The remote location of Machu Picchu high up on a mountainside in the Sacred Valley rules out straightforward access by road, so either your route into or out of Machu Picchu will involve taking the train to/from Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo) – a town that’s swelled around the station at the base of the valley.
Take a Train
The easiest approach is by train from Cusco along the floor of the Urubamba Valley, then by bus up to the entrance of the ruins. Alternatively, from the station at Aguas Calientes you can opt to take a strenuous walk up to Machu Picchu – expect it to take 90 minutes to two hours.
The Classic Inca Trail
Those with more time in hand tend to opt for the classic 24- or 26-mile trek – the distance is determined by which of the two trailheads you set out from. Either way, this is a taxing four-day route that can nevertheless by squeezed into three days or truncated to two days if you hop off the train at Km104 to follow the Camino Sagrado de los Incas to Machu Picchu. But why rush when there are so many scenic and archaeological glories – such as Phuyupatamarca and Winya Wayna – to explore along the way? On the final morning of the trek, many groups stop to watch the sunrise over Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate (Inti Punku), but you can get ahead of the crowds by pushing on past this point and see the light slowly fill the ruins at much closer quarters.
Alternate Trekking Routes
Two other options with approximately the same duration as the classic route are the Lares and Vilcabamba treks. A longer and no-less-breathtaking alternative is the six-day Salkantay trek. You can opt to follow this route, which makes the intrepid trekker as comfortable as possible by replacing tents with resorts and lodges instead. You’ll definitely see fewer other trekkers on this route compared to the classic trail.
Last and longest is a circular route featuring a bus journey from Cuzco to the village of Cachora then seven days of trekking that links the spectacular Inca site of Choquequirao in the Salkantay range with Machu Picchu via a string of peaks and ruins. This trek does, though, require a higher level of fitness than the other ways to Machu Picchu – not least the 1,500-metre slog up from the Apurimac River to ‘The Cradle of Gold’.