No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the world-famous Machu Picchu. To get to Machu Picchu you need to first arrive at Cusco city which is the entrance gate of any journey to the Incan Citadel. Here is an extensive guide to all of the different methods on how to get to Machu Picchu which covers everything from hiking to taking the train.
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Contents of this page:
- Where Is Machu Picchu Located?
- Getting From Lima To Machu Picchu (Cusco)
- Get From Cusco To Machu Picchu
- Get From The Sacred Valley To Machu Picchu
- Shuttle Buses From Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) To Machu Picchu
Only recently discovered a century ago, the Machu Picchu citadel is located just atop Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) in the Cusco region, just at 2,430 m.a.s.l.. Thousands of travelers and locals alike flock one of the Seven Wonders of the World daily to witness scenery like none other. And for that reason, there are different ways to get to Machu Picchu to suit the likes of everyone, from multiple treks to taking the train, all of which will be mentioned in this post.
Most people start their journey to Machu Picchu by first arriving in Lima. There are really only 2 ways of getting from Lima to Cusco and onwards to Machu Picchu which are plane and bus.
To get from Lima to Machu Picchu only traveling by train is impossible. There is a tourist train which leaves Lima once a month and only goes about one-third of the distance to Machu Picchu. From there, it is required to take public buses and transport until you get to the closest train station in Puno or Cusco to continue your journey to Machu Picchu. So this, for obvious reasons, is not really an option we can consider.
Option 1) Flight to Cusco
Flying from Lima airport to Cusco is the quickest option in terms of distance but it’s still not the most used method. It can be expensive to fly, there are inherent dangers of flying into higher regions due to altitude sickness, and it causes travelers to miss out on many of the amazing things aside from Machu Picchu that Peru has to offer.
If you were to be short on time or just prefer flying over bus travel, we recommend using LATAM airlines. They have flights daily, close to minimum cancellations/delays (mostly due to weather) and their overall service is above the rest.
Option 2) Bus to Cusco
Traveling from Lima to Cusco by bus is by far the most popular way of getting from Lima to Machu Picchu. Although traveling this way takes longer than flying, it can be an unforgettable experience with breathtaking sites along the route. There are two principal routes to Cusco by bus with both heading south from Lima to Nazca:
- Route 1 starts its ascent through the Andes mountain range once in Nazca, passing Abancay before arriving to Cusco approximately 23 hours later. This is the fastest way from Lima to Cusco by bus, however, it has a bad reputation. There have been many reports in the past about bus crashes along this route. The winding roads are both curvy and steep and can be especially dangerous during rainy season. It is best to avoid this direct route to Cusco.
- Route 2 takes you further down south to Arequipa and then back up to Cusco. This is the most common route taken in Peru by travelers and exposes visitors to the beauty of the southern Peruvian coast on the way to Machu Picchu. The road is in good condition with plenty to see along the way and the expose no dangers whatsoever. For this route, we highly recommend Peru Hop. They’re the first and only hop-on, hop-off service in Peru allowing you to stay in each destination for the amount of time you want, and letting you “hop-on” back whenever. Apart from this, their onboard bilingual guides will provide assistance throughout the bus journeys as well as give you insider tips on what to do at each of your chosen destinations. Not to mention all the discounts on accommodation and restaurants you receive as well as all types of travelers you’ll meet! Check out the How It Works page on their website to learn more about their service!
For whichever route you choose to take, make sure to always check reviews on TripAdvisor and other sources to see which is the best option for you!
Once in Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, you’ll have 3 options to choose from suiting all types of travelers:
- Train – the quickest way, perfect for those short on time
- Trek – the most gratifying way, giving you beautiful scenary throughout the whole trek
- Minivan – the cheapest way, but also the most dangerous
There are two main train operators offering services to Machu Picchu; the long-established company Peru Rail and the relatively new company Inka Rail. There really is no big difference between the two as both get you there and basically offer the same service.
The departures to Machu Picchu are principally taken from 2 main stations: Poroy station and Ollantaytambo station.
- Taking a Train Departing Poroy Station
On the outskirts of Cusco in a small village called Poroy is a principal train station with services to Machu Picchu. Poroy is about 25 minutes by road from Cusco city and can be reached by local taxi or colectivo. The journey time by train is 3 hours and 20 minutes, and the train stops just once at Ollantaytambo Station before ending at Aguas Calientes. Once in Aguas Calientes, you can take the shuttle bus or hike up to Machu Picchu. Note: There are only 3 early morning train services from Poroy to Aguas Calientes, operated only by Peru Rail..
- Taking a Train Departing Ollantaytambo Station
From Cusco, you will need to first travel by road to Ollantaytambo Train Station (Sacred Valley), a journey which takes about 2 hours. From Ollantaytambo you can take either Peru Rail or Inka Rail train service to Aguas Calientes. The journey time by train from Ollantaytambo is 1 hour and 50 minutes, and trains operate from 6 am to 7 pm. There is a ticket office in Ollantaytambo station, but it is better to purchase your tickets well in advance. On arrival to Aguas Calientes, a shuttle bus ride or a hike up will take you to Machu Picchu.
Bear in mind that for both options you’re going to need to book the Machu Picchu tour and shuttle bus ticket separately. To save you the hassle, and allow you to compare between different tour operators and prices we suggest you check out FindLocalTrips’ Tours by Train to Machu Picchu options.
Trekking to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the most unforgettable way of reaching the Inca citadel. Many people always say the journey matters more than the arrival and I couldn’t agree more. There are many treks to choose from, with new, undiscovered ones still popping up from time to time, and each one offering you beautiful scenery and amazing views. We’ll go over traveler’s favorite 3 with all the important info!
Classic Inca Trail | Difficulty: moderate
The most famous trek in South America and the only one that allows you to hike directly into the citadel. With only 500 permits issued per day, you usually have to book a spot 6 months in advance for this 4-day trek, but it sure is worth it. The 26 mile (42 km) trail connects several Incan archeological sites tucked away peacefully in the Andes mountain.
Throughout the trek, you’ll also witness Andean mountain passes, ruins, snow-capped mountains, cloud forests and much more. Prices range from $600 – $700 USD with everything included: Machu Picchu entrance, food, transport, etc. Even though it’s the most expensive trek, it is well worth it and certainly the “true” path to Machu Picchu.
Salkantay Trek | Difficulty: challenging
The alternative trek to the Classic Inca Trail, but more difficult. Named among the 25 best treks in the world by National Geographic, Salkantay has no limit of travelers and is by far considered the most beautiful of the treks that lead to Machu Picchu. The nature-rich experience will have you pass through the one the highest mountain ranges in Peru, traverse the jungle and meet local communities.
Booking a couple of days in advance should be more than enough time, with prices ranging from $250 – $350 USD all included: Machu Picchu entrance, food, transport, etc.
Inca Jungle Trek | Difficulty: easy
The most exciting and adventure-filled way to get to Machu Picchu. If you’re not a fan of treks this would be the best option for you (even though it has trek in its name, it’s nothing like a normal trek). It combines cycling downhill, river rafting, a bit of jungle trekking and ziplining.
Although it is the cheapest of the treks, it’s an unforgettable experience altogether. Prices range from $150 – 300$ and there is no need to book far in advance to have a spot on the trek.
Option 1) Urubamba Hotels – Machu Picchu
From Urubamba you will first need to travel by road to the far western end of the Sacred Valley to the village of Ollantaytambo. The journey takes about 45 – 60 minutes and is easily done by taxi or shared colectivo. Note: Shared colectivos may only take you to the main plaza in Ollantaytambo, from where you can take a taxi (3-4 mins) or walk (15-20mins) to the train station. Peru Rail and Inca Rail trains operate daily services from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, with a journey time of 1 hour and 50 minutes. From Aguas Calientes a 40 minutes ride aboard a shuttle bus will take you to Machu Picchu.
Option 2) Ollantaytambo Hotels – Machu Picchu
This is the best option with the least amount of travel time needed. Essentially the same as above, but you simply need to walk to the train station in Ollantaytambo, which is just a short 15 minutes’ walk from most hotels in the village.
Option 3) Tambo del Inka Hotel – Machu Picchu
For guests staying at the Tambo del Inka Hotel in Urubamba, there is the option to take the train directly from the hotel’s onsite train station to Aguas Calientes. The journey time is 2 hours and 24 minutes, including a stop at Ollantaytambo Station. Note: there is just one service in each direction per day, on the Peru Rail Vistadome Train. This train is affected by limited availability.
Tambo del Inka (Urubamba) – Aguas Calientes, Vistadome 601, 06.50 – 09.24 hrs*
Aguas Calientes – Tambo del Inka (Urubamba), Vistadome 304, 15.48 – 18.43 hrs*
*Correct at the time of publication!
For an excellent combination tour including an immersive experience in the Sacred Valley before continuing on to Machu Picchu. Have a read of this tour offered by Rasgos del Peru. It is a unique offering that is becoming very popular in the past 12 months. Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour.
To access Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes it is necessary to take a short shuttle bus ride. There is just one road in Aguas Calientes, which leads from the village to Machu Picchu. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes in each direction. The shuttle buses are operated by a local company called Consettur, and are all modern and air-conditioned. Shuttle Buses to Machu Picchu operate throughout the day, and depart ether Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu when they are full. There are no set times for departures, but you will probably never wait more than 15 minutes for a bus. Buses going up to Machu Picchu operate from 05.30 – 15.30 hrs, and buses departing Machu Picchu operate from 06.00 – 15.30 hrs.