A lot of people are wondering whether it’s possible to visit Machu Picchu in 2 days (as a weekend trip, for example). I can say that it’s possible; however, it doesn’t leave any time for resting or any buffer time in case something goes wrong or is delayed. In this blog post, I will outline the possible itinerary for visiting Machu Picchu in just 2 days.
We recently returned from our trip to South America, where we visited Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador in 16 days. Since we both work in London full-time and only get 25 days off per year, we decided to maximise our annual leave as visit as many countries as possible during this short period. While we had 5 days to spend in Peru, I understand that many people have even less time and want to visit Machu Picchu in as little time as possible.
This post's overview:
- 1 How bad is the altitude sickness in Cusco?
- 2 Day 1 of visiting Machu Picchu in 2 days: Getting to Cusco and then to Aguas Calientes
- 3 Day 2: Visiting Machu Picchu, taking a train back to Cusco and flying to Lima in the evening
- 4 Summary of visiting Machu Picchu in 2 days
- 5 Some other posts you might like:
How bad is the altitude sickness in Cusco?
A lot of people are worried about the mountain sickness in Cusco and whether it can ruin any plans. Well, unfortunately, it did hit us a lot, however, it didn’t hit us right away! We actually felt fine during our first evening in Cusco, but after spending a night there, we woke up with a huge headache and had to take some aspirins, rest for a while and drink a lot of coca tea. All that combined, managed to bring us back to life in about 3 hours.
All people, however, are very different. If you’re worried about altitude sickness, make sure to have a quick chat with your GP back home – maybe you will be prescribed some medication that will help you with the high altitude. However, since you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu and Cusco in one weekend and you won’t actually sleep in Cusco, there is a chance that you’ll be able to skip the altitude sickness – Machu Picchu isn’t located at such as high altitude as Cusco, so most probably, you will be okay!
Day 1 of visiting Machu Picchu in 2 days: Getting to Cusco and then to Aguas Calientes
Getting to Cusco
The first step of your trip to Machu Picchu for a weekend is getting to Cusco. Although Cusco is a pretty big city and probably the second most important city in Peru after Lima, almost no international flights are going directly to Cusco. Hence, you need to get to Lima first and then take a flight to Cusco. There are multiple flights to Cusco throughout the day – we took one of Latam flights (we were honestly pretty impressed with Latam – it was super modern and had the best entertainment on board). It takes around 45 minutes to get to Cusco from Lima. You can check the prices and availability of the flights to Cusco here >>
If you arrive in Lima very early, around 8 am or 9 am, you can take a flight to Cusco around 10 am – that way, you will land in Cusco around 10:45 am.
Getting out of the airplane and waiting for the luggage shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and the taxi to the centre of Cusco takes also about 15-25 minutes depending on the traffic conditions.
Exploring Cusco and taking a train to Aguas Calientes for Machu Picchu
Unfortunately, as of now, Peru Rail only has trains to Machu Picchu in the morning, so you would need to take the Inca Rail train to Aguas Calientes. There is a train at 1:30 pm that should work for you. Alternatively, there is a later train at 16:30 (arriving somewhat late, at 9 pm) if you want to spend a couple of hours exploring the Cusco city centre.
If you want to see as much as possible in a couple of hours in Cusco, you can get one of the private tours of Cusco and agree with the guide on the meeting time – most of the guides will be able to accommodate a time in the middle of the day!
Here are some private tours in Cusco you might find interesting:
Don’t bring a suitcase with you to Machu Picchu
Keep in mind that it’s not advised (and in some cases it’s not even allowed) to bring a suitcase on board of the train to Machu Picchu, so it’s better to travel light (with a backpack). If you have a suitcase, you can leave it in any hostel in Cusco for a fee.
Either way, you’ll get to Aguas Calientes in the evening, when Machu Picchu is already closed. You would need to spend a night in Aguas Calientes and head to Machu Picchu in the morning.
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is a lovely small town located a very short drive away from Machu Picchu. Most people who come to visit Machu Picchu stay in Aguas Calientes overnight. Most of the hotels in Aguas Calientes have a river view and are located right next to the train tracks. If you don’t mind going to sleep relatively late (9-10 pm) and waking up at 4 am (or with the first train) and you don’t mind the paper-thin walls and the noise of the river, but you value convenience, price and stunning views from your room, you can opt-in for one of the hotels near the train tracks.
Finally, if your budget permits, you can stay at Jaya Suite or Casa Andina or even directly near the entrance to Machu Picchu, at the stunning Sanctuary Lodge by Belmond! That way, you can avoid taking a shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, as Belmond will have its own transportation.
Day 2: Visiting Machu Picchu, taking a train back to Cusco and flying to Lima in the evening
You were probably pretty tired after your first day in Peru, however, unfortunately, your second day will be just as tiring!
Visiting Machu Picchu in the morning
Machu Picchu opens at 6am. However, to get to Machu Picchu you need to buy a shuttle bus ticket (I recommend buying it online to save time). You can buy your shuttle bus ticket to Machu Picchu here >
Also, you need to book tickets for Machu Picchu itself online in advance here https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe. I recommend buying tickets at least 2 weeks in advance or better more, because they tend to sell out during busy times. If you’re interested in a tour, you can book the tour as well as buy tickets online here.
However, if there are no tickets left on the official website, you can try your luck here >
How early should you visit Machu Picchu? Visiting from March to May – things you should know
If you want to be one of the first people visiting Machu Picchu in the morning, you need to wake up around 4am, get ready and head to the shuttle bus station located right in the heart of Aguas Calientes around 5am (no need for the address, there is literally just one road there). However, you can also buy a later ticket and go to Machu Picchu around 7am or 8am, depending on how tired you are. If you’re only visiting the main park and not going to any of the mountains, you will be able to see everything in 1.5-3 hours.
However, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes, especially from March to May, Machu Picchu is very cloudy and foggy in the mornings. That means, that often, you won’t be able to see anything until 9 am. Unfortunately, it’s also not allowed to walk around the archaeological site and return to the viewpoints later – you need to wait at the viewpoint. We had to wait for 3 hours to be able to see Machu Picchu. Hence, if you’re visiting Machu Picchu in March, April or May, you might want to enter the place as late as you can, around 8am or 9am.
Returning to Cusco and flying to Lima
Even if you enter Machu Picchu at 9am, you will be able to finish sightseeing at 11am, take a shuttle bus to Aguas Calientes at 11:15 and be back at the train station at 12pm.
There are some Peru rail trains that depart at 3pm, so you have some time to rest and eat in Aguas Calientes. If you take a train at 3pm, you will be in Cusco by 7pm. There is also an Inca rail train at 2:30 pm, which will bring you to Cusco at 6:30pm.
If you have any baggage that you left in Cusco, you need to quickly pick it up and head to the airport, as the latest flight from Cusco to Lima departs at 9:45pm. However, if you don’t need to pick up any luggage, you will be able to make it for the 9:05pm Latam flight to Lima. There might be more (or fewer) flights from Cusco to Lima, so I always recommend checking the availability and buying the tickets in advance.
Summary of visiting Machu Picchu in 2 days
Alright, as you saw, visiting Machu Picchu in 2 days from Lima is possible! However, as I mentioned before, there is no room for an error. In our case, we were pretty unlucky and visited Peru during some pretty bad protests – so our trains from Machu Picchu to Cusco were cancelled. We managed to make it to Cusco on the same day anyway – by taking another route via Hidroelectrica, but it required walking on train tracks for 2 hours and then taking a series of minibuses as well as waiting for a lot of time for the roads to open. In case you’re interested, you can read more about our experience getting stuck and escaping Machu Picchu here >>
In most cases, you can visit Machu Picchu without any problems – the trains go frequently and the flights rarely get delayed (especially the Latam ones), so Machu Picchu in 2 days should be doable!