The new, improved service offered by Peru Rail between Cusco and Machu Picchu – one of the finest mountain train journeys in the world – enhances the thrill of riding tracks through such fantastic scenery even further by offering excellent service and comfortable, well-kept carriages.
Rumbling out of Cusco around 6 am, the wagons zigzag through the backstreets, where tiny houses cling to the steep valley slopes. It takes a while to rise from the teacup-like valley once it reaches the high plateau above.
The train rolls through fields and past highland villages before dropping rapidly down into the Urubamba Valley, utilizing several major track switchbacks; you get to see some of the same scenery twice. It reaches the Sacred Valley floor just before getting into Ollantaytambo. From the windows, you can already see scores of impressively terraced fields and, in the distance, more Inca temples and storehouse constructions.
Ollantaytambo’s pretty railway station is right next to the river, and here you can expect to be greeted by a handful of Quechua women selling their mainly woolen craft goods.
The train continues down the valley, stopping briefly at Km 88, where the Inca Trail starts, then follows the Urubamba River as the valley gets tighter (no road). The mountain becomes more forested as well as steeper and seemingly taller.
These days, the end of the line is the new station at Machu Picchu Pueblo (also known as Aguas Calientes), a busy little town crowded into the valley just a short bus ride from the ruins themselves.