Getting from Lima to Machu Picchu
Discover the best ways to get from Lima to Machu Picchu in 2019. Public bus, hop-on hop-off bus, train or plane. We have all of the info!
This is the most complete guide ever written for Lima to Machu Picchu options and it is updated every 3 months by our local Peruvian experts, so please do take your time to read in detail and don’t be afraid to contact us if you have any questions at all that we may help with.
To get from Lima to Machu Picchu, you have the following options:
- Go from Lima to Cusco by bus. The route via Huacachina and Arequipa is recommended.
- Go from Lima to Cusco by plane. By taking a plane direct to Cusco instead of a bus, you will need more time to acclimatize to altitude.
- Take a tour or trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu via Ollantaytambo.
Now, let us show you how to get from Lima to Machu Picchu in the best way possible to suit your itinerary and budget by analyzing the options to get from Lima to Cusco, and then the options of Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Contents of this Page:STEP 1: Getting from Lima to Cusco STEP 2: Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu
- Trekking your way to Machu Picchu
- Getting to Machu Picchu Quickly
- Getting to Machu Picchu Cheaply
- Pricing and Practical Information
STEP 1: Getting from Lima to Cusco
Lima To Cusco By Bus: What You Need To Know – The Basics
So to get to Machu Picchu from Lima, first you need to get to Cusco.
Cusco is separated from Lima by the Andes Mountains as you can see by our map. As well as this, Cusco is almost 10,000ft above sea level. This means altitude problems often affect tourists who go directly to Cusco and altitude sickness is very common…some more severe than others. Experts recommend to take 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.
Bus Routes to Cusco – what you MUST know:
Buses in Peru are very safe as long as you go with formal companies. The accidents that do happen are with informal companies (often the cheapest priced companies). Informal companies offer low low prices compared to the best companies such as Peru Hop or Cruz del Sur, and so be wary of these companies, as they 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 south from Lima to Nazca and then starts its ascent through the Andes mountain range, passing Abancay before arriving to Cusco approximately 22 hours (yes twenty-two) 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 in rainy season. It is best to avoid this direct 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. This road is much much better 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 by tourists (it is often called the gringo trail) and exposes tourists to the beauty of Peru along the way to Machu Picchu. It is possible to do this route, with overnight stops along the way, in 3days/2nights, and so if short on time, combine this with a 1 or 2 day Machu Picchu tour from Cusco and you could see a LOT of Peru in just 1 week.
Peru Hop Bus
Peru Hop are the most popular bus company in Peru. Approximately 28,000 tourists travel on the service every year and the company has a 96% rating on TripAdvisor from more than 2,300 reviews. However, before deciding whether to book with them, take the following into account:
- Peru Hop sell bus passes that cover all/some of the destinations between Lima and Cusco. The “quickest” pass to Cusco is the 3 days/2 night option with overnight local stops included along the way
- Peru Hop is more suited for those with a little more time (e.g. more than 6/7 days in Peru). If you have less than 6 days in Peru, it is probably worth taking the direct buses to Cusco
Cruz Del Sur Bus
Cruz del Sur are the second best bus company in Peru and have a good safety record. Their buses are excellent with bed like seats on many of their buses. However, before deciding whether to book with them, take the following into account:
- For direct buses from Lima to Cusco, they take the direct route that we do not recommend above and it’s also a tiring journey
- To go the safest route, you would need to buy a Lima to Arequipa ticket and then a Arequipa to Lima ticket
Booking on their website is quite straightforward, and whilst they have don’t have excellent TripAdvisor reviews (79%), they are still definitely one of the best bus options in Peru.
By Plane (Lima To Cusco)
There are a few airlines that offer the Lima to Cusco flight option, but the best, by far, is LATAM. Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru are local airlines that operate routes Lima to Cusco however they are known to cancel/delay flights due to bad weather as their planes are not equipped for these conditions.
If you are nervous about flying, then it may be best to avoid Lima to Cusco by plane. As the flight has to cross over the Andes Mountains, and then land into Cusco which is over 10,000ft above sea level, turbulence is very common. This mixed with Cusco’s rain and stormy weather, makes for some nervous moments, although Latam’s safety record is absolutely excellent.
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+ in just 2 hours. This is not good for your body and is the reason why approximately 75% of tourists report feeling ill in their first 2 days in Cusco after a flight from Lima.
If you plan to travel by plane, book well in advance but do try to at least maybe do some day trips from Lima to see other parts of Peru as well, as it would be a shame to come to Peru and “only” see Machu Picchu!
By Train (Lima To Cusco)Train enthusiasts might get disappointed when visiting South America because there aren’t as many trains in operation here compared to Asia, Europe or North America. Although uncommon, there is a way to take at least part of your trip by train.
Ferrocarril Central Andino is a tourist train that leaves once a month, yes you read that right … Once a month. The company only travels from Lima to Huancayo and back and it takes approximately 14 hours to get there. Huancayo lies about one third of the route away from Lima, so from there you would have to take local buses and eventually join the Abancay-Cusco route. The train costs minimum 50 dollars to Huancayo.
Another possibility is taking the south route through Arequipa to Puno and taking the train there to Cusco. 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 you at least $220, it is a very luxurious experience.
STEP 2: Getting From Cusco To Machu Picchu
So whether by bus or by plane, you have made it from Lima to Cusco! Now it is time to get from Cusco to the incredible Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu lies about 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco, however 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 – By undertaking 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/1night better)
A – Trekking your way to Machu PicchuThere are 3 popular treks to Machu Picchu, each of which we will discuss further below, in no particular order:
1. OFFICIAL INCA TRAIL
This is by far the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu and the most famous trek in South America. Because of erosion concerns, only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day and that’s including porters and guides. Since it is so exclusive, it is necessary to get a permit to trek the trail. To secure a permit you must book six months in advance and it is expensive – a whopping 650-1250 dollars!
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.As if the journey isn’t spectacular enough, you will arrive to 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.
2. SALKANTAY TREK
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. It is worshipped by locals and is means savage .. If you do this trail, you will find out why. 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.
3. INCA JUNGLE TREK
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 and hiking or camping equipment are not essential because you only do a short amount of trekking and overnight in basic hostels along the route.
Important tips on picking your Tour or Trek Operator for Machu Picchu:
- Ask other travellers which companies they used and check TripAdvisor to view other reviews.
- Do not just opt for the cheapest company – this is usually a BIG mistakes. You don’t want to get left behind somewhere in the jungle (it happens) so shop around and see who provides the best responses to your questions and concerns
- If you don’t have time to spend a day interrogating tour operators in Cusco, check FindLocalTrips.com, which lets you compare operators’ itineraries and prices all in one location. Everything is in clear English too, which is not always the case when contacting tour operators directly.
- Avoid companies like G Adventures, Bamba Experience, Intrepid etc – their markup is more than 100%. If you go directly to the trek operators (e.g. via their websites or with www.findlocaltrips.com then you will see the prices are usually a LOT cheaper.
- Make sure you know what your tour includes. Every good trek to Machu Picchu will include your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (with option for Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu), your accommodation, food (with exception of the last day) and your transport back from Machu Picchu to Cusco, usually by the train.
B – Getting to Machu Picchu Quickly via Bus & Train
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 to Cusco in the late evening. Prices start from $230. Tour operators can be found here
It is a full on hectic but exhilarating day, if you prefer you can also spread the journey over two days for a similar price, spending the night before visiting the complex of Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes town. A 2day/1night Machu Picchu tour is usually more popular than a 1 day tour as it is at a more relaxed pace and you can see more things.
Getting to Machu Picchu Cheaply (NOT recommended)
Editor Note: It is NOT recommended to follow this route due to safety concerns and accidents in the past. We STRONGLY recommend to book a tour or trek with a reputable company. Again we advise the use of www.findlocaltrips.com to help you find the best trip for you.
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 know the exact bus times in advance or to go really early.
Upon arrival in Santa Maria you can continue your journey immediately 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, accidents are not uncommon. This is extremely dangerous in the dark and during 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. Be sure though to leave early enough so you don’t get stuck walking in the dark. Also avoid getting hit by the train and watch out for packs of stray dogs.
Once in Aguas Calientes you can hang out a bit, have a nice dinner and call it an early night. The next morning you have two options to go to the Inca Citadel:
- By bus: It is recommended to go really early in the morning to Machu Picchu so you can start waiting in line at 4.30-5.00. The earliest bus leaves at 5.30 and the latest at 15.30. A one way ticket costs 12 dollars.
- On foot: the walk up Machu Picchu is basically a really long stairs. It is quite demanding but if you take your time and leave around 4-4.30, it should be manageable. You could see it as part of your experience or maybe you want to keep all your energy for exploring the complex itself or your hike up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.
Again, the above trip is NOT recommended, but people have asked us for information on the cheapest possible way to Machu Picchu and this would be it. But we strongly recommend taking a trek, or a 1 day or 2 day tour from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu – Pricing and practical information
- Inca Trail Treks sell out MONTHS in advance due to limited permissions by the government
- Machu Picchu Inca Jungle Trek and Salkantay Trek can usually be booked 1 or 2 days before, except in July high season when you should book a few days in advance
- 1-day and 2-day tours by bus & train should usually be booked in advance
- For further tips about what to bring and things like that, check out our Machu Picchu page here
Lima To Machu Picchu – How To Book
STEP 1: Lima to CuscoBus Options:
- Public Bus – you can search bus tickets on Cruz del Sur’s website here. Remember to book Lima to Arequipa and then Arequipa to Cusco
- Private Bus with stops – you can search Peru Hop tickets here. Choose whatever pass suits your time schedule.
- Plane – you can search plane tickets directly on Latam’s website here
STEP 2: Cusco to Machu PicchuTrek Options
- Inca Trail (4 days) – search and compare operators here
- Inca Jungle Trek (3 or 4 days) – search and compare operators here
- Salkantay Trek (4 or 5 days) – search and compare operators here
- 1 Day Tour – search and compare operators here
- 2 Day/1 Night Tour – search and compare operators here
IMPORTANT: If you would like to organise a full complete trip, with transport from Lima to Cusco combined with a Machu Picchu trek or tour that then starts in Cusco, please feel free to contact us here and we will be happy to help