Many travelers arrive into Lima specifically to undertake the journey to Machu Picchu, one of the most famous archaeological sites on the planet.
Machu Picchu's remote location means that travel there is always first through Cusco and then either through the town at the foot of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, or via hike from one of several points in the Sacred Valley. Options for the route from Lima to Cusco include by plane or by bus, whilst options from Cusco to Machu Picchu will involve a combination of train, bus and hiking.
Use a taxi to transfer between transport hubs in Cusco. See more in our general article on How to Get to Machu Picchu.
By Plane, Train, and Either Bus or Hike
Duration: 6.5-8.5 hours
By far the easiest option for the first leg of the journey from Lima to Cusco is to fly, with direct flying time 80-90 minutes (as opposed to the 22+ hours that the journey would take by road). Most of Peru's domestic airlines and several international carriers fly the Lima-Cusco route, which is Peru's most popular. Latam offers the greatest choice of flights, whilst other airlines flying include Avianca, Sky Airline Perú and Peruvian.
Direct flights are about hourly between 5 am and 7 pm. Remember that many international flights arrive into Lima in the evening, and that there may not be time to transfer to a flight to Cusco on the day you arrive.
For the second leg, by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the operators are PeruRail's Hiram Bingham (the most luxurious), Vistadome and Expedition trains and Inca Rail, and total several daily direct departures from Poroy train station near Cusco, a 30-minute taxi ride from central Cusco. Train travel time from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is 3.5 hours.
The most convenient option is to travel from Cusco by train direct (although there is also the option of taking a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and getting the train from there, which is as quick in terms of time). Convenience also means this train journey, and therefore this option for travel between Lima and Aguas Calientes, is the most expensive means of travel. Direct train services operate between May and December: at other times of the year transport will be by bus to Ollantaytambo anyway, and train to Aguas Calientes from there.
In Aguas Calientes, the bus station with buses to Machu Picchu is alongside the train station. Buses take around 25 minutes to Machu Picchu and leave every five to ten minutes between 5:30am and 3:30pm. Hiking from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu takes around 2.5 hours along the same road the bus takes.
By Plane, Private Transfer, and Either Train or Inca Trail
Duration: 6.5 hours (via train); 4 days (with Inca Trail trek)
Overall, this is the quickest way to get from Lima to Aguas Calientes. For the first leg of the journey, by plane from Lima to Cusco, follow directions from the previous option. From here, private transfer (or bus) can only be taken part of the way, because Aguas Calientes is not connected by road to other locales in the Sacred Valley. Car or bus is most commonly taken to Ollantaytambo, followed by a train to Aguas Calientes. For more on getting from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, see this article for detail.
After this two to three hour trip, for the final leg of the journey, you will need to add on the two hours that the train takes (plus the 25 minutes/2.5 hours that travel to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes train station takes by bus or by foot). For more on travel by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, see this article.
To include a short Inca Trail trek in lieu of the train journey, go as outlined above, but instead of taking the train, you'll be hiking from Km 82. For travel from Ollantaytambo and Km 82 on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, see this description of the classic Inca Trail.
By Private Transfer and Either Train or Inca Trail
Duration: 1.5 days (via train); 5 days (with Inca Trail trek)
Traveling overland, you realize just what an immense country Peru is—with the bad roads making it seem bigger still. Few tourists, whether going by bus or by private transfer, do the journey in one hit. Whether you stop off in Pisco or Nazca or both, allow two nights in each to factor in side-trips to the main sights.
Practically, you will need to change buses in Cusco on the way. There are two key routes. Going via Nazca is a very popular way of doing the Lima-Cusco journey overland, although it is most common to break the journey in Pisco, Nazca, or both along the way. It is often referred to as the 'Gringo Route' because of its popularity with backpackers.
Going via the Central Highlands is another possibility for bus travel between Lima and Cusco. This might be the least popular way of doing the journey, because it goes through the traditional heartland of the Peruvian Andes and creature comforts are a bit more scant, but it will give you insights into Peruvian life not possible on the main tourist routes.
Coming this way, the first stage of the journey is to Huancayo (six/eight hours by private transfer/bus). The second stage is to Ayacucho (six/eight hours by private transfer/bus). The third stage is to Andahuaylas (five hours) where you normally change for the final stage to Cusco (seven/nine hours by private transfer/bus). Huancayo, Ayacucho, and Andahuaylas are the main overnight stops.
In Cusco (where, after such a long journey, you will likely need to stay for a night), change buses and travel to Ollantaytambo as per the previous option. Remember that there are two key routes to Ollantaytambo from here. Arriving in Ollantaytambo and coming the quickest way by bus via Nazca and then from Cusco via Chinchero you could do the journey in as little as 22-23 hours. Coming via the Central Highlands, it could take as long as 33.
For the final part of this journey, in Ollantaytambo switch to either train or the Inca Trail, as per the previous option. If switching to train, trains run to Aguas Calientes in two hours: it is then either a 25-minute bus journey or a 2.5 hour hike to Machu Picchu. If switching to Inca Trail, it takes 3 days to hike this from Ollantaytambo, with arrival at Machu Picchu on the morning of the fourth day.