Getting Around Cusco
The best way to get around Cusco is on foot. The Plaza da Armas serves as the historic center of the city and colorful cobbled pedestrian-only streets extend outward to many of the city's top attractions. That said, at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, exploring Cusco requires stamina. Should you need to catch your breath, it's easy to flag down a taxi. Buses, often called colectivos or combis, are a more affordable way to get around, but the time schedules and limited routes can be less convenient than hailing a cab. For longer journeys to the Sacred Valley, you'll want to rent a car, but heavy pedestrian traffic can clog the narrow street, so driving in Cusco proper is not recommended.
When you're ready to journey to Machu Picchu, you'll want to snag a seat on one of PeruRail's daily trains from Estación Poroy (15 minutes from downtown Cusco) to Aguas Calientes, a station located at the base of Machu Picchu. A tour company can also arrange transportation for you; learn how here.
Most visitors fly into Cusco's Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) – located about 4 miles southeast of the downtown area – via the one-hour flight from Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM). Peruvian Airlines and LAN Airlines offer daily flights between Lima and Cusco.
Because most hotels are based in the city center and must-see attractions sit within minutes of Plaza de Armas, walking is the best mode of transportation within Cusco. However, uphill climbs to sites like Sacsayhuamán can be challenging, so bring bottled water and wear sturdy walking shoes. For spots farther from the city, you'll want to book a seat on the PeruRail.
For short distances, it’s easy to hop on one of the city’s colectivos or combis that run along the major city thoroughfares like Av de la Cultura, Av 28 de Julio and Av El Sol. You can also take buses east from Plaza de Armas to Terminal Terrestre (adjacent to the airport). The bus company Cruz del Sur also has its own terminal just south of Ovalo de Pachacutec park. Both terminals service routes to nearby towns as well as cities throughout Peru including Lima, Puno and Pisco. Fares vary according to your desired destination.
Cars are the ideal option for those looking to explore the Sacred Valley. With a set of wheels, you'll have the freedom to build your own itinerary and take off whenever you wish. But avoid driving in the congested inner city, which has many pedestrian-only streets and few parking spots. You'll find familiar car rental companies like Hertz located at the airport. Rates vary from about $50 to $100 daily, depending on the two-wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicle selection.
Official taxis are unmistakable thanks to the black and gold sticker featured on each side of the car and their illuminated company number on the roofs. Although cabs are not metered, they have a standard starting rate of 3 soles (about $1) that increases to 4 or 5 soles after 10 p.m. Taxis are relatively easy to come by in Cusco city, but at night, ask your hotel to call a taxi for you from a dependable company like Aló Taxi or Okarina. It's important to stay vigilant when entering a taxi, and, for safety reasons, do not enter an unmarked taxi. If you're planning to explore the Sacred Valley, consider making a reservation with Honda Motokar taxis, a compact three-wheel car agency offering shuttle service to and tours of the Sacred Valley for about $50 per day.
To reach Machu Picchu without spending four days on the Inca Trail, you'll need to take a four-hour train ride from Cusco. Tourists aren't allowed to take the local trains that service to Machu Picchu, but two rail lines offer direct service from Poroy (about 8 miles west of downtown) and Ollantaytambo (about 45 miles northwest of downtown). From there, a shuttle can bring you from the train station to the historic site. There are a few reliable rail lines with daily service and trains that vary in amenities. For a no-hassle experience, take the Hiram Bingham line operated by PeruRail – it includes bus service to Poroy Station. You'll want to make your train reservations several weeks in advance, and prices vary depending on the season and selected train.
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