Getting to Machu Picchu – How to get to Machu Picchu, Peru

Getting to Machu Picchu on your own is quite easy, but it does require advance planning.    Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world for such a long time because its location is fairly remote and inaccessible.  Because of its remote location and multiple connections required, many tourists are often confused on how to get there, and often settle for the expensive package tour from Lima or Cuzco.  Contrary to popular believes, you don’t need to hike through mountains to get to Machu Picchu, and most senior citizens with decent health can do the trip.  Forget the Machu Picchu package tour; you can do it on your own cheaply by following the steps below.

Machu Picchu Sunrise - From Guard House

Machu Picchu – From the Guard House

Machu Picchu Llama

Machu Picchu Llama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 1 – Get to Lima, Peru (This is easily done with many international flights

Step 2 – Get from Lima to Cuzco

  • By Air – Recommended way, takes 1hr 20 mins, and prices as low as US$70-80 each way with advance booking.  Flights can be booked online at www.starperu.com, www.peruvian.pe, www.lan.com, or  www.taca.com.   Star Peru and Peruvian Air are among the cheapest, and their planes are really nice.

Step 3 -  Getting from Cuzco to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) Aguas Calientes is a town at the base of Machu Picchu and where the train station and lodgings are. There are no road to Machu Picchu and train/hiking the Inca Trails are the only way to get there.  We will only cover the train option below as hikes must be with a guided group tour (approx. US$450-650 for the 4-days hike option).

Most tourists spend a couple of days in Cuzco, touring the city and the Sacred Valley before heading to Machu Picchu.  Many people do get altitude sickness as Cuzco is 11,203 ft. (3,395m) above sea level.  Cuzco is at much higher elevation than Machu Picchu; thus, an alternate but less taken itinerary (to help prevent altitude sickness) is to head straight to Machu Picchu after your plane lands in Cuzco and then work your way back to Cuzco.

While in Cuzco, you can find many 1 or 2 days packaged tour to Machu Picchu ($US270-350), 4 days Inca Trail Hike (US$450-650), half-day Cuzco city tour (US$10-15 or S./25-40), or 1 day Sacred Valley tour (US$12-20 or S./30-50).   The Cuzco city tour and the Sacred Valley tour are highly recommended, but don’t bother with the expensive Machu Picchu package tour as you can do it yourself as follows.  

Train to Machu Picchu - Cuzco to Machu Picchu byTrain

Train to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Train - Train to Machu Picchu - Peru Rail

Inside Machu Picchu Train

Option 1 – Cuzco to Machu Picchu by Train – Currently Perurail is the only operator offering the services from Cuzco.  There are 3 classes of services (Expedition, Vistadome, Hiram Bingham), cheapest ticket at US$73 (one-way), and is about 3.5 hrs. trip.  Expedition used to be called Backpacker (don’t be fooled by the name, it would be one of the nicest train you have taken).  Tickets can be booked online at www.perurail.com.  A downside to this option is the limited train schedules (only 4 trains per day and all leave in early morning).   If you have the morning flight from Lima and wants to go straight to Machu Picchu, you cannot catch these trains.

Option 2 – Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu by Train –  This option requires bus/taxi/van to Ollantaytambo and then train to Machu Picchu.  It is the cheapest option with tickets as low as US$52 (one-way), and about 2 hrs. ride.  Also, there are many more trains to choose from, and you can catch this train if you arrive to Cuzco on the morning flight, and want to go straight to Machu Picchu.  The Cuzco-Machu Picchu trains also fill up quickly, so this is a good alternative.  Ollantaytambo (65km from Cuzco) is along a scenic paved road.  It is a very lovely town, and it is recommended to spend 1- 2 here and slow down to soak up the basic lifestyle.  Ollantaytambo temples and ruins are also a must visit, and are usually part of the Sacred Valley day-tour package.  Follow the methods below to get from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo - Peru - Ollantaytambo Temple

Lovely town of Ollantaytambo – Peru

Cuzco - Sacred Valley - Peru - Andes Mountain Range

Scenic ride, Cusco to Ollantaytambo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • Ollantaytambo - Sacred Valley - Peru

      Ollantaytambo Streets

      Taxi – from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo will take 90 mins (US$30 or S./80).

    • Bus – You can also take the bus from the first block of Av. Grau near the bridge (US$1.50, 90 minutes) to Urubamba and then hop another bus for the 20-minute, US$1 ride to Ollantaytambo.
    • Colectivo Van – The most convenient option is to take a colectivo van from the Paradero Pavitos (US$3.50 or S./10, 90 minutes) to Ollantaytambo.  Colectivo leaves when full, and often within 10-15 mins of waiting.  These are nice vans.
Cuzco to Ollantaytambo Colectivo - How to get to Ollantaytambo From Cuzco

The Colectivo vans

There are 2 train operators from Ollantaytambo (www.perurail.com or www.inkarail.com).  Book online in advance as trains fill up quickly, especially the evening return train from Macchu Piccu to Ollantaytambo or Cuzco (don’t even think about walking up at last minute to get these return tickets).

When booking your trains, remember that Aguas Calientes is a small town at the base of Machu Picchu and where the Machu Picchu train station is.  This is also where you can spend the night cheaply as sleeping at Machu Picchu itself will drop you (US$700/night).  Not much in Aguas Calientes, but do spend the afternoon walking around and enjoy a dip in the hot springs (US$4 or S./10).

Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Peru

Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu, Peru

Step 4 – Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu entranceFrom Aguas Calientes you have to take a short 20 mins bus ride, through multiple scenic switchbacks up to Machu Picchu.  The fit can hike up for free in about 2 hrs., but not recommended as you should save your energy for Machu Picchu itself.  Bus runs 5:30am – 5:30pm, at 10 mins interval depending on demand, and tickets (US $9 each way, US$17 foreign adult round-trip) are available from a small ticket booth near the bus departure area near Plazaa Principal (center of town, opens at 5:15am).  Machu Picchu entrance opens from 6am-6pm but the last return bus from Machu Picchu leaves at 5:30PM (don’t miss it!)

Step 5 – Getting your tickets to Machu PicchuMachu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate and MUST BE BOOKED IN ADVANCE.  Advance ticketing are available from the official government website (www.machupicchu.gob.pe), various ticket offices noted on that website, travel agency, most hostels, or from Aguas Calientes Cultural Center (5:15AM-9PM at Plazaa Principal), or  in Cusco at the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC).

General entrance (US$50 or S./128) are limited to 2500/day, with entrance to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Montana (US$55-59 or S./142-152, hikes to the top 2 peaks of Machu Picchu) being sub limited to 400/day.  Book early as Huayna Picchu often filled 2 wks. in advance.  The Government Site lists how many tickets are still available for each day. There are discounts for children, students with an ISIC card, and Peruvian nationals. Tickets are valid only for 1 day so you will have to buy a new one if you want to see Machu Picchu a 2nd day.  Be sure to bring your ORIGINAL PASSPORT, as it is requested upon entry.

As of October 6, 2012 the online site is NOT accepting foreign credit cards. You must go through a travel agency or hotel in Peru or pay at any Banco de la Nacion, otherwise your reservation will expire within 6 hours and you will lose your spot.  For those with limited time in Peru and want to secure tickets in advance (especially for Huayna Picchu), try www.ticket-machupicchu.com.  They charge a minor 20% mark up, you can pay with your foreign credit cards, and print your tickets.

Machu Picchu - Temple of the Sun

Machu Picchu – Temple of the Sun

Machu Picchu at Sunrise

Machu Picchu at Sunrise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 6 - Enjoying Machu Picchu and the Return Trip – You can see all of Machu Picchu in about 5-8 hrs depending on how fast you walk and whether you do the Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Montana hike (2-3 hrs round trip).  Below are some useful tips.

  • Machu Picchu - Nusta's Bedroom

    Machu Picchu – Nusta’s Bedroom

    Best view of Machu Picchu is at sunrise (6-6:30am).  Stay in Aguas Calientes the night before and be on the 1st few bus up to Machu Picchu.  Book your bus ticket the day before and arrive at bus station around 5am as long lines will form.

  • Do the Huayna Picchu 10-11am option.  Spend the scenic morning time taking photos/touring Machu Picchu, then hike up Huayna Picchu for a lunch stop up top.
  • Machu Picchu Montana is a longer hike than Huayna Picchu but a good alternative if you can’t get the Huayna Picchu tickets.
  • Only small packs (less than 20 liters) are allowed in the park, luggage storage available at the entrance.  Sunscreens, a hat, and water are must bring.
  • Food at Machu Picchu is expensive (US$11 for a burger).  Buy food/water from Aguas Calientes and hope it doesn’t get confiscated at the entrance.
  • Allow enough time to catch the bus and your return train.  Remember that return trains are often full, so if you miss it, you likely have to stay overnight.
  • If you do the return train to Ollantaytambo, there would be many Colectivo vans (S./10) waiting for you to take you back to Cuzco (even if you get there at 8:30pm, but likely not at 11pm)

Share your Machu Picchu experiences or leave questions/comments below!  Click LIKE if you want to go!

See Video of How to Get to Machu Picchu Below

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42 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this extremely helpful write-up. This may be a bit off-topic, but would you please share what you can about the nightlife in these cities? In particular, where can we find dancing, i.e., Latin dancing (like salsa or whatever is popular among locals)? Is it all over? Is it hard to come by? Thank you!

  2. Hello,

    I just wanted to know whether this was current as of August 6th 2014? Thank you for all the great information!

  3. Hello, is this information current? I just want to make sure that things haven’t changed.

  4. Thanks so much! I just have one question, you mention that if you miss the bus-train you will have to stay overnight, is that possible? Where? I mean, I think I would love to stay overnight but I suspect is not a really good idea…

    (Just a little correction: the word is “agua” not aqua, so e name of the pueblo is Aguas Calientes (hot waters)
    thanks so much and greetings from Chile.

    • If you miss the last train back, then you will have to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes. Yes, there are many hotels and hostel in Aguas Calientes and you will not have a problem. There is nothing in Aguas Calientes, so only stay if you needed to. Most people stay there the night before going up to Machu Picchu.

  5. Super great article and help us a lot :) Its well written and easy to understand for first timers.
    I would like to ask if it is better to book a day tour of Machu Picchu in advance online, the ones in Trip Advisor or there are tour guides in machu picchu available anytime near the entrance?
    I’m afraid to book online and that tour company is fake. I’m planning to book 1 Day Sacred Valley and 1 day Machu Picchu it costs 410 USD including train fare, entrance fees to Machu Picchu and sacred valley and overnight room stay in Aguas Calientes.
    Thank you so much.

    • You can do the trip on your own for $230, excluding meals. That is $104 for round trip train tickets, $50 for Machu picchu tickets, $20 for Sacred Valley day tour, $17 Machu Picchu bus, $35 for hotel (if spit 2 person), $3 for collectivo back to Cuzco.

      You can book the Sacred Valley day tour from any of your hotel/hostel travel desk. If your hotel doesn’t have a desk, they will help you as they have connection and they probably earn a commission.
      You can book Machu Picchu portion there as well for between $270-350.
      Generally, it is always cheaper when you book it while you are there locally than through website. Sacred Valley on website usually advertise for $30-$35, we got it for $20 locally.

      There is a tour guide provided by the national park at the entrance for $20USD. They can speak English, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, depending on request.

  6. Hi, Have searched everywhere, but can NOT find out if you can pay for the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu with our credit card – can you please tell me??? Don’t want to carry that much cash. Thanks & regards

    • You are in Peru and like most 3rd world country, cash is king. Bring cash. I don’t believe they accept credit.

  7. Thanks so much for the detailed information. We were able to book our trip by ourselves and within budget. Saved us a lot of money and time!

  8. Hi,
    We’ve only got a short time in Peru. Excluding days traveling to the places, we’ve got:

    2 full days in Arequipe to see the city and one canyon
    2 days in Puno to see the lake and islands
    2 in Cusco to see Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
    1 in Lima to see the city

    On top of that, we have one extra day to spend in one of those places. Where would you suggest we spend it?

    We have three choices:

    1. Should we use that extra day in Cusco – Is one day enough to see the Sacred Valley or do you need more?

    2. Or use the extra day in Arequipe – is one day enough to see one of the canyons on a one day tour, or is that trying to squeeze in too much too quickly?

    3. Arequipe again – can you visit the Valley of the Volcanoes on a one day tour?

    A possible solution to get an extra day in both Arequipe and Cusco-

    4. Puno – do we need two full days there? We want to see the lake and visit one of the islands, but are we better only having one day here to do that which would give us a second extra day so we can have three days in both Cusco and Arequipe?

    Thanks for your advice. Much appreciated.

    Steve

    • Steve,

      That is very compressed. We did Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley in 6 days and felt rushed. You really need 2 wks to do what you planned to do. One couple we know did what you did in a 13 days packaged tour where all transportation/meals are included. You should consider focusing on Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu for those period. Remember, you need to factor in transportation/flights to and from all the places, so that leave you with very little time in between. “It is the experience, not just the destination”.

      But if you want to still do what you have noted above, then:
      1. Spend the extra day in Cusco. You need 1 day to see Sacred Valley, Half a day to see Cusco, then 1 day to see Machu Picchu, so that is 3 full days not including flight back/forth from your major city, so you may actually need 3.5 days to do this if you factor flights, etc. Honestly, we wish we spend 1 extra day soaking up the basic/timeless lifestyle of the Sacred Valley.

      2. If you have another extra day, then do Puno to see the lake and islands.

      • HI,

        Thanks for the info.

        Like I said, those days we have available are EXCLUDING traveling to the places, so we’ve actually got longer in Peru, so please don’t worry for us.

        Yes it will probably feel rushed, but it was all we could manage in the time we had.

        Thanks again for your help.
        Steve

        • Then spent 1 extra day in Cusco, MP, Sacred valley area. The other day can be in Punto. The salt flat can be seen as part of your sacred valley day tour. You can use the extra day to hike around Ollantaytambo. There are storage compound/ruins for grains on top of a hill that is a cool spot and view to hike to.

    • Evening

      I’ll be traveling into Lima at midnight, staying at the Lima airport until 7am flight to Cusco. From here I have until the Friday morning before I want to head up to Mancora for the weekend.
      My question is . . .
      Should I stay in Cusco for a few days, or simply spend the day there and catch a combi van to Ollantatambo and stay there for a few days?

      Greatly appreciate your help!

      • you need 1 day to see cusco, then do 1 day to see Sacred valley and 1 day to throughly see and feel Ollantaytambo.

        Ollantaytambo is a very very very small town. You can see Ollantaytambo temple in 2 hrs, then you can hike to the storage ruin on the mountain side which takes 2 hours, you can ride bikes, you can go to spa and get massage, you can even visit a witch doctor to get cleansing, or simply do nothing and give yourself a very peaceful timeless feel which we often all need. It is a very chill town.

        Take the Cusco half day tour, the Sacred Valley day tour as those are worth the money. You will pay much more to hire a private guide or taxi to do it. Taking a bus yourself is a waste of time.

  9. Hi.Really you have no idea how much help you gave by writing this article :) Thank you.I have just a one question.Is it possible without any stress to reach Machu Pichu from Cuzco and be back in one day? I mean, it seems that it is doable but I’m afraid about train in the morning and amount of people getting on, etc. I was also thinking about getting from Cuzco to MP, and then take a train to Ollantaytambo, spend some time there and then take a taxi to Cuzco.Is this also as easy as it sounds ? ;) Thank you for info.

    • 1. Yes, you can do the morning Vistadome Train which leaves Cusco at 6:40am and gets to Machu Picchu at 9:50, then you take the 4:43 train back to Cusco or 6:35 train back to Ollantaytambo then the collectivo van back to Cusco (collectivo van all waiting right outside train station) The 4:43 train will give you a quick view of MP as by the time you make it up top it will be 10:45am, you then have 10:45pm until 3:15pm to see the place before you should start heading down so you don’t miss the 4:43 train. You will have 4.5-5 hours to see the place, which is more than enough.

      2. You can also spend the night in Ollantaytambo if you take the later train such as the 6:35pm or 9:50pm. Ollantaytambo is a very nice town and you should visit the ruin there. It is as laid back, peaceful, little town as you ever want it. One can spend a week there and be lost in time. Would recommend spending 1 full day there and then take the taxi or collectivo van back to Cusco. Taxi will drop you 80/120 sol depending on negotiation. Collectivo van is 10 sol and it is almost the same anyway. Catch collectivo from sentral market place or from train station.

  10. Hi,

    Great article.

    Just one question, please:

    When you say “don’t bother with the expensive Machu Picchu package tour as you can do it yourself” do you mean you can simply travel to Machu Picchu yourself and then climb up it, so don’t bother buying a “tour” to do that? Or are you referring to the two day treks that are available as an alternative to the traditional 4/5 day trek, and saying those aren’t worth it?

    We won’t be able to complete the full Inca Trail but would like to walk some of it. Two days would be ideal. Is it worth doing, please?

    What do you see on a two day trek and what do you miss that you get with the 4 day trek, please?

    Thanks,
    Steve

    • If you want to do the trek up Machu Picchu (4 days or 2 days) you must book the package with travel agent. It is highly regulated, you need permits, etc.

      If you don’t want to trek up and simply ride train and bus up to the entrance, then walk around the facilities (which the walk is a lot of walking/hiking itself), then you can do it yourselves by simply following this article.

      In our opinion, the hike up to Machu Picchu is cool to do and cool to say that you have done. However, the scenery is so so and no where compare to hiking in Yosemite, Banff, Dolomite, Mont Blanc, or other trails in Peru. It is more for the tourist money and the coolness factor of one saying they did it.

      • Thanks for the info. Much appreciated.

        And surprising – the scenery isn’t as good as in Yosemite? I was expecting it to be spectacular. So if it’s only for the kudos, we’ll forget the Inca Trail.

        Are there any hikes in the Sacred Valley that are comparable for scenery to the places you mention, please? It’s the scenery we’re going for, not bragging rights.

        Thanks again,
        Steve

  11. What is the best month to visit Sacred Valley of Urubamba? as I prefer overall green view. Will you suggest if I visti Brazil and pass by there or seperate travel, it’s much better? Thanks

    • There is a lot to see in Peru. It takes 3 weeks minimum to really see most of it in a quick manner. It is a lovely and beautiful country. it is one of our favorite, if not top 5.

      Good time to visit is late spring, November or early december. It can rain a bit at that time, but it will be green!

  12. I have to say this is the most clear Cuzco to Machu Picchu insight I have seen so far. I’m planning our trip for Late September 2016. We are taking a morning flight and I rather go straight to Machu Picchu and slowly work my way back to Cuzco.

    1) Can you only get from Ollantaytambo to Aqua Calientes and then Machu Picchu by train? I’m pretty I didn’t see you mention bus or taxi.

    2) Do you have a favorite hostel you like to stay in, in Aqua Calientes?

    3) Can I see all of Machu Picchu in one day? I was thinking about adding a 2nd day of Machu Picchu. And what if I add Huayna Picchu?

    4) What is the lure to Huayna Picchu.

    Thank you for your time and the info you provided.
    Sincerely Christy

    • Christy, Thanks. I think going to MP first and work back will help with altitude sickness. We didn’t get sick, but pretty much all of our friends who did it the other way did!

      1. Yes, train is the only way. There are no road as Machu Picchu is hidden from society. You can do the Inca Trail Hike (4 days) as the alternative.
      2. Pirwa hostels Machu Picchu was pretty good. We got a private double ensuite and it was clean and bathroom was good. Just like a small hotel room for a low price.
      3. Yes, you can see all in 1 day. We did it all from 6am open time to 3pm. We saw all of it. Well, if you are fit, YES.
      4. There is a ruin up top. You hike to the cool looking peak, you scramble through small stair cases and opening, then you scale a ruin and stand on top of it looking down at Machu Picchu. If you can’t get the tickets, the alternative is Machu Picchu Mountana. This is a longer hike, but you get to look down at Wayna Picchu. We still prefer Wayna Picchu over it as that is the center of attention and cool to scale a ruin.

      If you can stay in Ollantaytambo, stay at Casa de Wow! For $30USD, a very clean, friendly, homely hostel you can ever stay at. It is basically a home of some canadian lady and she rents rooms out. She will run to the market in the morning to get eggs and bread to make you breakfast!

      Let us know if you have any other question.

  13. Hi! Can you tell me when you wrote this post? I would like to know if the taxi prices to Ollantaytambo are still the same. Thanks for your help!

    • 04/13. It should still be around that. Take the collectivo….10 sols..comfortable local experience…. cheap

  14. Are there a lot of Seniors in the Machu Picchu that have had no issues travelling? Like the acclimatization in Cusco ? My mother is 68 y.o and she really wants to come and see Machu Picchu but I’m worried she might get terribly sick . We are looking at every precautions but with her high blood pressure and diabetes I am a bit worried that she still might get sick.

    • Yes, there are lots of senior in Machu Picchu and your mother can do it. I met a 72 year old guy with 2 heart surgery at Machu Picchu.
      1. The main area of Machu Picchu requires very little walking up hill, 5-6 flights of stairs from the entrance gate to the superb view of Machu Picchu. From then on, relatively flat unless you want to hike to Huayna Picchu, Sungate, or Machu Picchu Montana. She can go slow on those 5-6 flights of stairs, and she should be fine.
      2. As noted on the article, consider going to Machu Picchu first then back track to Cusco. Machu Picchu is lower elevation, so you acclimate there, then you work your way back to Cusco which is higher elevation. To do this, your first day should just be early morning flight from Lima to Cusco, then cab or collectivo van to Ollantaytambo, then train to Machu Picchu, all in 1 full day of travel. You will not spend time in Cusco yet, you will do it on the return. We did it this way and we didn’t get sick. Most of our friends who did it the popular way (Cusco first then Machu Picchu) all did had altitude sickness.

      She should do it….go slow….do as mentioned in #2 and should be ok. After Machu Picchu, stay 1-2 night in Ollantaytambo to get acclimated, then move higher to Cusco. Basically go slow and stay longer at each places.

  15. I can’t wait until 2015 when we’ll have the opportunity to travel to South America and experience Machu Picchu. The other experience I want to have is cycling Death Rd in Bolivia, counting the months now…. Love your writing style :) – Wayne from http://www.globetrottingcouple.com

  16. Great description escapetraveler’s team.

    Another reason to bring your passport is to kindly ask a stamp on it from the Machu Picchu staff (just before the entrance if I remember well). It’s kind of cool.. They used to do it back to 2010, maybe they don’t anymore.

  17. So how many days total would you need for the whole trip without traveling time?

    • Without travel time? If you do Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and return to Lima to catch your flight, you should plan for 6-7 days. So, 1st day get into Lima, 2nd day see Lima, 3rd day get to Cusco and take a half day city tour in the afternoon, 4th day take a day tour of Sacred Valley and have the tour drop you at Ollantaytambo train station so you can catch train to Machu Picchu, 5th day see Machu Picchu and then return to Cusco to spend the night, 6th day return to Lima to catch your flight.

  18. Thanks for the detailed information on Machu Picchu. Not a lot of people have had been to Peru, let alone sharing their travelling experience.

    I am planning a trip to either visit South America or Scandinavia. So, if I have decided to go to Peru, I’ll definitely get the advice you shared here. Thanks again.

    • Go for South America! It is cheap, the mountains scenery are awesome. It is one of our favorite region.

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