Lima to Machu Picchu – The most complete guide ever written, updated every 3 months! We show you the various ways of getting from Lima to Machu Picchu, analyzing planes, buses, treks, and trains! Contact us if you have any questions at all that we may help with.
To get from Lima to Machu Picchu, you need to first get to Cusco. You have the following options:
Getting from Lima to Machu Picchu and deciding on the best transport and tour companies is not always easy, but below we have compiled over 10 years of knowledge into the most complete guide ever written, helping you to choose what’s best for you given your time constraints and budgets. Scroll below for info on trains, treks, and more.
Contents of this page:
Lima To Cusco By Bus: What You Need To Know
To get to Machu Picchu from Lima, you first need to get to Cusco.
Cusco is almost 10,000ft above sea level and separated from Lima by the Andes Mountains. This means altitude problems often affect tourists who go directly to Cusco and altitude sickness is very common.
Experts recommend taking a bus to Cusco (stopping along the way) as the ascent to Cusco is then more gradual and recent statistics launched by the Peruvian Tourism Board have shown that bus travelers are 3 times LESS likely to be affected by altitude than those who travel via plane.
Buses in Peru are safe as long as you go with formal companies like Peru Hop or Cruz del Sur. A non-stop journey to Cusco (not recommended) takes around 22hours, so it is STRONGLY recommended you break up the trip with stops at the incredible Huacachina Oasis or Arequipa and Puno.
Buses in Peru are very safe as long as you go with formal companies. The accidents that do happen are often with informal companies (the cheapest-priced companies). Informal companies offer low prices compared to the best companies such as Peru Hop or Cruz del Sur and often cut corners on safety to reduce costs.
There are 2 main routes from Lima to Cusco by Bus:
Route A: LIMA – NAZCA – CUSCO (Direct but not recommended):
This route takes you from Lima to Nazca and then travels through the Andes mountain range, passing Abancay before arriving in Cusco approximately 22 hours later.
This is the fastest way from Lima to Cusco by bus, however, it has a bad reputation. There have been many bus crashes and hijackings along this route. The winding roads are both curvy and steep and are especially dangerous in the rainy season. It is best to avoid this route to Cusco.
Route B: LIMA – NAZCA – AREQUIPA – CUSCO (strongly recommended):
This route takes you further down south from Lima to Arequipa and then takes you back up North from Arequipa to Cusco.
The road is much safer and there is also a LOT to see along the way. Recommended stops include Paracas, Huacachina, Arequipa, and Puno if you have time. This is the most common route taken in Peru and exposes tourists to the beauty of Peru along the way to Machu Picchu.
Peru Hop are the most popular bus company in Peru. The company has a 96% rating on TripAdvisor from more than 3,000 reviews. However, before deciding whether to book with them, take the following into account:
To fully understand how Peru Hop works click here.
Cruz del Sur is the second-best bus company in Peru and has a reasonably good safety record. Their buses are excellent with bed-like seats on many of their buses. Before deciding whether to book with them, take the following into account:
Booking on their website is quite straightforward, and whilst they have don’t have excellent TripAdvisor reviews, they are still definitely one of the best bus options in Peru.
If you are nervous about flying, then it is best to avoid Lima to Cusco by plane, as the flight has to cross over the Andes Mountains, turbulence is very common. This mixed with Cusco’s rain and stormy weather makes for some nervous moments.
One of the biggest issues with flying from Lima to Cusco is the altitude and the fact that you have gone from sea level to 10,000ft+ very quickly. This is not good for your body and is the reason why approximately 75% of tourists report feeling ill for their first 2 days in Cusco after flying.
If you plan to travel by plane, we strongly recommend Latam Airlines, as the “cheaper” airlines often cancel based on our experience.
Finally, if traveling by plane, make sure you do some day trips from Lima or day trips from Cusco to see other parts of Peru as well, as it would be a shame to come to Peru and “only” see Machu Picchu!
Train enthusiasts might get disappointed when visiting South America because there aren’t as many trains in operation here. Although uncommon, there is a way to take at least part of your trip by train.
The only train to Cusco leaves from Puno. The train from Puno to Cusco is the Andean Explorer, a luxury tourist train that will take approx. ten hours to get to Cusco during a scenic day trip. Fares are quite expensive – a one-way trip will cost at least $280, it is a very luxurious experience.
So whether by bus or by plane, you have made it from Lima to Cusco! Now it is time to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu lies about 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco, although that sounds close, it is actually quite far given the Andes Mountains are blocking a direct route!
There are 2 main ways of getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu:
A – Taking a trek from Cusco (usually between 3 and 5 days depending on what trek you choose)
B – By Bus & Train combination (possible in 1 long day, or 2days/1 night)
There are 3 popular treks to Machu Picchu, each of which we will discuss further below, in no particular order:
This is by far the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu and the most famous trek in South America. Only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day, including porters and guides. It is necessary to get a permit to trek the trail. To secure a permit you must book six months in advance, costing around $650-$1250.
If you are willing to plan that far in advance you will not be disappointed. The trail winds through the Andes overlooking snow-capped mountains as well as cloud jungle forest. You will arrive at Machu Picchu just in time to watch the sunrise from the sun gate.
Most Inca trail treks are 4 days with three nights camping but there are options for 2, 5 and even 7 days. The difficulty of the trek is moderate to hard.
The Salkantay trail is a good alternative for those not wanting to wait six months to see the citadel. Salkantay is the name of a mountain in la Cordillera Vilcabamba. The Salkantay pass takes you to altitudes above 4600m, which makes the already challenging trail that much more difficult. Prices range from $230 to $300 for a 4-day hike that you need to book a few days in advance.
If you aren’t an experienced trekker and walking for four days straight isn’t your cup of tea, maybe the Inca Jungle Trek would be perfect for you. It is the most varied trek out there, and with prices ranging between $220 and $300, it is also the cheapest. This trek offers biking, hiking, ziplining and rafting on your way to Machu Picchu.
Important tips on picking your Tour or Trek Operator for Machu Picchu:
A one day tour is the fastest way to get to Machu Picchu. It involves taking a 2-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo (winding roads through the Mountains), a 90-minute train to Aguas Calientes, a bus up to the complex itself, a guided tour of Machu Picchu, a bus down from the complex and a train ride back so you can arrive in Cusco in the late evening. Prices start from $230. Tour operators can be found here
If you prefer, you can also spread the journey over two days for a similar price, spending the night in Aguas Calientes town.
Editor Note: It is NOT recommended to follow this route due to safety concerns and accidents in the past. We STRONGLY recommend booking a tour or trek with a reputable company.
To get to Machu Picchu cheaply you need to combine a couple of different modes of transport. Firstly take a taxi to the Santiago Terminal in Cusco and get a local bus to Santa Maria. It is advisable to go early.
From Santa Maria, continue your journey to Santa Teresa. There are a bunch of minivans stationed on the square in the town. They will take 45/60 minutes of bumpy road through the jungle to Santa Maria. Here in Santa Maria you then need to book a taxi to Hidroelectrica.
Be aware that the roads between Santa Maria, Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica are in really bad condition and the minibus vans or taxis will take you along sheer cliff-sides and hairpin turns. This is extremely dangerous in the dark and during the rainy season, do exercise caution when considering this option.
From Hidroelectrica you will follow the Inca train trail tracks by foot (the road ends here) to Aguas Calientes. It is a flat hike and should not take more than 3 hours. Leave early enough so you don’t get stuck walking in the dark. Avoid getting hit by the train and watch out for packs of stray dogs.
Once in Aguas Calientes you can hang out and call it an early night. The next morning you have two options to go to the Inca Citadel: