How to get to Machu Picchu? By helicopter, of course! But you’re just not that lucky. :/ All helicopter flights to Machu Picchu are suspended due to environmental reasons. Those reasons are real, so there’s no indication that the helicopter situation will change soon. But let’s be serious now and explore the other options.

Machu Picchu panorama. How to get to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu panorama. Photo by: Bens640

The easiest way of getting to Machu Picchu is to take one of these Peru tours. Not to mention that it’s also the easiest way – you’ll learn much more and you’ll feel much safer than if you’d go on your own.

Getting to Machu Picchu on your own is also easily doable, but it requires you to plan in advance and to hassle a bit along the way.

How to get to Machu Picchu is the question that confuses many travelers, mostly because of its location. Machu Picchu was hidden up until it was accidentally discovered just a little bit over a hundred years ago. It was hidden from the world for that long because of its remote and inaccessible location.

People also get a bit worried, or sometimes quit the whole idea of visiting Machu Picchu, because they think only young people in a good shape can do the hike to get there. Don’t worry. You don’t need to hike through mountains and you don’t need to be Bear Grylls to get to Machu Picchu. Even most senior citizens can get to Machu Picchu without any trouble. Of course, assuming they have decent health condition.

I tried to collect and organize all relevant information about getting to Machu Picchu in one place. This article should be useful and easy to read (the second part is something most of the other articles lack of).

How to get to Machu Picchu – Summary

  • Get to Machu Picchu
    • Take the famous Inca Trail. It is justifiably the most popular trek in the world, and if there’s any chance of you to do it – do it! It starts near Cusco.
    • Take Lares Trek. It is the best and the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail. It also starts near Cusco.
    • From Aguas Calientes by foot or by bus. Machu Picchu is just above Aguas Calientes. It’s 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) distance from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
  • Get to Aguas Calientes
    • from Cusco or Ollantaytambo by train. Here’s the trick – there are no roads to Aguas Calientes. You can get there only by train or by foot.
  • Get to Cusco
    • from Lima by airplane or by bus. Flight is not expensive, that’s making it much more convenient than about 20 hours long bus ride.
    • from Puno by a public bus, it would take you 6-7 hours and about £15 for that trip.
    • from Puerto Maldonado by airplane. The flight is only 50 minutes long, but it’s a bit expensive for such a short flight.
  • Get to Peru by flying to Lima. That’s the way most of travelers get here.
  • Take a Peru guided tour that visits Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu?

Before answering this question, here are some things you need to know:

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Machu Picchu tickets cannot be bought at the entrance gate. You must book those tickets in advance! The safest and the easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is to take a Peru group tour and let the tour leader think about logistics.

If you decide to plan everything on your own, you can book tickets in advance at the official government website, or in some travel agency in Peru, in most of hotels in Peru, in Aguas Calientes Cultural Center, or in National Institute of Culture in Cusco.

Don’t be surprised by the price of Machu Picchu tickets as they are a bit expensive, starting from about 30£!

Don’t forget to bring your original passport with you, you must have it at the entrance. Interesting thing is that you can get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport!

Machu Picchu passport stamp

OK, so now you’re ready for the answer to the “how to get to Machu Picchu” question. :)

Wherever you are coming from, you’ll probably start your Machu Picchu conquest from Cusco, Peru. There are few ways to do that.

How to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco

The most popular way to get to Machu Picchu is hiking the Inca Trail. That is not the only hiking route, the other one, frequently used as an alternative to Inca Trail, is Lares Trek.

The other way to get to Machu Picchu is from Aguas Calientes, and you’ll get there from Cusco.

Machu Picchu is the final destination of the Inca Trail

The Inca’s Empire had a huge road system connecting its cities. The most popular part of that road is famous Inca Trail, and the main reason why it’s so popular is its final destination – Machu Picchu.

There can be only 500 travelers on the Inca Trail in one day. You need to get a permit from local authorities to hike the Inca trail. Only 500 permits are issued per day because more people than that could make some damage to this road system.

Only tour operators are allowed to get those permits, so you’ll have to take a tour with a licensed tour operator to hike the Inca Trail. That shouldn’t bother you since it would be very difficult to do the Inca Trail by yourself.

One thing you should have in mind, though, is that you should do this with a credible and reliable tour company. I recommend taking one of these Peru tours that are doing the Inca Trail, since all of these tour companies are among the best ones in the world.

The Inca Trail has several starting points. The most popular route of the Inca Trail, the classic one, is 4 days and 3 nights hike that starts at Pickacucho – the famous Kilometer 82.

How to get to Machu Picchu - The Inca Trail Altitude profile

The Inca Trail Altitude profile

So on the first day of the Inca Trail you’ll start the hike at Piskacucho (2.5km, or 8.5000 feet above sea level), and then you’ll enjoy in a whole day of beautiful sceneries, like the Urumba River, the ruins of Huillcaraccay, Patallacta, or Pulpituyoc, and then you’ll come to the first campsite – Wayllabamba. Wayllabamba is at 3.1km, or 10.200 feet above sea level, so the altitude sickness can be an issue if you don’t prepare properly. In this ultimate Peru packing list you can find all about how to prepare for, or better say, how to avoid the altitude sickness.

On the second day you’ll reach the highest point of the Inca Trail at almost 4.1km, or 13,770 feet above sea level. The view here is breathtaking, and you’ll feel true joy and accomplishment for climbing to the highest point of the Inca Trail. At the end of the most difficult day (due to a lot of climbing), you will get to the campsite location – the magnificent Pacaymayo. If the weather is nice, you’ll get to enjoy the spectacular view to the sky full of stars.

By walking to the campsite named Wiñaywayna, on the third day of the Inca Trail, you’ll explore a magical Inca path and visit the ruins of Runkurakay, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca. When you get to the camp, you’ll also be able to visit the ruins of Wiñaywayna. You’ll also be able to take a hot shower at the campsite.

You’ll start the hike early on the fourth day, at about 5am. Starting that early is necessary for you to get to the Intipunku, or “sun gate”, (almost 2.75km, or 9.000 feet above sea level) before sunrise, so you get to enjoy the most spectacular view during your Peru stay – view of Machu Picchu at sunrise. After that, you’ll head to Machu Picchu, get guided tour of Machu Picchu and take the bus to Aguas Calientes.

Group watcing Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

A group watching Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

These Inca Trail tours usually end by taking you on a train to Ollantaytambo and then transferring you to your hotel in Cusco.

During the Inca Trail tour you’ll have cooks and people carrying the equipment, while you’ll carry only your backpack.

Lares Trek – ends at Machu Picchu

Lares Trek is the best and the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail. You’ll walk/hike off the beaten track, you’ll visit authentic Andean communities, you’ll be amazed by the surrounding mountains, lakes and valleys, and you’ll learn a lot about the life of locals now and back in history.

Lares Trek also starts near Cusco and it ends at Machu Picchu.

How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

Machu Picchu is only 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) away from Aguas Calientes. You can go that distance easily by foot. It will take you 2 hours, because it’s uphill, and you’ll stop every once in awhile to enjoy scenery.

I wouldn’t recommend going by foot though, it’s better to save energy for Machu Picchu itself, and it’s good to be on the top very early, to watch the sunrise, as you wouldn’t really get to enjoy scenery very much in the dark.

The most recommended way of visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes is to go up there by bus, and to walk back down at the end of the day. That’s how you keep your energy for the main treat, Machu Picchu, and get to see and enjoy scenery along the way while going back. Not to mention that it’s much easier walking downhill than uphill. :)

How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes? Via this curvy road :)

You can catch bus every 10 minutes from 5:30AM – 5:30PM, when the crowd is biggest in the season peak. They go less frequently during other seasons of the year. Bus ticket for a foreign adult is £6 for one-way and £11 for round-trip. Bus station is in center of the town and it opens at 5:15AM.

Machu Picchu entrance opens at 6AM and closes at 6PM. The last bus going down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes leaves at 5:30PM. Be there early if you don’t want to miss that bus and that’s the way you decided to go back.

How to get to Cusco

The ‘how’ of getting to Cusco depends on what are you planning to visit in Peru. You might be coming directly from Lima, capital of Peru, or you were visiting Lake Titicaca, or you spent some time in the Amazon Jungle – whatever the case is, you’ll find the answer below.

How to get from Lima to Cusco

There are two convenient options to get to Cusco from Lima: to go by bus or to take a flight. Between these two options, I’d recommend taking a flight. Price is not much higher than the bus price, and you’ll save a lot of time. A lot!

By bus

Although it’s a cheaper option, it’s £20-£50 (one-way) depending on the company you take and services class you chose, it’s not a very good choice. It takes you about 20 hours to get from Lima to Cusco by bus. That’s a lot, but if you still decide to take a bus, the good thing is that there are very good companies driving that line – you can expect good buses with very comfortable seats.

Take a flight

This is definitely the easiest way to get from Lima to Cusco. One-way ticket is only about £57, and round-trip is about £110. Flight duration is about 1h 15m.

BTW, you should read article about things to do in Lima, if you’re going to visit it.

How to get from Puno to Cusco

If you were visiting Puno, Lake Titicaca and its unique floating islands, and you need to get from Puno to Cusco, here are the options: you can go by public bus, by tourist bus, or by train. The important thing is that whatever decision you make here, you’ll get a spectacular view!

Lake Titicaca floating islands. Photo by: Shawn Harquail

Lake Titicaca floating islands. Photo by: Shawn Harquail

Public bus

This is the fastest and the cheapest way to get from Puno to Cusco. It would take you 6-7 hours and about £15 for that trip.

Tourist bus

Some say that the tourist bus was one of the best things they did in Peru, even though it’s a lot more expensive, up to ten times more than the public bus. The trip is a little bit longer, but you get to see the most of the amazing sightseeing places along the road. Most of Peru tours visiting Lake Titicaca will give you the same experience.

Train

Going to Cusco from Peru by train is the most comfortable option, but also very expensive. The trip is also a bit longer than if you’d use the public bus. The advantage of using train, other than comfort, is a better view along the road.

How to get from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco

If you have been visiting the Amazon jungle before you head to the Machu Picchu, you need to get to Cusco from Puerto Maldonado. Bus is not a good option because it’s a long, long ride. It used to be even 40 hours long 10 years ago! Now it’s significantly shorter, but it still takes about 10 hours.

Amazon Jungle. Photo by: Ivan Mlinaric

Amazon Jungle. Photo by: Ivan Mlinaric

Flight lasts only 50 minutes, but the price is a bit expensive for that short flight, it goes from £90.

Again, this is one more example why it’s a good idea to travel Peru via packaged tour. All tours including both Amazon jungle and Machu Picchu would include this flight. Since they get much better flight prices, because they buy it in bulk, tour price would be cheaper than if you organized the same trip on your own.

How to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

There are no roads to Aguas Calientes. You can get there only by foot or by train. You already saw how to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco by foot – taking the Inca Trail, Lares Trek or some similar trek. Don’t forget that you are not allowed to do those hikes by yourself, you can only do those hikes by taking a guided tour. We’ll see now how you can get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by train.

Option 1 is to take a train from Poroy, near Cusco. You would get there from Cusco by taxi. The rail operator is Perurail, and it’s a bit expensive. You can buy tickets at perurail.com. The problem with this route is that there are only four trains and they are all leaving early in the morning, so you can’t get them if you are coming by first plane from Lima.

Option 2 is to take a taxi, bus or van from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and then train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. There are much more lines, so you can catch one even if you are arriving to Cusco on a morning flight. Taxi is the expensive option here, but bus and Colectivo van are good ones.

How to get to Machu Picchu

Colectivo vans

How to get to Peru

I didn’t want to go in deep on how to get to Peru here, you have probably already thought of some way that suits your preferences the best. It really depends on your way of traveling, from where you are coming to Peru, or what do you want to visit here, so I’ll just say that majority of travelers come to Peru by flying to Lima. You’ve probably already saw this article on how much does a trip to Peru cost where you could see how much flights from some world’s capitals to Lima cost.

Getting back from Machu Picchu

As already said, after the day spent on Machu Picchu, you’ll probably get down to Aguas Calientes. You can do that by bus, but it’s probably better if you walk down. It is an easy 6 kilometers walk downhill, and you’ll get to enjoy beautiful sceneries. You just have to leave Machu Picchu on time to catch your ride to your next destination, probably Cusco. Off course, make sure to get back while there is still a daylight.

If you took tour to visit Machu Picchu, you’ll probably have arranged all about getting back with the tour company, if not – make sure you have your tickets prepared and make sure to be on time for a departure.

Take Peru guided tour

As you could see, the most efficient and the most fun way of travelling to Peru is doing so via guided tour. Here are few more reason to travel to Peru via guided tour:

  • It’s cheaper
    • There’s a common misconception that taking a guided tour is expensive, but the truth is actually the opposite. Tours are usually cheaper (sometimes up to 40%) than if you’d be doing the same trip on your own. The reason is simple: tour companies get much better hotel and transportation deals than you could ever do on your own, simply because they always book for groups.
  • You get to see more
    • There’s no way you can organize your trip the way tour companies that cooperate with local travel experts can. They know the optimal routes, they know if there’s some crowded place that’ll take you too much time, they take you to the hidden gems that are not easy to find and often you even get to skip the lines and save time.
Machu Picchu interesting points

Every point has its own fantastic story you’ll miss if you don’t have an expert by your side

  • It’s fun
    • Imagine traveling with a group of like-minded and super cool people. Imagine that you don’t have to wear stupid selfie stick, because you can always have a friend next to you to capture the memories. Also, imagine making 10 awesome friends from all over the world and learning about their countries and life experiences. It’s certainly a big bonus to the trip!
  • It’s flexible
    • One more misconception is that tours are not flexible enough. This is so not true! Tours often take you to a city, give you the two-hour orientation tour, and let you explore the rest by yourself. You can ask tour leader for the best jazz clubs around, you can ask for a recommendation for the best and cheapest shopping options, or the best food in town. Basically, you can ask for any advice and do it on your own. If you want it that way. If not, you can spend time with some of the amazing people you inevitably meet on the tour.
  • You get to experience local culture in the best possible way
    • Tour companies have locals on the ground. A good tour company will take you to a dinner in a village house and show you how Peruvian locals live. They will take you to a local event you couldn’t find on your own.
  • Let the pro’s do their thing
    • Tour companies have one job: to set you free from all the hassle, and to make sure you enjoy your time. Just imagine you don’t have to worry about working hours or Machu Picchu tickets. Imagine that instead spending hours trying to book a bus taking you to the next city, maybe even having problems with wifi – imagine you get to spend that time enjoying a beautiful place on the other side of the planet.

Peru guided Tours I recommend:

So that’s it. Now you know when and how, now read about things to do in Peru and souvenirs to buy in Peru, and you’re ready to go! 😉