The far-flung ruins of Machu Picchu, a former Inca empire, sit atop a Peruvian mountain bathed in fog. These incredible ruins are a popular tourist attraction but not as easy to reach as you might think.
If you’re hoping to visit this impressive site, it will take some time to arrive — and you might need to take a collection of planes, buses and trains to make it there. Know, too, that some mask and vaccination requirements are still in place for visiting Machu Picchu, so you’ll want to check the latest guidance and prepare accordingly.
To help you map out your adventure to the “Lost City of the Incas,” here’s a step-by-step guide with all you need to know about getting to Machu Picchu, including how to use your points and miles for the journey.
How to get to Lima, Peru, from the US
Machu Picchu sits a few hundred miles southeast of Lima, Peru’s capital, high up in the Andes Mountains. Since getting to Machu Picchu itself takes several steps, a nonstop flight from the U.S. to this bustling city is often the preferred way to go, though you could also reach Peru from another Latin or Central American hub.
Should you decide to fly directly from the U.S., you’ll find that there are various options for flying to Lima nonstop.
American Airlines flies nonstop to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) from Miami International Airport (MIA) and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). LATAM Airlines offers service to the city from MIA, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), while SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines flies from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). United Airlines also flies to Lima from Houston‘s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), and Florida dwellers have even more options from MIA thanks to JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, both of which fly nonstop to Lima.
Since Delta and United use dynamic pricing, you’ll have to try your luck when it comes to getting solid award fares. However, you can use credit card rewards to help you accrue enough miles to cover the cost of flights. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to United, while American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Delta. Those with Delta elite status may want to fly with LATAM since Medallion status and benefits are recognized thanks to a reciprocal partnership between the two airlines.
If you need to stock up on LATAM Pass miles, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to LATAM Pass at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-point bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer. If LATAM is your best option and you want to use miles, consider getting a Marriott cobranded credit card to earn a point bonus that’ll transfer to the airline for your Machu Picchu adventure. Other options for earning LATAM Pass miles include opening one of the airline’s cobranded credit cards or booking hotels using Rocketmiles.
Oneword flyers should consider flying American. The airline does publish an award chart, though it’s rare to find prices as low as specified due to dynamic pricing. However, if you’re lucky (and traveling on off-peak dates), you might find a one-way MileSAAver Off Peak award ticket for 17,500 AAdvantage miles in economy or a one-way MilesSAAver award ticket for 30,000 miles in business class.
For those sans points and miles, tickets on Spirit from Miami to Lima can often cost less than $300 round trip. Just know that everything from your carry-on bag to seat selection and beyond will cost extra on Spirit.
How to get to Cusco, Peru, and the Sacred Valley from Lima
No, you’re not at the base of the Andes just yet. The next step in your Peruvian adventure should be to get from Lima to Cusco. The most direct way to arrive is by plane, which takes about an hour from Lima. There are other options like the bus, but considering it can take around 25 hours (or more), flying is the quickest choice.
The ideal option (especially for Delta elite flyers) is LATAM, which offers one-way award tickets for a little more than 5,000 LATAM miles, plus fees. But you may not want to bother with miles, as tickets cost around $50 each way. Those ready to brave a low-cost carrier might be able to shave $10 or $15 off LATAM’s price by flying with a carrier like Sky Airline, JetSmart Airlines or Viva Air Colombia.
Once in Cusco, you’ll want to spend at least one night in the city itself or the surrounding Sacred Valley, as getting to Machu Picchu will still take a considerable amount of time after arriving.
How to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, Peru
This is where the fun really begins. The quickest way to arrive at the gateway to Machu Picchu, the town of Aguas Calientes, from Cusco is by train, which takes around three hours. There’s also a two-hour train ride you can take from Ollantaytambo, Peru, to the site, should you decide to stay in the Sacred Valley before continuing your journey. Other options, including a bus and hiking, are available as well.
The most luxurious train to Machu Picchu is the Hiram Bingham, a Belmond-operated train that costs around $500 one-way. Aside from this splurge, the main trains — known as the Expedition and the Vistadome — are operated by PeruRail. The Expedition trains cost about $60 each way, while the Vistadome trains cost around $75 per one-way ride. The latter provides an enhanced experience that includes snacks and even a fashion show where travelers can view and purchase items made from alpaca wool.
Inca Rail is another train company that offers various options for travelers between Cusco and Aguas Calientes via its Voyager and 360 trains. Prices are comparable to the PeruRail trains, and, like PeruRail, Inca Rail also offers an exclusive train experience. Inca Rail’s Private train gives you and your group an entire train car to yourselves, where you’ll enjoy a three-course meal, Champagne and a Peruvian cooking class as you travel. This particular service even offers a private bus to Machu Picchu from the train station.
If you can’t decide between Inca Rail and PeruRail, use budget and timing to decide. Pick a train that’s the right price at a time that’s most convenient for you, as the services are relatively similar. LATAM Pass frequent flyers may want to select Inca Rail trains, as you can connect your account and earn one LATAM Pass mile for every dollar spent on Inca Rail.
Trains to Machu Picchu leave from the Poroy train station, which is located 11 miles outside of Cusco. If you’re staying in or exploring the Sacred Valley, you can catch the train from the Ollantaytambo train station, which is less than 40 miles northwest of Cusco. The last stop on each route is the Aguas Calientes station.
Bus and walking
Budget travelers (or anyone up for a unique, scenic experience) should consider the shuttle and walking trail option known as the Hidroeléctrica. Since there are no actual roads that lead into the town of Aguas Calientes, you can’t drive all the way, so while you’ll take a bus the majority of the way, a three-hour trek is required at the end.
To partake in this option, you’ll need to book a spot in a group shuttle (your hotel or any tour operator can help you book one) that departs from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. The journey will cost anywhere between $10 and $25 per person, depending on the bus and how many people are in your group. You’ll weave through the Andes as you approach Aguas Calientes, stopping for lunch in a town called Santa María. Once the shuttle drops you off at a location that seems to be in the middle of nowhere — the Hidroeléctrica — you will enjoy a peaceful walk alongside train tracks for about three hours until you arrive at Aguas Calientes.
For this journey, be sure to pack light, as you’ll be carrying your belongings on your back. Some Cusco hotels let you leave larger suitcases or luggage in their storage rooms if you plan on returning to Cusco again for a night after your Machu Picchu visit, so consider one of these properties if you don’t want to bring all of your belongings during the walk.
There are various guided treks that end in Machu Picchu. Depending on the option you choose, you’ll find that they last anywhere from a few days to weeks.
Hiking the Inca Trail — the most famous route — starts from a base near Cusco. Additionally, there are alternative treks that leave from other bases in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. These treks are guided and typically include meals and porters. It’s best to book through an online travel provider or agency.
In some instances, travelers have been able to walk the entire route along the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. However, this free, eight-hour walk can be unsafe at times due to train tunnels. It’s highly monitored by track guards, so we don’t recommend this option.
The final step: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
By this point, you’re so close, yet so far. Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, but you are not at the ruins just yet. You still have to make the vertical ascent to the citadel itself, which is a grueling trek that will take you about 4,000 feet uphill.
Anyone planning to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain may not want to embark on this walk, as it can be exhausting (though you can always walk back down, which is easier). If you do want to walk, follow the Camino Peatonal Trail. Leave early since this walk will take you a few hours to complete.
An alternative way to reach Machu Picchu is to take the bus. Buses leave every 10 to 15 minutes from Aguas Calientes, starting at 5:30 a.m. and running until 3:30 p.m. Keep in mind that people line up to catch the first bus, so it’s best to arrive at the bus stop early. The ride up takes 20 to 30 minutes, and the last bus returns to Aguas Calientes at 5:30 p.m.
You can buy bus tickets in advance or on the day of your visit starting at 5 a.m. Bus tickets cost $12 per one-way ride or $24 round trip. Buy your tickets at the bus station in Aguas Calientes or another certified spot in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Some agencies can help you book them online ahead of time, too, though you’ll need to pay an additional fee. If you’ve booked your Machu Picchu tickets through a tour agency, ask about bus tickets, as some will include them.
Remember that you can always book your own Machu Picchu tickets online through the official website. Don’t forget to also bring your passport. You’ll need to show it to enter the ruins.
If it seems like Machu Picchu is hard to get to, you’re right. The process requires several steps thanks to its remote location atop a mountain.
Know, though, that you don’t have to do the trip all in one go. Take a few days in Lima, some time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and even a couple of nights in Aguas Calientes to prepare for your trek. Or, consider staying put in one of these destinations after your Machu Picchu adventure to unwind.
Peru is a magical place to explore with many unique attractions beyond Machu Picchu, so taking your trip slow and discovering other highlights can make the long journey worth it.