Wondering how to get to Machu Picchu? There are many ways to explore this world wonder, whether you want a fully guided luxury tour, an adventurous multi-day trek or a more budget-friendly backpacking trip in South America.
The Inca site boasts an incredible history, dramatic scenery and ancient ruins, making this bucket list-worthy spot one of the best places to visit in Peru.
Once you’ve decided to head down to Peru, the biggest question is how you’ll actually get to the famed peak. When it comes to how to reach Machu Picchu, there are a number of options including:
- The two-day or four-day Inca Trail trek
- A Sacred Valley tour and train ride
- Basing yourself in Aguas Calientes, then exploring on your own
- Booking a room at the very expensive ($1800+ per night!) Sanctuary Lodge at the base of Machu Picchu
There is absolutely no right or wrong way to do it, but it’s important to determine your budget, how much time you want to spend at Machu Picchu and if you can handle a lot of strenuous activity.
How to Get To Machu Picchu
Hiking to Machu Picchu
Plus, you’ll be roughing it; there aren’t any hotels along the route—instead, you’ll be camping and also have to hike for hours each day. If you’re willing to pay a little more, hire a porter to carry your gear for you and set up camp ahead of your arrival.
The cost of a trek can be a bit prohibitive, as you must pay hundreds of dollars for entrance fees, permits, food, guides and equipment rentals. Of course, none of that matters when you make it home and can brag that you followed in the footsteps of that ancient Inca civilization.
Expect to spend about $700 for the two-day trip, and around $1000 for the four-day adventure.
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Sacred Valley tour to Machu Picchu
A Sacred Valley tour is perhaps the most popular option for those heading to Machu Picchu. It takes just two days, and will see you travel from Cusco with stops at ancient sites en route to Aguas Calientes to spend the night.
An early wakeup should get you to the mountain for sunrise, and you can spend most of the day at Machu Picchu before heading back to Aguas Calientes to take the train, then bus, back to Cusco.
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A guided Sacred Valley tour is ideal for those who don’t want to deal with any of the sometimes complicated logistics, and is less physically intensive.
Keep in mind that as with many things in South America, tours can be unorganized and you can expect to find yourself passed around from guide to guide, jumping into vans already packed with people no matter how much you spent on your tour!
Take the train to Machu Picchu
As for those train rides, there are a few options available depending on budget.
Inca Rail is the cheapest, but you get what you pay for. The cars are extremely cramped—which is not great after a long day of hiking—and seats are arranged in groups of four around a table so you’ll likely be playing footsies with a stranger the whole time.
However, you do get refreshments and the ride is only a couple of hours.
Alternatively, book a seat on PeruRail. They have a basic service that will give you more legroom than Inca Rail along with entertainment.
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For the ultimate splurge, travel in the luxurious Hiram Bingham train which features 1920s-style carriages and an observation car to soak in the view.
Regardless of which service you choose, you’ll be enjoying the scenery as you follow a swollen, fast-moving river through the cloud forests, passing almost nothing but wilderness as you make your way towards the towering mountains.
Explore Machu Picchu by yourself
It’s absolutely possible to arrange the entire trip on your own; however, I don’t recommend this (especially if you don’t speak Spanish) due to the amount of logistics. You’ll need to arrange transfers to Aguas Calientes, book the bus ride up, reserve tickets for Machu Picchu, and a hotel stay in town.
One benefit of this is getting to spend as much time as you please at each site—a real luxury when it comes time to wander through the massive site of Machu Picchu. If you’re interested in something like this, my recommendation would be to get a local travel agent to create a customized trip.
What’s the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
The most important thing to consider no matter which option you choose is the timing. Inca Trail treks are not permitted in February due to weather, and permits for the rest of the year are often snapped up months in advance.
Make sure you get a permit prior to booking your flight to Peru, otherwise you might find yourself disappointed. There are only 400 permits given out per day to climb Machu Picchu and Huayana Picchu, so you’ll want to arrange those in advance as well.
Getting to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Some of the above options for travel to Machu Picchu only get you to the town of Aguas Calientes – not up to the archeological site itself.
The town is built right into the mountainside where the hill is lined with restaurants and hotels. There are no cars, so unless you have a nice guide expect to haul your bag all the way up from the train station–it’s a good idea to pack light!
It takes about 90 minutes to hike up to Machu Picchu from the townsite (without much to see along the way), so most people opt for the bus. Buses leave every 5-10 minutes, and it takes about half an hour to navigate the hairpin turns all the way up to the base of Machu Picchu. Here is some helpful information regarding prices and where to purchase tickets.
A final note: there is often a crazy long queue to get on the bus back down, so keep that in mind if you need to be back in Aguas Calientes by a certain time to catch your train. On average, the line can take about 45 minutes to get through unless you happen to leave before noon or right before the gates close.
How long does it take to get to Machu Picchu?
This depends entirely on how you decide to get to Machu Picchu. If you are hiking the Inca Trail, it will take you about two to five days.
Otherwise, it will typically take a day to get to Aguas Calientes and then the next day can be spent exploring Machu Picchu. If you choose to hike Machu Picchu Mountain, it’ll take you about two hours.
How to get tickets to Machu Picchu
It’s very important to know that you must book tickets to Machu Picchu in advance. The government regulates the amount of visitors allowed and tickets frequently sell out. Tickets tend to go on sale in December for the following year and are listed on the official government site.
There are varying ticket types depending on what you want to do. Options include Machu Picchu only, Machu Picchu and the mountain, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, and others. It’s a good idea to know exactly what you’d like to see when you decide to book.
Visiting Machu Picchu FAQs
Where do you fly into for Machu Picchu?
Many visitors to Machu Picchu fly into Cusco, which is Peru’s second largest airport. It’s also where many of the Sacred Valley tours depart from, as well as the start of the Inca Trail. You can also fly into Lima, which a farther away but tends to have better flights from North America.
What is the easiest route to get to Machu Picchu?
The easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is to join a Sacred Valley tour from Cusco or take the IncaRail or PeruRail to Aguas Calientes, then a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
Can you get to Machu Picchu without climbing?
Yes, you can take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, then the bus from Aguas Calientes to the base of Machu Picchu. Note that you’ll likely want to do some walking and climbing to explore the site itself.
How far in advance do I need to book Machu Picchu?
The earlier the better, as tickets, tours, and hotels in Aguas Calientes tend to sell out. If you’re visiting just Machu Picchu, you can likely get away with a month or two in advance (but it’s not guaranteed), while combo tickets like Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu should be booked at least four months out.
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