The Sacred Valley, the lush valley covered with sublime Inca ruins and colorful communities surrounding Machu Picchu, is one of the destinations in Peru travelers most want to see and spend most time exploring.
Traveling the 680 miles (1100 km) to this region from Lima is always via Cusco, the gateway city to the Sacred Valley. Within the Sacred Valley, there are a number of key destinations. The pretty towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, as well as Urubamba and the town below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, are the main places, and travel to these from Cusco is by bus or by train.
By Plane and Private Transfer
Duration: 3-4 hours
The easiest means of getting from Lima to Cusco is to fly, with direct flying time 80-90 minutes. Most of Peru's domestic airlines and several international carriers ply 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. Many international flights arrive into Lima in the evening, and there may not be time to transfer to a flight to Cusco on the day you arrive in Peru. Here are some of the best places to stay in Lima if you spend the night.
In Cusco, the quickest way of getting to the Sacred Valley is by private transfer. A great deal of international travelers with money and limited time arrive into Cusco, so organizing a private transfer to Sacred Valley sights (for a day or several days) is quite common. It is also very convenient, as there is plenty to see and public transport options are not always perfect.
The route from the airport via Chinchero is quickest for Urubamba (one hour) and Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours). Pisac is around one hour via a different road, Hwy 107. For Aguas Calientes, time your journey to Ollantaytambo from Cusco to coincide with the train departure times for Aguas Calientes (total journey time from Cusco four hours). From Aguas Calientes, it is a 25-minute bus ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
By Plane and Bus
Duration: 3-6.5 hours
Travel from Lima to Cusco by plane is as per the previous option.
In Cusco, switch to bus/minibus for your trip to the Sacred Valley. There are two main departure points, each about a ten-minute drive from the airport. At Puente Grau, minibusses leave via Chinchero for Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. At Puputi close to the intersection with Juan Santos minibuses leave for the longer journey to Urubamba via Pisac (1.5 to two hours). Departures on both routes are at least hourly throughout daylight hours, but have no fixed schedule because they like to get as many passengers as possible before leaving.
At Urubamba, there are further minivans that take you on to Ollantaytambo (another 30 minutes), where you can change for the train to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes, it is a 25-minute bus ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Bear in mind there is no bus service to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu, only hiking in or taking the train to Aguas Calientes and then taking the bus/walking to Machu Picchu.
By Plane and Train
Duration: 4-6 hours
This is the most expensive way of exploring the Sacred Valley but it is also the only means of public transport to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. The perfect combination of practicality, novelty, and comfort, taking the train to either Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu is a great option, and also hugely popular. It is also expensive: one of the most costly rail journeys per mile in the world. Then again, seeing the Sacred Valley scenery unfold from your seat as you sip a drink is a memorable experience.
Travel from Lima to Cusco by plane is as per the previous options and head to Cusco's Poroy train station (or, when the station is closed, from Ollantaytambo train station to where you are transferred by bus). Some trains now also use historic San Pedro train station in Cusco which is closer to the city center as the departure point (these will nevertheless call at Poroy station too). Peru Rail and Inca Rail run a variety of services with frequent departures offering varying degrees of luxury, but note that the train runs only as far as Aguas Calientes. From here, you can either get a bus (the bus station is by the train station) or walk (challenging but beautiful).
The train from Poroy Station to Aguas Calientes train station takes around 3.5 to four hours; it's a 25-30 minute bus journey from there to Machu Picchu.
By Bus or Private Transfer and Train
Duration: 21 hours
Bussing it the whole way from Lima to Cusco is another very popular way of doing the first leg of the journey to the Sacred Valley. It is the longest means of doing the journey, and the cheapest.
Cheapest and quickest of the overland routes to Cusco is on the 'gringo' route via Pisco and Nazca, then cutting inland to Cusco on Hwys 3 or 30A. 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. Traveling overland, you realize just what an immense country Peru is—with the bad roads making it seem bigger still. (The other bus route from Lima to Cusco goes via the Central Highlands, though this is the longest and least popular way of doing the journey.)
Of course, the point of either overland journey is to see something of the country, rather than travel non-stop. Traveling straight, overland to Cusco it takes 20-30 hours, with the Pisco/Nazca route closer to 20.
For exploring Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, you will need to go by train from Ollantaytambo (around two hours to Aguas Calientes). There are multiple train departures throughout the day, in the early morning and all afternoon. From Aguas Calientes, there are buses for the 25-minute ride to Machu Picchu.