I took the '5am train' 3 weeks ago, is still in service; you should leave cusco around 3am to get at Ollantaytambo Station around 4:30am-4:45am to have some time to do the line and buy the train tickets. You can also buy the tickets in advance in the "Poroy Station" one day before.
If your party is big enough, I highly recommend that you get a train from Ollantaytambo instead of Cusco. You can get to Ollanta. faster by taxi then by train, and, for us, it ended up being cheaper.
Also, there is not much of a difference between the backpacker train and the Vistadome. I recommend just taking the cheaper train that matches your schedule best!
Please make certain that you have your train tickets to Macchu Picchu You should plan on purchasing the tickets well in advance of your planned trip to Macchu Picchu I have attached copies of the latest train schedule and costs depending on type of train
Travel agencies generally try to make tourists take the Vistadome train The backpacker is fine for most travelers the Local train is not available to foreigners It is only for Peruvians
I have attached three photos of the train schedule and costs Please use them to make your choices
Its a wonderful trip Try and spend at least one night at Aguas Calientes
For those of you traveling to Macchu Picchu by train, please make certain that you have your train reservations before coming to Cusco especially if you are coming in the summer months of June through August. The train has basically two reasonable methods of traveling for tourists. The backpacker and the Vistadome. The backpacker is the more reasonable rate while the Vistadome is much more. Both are acceptable ways to travel to Macchu Picchu but having the tickets is most important. I have been in Cusco several times when I have had to wait several days before I have been able to obtain backpacker tickets to and from Cusco to Macchu Picchu. Similarly, when people have tried to get the tickets before leaving for Cusco they are advised that only Vistadome tickets are available. Order your tickets as early as possible and always consider staying over at least one if not two nights in Aguas Calientes/Macchu Picchu.
It is a four hour train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu and 15 minutes longer coming back. The trip starts and ends with the switchbacks leaving and returning to Cusco. At first I thought I was unlucky when Raices Turismo got my name wrong on the ticket and my train left while they were getting another one. It turned out I was put on the Inka class train, which is the highest class of the tourist trains. There are trains for locals that are much cheaper. My ticket said $58 (it was included in the tour). You should compare today's train cars with the ones Catalysta took in 1981.
You are given an assigned seat. My tablemates were Robert from Germany, and Simone and her mother from Mexico City. I missed having a guide on the way to Aguas Calientes but both Robert and Simone spoke English and made the trip both pleasant and interesting.
The service was great. We even had a tablecoth and cloth napkins at breakfast. I don't know about the other trains, but we had a fashion show on the way back with the attendants modeling woolen clothes, which were for sale (not cheap). One of the guys also did a native dance. It was really fun. I'll include a couple of pictures below.
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