After making the trip from Lima to Machu Picchu, I’m ready to share the details!
Going on a trip to Machu Picchu from Lima? You’re not the only one. Machu Picchu is the main reason to visit Peru for many people. Machu Picchu is indeed absolutely incredible. But there is a lot more to Peru that many visitors often miss.
Anyway, that is not what you’re here for. You’re trying to find out how to get to the old Inca city of Machu Picchu. Which is fair enough. There are a few different ways to do so. Let’s not wait any longer and dive straight in!
Getting to Machu Picchu from Lima
Let’s get down to business. Getting to Machu Picchu is relatively straightforward, but it’s not possible to do it directly. Which means we have to cut the journey into three pieces.
Step 1: Lima to Cusco
Getting from Lima to Cusco will be the first thing you have to do. Because from Cusco, you get to Aguas Calientes, and from Aguas Calientes, you get to Machu Picchu. Sounds easy enough right? Ok, let’s find our way to Cusco! Also, Cusco is the best spot to go souvenir hunting!
Take a plane
By far the easiest and quickest way is to fly from Lima to Cusco. The flights are direct, and only take about 1 hour and 20 minutes. If you book these in advance they’re also pretty damn cheap.
That being said, the cheapest airline is SKY. And we do NOT have a good experience with them. They’re known for occasionally cancelling flights on the date of departure and are just a little unreliable. We got stuck in a dodgy-feeling town in the north of Peru and had to rebook on a LATAM flight much later in the day. LATAM however has never let us down.
LATAM is on average only $15 more expensive for a one-way flight. So if I were you, I’d go for LATAM.
Find your flight on SkyScanner below!
Take a bus
Another option is to take buses all the way from Lima to Cusco. Which is a GREAT way to explore Peru. That being said, it does take a very long time. You can go straight from Lima to Cusco by bus, but it will take you over 24 hours. It’s better for the environment, and if you’re an eco-traveller, it’s a good option.
But let’s be completely honest here. Everybody wants to be an eco-traveller. But our eco-threshold only stretches so far. If a bus journey was incredibly cheap, then it had something else going for it. But taking a 24+ hour bus is as expensive as flying. However, your luggage is included for free on the bus.k
Another way to do the bus journey is to make multiple stops along the way. This is, in my opinion, the absolute best way to visit Peru. If you plan on doing this I recommend using Bus Bud to get your tickets in advance.
They’re only a tiny bit more expensive than booking it with the companies themselves, but in our experience, it is a lot easier. Especially if your Spanish is not great. For recommendations of places to visit, see this great itinerary Callie has made.
Mentioning itineraries, did you know Callie creates amazing personalised ones? She includes ALL travel options, links for hotel bookings, restaurant recommendations, and activities. Find out more here!
In the itinerary, there is mention of Peru Hop. Which is a bus service through Peru, and they’re amazing. I know, it is a bus, but I’ll mention them separately below.
This company provides a bus service with multiple stops. There are a few different routes you can pick, although they are quite similar. But, what’s so great about them?
Let me tell you. YOU decide your itinerary. Yes, you pick a route beforehand, and you can’t change it. But you can decide exactly how long you spend at each stop. Or to completely skip one. Every bus has an English-speaking guide that helps you with restaurant recommendations, and you can book most activities directly through them.
We decided to do the dune buggy tour in Huacachina last minute, and they sorted it out for us while on the bus.
If you book the trip through Bus Bud you’ll spend about $100 on bus tickets. With Peru Hop, the same journey will cost you $219. But it’s worth not having the hassle of booking separate trips, buses not sticking to their schedule (it is South America, they don’t stick to their schedules), dangerous drivers, and so on.
You’ll also get a Pisco (the national alcoholic drink) tour, you’ll get to see the Nazca lines, you do a desert trip in Paracas, and all other tours can be booked with a discount through them. So all in all, it’s not that much more expensive, and you get all the convenience of Peru Hop.
Another incredibly fun way to see Peru. You will have to stop multiple times to sleep, but can decide exactly where and when to go. But do keep in mind that the road network in Peru is probably not what you’re used to.
It’s rare to see a road without potholes, and traffic rules don’t always seem to apply. Speed limits are seen as a recommendation by local drivers, and the lines on the road may as well be imaginary.
All that being said, the roads are generally quiet and safe, apart from Lima of course. Where it is safe, just not quiet. And the roads in Cusco are safe but narrow.
Step 2: Cusco to Aguas Calientes
Amazing! The longest journey is behind you. Well, if you’ve flown, in the longest journey in distance at least. Now we’ve got to get to Aguas Calientes, which is the closest town to Machu Picchu. From there, you make the day trip up to the long-lost Inca city.
To get to Machu Picchu, and you’re not trekking, you will have to take a train at some point. While it’s possible to go from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by train, it’s not something many travellers decide to do.
There are not many departures from Cusco itself. Most trains to Aguas Calientes depart from Ollantaytambo.
Check the Peru Rail website to get your ticket and transport options.
By far the best way to get to Machu Picchu: trekking. This is a fairly physically demanding way of getting there, but absolutely worth it. Me and Callie did the Inca Trail in June 2023 and were blown away by it.
Everywhere you go you have incredible views of the Andes. Snowcapped mountaintops and stunning valleys.
There are a few different treks you can do, but the most famous one is the 4-day Inca Trail. We did it with Alpaca Expeditions and are very impressed with their service. It was an amazing experience.
Other trekking options are:
- Salkantay Trek
- 2 or 3-day Inca Trail
- Inca Jungle Trail
- Lares Trail
- Choquequirao Trail
If you decide to trek, you won’t have to worry about any transport. This is all included in your tour package. You’ll be picked up from Cusco, and will only make it to Aguas Calientes after seeing Machu Picchu.
Make sure you have enough time in Cusco to acclimate, since it is dangerous to hike at altitude without doing so.
Bus and train
This is the most common way of making the journey. As I mentioned before in the train section, most trains depart from Ollantaytambo.
The easiest way to sort yourself out with transport is, again, Peru Rail. Just pick a date and select Cusco as your departure. You will then get the option for a train (if in the rare case that there is one), or a bus+train ticket.
You’ll take a bus to Ollantaytambo and take the train from there. You get the most options doing it this way, with many departure times throughout the morning.
Step 3: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Since you’re in Aguas Calientes I figure you didn’t trek. So you’ll still need a way to get to Machu Picchu, right? Let’s discuss the two options!
Take a bus
The easiest way, but also the busiest (pun not intended). There was a huge line when we got back from visiting Machu Picchu, and I bet that lasted over an hour. So time-wise I don’t think it makes a difference to hike or not.
Reviews recommend queueing AT LEAST 30-45 minutes before your scheduled departure, but you’re likely to miss your booked bus and you’ll have to get on the next one.
The buses depart here and tickets should be purchased in advance for $12 each way.
Take a hike
This is the backpacker way to do it. A 2-hour uphill hike from Aguas Calientes to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Free of charge of course. The road is windy and used by the buses, so be careful.
There are shortcuts in the form of steep paths and stairs that are NOT visible on Google Maps, but they are there. We watched people climb up them. So it’s possible to do it under 2 hours depending on your fitness level.
Where to Stay in Cusco
Especially if you’re trekking, it’s highly recommended to get acclimated to the altitude in Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu. Cusco is a great town and I loved spending every second there. Even so much, that after the Inca Trail, we decided to stick around for a few more days.
Budget option – KAARO HOUSE CUSCO
We stayed in KAARO HOUSE after we did the Inca Trail. It was peaceful and quiet so we figured it was a good place to wind down after hiking for 4 days. The staff is lovely and will help you out with just about anything. They prebooked us a taxi to get to the Peru Hop bus terminal and offered to let us check out late because we had to wait the full day for the bus.
Mid-range option – Amaru Colonial
A picturesque hotel in the San Blas area of Cusco. Close to the main square. The rooms have WiFi and heating, which is something you could need in the night. Not every hotel offers heating, so this is great.
High-end option – Hotel Encantada Casa Boutique Spa
This hotel is also very conveniently located in the historic centre of Cusco. It offers wellness treatments, has a rooftop area, and a nice garden for guests.
What to Do in Cusco
There are LOADS of things to do and see in Cusco. Let’s discuss a few great ones that are doable within a day.
This lake is at an altitude of 12,700ft, or 3850m. This means breathing can be difficult. The hike to the lake is about 7km, of which the last bit is uphill. It’s not a difficult hike, but because of the altitude, you might struggle.
The scenery around Rainbow Mountain is just as spectacular as the mountain itself making the whole trip amazing. The hike is fairly flat, but at an altitude of about 17,000ft (5200m), even a gentle walk feels like running a marathon.
It’s worth it though, but make sure you’re acclimated before attempting this hike, as altitude sickness can happen. All guides are trained to deal with this though, and they carry oxygen in case of emergency. Not that you’re likely to need it, but still.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is where the Incas used to grow a lot of their food. The valley is incredibly fertile, making it the best spot to grow grains, corn, and fruits and vegetables.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, making the valley extra important. Nowadays you can still see and feel the empire because of the ancient ruins, and traditions.
Machu Picchu Tours
One of the best ways to see Machu Picchu is by taking a tour. The Inca Trail is the best and most popular, but not the only one. Both day tours and multi-day treks are available depending on your needs.
FAQs – Machu Picchu from Lima
I’ve been as thorough as I could. But you may have some other lingering questions. I’ll try to answer them below.
How long does it take to get to Machu Picchu from Lima?
It all depends on your travel style. If you fly, you could be there the next day. If you take Peru Hop or a different bus with multiple stops, it’ll take you over a week.
When should I visit Cusco?
Depending on your reason for visiting and the type of traveller you are, there are a few different months that are good for visiting. June for the best weather, April for fewer crowds, and February for the cheapest prices. This all has a reason though!
How much does it cost to get from Lima to Machu Picchu?
Again, it depends on your travel style. If you do it cheaply, you’re probably looking at just under $250. That is by flying to Cusco and transporting yourself by bus and train to Machu Picchu and back.
Is there a train from Lima to Machu Picchu?
There is no train that goes from Lima to Machu Picchu.
How far is Machu Picchu from Lima by plane?
The flight to Cusco is only 1 hour and 20 minutes. You’re then looking at at least another 4 hours to get to Machu Picchu, but because of timings, this is not really doable within a single day.
How long should I acclimate in Cusco?
At least 2 days, but more is better. Cusco is a great place to just take in the Peruvian and Andean cultures.
Final Thoughts – Machu Picchu from Lima
Making the trip to Machu Picchu from Lima is not difficult, but there is more than one way. Picking the right one depends on budget, travel style, and the amount of time you want to spend in Peru. After reading this post, you’re confident in your options and know which one to pick.