The indigenous locals already knew about Machu Picchu, but the Incan "lost city" became known to the West when American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911 with help from a local guide. Bingham, who many believe was the inspiration for the film character Indiana Jones, apparently sought to find the lost city of Vilcabamba. Instead, he discovered the 15th-century ruins now known as Machu Picchu. Today, the Inca site is the number-one tourist destination in Peru. The closest airport is in nearby Cuzco, although most international travelers must come through Lima.
Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) in Cuzco is named after the Peruvian pilot who was the first to fly across the Andes. The 1925 flight started in Lima, crossed the Andes and landed in Cuzco. The airport is only a few miles from Cuzco, and the close proximity to the city limits the total number of flights that service the airport. Aguas Caliente is the closet town to Machu Picchu, but most travelers stay in Cuzco, where many single-day tours and four-day Inca Trail hikes depart. Cuzco is about 70 miles from the ruins.
Departures and Arrivals
Bolivian airline Amaszonas connects Cuzco and La Paz, Bolivia, but that is the only international flight to and from CUZ airport. A handful of national flights go to Arequipa, Juliaca and Puerto Maldonado (an Amazonian city near the border with Bolivia), but the vast majority of flights connect with Lima. Airlines operating out of CUZ airport include LAN, AeroMexico, Iberia, TAM, TACA, Star Peru and Peruvian Airlines.
Machu Picchu Tips
Lonely Planet calls the Inca Trail the most famous trek in South America, and its popularity typically requires advance booking. Be sure to spend a few days acclimating to the elevation before trekking to the archaeological site, which is located about 8,000 feet above sea level. May to September is the dry season, which makes it the busiest time of year. Bus, train and car options are available for day trips to Machu Picchu. If you are backpacking through South America, remember that national flights often are cheaper than international flights. It may be possible to save money by taking a bus to Peruvian border towns such as Tumbes in the north and Tacna in the south, and catching domestic flights from there.
In 2012, President Ollanta Humala announced that Peru will invest nearly half a billion dollars to build a new international airport near Chinchero, a town about 20 miles north of Cuzco. Set to open in 2017, the Chinchero-Cusco International Airport will be able to accommodate more international flights and larger airplanes such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 757. The new airport is expected to increase the total number of visitors to the site.