Tips for driving in Peru: 3 overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu

Sep 02, 2021 BY AWE365 Team

Want to explore Peru independently? Then you’ll need to either buy, rent or bring your own vehicle. You should also read these tips for driving in Peru. Once you are sorted with advice and some wheels then follow one of the 3 overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu detailed below.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu one of the best historical hiking holidays Pexels royalty free image

Driving in Peru isn’t easy. If you like to get your adrenaline pumping and enjoy a bit of adventure on the road then Peru will hasten your pulse. Most visitors to Peru want to see the magnificent Machu Picchu, but few tourists bother to drive themselves.

Most travel by public transport, join tours or take private transfers on the regular tourist trail. Now while this is well established and serves people well, there are many other adventures in Peru to be had. And if you are driving there are many routes to be explored both on and off-road.

Tips for driving in Peru

Driving in Peru is a little different to driving in most western countries. Traffic signs and road rules are frequently ignored. Cars overtake on both sides. And speed limits are viewed merely as a vague suggestion. Getting behind the wheel is definitely not for the faint of heart.

But there is plenty to see and explore. And with the aid of your own four wheels you’re sure to have an incredible adventure. So follow these tips for driving in Peru to help you stay safe and have a good time.

Tips for driving in Peru Wikimedia CC image of Carpapata by Tours Centro Peru

Get the right vehicle

Whether you are hiring, buying or bringing your own car having the right vehicle is imperative. The biggest thing that will influence your choice of ride if how much off-road driving you plan to do.

If you are sticking to the tarmac then choosing your wheels is the same as at home. If you will be exploring the rough stuff then read this guide to off-road vehicles to ensure you chose the right vehicle.

Road quality

Peruvian roads vary from brand new to poorly maintained. Fast roads often lack central crash barriers, mountain routes have no guard rails, signs are sporadic, and streetlights often non-existent.

All of this means that you should drive more conservatively to stay safe. Don’t drive flat out as you could encounter anything from a large pothole to a herd of Guanacos, Llamas or Alpacas around any corner.

Guanacos on road in Atacama in Peru wikimedia CC image by E Matamoros ESO

License

An international driving permit is required to drive in Peru. So don’t just turn up with your standard license. You’ll be hit with a fine without one and could have your journey stopped before it has begun.

Car hire costs

Car hire is pretty cheap from £15/$20 a day. A two-week rental could cost around £210/$280. However, there may be a raft of extra fees, including insurance, additional mileage and fees for even minor damage – so beware.

Insurance

Proof of insurance is required in Peru and if you get pulled over you will have to show your documents. So have them to hand. This is particularly important if you bring your own car or buy a vehicle in Peru.

Scams and bribes

Unfortunately there are plenty of scammers who will try to exhort some of your hard earned money. This includes some corrupt police officers. You should never offer or agree to pay money directly to the police as this is not an official channel for payment of fines.

Tips for driving in Peru 3 overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu pixabay royalty free image

Peruvian transit police officers wear uniforms and display their identification cards on their chests. It is important to make yourself aware of what they look like and what they can legally do during a traffic stop. Unless you have done something wrong, stops should just be to check your documentation.

Emergency numbers

The National Police emergency number is 105 (but you can also use 911 in Peru for emergency services). For a medical emergency requiring an ambulance, call 106.

Fuel

Fuel costs around $1 per litre so is much cheaper than in Europe. A good tip if you’re planning on visiting more remote areas, is to bring extra fuel in a container as petrol stations can be few and far between.

Food and drink

Be sure to stock up on food and drink before you set off.  Refreshment stops are definitely not be guaranteed. If you will be in remote areas take enough supplies to keep you fed and watered for a few days in case of an emergency.

Peruvian trekking holidays Huayhuash trek one of the 10 best treks in Peru Flickr CC image by Paul Tomaz

Driving at night

One of the top tips for driving in Peru is to stop before it gets dark. The road conditions are not ideal, and you’ll encounter trucks and buses that are not properly lit but still speeding.

Liberal horn use

Horns are liberally used in the city and on rural roads. They are frequently tooted around blind mountain corners to alert other drivers. While this adds to the stress of Peru driving it also adds a layer of safety.

Park smart

Car theft and break ins are common in Peru. So don’t park your car on the street overnight, instead park in a guarded lot or private accommodation parking. Don’t leave valuables in the car or bags on show even when parked up in the daytime.

Don’t drive solo

Travelling in convoy is safer than driving on your own. Likewise sharing a car with a few other people is safer than driving solo.

Panamericana highway one of the best overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu Pxfule royalty free image of atacama, Peru

Internet access

Internet access in Peru is not perfect. The speed ranges from extremely slow to astoundingly fast depending on location. So if you are working remotely, for example, in a custom writing service you need to plan your route carefully. Everyday tasks like email are normally OK, but streaming or uploading images can be more of a struggle.

3 overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu

Lets put this out there straight away. It’s not possible to drive to Machu Picchu. You’ll either have to park up in Cusco and join the throngs heading up on the train, trek the Inca trail or follow an alternate Machu Picchu trek from a nearby town.

Many who visit Peru want to trek to Machu Picchu. And a visit the ancient Inca city, located up the mountains at 2430m, is on nearly all tourists list. Most visitors travel to Cusco, take the train to Aguas Calientes. From there you can either jump on a bus or walk the remaining 8km to the top.

But if you are going independent and driving in Peru you’ll need to decide what route to drive to Machu Picchu first. Here are a few to choose from:

Peruvian trekking holidays Inca trail one of the 10 best treks in Peru Flickr CC image by wharman

Drive Lima to Cusco direct

From Lima it is a 925 km drive down the Panamericana Sur to Cusco. You’ll see some magnificent scenery along the way even without diverting to the many other Inca sites to visit and activities you can get involved in.

If there are a few drivers alternating, you can do the drive in about 20 hours. But you could also eek it out over multiple days to see all the sights along the way. At the very least a stop off at the ancient Nazca Lines is a must.

Inland Lima to Cusco route

Alternatively, head inland and travel via Huancayo and Ayacucho. This takes a little longer, but it will give you the chance to see what life is like in typical Peruvian towns.

You’ll also see more of rural Peru and escape the main route most people travel. There is still plenty to see and do along the way including some of the best treks in Peru.

Machu Picchu in Peru Flickr CC image by Maria Grazia Montagnari

Bolivia to Cusco

Another impressive route to Cusco is from La Paz, Bolivia. This journey takes you past Lake Titicaca and through some stunning mountain scenery.

It is actually the shortest drive to Machu Picchu from a major city. It  should take about 10 hours depending on how many stops you make. Remember you’ll need to cross the border from Bolivia to Peru, so check what the rules are with a car and that it is allowed if you have a rental.

Alternative to Cusco

A good alternative route to Machu Picchu begins on the northern side of the Sacred Valley, at the Lares hot springs. The drive takes you through the traditional Andean towns of Huacahuasi and Patacancha, where life has barely changed for 500 years.

From here your route takes you onto Ollantaytambo where there are some great Inca sites to explore. You can either catch the train to Machu Picchu or you can trek the alternative route.

Ollantaytambo one of best inca sites in Peru: Flickr image by Ivan Mlinaric

As with the Inca trail, this trek takes four days. But unlike the traditional route (on which numbers are limited) it doesn’t require a permit and it will keep you off the busier tourist trail.

We hope you found these tips for driving in Peru useful. Which of the 3 overland routes to drive to Machu Picchu will you take? Let us know in the comments. If you’d rather drive yourself then check out these Peru activity holidays.

 
Aguas Calientes, Andes, Ayacucho, Bolivia, Cusco, Huacahuasi, Huancayo, La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Lares Valley, Lima, Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, Ollantaytambo, Patacancha, Peru, Sacred Valley, South America
4x4, Overlanding
Inca Trail, Off Road, Road Trip
Travel Articles
 

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