Part of the reason that the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu were relatively intact when Hiram Bingham rediscovered them (with the help of the locals) in 1911 is that the Spanish conquistadors never found the city. That may explain why it’s a bit of a trek for even tourists to get there to this day.
Where Is Machu Picchu Located?
The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is located in the Andean mountains of southern Peru around 70km away from Cusco (the closest city with an airport). It’s possible to hike right to Machu Picchu on a tour like the 4-Day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu Tour, but you can also get there by different modes of transport, one connecting to the other.
How to Get to Machu Picchu When You Visit Peru
Step 1: Arrive in Lima
Currently, all international travelers arrive at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. I say “currently” because a new international airport is halfway through construction in Chinchero right in the Sacred Valley only 15km away from Cusco. When the new airport is open, you’ll be able to fly directly to Cusco. In the meantime, you need to arrive in Lima first – Lima is the largest city and capital of Peru on the Pacific coast.
Step 2: Lima to Cusco
From Lima, you need to make your way to the city of Cusco (the closest city to Machu Picchu that has an airport – currently, only for domestic flights). Some people decide to stay a while in Lima and others travel directly to Cusco. Depending on your schedule and budget, you have a couple options for travel here: you can take a short flight (around 1.5 hours) or a day-long overnight bus ride (around 23 hours) from Lima up to Cusco.
Step 3: Cusco to Machupicchu Town
Once you get to Cusco, you’ll either take a train directly from Cusco to Machupicchu Town, or a vehicle will take you from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (another Inca village) where you’ll take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (a.k.a. Machupicchu Town) depending on the tour. Machupicchu Town (yes, it’s spelled without a space between “Machu” and “Picchu” to differentiate it from the Machu Picchu archeological site) is also known as Machupicchu, Machupicchu Pueblo or Aguas Calientes.
Step 4: Machupicchu Town to Machu Picchu
Usually, you’ll spend the night in Machupicchu Town so that you can get up bright and early to get to Machu Picchu, the archeological site, before sunrise. You can choose to hike up the mountain (literally, uphill the whole way for around an hour), but it’s much more common to take the bus up, which criss-crosses up the same mountain that you would’ve hiked up.
Step 5: You Made It!
Phew! Once you get to the Machu Picchu archeological site, the guided tour will take 2 to 3 hours through a set circuit. You won’t be able to go backwards through the circuit, but you can take a pre-planned detour to hike Huayna Picchu (the neighboring mountain) for an extra challenge and fantastic views/photos of Machu Picchu.
When do I need to buy Machu Picchu tickets?
We recommend purchasing tickets at least 3 months in advance, especially if you need tickets for peak season. If you book a tour with us, we'll purchase the tickets on your behalf. See this news piece on a tourists' strike due to misinformation on this topic.
When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
This is a controversial topic because each month has its pros and cons – learn more in this post on the best month to visit Machu Picchu. The simple answer is that peak tourist season is from May to October, which are the drier months that generally coincide with vacation months in North America.