The train line follows a steep-sided river valley downstream, passing some villages and a few small Inca sites. Indeed the whole area is littered with them. I could have visited one at Ollantaytambo while I was waiting for my train, but I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for the archaeological feast the next day.
A year or two ago, the Peruvian government sensibly introduced a limit on the number of entrance tickets available per day for Machu Picchu. I’d been assured in Cuzco that at this time of year they never came anywhere near to selling out all 2500, but I still felt nervous until I’d scampered round to the ticket office in Aguas Calientes and bought my ticket for next day. I also bought my bus ticket for the ride up to the site, but that was mostly to avoid queuing in the morning.