There are a few different ways to get from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu. Having planned our own trip to the mysterious mountain fortress, we know that sifting through all the information online and figuring out which option is best can be incredibly confusing. In this article, we’ll break down several different ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, complete with all the prices and details you need to know before booking your trip.
Here is how we’ve organized this article:
- Cusco to Machu Picchu Independently
- Cusco to Machu Picchu with a guide
- Multi-day trek to Machu Picchu
How to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu
So you’re planning a trip to the iconic Machu Picchu, a magical fortress resting precariously among the clouds. But the first step is figuring our how to get from Cusco, the closest major city, to Machu Picchu can be way too confusing!
There are several different ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, each of which involves multiple modes of travel and stops along the way. Luckily, we’re here to make the route from Cusco to Machu Picchu less mysterious than the origins of Machu Picchu itself!
First thing first, it’s important to know that there are no public roads to Machu Picchu. The nearby town of Aguas Calientes provides the only access to Machu Picchu. Unless you’re taking a multi-day trek, you’ll first have to make your way to Aguas Calientes, before taking either a short bus ride or steep hike up to Machu Picchu.
In addition, the only way to get to Aguas Calientes (again, besides trekking), is via train from the town of Ollantaytambo, which sits in the heart of the Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, there are no access roads or other train routes to reach Aguas Calientes.
With that info out of the way, let’s get into the details. You have a few different options for getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu, each explained in more detail below.
Cusco to Machu Picchu Independently
In the section below, we’ll break down all the details of three different ways to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes on your own, and finally how to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu without a guide:
- Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Cusco to Machu Picchu Map
The map below displays each of the key locations involved in the journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu, as well as the different train stations and bus stops that we’ll mention throughout the article.
- To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
- To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.
Option 1: Direct train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- Ticket cost | $125 to $1,000 round trip per person
- Total time | about 4 hours
- Book your tickets | PeruRail or IncaRail
The easiest and most popular way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by taking a train directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (which stops in Ollantaytambo along the way). This direct train route is offered by both PeruRail and IncaRail and takes about 4 hours one way.
Both companies offer several different levels of service from basic economy tickets to luxurious private cabins offering meals and live music, meaning round-trip tickets can vary in price from about $125 per person to over $1,000 per person for the highest-end ticket!
Option 2: Bimodal service (private bus to Ollantaytambo and train to Aguas Calientes)
- Ticket cost | $110 to $350 round trip per person
- Total time | 6 – 8 hours (depends on the time between your bus arrival and train departure)
- Book your tickets | PeruRail or IncaRail
The next option to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco is the bimodal service, offered by both PeruRail and IncaRain. The bimodal service combines a private bus transfer from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with a train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
The main advantage of this ticket over the direct train route is that it offers the option to spend a couple hours exploring Ollantaytambo, depending on the length of your layover, and can be cheaper.
However, the layovers typically don’t allow much time, and buses can often be delayed. You’d be better off going with option 3 if you really want to explore Ollantaytambo.
In our experience, the direct train (option 1) tends to sell out first, so the bimodal option seems to be the backup plan. We’d recommend trying to get the direct train if possible, or getting to Ollantaytambo on your own (see option 3).
Option 3: Taxi or public bus to Ollantaytambo, train to Aguas Calientes
- Ticket cost | $30 – $50 per taxi and $110 – $350 per train ticket (we paid 200 soles for a taxi to Ollantaytambo with stops in Maras and Moray)
- Total time | 4 – 8 hours (depending on the length of stops)
- Book your tickets | PeruRail or IncaRail
The third option for getting from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is to find your own means of transportation (either taxi or public bus) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, before taking the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
There are two main advantages of this option. First, you can spend as much time as you want exploring Ollantaytambo and it’s definitely worth a stop! It’s a cute town with several a picturesque square and some of our favorite ruins in the Sacred Valley.
Second, if you take a private taxi to Ollantaytambo from Cusco, you can stop by the ancient ruins at Moray and the Incan salt mines as Maras along the way.
We hired a taxi to drive us to Ollantaytambo, stopping at Maras and Moray along the way, and would highly recommend it! We paid 200 soles for the entire trip and had no trouble finding a taxi willing to take us.
Unfortunately, the train ticket only from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (without the bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo) is not much less expensive than the full ticket from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, so this option will likely end up costing a bit more.
However, we think it’s worthwhile to make the journey from Cusco to Ollantaytambo more of an adventure and stop at Maras and Moray along the way!
Where to purchase tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
The only companies that offer train tickets or the bimodal service from Cusco to Aguas Calientes are PeruRail and IncaRail. Prices and service provided by each are fairly comparable.
How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes (using any of the three options detailed above), your journey is not quite over! To get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, you’ll have to either take a bus to the ruins or hike about 2 miles up to the mystery city in the clouds.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by bus
- Ticket cost | $12 one way $24 round-trip
- Total time | 30 minutes
The most common way to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is to take a roughly 30-minute bus ride offered only by the bus company, Consettur. You can purchase tickets online here.
Here are a few important things to know about the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu:
- The first bus departs at 5:30am and buses leave every 5 to 10 minutes
- The bus ride takes about 30 minutes one way
- The bus departs from Avenida Hermanos Ayar across from the train station. You’ll see buses (and people) start to line up along the street well before 5:30 AM, so it’s hard to miss!
- There is no limit on bus tickets so you don’t have to worry about them selling out.
- It’s possible to purchase tickets in person in Aguas Calientes (cash only), but we’d recommend purchasing online in advance
- If you do purchase tickets online, make sure to print them out before you leave. The bus conductor will scan your ticket, and we had trouble with the tickets on our mobile phones not scanning correctly.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by foot
- Ticket cost | free
- Total time | 2 hours (one way)
If you prefer not to take the bus, it’s also possible to hike to Machu Picchu, but it’s a very steep 2 mile (one-way) hike that gains about 1,700 feet of elevation! Expect the hike to take about 2 hours. It’s possible to hike one-way and take the bus either up or down.
Machu Picchu Tickets
- Ticket cost | 152 soles (approximately $40 USD)
- Purchase tickets online here.
With all the logistics to simply get to Machu Picchu, don’t forget that you also need to purchase tickets to enter Machu Picchu. During the peak season, these tickets sell out far in advance for the best time, so you have to purchase tickets online before you leave to ensure entry.
When purchasing tickets, you will need to select which “circuit” through Machu Picchu you’d like to take, and whether you want to climb up Waynapicchu, the tall mountain behind the ruins.
The upper circuit offers the classic view you envision picture when you think of Machu Picchu, while the lower circuit takes a more direct route to the Waynapicchu trailhead. In addition to choosing a circuit, you’ll also need to select an entrance time frame.
How much time do I need to visit Machu Picchu from Cusco?
Although exploring Machu Picchu itself only takes a few hours, the fastest possible transportation time from Cusco to Machu Picchu is about 4 hours by direct train (to Aguas Calientes).
To take a day trip to Machu Picchu would involve 8 hours of total travel time. As such, we’d recommend splitting the trip up over two days, staying one night in either Ollantaytambo or Aguas Calientes.
If you want to beat the crowds and get an early start at Machu Picchu, it’s best to stay in Aguas Calientes. However, if you aren’t an early riser, we’d probably prefer to spend the evening in Ollantaytambo, as it’s a bit quieter, more authentic, less expensive, and less crowded.
Other ways to get to Machu Picchu
Besides navigating the logistics yourself, there are a few other ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. You can visit as part of a guided day trip, or you can embark on a multi-day guided trek through the mountainside to Machu Picchu.
Cusco to Machu Picchu with a guided tour
- Ticket cost | $310 per person
- Total time | full day
- Book your tickets here!
If reading about all the logistics needed to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu has you feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret! It’s also possible to book a tour that will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco and get you to Machu Picchu completely hassle-free.
In addition to the logistical ease and convenience that a tour group provides, the package also typically includes a guided tour of the Machu Picchu ruins, providing interesting context to the wonders you’ll see wandering through the lost city.
However, the convenience will come at a cost and squeezing the entire trip into one day may feel a bit rushed.
Multi-day trek to Machu Picchu
If you’re looking for the ultimate Machu Picchu experience, it’s also possible to reach Machu Picchu via one of several multi-day treks that traverse through the stunning mountains that surround the Incan ruins. The famous Inca Trail is the most popular route and can only be trekked with a guide.
There are several different multi-day treks that culminate at Machu Picchu, including:
- The Inca Trail | the most popular route which departs from Ollantaytambo and traverses 38km to Machu Picchu, typically done over 4 or 5 days.
- Salkantay Trek | the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail, this route features stunning alpine scenery from alpine lakes to snowy peaks, typically done over 5 days
- Choquequirao Trek | the longest and most challenging route to Machu Picchu, typically done over 7 to 9 days.
- Lares Trek | A less strenuous route that passes through several small villages and is typically completed in 3 days.
Other Peru resources
Looking for more to do while visiting Cusco? Check out the resources below for more inspiration!
- Peru Itinerary | 10 Days in Peru: the Best of the Sacred Valley
- Machu Picchu | Hike to Huayna Picchu: Machu Picchu’s Mountain
- Cusco | Complete Guide to the Huchuy Qosqo Trek
- Cusco | How to Visit the Stunning Laguna Humantay from Cusco
- Sacred Valley | Maras & Moray: Incredible Incan Ruins and Salt Mines
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For all things Peru: Peru Travel Guide
Questions about how to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu? Drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!