How to reach Machu Picchu - a Travel Guide to Peru

by Alan Stock

The Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru are a truly magnificent sight. Recently voted one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, this ancient citadel sits on a ridge high in the Andes mountains. The World Heritage site attracts around half a million visitors every year, thanks to its spectacular location and fascinating history. But if you want to go to Peru and see these famous ruins - how do you get there? In this article we’re going to look at the best ways to reach Machu Picchu.

Getting to Machu Picchu - Overview

International travellers will generally fly into Lima, Peru’s capital. From there, the next stop is the city of Cusco in the Andes mountains. Most people fly into Cusco via Lima, only a short trip, or take a lengthy bus from the capital. The closest town to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes and this is where you’ll probably stay overnight before viewing the ruins.

Mustard Yellow buildings flank the streets in Lima, Peru

International travellers will generally fly into Lima, Peru Photo by Art DiNo

You can reach Aguas Calientes via train from Cusco, or do part of the journey by bus or hiking. The other option is to do one of the renowned treks to Machu Picchu, such as the Classic Inca Trail, most of which begin near one of the train stations, or from Cusco itself. Check out our Machu Picchu trekking routes article for more information.

Machu Picchu is just a short bus ride, or taxing hike, from Aguas Calientes (if you’re not already trekking into the site via the Inca Trail).

Flights to Machu Picchu

Getting to Peru - Lima

Most travellers will begin by flying into Peru’s international flight hub of Lima airport (Jorge Chávez International Airport - airport code LIM). This is located on the outskirts of Peru’s capital city, Lima. Many international carriers fly to Lima and you can use websites like Skyscanner and Expedia to find cheap flights for the dates you want.

UK travellers have a number of flight carriers which head to Lima including:

US travellers have a wealth of direct flights to Lima available, here are just a few of the cheaper carriers which go there:

Snowcapped mountains on the mountain Peaks in Peru

View of the Snowcapped mountains from the Lima to Cusco flight Photo by Discosour

Flights to Cusco from Lima

Most travellers for Machu Picchu fly straight from Lima to the town of Cusco in the Andes. The flight only takes about an hour and a half. Although it is possible to take a bus instead, these take a long time to reach Cusco - we’ll mention these later.

Direct domestic flights from Lima to Cusco are fairly cheap and available from a number of carriers including:

Only use marked taxis to travel into Cusco centre from the airport, especially at night. It’s also possible to get a taxi direct to the train station if you want to immediately travel to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. You can also get a local minibus (“Combis”) from outside the airport into Cusco centre - although cheap, they can be busy, cramped and uncomfortable - ask around to find the right one for your destination.

Cusco’s Altitude

Be aware that due to Cusco’s high altitude, there is a danger of suffering from altitude sickness when you fly in. Some people prefer to hop on the train immediately to descend and lessen the chance of getting altitude symptoms when they arrive. Remaining in Cusco to acclimatize for a few days is highly recommended before undertaking any of the treks to Machu Picchu - many of which include steep elevations and descents. Do your research in advance about the dangers of altitude sickness and how to alleviate its symptoms.

Bus to Cusco

Buses to Cusco from Lima are cheap but take a long time and travel on windy mountain roads. There are two main routes, the shortest takes up to 21 hours and the longest up to 27 hours. You can book bus tickets online through coach companies like Cruz Del Sur and Tespa , which are recommended as they offer a much more comfortable experience. The longer route via Arequipa is supposedly safer and more comfortable, with better road conditions. Do your research on the routes and companies beforehand - we’d advise you to put safety before speed! Of course, if you are doing a longer tour, you could stop off at destinations along the way and explore the region as you go.

Trains to Machu Picchu

Cusco to Aguas Calientes

From Cusco, the easiest way to reach Machu Picchu is to catch a train to Aguas Calientes - the closest town to the ruins. It takes around 3 and a half hours each way and passes through the beautiful Sacred Valley. Alternatively you can get off at one of the stations on the way and explore or continue your journey by trekking.

There are two train companies which offer tourist services to Aguas Calientes, both of which offer online booking: Inca Rail and Peru Rail . Note that tourists cannot travel on local trains (you need a Peruvian citizen ID card to board them) so you are limited to the tourist trains. If you don’t get tickets online you can also buy them from the rail office in Cusco’s central square - the Plaza de Armas . Be warned that the trains are expensive, prices start at around $60 but they are clean and comfortable even in the lowest classes and most provide good views of the Sacred Valley. If you want to travel in style, consider the Vistadome (glass top) train, or the luxurious (and very expensive) Hiram Bingham exclusive train.

Blue trains going through the Peruvian countryside

The famous rail route to Machu Picchu. Photo by David

There are usually 5 trains a day going from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and different classes are available. Outside of peak season be sure to book trains a few days in advance. During peak season you may need to book trains for Cusco to Aguas Calientes weeks, or even months in advance - check well ahead to secure your tickets.

After getting a ticket, start by hopping on the train at Poroy, a town around half an hour outside of Cusco. You can easily get taxis or minibuses from Cusco to Poroy - although allow at least an hour to get there due to traffic congestion in central Cusco.

Cusco to Aguas Calientes via Ollantaytambo

Another option is to travel from Cusco up to the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley using other transportation, and then take the train from there to Aguas Calientes. Many more daily trains run on this stretch, compared to the Cusco > Aguas Calientes journey - meaning availability is better. This also gives you an alternative if train tickets are sold out from Cusco.

There’s a number of reasons to head to Ollantaytambo anyway, it’s an attractive little tourist town containing some very impressive Incan ruins and plenty of trekking opportunities. There’s lots of accommodation in Ollantaytambo if you want to stay for a night or two, before heading to Machu Picchu.

To reach Ollantaytambo from Cusco, it’s just a few hours by coach, local minibus (Combi), or taxi. Cruz Del Sur coach company has a reliable and safe service between these towns which fits in with the train times.

Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

Once you get to the tourist hub town of Aguas Calientes (which is full of accommodation options), you are very close to Machu Picchu. Note that you must buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets in advance, either online or via one of the many ticket offices in the nearby towns - you can’t buy them at the gate.

Bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

From Aguas Calientes, most people get the bus to Machu Picchu. Photo by Leung

From Aguas Calientes, most people get the bus to Machu Picchu. However, if you’re feeling energetic, you can hike. It’s a very steep 8 km slog up stone stairs to the site, made more difficult due to the high altitude. Allow plenty of resting time and if you are going up for sunrise in the dark, be extra careful. It takes around 1-2 hours uphill and an hour to come back down.

Buses run to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes from 5:30am every morning. The trip takes around 25 minutes, winding around extreme switchbacks as it climbs up to the ruins. Buses leave from the Aguas Calientes bus station frequently (usually whenever they fill up) and there are often queues. If you want to get the first bus, you may need to arrive over an hour in advance to secure a place during busy periods. You can buy bus tickets from booths at the bus departure area. Have your passport with you as you need it (or some other form of official ID) to purchase a ticket. Prices are around $12 one way or $24 for a return. You can catch buses from Machu Picchu back to Aguas Calientes in the same way.

Other Road Options from Cusco to Machu Picchu

It’s also possible to hire a car or van in Cusco, or take a minibus or taxi and drive up to the town of Hydroelectrico or to the towns of Santa Maria or Santa Teresa. These have good cultural and trekking opportunities. From Hydroelectrico it’s around a 3 hour hike to Aguas Calientes. A two day, one night, self-drive trip via Hydroelectrica is offered by many tour agencies in Cusco. Be warned though that roads here can be very dangerous, there’s sheer drops and crazy driver behaviour, so be very careful if you take this option.

Trek to Machu Picchu

A very popular option is to do a multi-day mountain trek to reach Machu Picchu. The Classic Inca Trail is the most popular, but there are a number of great alternative routes. Please see our Machu Picchu routes article for more information. Be aware of the limited daily permits available for any Inca Trail routes, which means booking months in advance for peak season - see the article linked above for more information.

You can book Machu Picchu treks in advance or in Cusco when you arrive. You must travel with a tour operator due to park regulations. Some treks depart from Cusco itself, others leave from various train stations along the line to Aguas Calientes.

Plan your Machu Picchu Trip

Regardless of how you want to get to Machu Picchu, if you are planning to go in peak season (May to September), be sure to book well ahead of time. During these times tours, trekking permits, flights and train tickets can be sold out months in advance, so get in early to secure your place.

We hope you found this travel article useful. WikiTravel also has a useful webpage with first-hand information about travelling to Machu Picchu, although bear in mind it may not be

up-to-date. Enjoy planning your trip to one of the world’s most amazing sights - however you get there, it’s an amazing journey through the Sacred Valley in the mighty Andes!

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