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What’s the best way to travel from Lima to Machu Picchu

You’ve landed in Jorge Chávez airport in Lima and you’re raring to visit the revered Inca citadel, Machu Picchu. But first, you’ve got to get there. Realistically, it’s not possible to get to Machu Picchu from Lima with just one form of transport. Instead, you first need to get from Lima to Cusco, the latter being a historic Peruvian city that acts as the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Depending on your budget and how much time you have to travel, there are various different ways to get to Cusco and then from there to Machu Picchu. Let us talk you through the options and price points

 

 

Machu Picchu Short Inca Trail Hike

Factbox:

Distance from Lima to Machu Picchu: 503 km (312 mi) as the crow flies

Distance from Lima to Cusco: Cusco is 1,143 km (710 mi) overland from Lima or a 1.5-hour flight.

Distance from Cusco to Machu Picchu: 75 km (47 mi) as the crow flies, however the different forms of transport to Machu Picchu cover vastly different distances.

How to get to Machu Picchu from Lima: There are various ways. You can take a combination of plane, bus, train or hiking.

Travel time from Lima to Machu Picchu: It depends. To first reach Cusco, it can take anything from 1.5 hours to 27 hours. From Cusco to Machu Picchu, it can take from four hours by train to four days on foot.

The best way to travel from Lima to Machu Picchu: The fastest and most expensive way to get to Machu Picchu is flying and taking the train; the cheapest is by bus; the most interesting is flying and on foot.

Are there any Machu Picchu tours from Lima?

It’s easy enough to organize a tour from Lima to Machu Picchu, where your domestic flights, accommodation and guides will all be arranged – meaning you just need to arrive in Lima! We have a range of multi-day tours that combine Machu Picchu with other ancient sites around Peru, while all of our Machu Picchu tour packages are fully customizable. 

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to take a day trip to Machu Picchu from Lima – in fact, you can barely take a day trip from Cusco to the site and we strongly recommend you consider at least a two-day tour to have enough time to appreciate the site and the surrounding scenery. Luckily, the Cusco region has plenty of beautiful sights and trekking routes to enjoy, including the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain, meaning it’s well worth staying in the region for at least a couple of days after your trip to Machu Picchu.

What if you only have three days to visit Machu Picchu?

For many travelers, a three-day Machu Picchu tour from Cusco is perfectly suited for their itinerary. A fast-track Inca Trail tours can be arranged for two or three days, while it’s possible to combine a trip to the Sacred Valley with a day trip to Machu Picchu in our luxury Machu Picchu tour or a homestay with an indigenous family in the Sacred Valley.

Bear in mind that you will need to add on a day at least a day at the beginning and end for transportation to and from Lima to Cusco. On a short timescale, flying – rather than taking the slower public bus – is highly recommended, but you will also want an extra day or two in Cusco to give you time to acclimate to the altitude.  

Peru to Machu Picchu Llama

How to get from Lima to Machu Picchu

Step One: Getting from Lima to Cusco

The biggest distance you’re covering on your route to Machu Picchu is between Lima and Cusco. Cusco is 1,143 km (710 mi) overland from Lima or a 1.5-hour flight. Here we run you through the different methods of transportation between the two cities and what you can expect to pay.

Flying from Lima to Cusco

In a country as large as Peru (which is about double the size of Texas), flying is generally considered the most time-efficient means of travelling between Lima and Cusco, with Cusco being the airport you need to fly into for Machu Picchu.

Not only can you land in Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez in Lima and change directly onto a flight to Cusco, but it’ll only take you 1.5 hours between take-off and landing.

As you’ll see below, this cuts your travel time down by around 22.5 hours. Seriously – we’re not kidding.

What’s more, there are a number of Peruvian and international carriers that operate along this route, including Sky Airline, Avianca and LATAM, with departures leaving more-or-less hourly from the capital.

If you book at least a week in advance (and a couple of months ahead between July and August), then you can expect to pay as little as $80 USD return. Note that it’s always best to book flights as early in the morning as possible as poor weather in and around Cusco can cause delays and flight cancellations.

Aeropuerto Internacional Alejandro Velasco Astete, aka Cusco’s airport, lies just a short, 20-minute taxi drive from the city center, making it easy to reach your hotel from there.

Pros: With a flight time of just 1.5 hours, you can expect to get from Lima to Cusco in less than four hours (including two hours before the flight, 1.5 hours on the flight and 30 mins to pick up luggage).

Cons: If you choose to fly directly from Lima to Cusco, an important consideration to take into account is altitude. As you are travelling from sea level to 3,399 m (11,150 ft), you can expect to feel the impact of the altitude and you will require at least two days to acclimate. Prescription tablets such as Diamox, alongside drinking plenty of water, taking light meals and not overexerting yourself physically, will help your body to do this.

Price: Around $80 USD. You can buy tickets online via the airlines’ websites.

A photographer at the viewpoint for Vinicunca, aka Rainbow Mountain, Peru

From Lima to Cusco by bus

The second option to get you on the first leg of the journey from Lima to Machu Picchu is by taking the bus from Lima to Cusco.

This trip isn’t for the faint of heart: it’s a 24-hour marathon that takes you approximately a quarter of the way across the country, climbing from sea level up into the lofty peaks of the Andes Mountains.

Admittedly, many travelers choose to combine this bus journey with stopovers in interesting destinations en-route such as Nazca and Arequipa, but it is still a significantly slower and considerably more dangerous means of travelling between Lima and Cusco.

There are two different routes that the buses take:

18-21 hours: Lima-Nazca-Abancay-Cusco: The quickest route heads south down the coast from Lima before going east inland at Nazca where it begins to climb into the foothills of the Andes, passing towns such as Puquio and Abancay along the way.

Despite being the most direct route, visitors are not recommended to take this bus journey, as the risk of landslides during rainy season and crashes caused by windy, steep roads throughout the year pose a serious danger. What’s more, historically, the route has experienced a number of hijackings (something that has reduced in recent years).

24-27 hours: Lima-Nazca- Arequipa-Cusco: Taking a longer path as it continues south before doing a loop inland via Arequipa, this journey is considered far safer thanks to the road being in a better condition and the switchbacks not as acute. As most bus companies who offer a direct service between Lima and Cusco take the aforementioned route, travelers wanting to travel this route will need to stop over in Arequipa. However, this does break the trip down into two more manageable bus journeys: Lima to Arequipa is 16 hours, while Arequipa to Cusco is 10 hours.

It’s also important to be aware of the quality and safety record of any buses that you take in Peru – and particularly for long, dangerous journeys such as these. The cost – and quality – of services varies considerably and some carriers have far superior comfort and safety records.

Cruz del Sur and Oltursa are considered among the best companies for taking this bus route from Lima to Cusco, with a higher safety record and levels of comfort than other carriers. This is down to the fact that they only pick up passengers from their own bus terminals (thus reducing the risk of theft or hijacking) and are more prudent when it comes to vehicle maintenance and ensuring that their drivers stick to speed limits. On both, you can expect air conditioning, meals and beds that either recline 140˚ (semi-cama) or 160˚ (cama). There are also services aimed directly at tourists, including Peru Hop.

Pros: The journey is both cheap and scenic, giving you the opportunity to admire the coastal and Andean landscapes of Cusco. What’s more, you can stop along the way, using the bus as a means of visiting various tourist hotspots, something that also helps with acclimatization as you go more gradually up to high altitude.

Cons: It’s a mammoth amount of time to spend on a bus and few services offer more than one opportunity to get off and stretch your legs.

Price: Regardless of whether you travel via Abancay or Arequipa, should cost between $40 USD and $80 USD. You can buy tickets online via their websites or in their respective bus terminals in Lima.

One person jumps and another sits on a rock overlooking to cobalt lakes and the Ausangatecocha mountain behind in Peru

The train from Lima to Cusco

Peru has never had a comprehensive rail network and the cities of Lima and Cusco have never been linked by train, which means that it is impossible to travel from Lima to Machu Picchu solely by train.

The closest option is the once-monthly Lima to Huancayo service – one of the world’s highest altitude train journey – that takes you from the coast up into the Andes on a breath-taking, 11-hour journey. However, from Huancayo, it’s still a grueling – and somewhat uncomfortable – 19 to 23-hour bus journey onwards to Cusco.

Pros: The scenery as you chug up into the Andes Mountains is nothing short of spectacular and the route is considered one of the world’s finest high-altitude train journeys.

Cons: Expect to experience altitude sickness due to the elevations reached during the train journey as it climbs over high-altitude passes. Upon arriving in Huancayo, you’re barely much closer to Cusco than you started. The onwards journey is also notorious for its poor safety record (through both hijacking, landslides and accidents).

Price: Prices start from $156 USD. Note that trains only depart once a month between March and November. You can buy tickets online on their website.

 

 

A group of trekkers hike near Pacchanta in Peru

Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu

You’ve arrived in the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco and you’re now within striking distance of the famed citadel, Machu Picchu. But there are still multiple ways of getting to the latter, whether it be on-foot, by bus or train. Prices vary between the services and one of the biggest factors may well be how long you have available to you for the trip.

Hiking the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu

Perhaps the most famous means of getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu is via the Inca Trail, a 42-kilometer stone path laid by the Inca and used for them to travel quickly between their capital city and this important spiritual center.

Visitors must hike the trail using a licensed tour guide and, with only 500 daily permits up for grabs to do so, you need to book from six to nine months in advance! Most tours take four days to reach Machu Picchu, climbing up into the mountains via a number of challenging, high-altitude passes but with astounding mountain scenery as you go.

We personally recommend hiking a shorter version of the Inca Trail, whereby you hike the final day of the classic Inca Trail route and spend the following day touring Machu Picchu. Not only does this allow you to follow in the footsteps of the Inca, but it’s significantly less challenging in terms of hiking and permits are far easier to get hold of. If you’re planning your trip to Machu Picchu more last-minute, this might well be the option for you!

Pros: There’s no experience quite like arriving the same way that the Inca would have to Machu Picchu. Plus, you generally enter the site via the Sun Gate at dawn – which is an awe-inspiring experience as the sun rises over the grand former citadel.

Cons: The hike is challenging, climbing over passes that reach over 4,125 m (13,533 ft.) in altitude, so you need to be acclimatized before you begin, with at least a few days in Cusco. You can arrange porters and mules for your belongings with your tour group to ensure that you only need to concentrate on the scenery – putting one foot in front of the other. 

Price: Prices start from $500 USD. You can browse and book tours here.

 

 

Hiking other trails from Cusco to Machu Picchu

If you’re too late to book the Inca trail, never fear: a number of other hiking routes offer a different alternative for getting between Cusco and Machu Picchu.

The second most popular is the Salkantay trek, a four-day trail that climbs through breath-taking, high-Andean scenery past the dramatic mountains of Salkantay and Huamantay, two of the highest and more revered in the region, en-route to Machu Picchu.

Another alternative is the Lares trek, a three-day hike that passes through remote, untouched Andean communities, stops at hot springs for a pleasant post-hiking soak and provides a fascinating introduction to the culture of the local Quechua people. The latter also includes a journey on the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (see below) and can be customized to include homestays with local families along the Lares trail.  

But there are various other trails that can bring you to Machu Picchu: along the four-day Vilcabamba trek that climbs through dazzling glacial lakes to abandoned Inca archaeological sites or via the nine-day hike that connects Choquequirao and Machu Picchu.

Pros: Because they remain less popular than the traditional Inca Trail, all of the alternative hiking routes to Machu Picchu have fewer trekkers, giving you the chance to connect more closely with the dramatic landscapes that you encounter.

Cons: All of these hikes are challenging because of the altitude, with the highest elevation reaching 4,600 m (15,091 ft.) on the Salkantay trek and 4,800 m (15,748 ft.) on the Lares. Again, a few days in Cusco to acclimate is essential, while porters and mules for your belongings are generally included in your tour.

Price: Prices start from $550 US, depending on the route. You can browse and book tours online here.

 

 

 

Getting to Machu Picchu by bus from Cusco

The final option is a bus tour from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This is the cheapest method of getting to the ruins. Bus tours pick you up in Cusco and drive you the six or seven-hour journey to reach Hidroeléctrica, where the road ends.

From here, you will either need to pay an additional fee to take the train or you will need to hike the path that follows the train tracks for 11 km (6.8 mi) to reach Aguas Calientes, where you’ll stay overnight and from where you’ll visit Machu Picchu. The following day, you return to Hidroeléctrica on foot or by train.

Pros: The price. This is the cheapest means of getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

Cons: It’s not ideal for those who aren’t keen on hiking (although you can pay more to take the train).

Price: Tours start from around $120 USD, with a night in Aguas Calientes included.