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Machu Picchu, San Francisco, Lima (Peru)

Best way to get to Machu Picchu from San Francisco?

I'm looking for flights now for May 2015 and they seem a bit expensive. Anyone have any tips for flights to Peru?  

I assume we'd fly into Lima but what's the best way to Machu Picchu from there? 

The plans are in early development so I haven't done to much research so any tips you have would be great. Thanks!

7 Answers

top answer by
Amy from Florida

Hi Reid! Great question! As someone who's from the Bay Area, lived in Cusco for 5 months, and has flown from Cusco to SFO, I think I can help you out.

First, flights to South America, in general, are a bit pricier than other places for various reasons.

Second, everyone who flies from the U.S. to Cusco, MUST have a stopover in Lima

Third, the cost of bus rides from Lima to Cusco are cheaper than flights; for example, one-way on Cruz del Sur is about $64, versus one-way via Star Peru at $119--BUT the bus ride takes 21 hours one-way versus 1.5 hours by plane. 

Also, just to clarify about Machu Picchu because it can get confusing logistically: There are many ways to get to MP from Cusco: hiking, train, bus, or a combo. Everyone traveling to MP must start in Cusco, a major city, before heading to Machu Picchu. Then, the closest city you can sleep in before heading to the gates of Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes (a 20-minute bus ride from the MP gates). What makes it even more confusing is many people refer to Cusco and Aguas Calientes as though that is where Machu Picchu is located, when in reality, it is not. Those are just nearby cities where tourists can stay. 

When doing your search, use a combination of Hipmunk, Kayak, and Skyscanner. Try breaking your trip up into legs; you'll often find savings that way. For example, Look at SFO to FLL, then FLL to LIM via JetBlue (that's what I did for my flight form LIM to SFO). That came out to around $481 for me one-way.

If you don't want to hassle with the constant searching, try It's a service that connects you with a "flight expert" who is tasked with finding you THE cheapest flights possible for your itinerary. I used them for my trip to South America, and they saved me about $400. The best part is if you are not satisfied with the service, or they are unable to find the flights at the budget you told them ahead of time, they will give you a 100% refund.

Getting To Machu Picchu from Cusco
1) Doing any of the hikes from Cusco to Machu Picchu (which take 4 days at the least) will be the most expensive transportation options. However, many argue this is the best, most authentic, experience you can get.
2) A roundtrip train ticket, at the cheapest, will be around $110, and that's if you take it from Ollantaytambo (halfway between Cusco and Aguas Calientes). To get to the Ollantaytambo train station, you can take a private taxi for around 90 soles, or a shared van for about 10 soles. 
3) If you strictly want the CHEAPEST option, there is a lesser-known option that will save a lot of money: Take a collectivo or combi (shared van) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (should cost 10 Peruvian soles). From Ollantaytambo, find the buses that will take you to the "hydroelectrico". From the hydroelectrico, it's a 2-hour hike to Aguas Calientes, and once you arrive in that town, you can either take a 20-minute bus ride to the MP gates, or walk up there. The downside to this cheap option is that some say the roads to the hydroelectrico are dangerous. I can't vouch for the validity of that.

My Personal Machu PIcchu Experience
I've been to Machu Picchu twice this year--both times by train. Since I'm not that outdoorsy, I didn't want to do the Inca Trail although many highly recommend the experience. For the trains, I took PeruRail the first time, then Inca Rail the second time. PeruRail is much classier, and about the same price, so I recommend them if you decide to go by train. If you're athletic and adventurous, I heard the Salkantay trek (longer and more strenuous than the Inca Trail) is breathtaking. 

Hope this helps! Feel free to ask me questions as you plan your trip. Happy to help.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cusco (city)
  2. Lima (attraction)
  3. Aguas Calientes (attraction)
  4. Ollantaytambo (city)
6 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Linda from California

Three years ago we flew from San Francisco to Lima non-stop on LAN Airlines.  It was the only non-stop at the time (9 hrs) and it was great.  Most people choose to spend several hours in the Lima airport and then take the first LAN airline trip out in the early AM to Cusco.  

We chose to get a few hours of sleep at the Costa Del Sol Picoaga hotel that was directly across the street from the terminal and take a later morning flight.  (All depends on your finances.)

There are many agencies in Cusco to help you with transportation by train to Machu Picchu, so you don't have to necessarily book that in advance, but you must to get your Machu Picchu entrance tickets in ADVANCE.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Lima (attraction)
  3. Cusco (city)
  4. Costa Del Sol Picoaga (hotel)
  5. Machu Picchu (attraction)
6 thanks

answered by

I just got back from Peru about two weeks ago. I live in Minnesota so flew Delta through Atlanta. We had a brief night in Lima before flying to Cusco with Avianca the next morning. 

We did the Salkantay trek, it was amazing! I would highly highly recommend our guide company Enigma. In addition to going higher than the Inca Trail (we went to 15,300 feet), I think other differences are that the Salkantay trek has fewer ruins (only Llactapata the final day, from where we could see Machu Picchu across the valley), but more habitat variety. I do not think you need guides for Salkantay, they are definitely required for the Inca Trail. Also for the Inca Trail I've heard you need to book up to a year in advance. Also as someone else has pointed out, you have to buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets in advance - also if you want to climb Huayna Picchu.  

The Salkantay trek ends at the Hydroelectric Station - from there we took a train into Aguas Calientes, but you can also hike along the tracks (we were told it takes 2-3 hours). Originally we had talked about hiking from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, but decided to take the bus so that we could get to MP as early as possible when there are the fewest crowds. It gets a lot more crowded mid-morning when the day-trippers from Cusco arrive.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Minnesota (state)
  2. Atlanta (city)
  3. Lima (attraction)
  4. Cusco (city)
  5. Avianca (attraction)
  6. Salkantay (attraction)
  7. Inca Trail (attraction)
  8. Llactapata (attraction)
  9. Machu Picchu (region)
  10. Aguas Calientes (attraction)
3 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Ryan from Chicago

I just got back from a trip to South America and I got my air ticket from  It is a very cheap airline and they do go to Lima.

From Lima you can take a bus to Cusco, that ride is around 20 hours.  You could try and fly to save some time, but it will cost you a lot more money.

From Cusco I took a mini van to Hidroelectrica.  The van drops you off right at the train tracks, you then can take a train to Aguas Calientes(aka Machu Picchu Town) or you can walk along the tracks.  The walk takes around 2 hours and is not to hard at all.  This is the way I did it because I did not have to much money, but if you have more money and time you can do a different trek.

I do not want to self promote, but I have a post on my blog about how I got there and what it all cost. Hope this helps and have a great trip!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Lima (attraction)
  2. Cusco (city)
  3. Aguas Calientes (attraction)
3 thanks

answered first by
Romy from Tel Aviv

To get to the Machu Picchu you will need to get to Cusco, you can do that by bus/airplane from Lima.

From Cusco you have a couple of choices to get to Aguas Calientes which is the closest town to the Machu Picchu (from the town you can either walk - about 1.5 hours climb, or about 20 minutes by bus to get to the site). 

The options for getting to Aguas Calientes are those:

1. Trek - there a couple of popular options:

               a. Inca Trail - you need to register in advance                    (a lot of time in advance), and it's                                     expensive.

               b. Salakantay - a day longer than the Inca                          trail. I heard it's a beautiful trek.

               c. Inca Jungle Trek - combination of hiking                        and biking and some optional rafting and                        zip-lining. I did it, beautiful views and not                        as physically difficult like the other two.

2. Train to Aguas Calientes - a bit expensive, but if you only want to go for a day or two this is the best option.

3. Walking on the railway tracks. The cheapest option but also less scenery. I'm not really sure how you get to the start of the tracks but I'm sure if you ask you will find someone who will know.

Hope this helped a little bit:)


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Machu Picchu (attraction)
  2. Cusco (city)
  3. Lima (attraction)
  4. Aguas Calientes (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by
Rachel from Kuwait City

We took a flight from LA to Lima and then a flight from Lima to Cusco.  We traveled around the Sacred Valley before hopping on a train in Ollantaytambo that took us to Machu Piccu. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Ollantaytambo (city)
1 thanks

answered by
Karen from San Francisco

Now that LAN stopped their direct SFO to LIM service, it is much more difficult.  United sometimes has good fares through Houston.  But another option would be to look into flying direct from LAX to LIM on LAN (they still offer that service) and looking for cheap tickets to LA.

1 thanks

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