Getting there & away
Cuzco is a major South American travel hub, with thousands of travelers passing through every week.
The journey times given here are only approximate and apply only if road conditions are good. Long delays are likely during the rainy season, especially from January to April.
All international services depart from Cuzco’s main long-distance bus terminal.
For Bolivia, several companies offer through buses to Copacabana (US$15, 13 hours) and La Paz (US$18 to US$20, 18 hours). Many will swear blind that their service is direct, though the buses usually stop in Puno for several hours in the middle of the night until the border opens. Transportes Zela (24 9977) and Imexso (22 9216) have daily buses departing around 9pm or 10pm. Ormeño (22 7501) has the only direct service to La Paz, leaving at around 10pm (US$33, 14 hours), but it goes via the border post at Desaguadero and does not pass through Copacabana.
Terminal Terrestre, the town’s main long-distance bus terminal (departure tax US$0.30), is 2km southeast of the Plaza de Armas, several blocks off Av El Sol. This is where you’ll find all of the major luxury bus companies, including Cruz del Sur (22 1909) and Ormeño (22 7501), as well as scores of smaller económico (economic) bus operators, too. Buses to most major cities leave from this terminal, though buses for more unusual destinations (eg the Amazon jungle) still leave from elsewhere, so check carefully in advance.
Regular buses depart frequently for Puno (US$4.50 to US$10.50, six to seven hours) via Juliaca. But why not treat yourself? Inka Express (24 7887; www.inkaexpress.com; Pardo 865) runs luxury tourist-class buses with panoramic windows to Puno, with departures every morning. The splurge-worthy US$25 fare includes beverages and an English-speaking tour guide, who talks about the various sites that are briefly visited en route, including Andahuayillas, Raqchi, Abra la Raya and Pucará.
There are now two options to get to Lima. Most direct buses now ply the quicker route via Abancay and Nazca to Lima (US$18 to US$33, 17 to 23 hours), but this can be a rough ride and is prone to crippling delays during the rainy season. Companies include the most luxurious Cruz del Sur and the cheapest Expreso Molino (23 6144). The alternative is to go via Arequipa, a longer but more comfortable and reliable route for reaching Lima (US$19.50 to US$47.50, 25 to 27 hours). Ormeño’s Royal Class has a daily departure at 9am.
Many buses also run just to Arequipa (US$7.50 to US$21, nine to 11 hours), but these services are mostly overnight. Buses to Abancay (US$4.50, five hours) and Andahuaylas (US$8, 10 hours) usually leave in the early morning and early evening. You can change at Andahuaylas to a bus bound for Ayacucho in Peru’s central highlands via rough roads that get very cold at night. Wear all of your warm clothes and if you have a sleeping bag, bring it onboard the bus.
Buses to Quillabamba (US$4.50, seven to eight hours) via Santa María leave a few times per day from the Santiago bus terminal in western Cuzco (take a taxi from the city center, US$0.60). For this trip, most locals recommend the bus company Turismo Ampay (24 5734), which has three departures daily and conveniently staffs a ticket counter at Cuzco’s main long-distance terminal. Daytime buses to Quillabamba are safer and have spectacular scenery while climbing the 4600m Abra de Malaga and then dropping down into the jungle.
For other Amazon jungle destinations, you have to fly, risk a hazardous journey by truck or find an expedition. There are daily trucks to Puerto Maldonado during the dry season along a wild and difficult road, and the trip from Cuzco takes anything from two days to over a week in the wet season (for more details, see p283). These trucks leave from near Plaza Túpac Amaru, east of Tacna along Garcilaso (US$10, two to seven days). You could also get a bus to Urcos and wait for a truck there. Transportes Huayna Ausangate (965 0922; Av Tomasa Tito Condemayta) has buses that go as far as Ocongate and Tinqui (US$4.20, seven hours) and leave around 10am daily except Sunday.
Getting to Manu is just as problematic. Expreso Virgen del Carmen (22 6895; Diagonal Angamos 1952) has buses to Paucartambo (US$3, five hours) leaving from behind the Coliseo Cerrado daily. Continuing from Paucartambo to Manu, there are only passing trucks or expedition buses, though buses for Pillcopata leave from Av Angamos in Cuzco on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings (US$4.50, 10 hours). For onward travel from Pillcopata to Shintuya, take a truck (US$2.50, eight hours).
Minibuses to Pisac (US$0.60, one hour) and Urubamba (US$0.90, two hours) leave frequently from Av Tullumayo, south of Av Garcilaso, from approximately 5:30am until 8pm. Roughly during those same hours, there are speed-demon colectivo (shared) taxis that leave when full bound for Urubamba (US$1.50, 1½ hours) via Chinchero (US$1, 45 minutes), as well as minibuses to the same destinations; you’ll find them along the 300 block of Grau, near the Puente Grau (Grau Bridge). To get to Ollantaytambo, it’s easiest to change at Urubamba, or you can try and catch an infrequent direct bus from Puente Grau (US$1, 2½ hours). Slower highway buses to Quillabamba stop in Ollantaytambo, too, but you’ll have to pay the full fare (US$4.50, 2½ hours).
Minibuses to Urcos (US$1) leave from Manco Capac, east of Tacna, and from Av de la Cultura opposite the regional hospital. Take these to visit Tipón, Piquillacta, Rumicolca and Andahuaylillas en route to Puno or to wait for passing trucks to Puerto Maldonado.
Trucks, combis (minibuses) and faster colectivo taxis for Limatambo (US$1.50 to US$2, 1½ to two hours), only a few of which continue onward to Abancay, leave from various places on Arcopata, a couple of blocks west of Meloc.
Given all the headaches and potential hazards of driving yourself around, consider hiring a taxi for the day – it’s cheaper than renting a car anyway.
Motorcycle rentals are offered by a few outdoor outfitters and travel agencies in Cuzco. You can go for short runs around town or, when seasonal road conditions allow, into the surrounding areas, but not much further. Even for experienced riders who purchase full-coverage insurance, the risks and dangers are considerable.
Cuzco has two train stations. Estación Huanchac, near the end of Av El Sol, serves Juliaca and Puno on Lake Titicaca. Estación San Pedro, next to the Mercado Central, serves Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The two stations are unconnected, so it’s impossible to travel directly from Puno to Machu Picchu. Make reservations and buy tickets as far ahead of time as possible. Click to www.perurail.com for updated schedules, fares and reservations.
Estación Huanchac (Estación Wanchaq; 23 8722; 8:30am-4:30pm Mon-Fri, 8:30am-noon Sat & Sun) has trains for Puno that usually leave at 8am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and take about 9½ hours (though they are often late). Fares have skyrocketed in recent years – they are now US$119 for first-class ‘Andean Explorer’ seats, which include a glass-walled observation car and a complimentary lunch, or just US$17 for nonreservable seats in the more basic ‘Backpacker’ carriage, where drinks and snacks are sold separately. The journey has great views of the Andes and along the shores of Lake Titicaca, but even in the best class, seats are not very comfortable, and the ride is known for being a bone shaker.
At the time of research, tickets for the Machu Picchu train to Aguas Calientes were only sold from the Huanchac station (bring your passport to buy tickets), but soon they may also be available at the station that the Machu Picchu trains actually leave from, Estación San Pedro (22 1992). The station is a prime target for thieves, and though security around the station has been tightened it’s best to remain vigilant.
From Cuzco, there are at least three tourist trains to Machu Picchu a day, with more during the high season. It is no longer possible for foreigners to use the tren local (the cheaper local train). The trenes de turismo (tourist trains) leave Cuzco between 6am and 7am and stop at Poroy (6:40am to 7:40am), Ollantaytambo (8am to 9am) and Aguas Calientes (9:40am to 11am), aka Machu Picchu Pueblo. Services return between 3:30pm and 5pm, arriving back in Cuzco between 7:20pm and 9:25pm. You can cut the return journey short by up to 45 minutes by getting off at Poroy and catching a taxi (around US$5) back to Cuzco.
At the time of research, one-way/round-trip tickets cost US$46/73 on backpacker trains, or US$66/113 in the first-class Vistadome train, which is the earliest and fastest service and includes snacks and drinks. These prices have skyrocketed in recent years, though, and it’s likely they will rise again every year or so. Despite local pressure to break PeruRail’s monopoly on the line, more competitive prices are not likely in the near future.
Anyone interested in visiting the Sacred Valley should note that they can travel for less on Vistadome trains to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo, which is also where the cheapest backpacker train service leaves from.
Nearly all departures and arrivals from Cuzco’s Aeropuerto Internacional Alejandro Velasco Astete (code CUZ; 22 2611), a few kilometers south of the city center, are in the morning, because climatic conditions in the afternoon typically make landings and takeoffs more difficult. Several airlines offer regular daily flights to and from Lima. These may get canceled or lumped together with other flights during quiet periods. Your best bet is to reserve the earliest flight available, as later ones are the most likely to be delayed or canceled. A few domestic carriers also have regularly scheduled flights to Puerto Maldonado, Juliaca and Arequipa.
Flights tend to be overbooked, especially in high season, so confirm your flight when you arrive in Cuzco, then reconfirm 72 hours in advance and again 24 hours before departure. If you buy your ticket from a reputable travel agent, the staff will reconfirm for you.
Check in at least two hours before your flight. Beware that check-in procedures are often chaotic, and even people with confirmed seats and boarding passes occasionally have been denied boarding because of overbooking errors. During the rainy season, flights can be postponed for 24 hours due to bad weather. Bring all valuables and essentials with you on the plane, and securely lock any checked baggage.
When flying from Cuzco to Lima, try to check in as early as possible so you can get a seat on the right-hand side of the plane for the best views of Salkantay’s 6271m peak. Some pilots like to fly quite close to the mountain, and the views are sometimes stupendous. (Sit on the left from Lima to Cuzco.) Very occasionally a different route is taken over Machu Picchu.
At the time of research, airlines serving Cuzco included the following: