The Inca Trail in Peru is one of, if not the most, famous treks in the world, taking in three major sets of Inca ruins en route to the mythical citadel Machu Picchu, traversing through cloud forest, puna grasslands and high altitude passes. However, bucket-list status can sometimes come at a price. With strictly limited trail permits for the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and its shorter one-day version, these can sell out well in advance, so here’s our handpicked selection of the best alternative treks to the Inca trail.
The Best Alternative Treks to the Inca Trail
There’s no reason to leave your hiking boots at home should you find there isn’t space available on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. In fact, once your realise the breathtaking alternative treks to the Inca trail, you might even be glad you had the excuse to consider exploring the lesser-trodden paths of the Cusco region.
The Inca Trail is just one part of a sprawling network of roads that the Incas built during their epoch and the area is home to plenty of impressive and rewarding trails – all of which can combine with a visit to Machu Picchu itself during a trip to Peru, so there’s no risk of not making it to the UNESCO World heritage Site. From Peru treks to get your pulse racing with more demanding physical activity, to gentler family-friendly trekking adventures, here are some of the top altenerative treks to the Inca trail.
Multi-Day Camping Treks
Salkantay – varied scenery and vistas of Machu Picchu
(4D/3N, Rigorous, 58 km (36 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,600m (15,091 ft))
Following an ancient trail close to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay trek includes mountain passes to descents into the high-altitude jungle. What you lack in Inca ruins you undoubtedly make up for in the variety of scenery. Unlike other alternative treks, you also get a glimpse of the archaeological ruins of Machu Picchu which are visible from the last campsite. The very last stretch to the town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu, is a very short train ride, with full exploration of the UNESCO world heritage site the following day. Salkantay can also be trekked with a lodge-to-lodge option, providing more comfortable accommodation than camping.
Choquequirao – a challenging hike to a former Inca city
(5D/4N, Rigorous, 53 km (32.9 mi), Max. Altitude: 3,035m (9,957ft))
A rigorous trek, this route leads to another important and stunning Inca site that is larger and lesser known than Machu Picchu–and therefore far less crowded. Located above the raging, glacier-fed Apurimac River, surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks and seated on a high ridge, Choquequirao is a remote and rarely visited former Inca city.
Patakancha to Lares – traditional villages and Andean scenery
(2D/1N or 3D/2N, Moderate, 20 km (12.4 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,700 m (15,419 ft))
This short trek will take you past traditional villages where people live much like their Inca ancestors in stone and adobe homes with thatched roofs, weaving much of their clothing and working the land with foot ploughs. At the end of your hike, you will be rewarded by a dip in the relaxing hot springs found in the town of Lares.
Multi-Day Lodge-to-Lodge Treks
(5D/4N, Rigorous, 10-16 km (6-11 miles) per day, Max. Altitude: 5,200m (17,060 ft))
This is a breathtaking trek through the Vilcanota Cordillera and in close proximity to the highest sacred mountain in all of Cusco, on a route called the Camino del Apu Ausangate. The Apu Ausangate (Ausangate Mountain) is considered the mountain spirit that watches over life in one of the most pristine mountain ecosystems in the world. This trek is accompanied by llamas and horses, owned by shepherds of the nearby community of Chilca, which carry the gear.
(7D/6N, Rigorous, 63 km (39 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,638 m (15,216 ft))
Trek the spectacular Cordillera Vilcabamba range traversing the magnificent Salkantay Valley, passing glorious peaks and lush tropical vegetation en route to Machu Picchu. This hike features unique tambos or lodges, where daily meals are prepared by experienced, local chefs, who will introduce you to a great variety of delicious Peruvian dishes. Authentic music is played by local musicians to entertain some evenings. During the trek guests are accompanied by shepherds and their llamas carrying the gear.
Peru Day Treks
Tipon – gentle hike to the archaeological site of Tipon
(Half day trek, Easy, 4 km (2.5 mi), Max. Altitude: 3,000m (9,843ft))
This gentle trek takes you to an Inca complex with drains, water works and baths – some of which are still functioning. Then pass stupendous views of the mountains and valley and an Inca aqueduct, before returning to explore the archaeological site.
Chinchero – gentle hike from an Andean village
(Half day trek, Easy, 7-8 km (4.3-5 mi), Max. Altitude: 3,700m (12,139ft))
This short, downhill hike begins in Chinchero, a small Andean village with colonial buildings, original Inca streets and impressive Inca walls. It follows an Inca trail along a stream until it eventually meets the Vilcanota River in the Sacred Valley.
Maras and Moray – gentle hike taking in key sites of the Sacred Valley
(Half day trek, Easy, 6 km (3.7 mi), Max. Altitude: 3,400m (11,152 ft))
This trek starts at the Inca terraces of Moray. Once used for agricultural experimentation, they consists of several impressive, symmetrical circular terraces creating a depression in the earth. Next, continue on to the colonial village of Maras and then the Maras salt pans, a large number of watered terraces that collect salt by evaporation from the saline waters that gush from an underground stream. Built in a similar way to agricultural terraces seen throughout the Andes, the Salinas have been in use since pre-Columbian times.
Pisac – gentle trek to the ruins of Pisac
(Half day trek, Easy, 7-8 km (4.3-5mi), Max. Altitude: 3,400 m (11,145 ft))
A trek covering the Pisac archaeological site, an Inca Cemetery with spectacular views of the agricultural terracing and the Urubamba valley, the Pisac village and market.
Patabamba to Huchuy Qosqo – varied full day hike to the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo
(Full day trek, Rigorous, 12-14km (7.5-8.7mi), Max. Altitude: 4,600m (15,092ft))
This challenging trek begins near Patabamba, a small Andean village of agricultural farmers, shepherds and weavers who preserve age-old traditions. During the trek pass herds of llamas and alpacas, a high altitude lake, a scenic mountain pass, a ravine and small villages with thatched-roofs. Explore Huchuy Qosqo, a unique Inca archaeological site and enjoy lunch at the ruins with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valley.
More information on the best alternative treks to the Inca trail and Peru luxury trekking.
To talk to a travel advisor about which trek alternative trek to the Inca trail is right for you, or for a quotation on any of the above as part of your tailormade trip Peru, contact us today for expert advice from locally based adventure travel specialists.