How to Travel from Lima to Machu Picchu (Updated 2020)

Nov 27, 2019 | Machu Picchu Blog

How to get to Machu Picchu from Lima, Peru

 

Many people think they can just hop on a plane from their travel origination and then arrive right at Machu Picchu. However, that is not the case. There are quite a few steps in traveling from Lima to Machu Picchu. First, you have to get to Lima. Then you must get to Cusco, which is in the heart of the Sacred Valley. There are three options: bus, plane, or train.

Finally, once you are in Cusco you will need to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This will involve either trekking if you are adventurous or have an interest in camping. Or you will have to take a bus and train to Machu Picchu. Either way, Machu Picchu is roughly 312 miles from Lima. Therefore you are going to have to find some form of transportation to travel from Lima to Machu Picchu.

Travel from Lima to Cusco

 

Whichever way you take as previously stated you are going to have to go from Lima to Cusco. This means getting around the Andes Mountain as Cusco sits at 11,152 feet or 3,400 meters. Whichever way you go, bus, plane, or train, you are going to have to acclimate in Cusco as you will be at such a high elevation.

Travel from Lima to Cusco by Bus

 

The Peruvian Tourism Board has put out some statistics that show travelers that go by bus tend to have significantly fewer instances of altitude sickness than those that arrive in Cusco by plane. The downside is that it is going to take much longer to get there, as you will have approximately a 23-hour bus ride as you have to travel around the Andes Mountains. But if you are on a very tight budget this is the way to go.

There are two routes that are most commonly followed in doing this.

  • Indirect Route (Lima through Nazca and Arequipa to Cusco): This route takes you further south from Lima to Arequipa and then back North from Arequipa to Cusco. This is the preferred route as it is much safer and many of the country’s travel destinations are along this route including Paracas, the Huacachina Oasis, and Arequipa. Typically it takes about 3 days to travel this route.

 

  • Direct Route (Lima through Nazca to Cusco): This route takes you south from Lima to Nazca and then starts its ascent through the Andes mountain range, passing Abancay before arriving in Cusco approximately 22 hours later. This is the fastest way from Lima to Cusco via ground transport. However, it is the less recommended of the two. It can be quite dangerous, especially during the rainy season, as the roads are steep and winding.

 

 

Travel from Lima to Machu Picchu by Flight

 

A plane is probably the most popular way to get to Cusco. The flight time from Lima’s airport to Cusco is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. There are a number of companies that go from Lima to Cusco. The flight has to cross over the Andes Mountains and then land into Cusco which is over 10,000ft above sea level. This means that turbulence can be very common.

Cusco’s current airport is named Velasco Astete International Airport. It offers domestic and international flights. Flights arrive daily from Lima, Juliaca, Arequipa, and Puerto Maldonado in Peru as well as La Paz, Bolivia. There are plans underway to build a new international airport in the Sacred Valley near Chinchero.

Two girls staring at Machu Picchu on a cloudy day

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Travel by Train from Lima to Machu Picchu

Taking the train is by far the least popular way to get to Machu Picchu, and with reason. There is a train that travels from Lima to Machu Picchu once a month. That’s it! It’s the Ferrocarril Central Andino. And it only goes to Huancayo which is about one-third of the way to Cusco. Therefore you need to continue the trip via bus and hop on the Abancay-Cusco route. The train costs approximately 50 US dollars to get to Huancayo.

Another route is the southern train through Arequipa to Puno followed by taking the train to Cusco. The train from Puno to Cusco is the Andean Explorer, which is a luxury tourist train that takes approximately ten hours to get to Cusco. Fares are quite expensive – a one-way trip will cost you at least $220, it is a very luxurious experience.

Which Lima to Machu Picchu Option is Most Recommended?

 

The option we recommend really depends on how much time you have in Peru. If you are able to travel for two weeks or more, we think that taking a bus, such as Peru Hop is an excellent way to go. It allows you to hop on and off and see many of the sites that you wouldn’t be able to see via plane. Some popular travel destinations in Peru are unable to be reached by plane, including Huacachina and the Nazca Lines.

However, if time is short, we think the best way is to travel via plane. It gets you right to Cusco in under two hours and gives you plenty of time to do other options around Cusco such as trekking the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek, or hike to Rainbow Mountain. If traveling via plane, a Cusco City tour is also a great option to do if you arrive in Cusco in the morning.

Travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu

 

If you think you are at Machu Picchu once you get to Cusco, you’d be wrong. You still have some steps to go through until you are able to arrive at the Machu Picchu citadel. Your two main options here are hiking to Machu Picchu or going to Machu Picchu by bus and train.

Trekking from Cusco to Machu Picchu

 

There are multiple treks that bring you to Machu Picchu. Typically treks are anywhere from 2 to 5 days and include your entrance to Machu Picchu.

These treks consist of the Classic Inca Trail which has many ruins. The Inca Trail is highly permitted as only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day, including porters and guides. You should book 6 months ahead of time in order to get a permit. The Classic Inca Trail is 4-days, 3 nights.

There is also the Short Inca Trail which consists of the last portion of the Classic Inca Trail. This is a 1-day hike, with the 2nd day at Machu Picchu.

There is also the Salkantay Trek which is heavy in natural scenery. Salkantay means Savage Mountain and the trek takes you right past it. It is a long hike at 42 miles and stays at a very high elevation, over 4200 meters. This trek is 5 days, 4 nights.

The Lares Trek is focused on the culture of the Peruvian people and villages. On the Lares Trek, you will visit many Peruvian villages and interact with the families along the route. The Lares Trek is a 4-day, 3-night trek.

Finally, there is the Extreme Inca Trail also known as the Inca Jungle Trek, which is an adrenaline way to get to Machu Picchu. You can hike, whitewater raft, and zipline on your way to Machu Picchu. This is a 4-day, 3-night trek.

Man standing on Inca Trail stone path overlooking valley

Cusco to Machu Picchu by Bus & Train

 

The fastest way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, and for those not interested in hiking, is via bus and train. This requires a 2-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo, a 1.5-hour train ride to Aguas Calientes with PeruRail or Inca Rail, a winding 15 minutes bus ride up to the entrance from Aguas Calientes, a 2 hour guided tour of Machu Picchu, and then return via the same path. It is a long day if you do it in one day.

You will wake up at approximately 5 am and return approximately 8 pm. You can spend a night in Aguas Calientes to make it a two-day affair and then include a hike up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.

Cusco to Machu Picchu by Foot

 

The last option, and least recommended, is to travel by foot from Ollantaytambo. You would take a bus to Ollantaytambo from Cusco. From there you would arrange a bus from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria via minibus. This takes approximately 1 hour to reach is very windy and passes along steep cliff dropoffs.

From Santa Maria, you would find a taxi to Hidroelectrica and then hike three hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, you will then hike up the original path Hiram Bingham took when discovered Machu Picchu. This hike takes about two hours to complete and is very steep. It is not recommended.

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Conclusion

Traveling from Lima to Machu Picchu has numerous steps. Whether you are trekking or taking the train, let us do all the dirty work for you and get you to Machu Picchu safely.

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