Peru is breath-taking country. The Andean highlands, where our trips are based, is literally so. But more than just the thin air of the high altitude cities, the well-preserved ancient stonework, the incredible textiles, and the friendliest people you could hope to meet will all equally take your breath away. Peru is a hidden gem. Without the crowds of the Alps or Rockies, Peru still feels like the kind of spectacular landscape where you could get lost for hours (don’t worry, we won’t let you) and not encounter a soul. Yet, the trails and dirt roads which snake out across the valleys in mountains make the Sacred Valley, Ausangate, Lares, Anascocha and surrounding highland areas a dream come true for hikers. We present the best treks to Machu Picchu.
Our adventure starts in the beautiful city of Cusco, highlighted by amazing cuisine and the unique hybrid architecture that is one part Inca Stone and one part Spanish Cathedral, a must see. From there, we’ll head to our best places to start one of our best treks to Machu Picchu.
The mountains around Cusco offers an unending supply of trekking adventures and amazing alternative treks to Machu Picchu, that are sure to satisfy everyone, from the expert mountaineer to the weekend hiker, the history buff to the nature lover. The Peruvian Andes have something for everyone! At Andean Great Treks, we specialize in offering unique, alternative Machu Picchu Treks. Here are some of our favourites!
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of approaching Machu Picchu on one’s own two feet, which is why the classic Inca Trail hike has become so popular in recent years. The time when a traveler could roll into Cusco and set up an Inca Trail trek for the following day—or week, or month—has long since passed, though. To limit damage to the trail, the Peruvian government now limits access to 500 persons per day, porters included. Permits for the peak summer season sell out months in advance.
Fortunately, the Inca were master road builders who blazed trails all throughout the Andes, and many of these are alternate routes to Machu Picchu (or at least you get as close as a quick train ride). Here are we listed the best alternative treks to Machu Picchu, most of which require no permits and can be arranged through Andean Great Treks. Some of these hikes are available in multiple variations and can be tailored to meet a particular fitness level.
Salkantay is the ‘savage mountain’,the 20,500-feet-high Mount Salkantay was one of the holiest apus, or sacred peaks, in the Inca religious pantheon. It’s still revered today in traditional Andean religion. This mule-assisted hike cuts through the beautiful Mollepata Valley and traverses past Salcantay at an altitude above 15,000 feet. From those chilly heights, the trail descends into subtropical cloud forest, where it meets up with an ancient Inca highway (part of the original Capac Ñan network that connected the far ends of the empire) that leads to the recently rediscovered ruins of Llactapata. From there, one can gaze a few miles across the valley to take in a rare sidelong view of the full Machu Picchu complex. A downhill walk ends at the small train station, where a frequent shuttle runs along the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
The trek that bears its name is the most popular alternative to the classic Inca Trail, accessing Machu Picchu via sparkling glaciers, lush cloudforest and high passes, the trail tops out at 4,650m, as well as the Inca site of Llactapata.
If you came to the Cusco region for visions of snow-capped peaks that look like sleeping giants, the Salkantay Trail is probably the route to Machu Picchu that’s for you. Certainly one for the devoted trekkers, this trail takes at least 5 full days to complete and goes through some of the most jaw-dropping parts of the Sacred Valley. It’s more physically demanding than the Inca Trail hike, has a touch less history, but far more in the way of off-the-beaten-path highland terrain on your way to Machu Picchu.
The Traditional Salkantay Trek begins with a ramble out of Soraypampa up to the turquoise waters of Humantay Lake. The Humantay Lake sits in an amphitheatre of Andean summits, with the mighty top of Salkantay itself (20,574 feet / 6,271 meters) keeping watch from the clouds above. The next morning marks the start of the hardest part of the trek, as you gain altitude to traverse the soaring Salkantay Pass at 15,090 feet (4,600 meters). The mountains feel super-close there, the air is thin, but the views are simply spectacular.
If you’re interested in a cultural experience, the Lares Trek is a great choice. Lares Trek lies north of Cusco, an offbeat valley where life goes on much as it has for centuries. One of the best alternative short trek in the Andes, especially for authentic insights into rural life. Just beyond the massive snowcapped peaks that mark the Sacred Valley’s northern edge, however, sits the Lares Valley. Here, life continues much as it has for centuries. Locals in traditional Andean dress plant potatoes by hand, raise herds of llamas and alpacas, and weave cloth as they have for generations. Those farmers and artisans may be the only other people you see for days. This trek usually starts at the tiny town of Lares, home to a famous hot spring, and passes through several villages. Along the way it provides close-up views of the 18,000-plus feet of Mount Veronica and several high-altitude lakes. It ends near the historic ruins of Ollantaytambo, and from there the train trip to Machu Picchu is only 90 minutes.
The trek itself takes three days, starting off in Lares (don’t miss the hot springs!) and taking you away from the crowds of the Sacred Valley into the Andes to the north of the Urubamba. At the end of your trek, on the third day, you’ll catch a train to Machu Picchu, overnighting at a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
While not to be taken lightly, the Lares Trek is the easiest trek relative to the other treks that take you to Machu Picchu. It’s the best trek for fairly fit hikers who want an active holiday but don’t want to push themselves too hard.
If you’re looking for the most adventurous trek on the list, this is it. The Choquequirao trek is as challenging as it is rewarding, with switchbacks taking you up and over steep, forest-covered mountains en route to Machu Picchu.
The slope-side Inca citadel of Choquequirao is less well known and less well excavated than Machu Picchu. It’s also far less busy, Choquequirao might see in a year the number of visitors that Machu Picchu gets in a day. It’s possible to do a four-day there-and-back hike to Choquequirao, which barely tops 3,000m but involves strenuous switch-backing up and down a mile-deep canyon. Better is to plan a longer expedition, trekking beyond Choquequirao and accessing Machu Picchu by the backdoor. This is harder work, including a 4,668m pass, but it’s wild and worth it.
The trek starts with a steep, two-day climb to ruins of Choquequirao, perched high above the Apurimac river (40m higher than Machu Picchu). The Choquequirao ruins are larger than Machu Picchu, and still the process of being reclaimed from the jungle.
While you will enjoy some impressive views of snow-capped mountains and deep canyons along the way, the highlight is when you reach the archaeological site of Choquequirao, an Inca stronghold nearly as impressive as Machu Picchu. Few people undertake the journey to reach here, and trekking is the only way to arrive (although there’s been ongoing speculation to put a cable car in from across the canyon).
At 6,372m, Ausangate is one of the most formidable peaks in the Cusco region. This makes its flanks first choice for those who like their hikes properly mountain. The terrain here has a different vibe, trekking around Ausangate reveals open Andean meadows, alpaca-herding communities, condors and rare vicuñas, and close-ups of glaciers. It’s a tough undertaking, largely due to the altitude, you will hike and camp above 4,000m for the duration, and there are two passes over 5,000m.
You need to be well acclimatised, but the rewards are the solitude, the huge views, friendly locals, hot springs and the blue lakes and formations of ridiculous colours.” Indeed, it’s worth noting that while Vinicunca Peru’s ‘Rainbow Mountain’, has become overcrowded in recent years, this trek includes multiple ‘rainbow mountains’, which display similar crazy-hued geology but see none of the crowds.
The Ancascocha Trail, also known as the Hidden Inca Trail or the Super Inca Trail, is a strenuous and less traveled trek. If you’re looking for off the beaten path trails, pristine wilderness, and a challenging trek, this is the one for you! National Geographic recently named Ancascocha Trail as one of the World’s 20 Best Hikes. In Ancascocha Trail you will feel the magic of the Andes and at the same time discover the history that surrounds the great empire of the Incas. hiking in the mountains of the Southern Andes. Nature, geography, flora and fauna will surprise you with its beauty and diversity, filling your eyes and spirit with their unique characteristics. The story of The Incas will be present at each step towards the end point of our journey. Archaeological sites dotted throughout our journey will help us to better understand the Andean civilization and way of life.
On Ancascocha trail to Machu Picchu, the trail goes through very remote Andean communities, where locals try to keep living in happiness moving their llamas and alpacas as they’ve been doing so far. This trail forms part of the network of classic Inca Trail which is linking Machu Picchu from the other towns located in the highlands, therefore, we’ll have the chance to witness ancient Incan ruins along the path to Machu Picchu, Inca ruins that are still covered by shrubs waiting for becoming uncovered by you.
In case you want to explore and enjoy the beautiful landscapes, the Inca quarry trail is a new alternative trek to the Classic Inca Trail, where you will not find hikers, this circuit is one of the most memorable to discover the great landscape richness and culture of Peru, since in its circuit you will be able to learn more deeply about the mysticism and customs of the men of the Andes, and take a train trip to the sacred citadel of Machu Picchu. You can also find a new Puerta del Sol in all the Andes. Sun Gate or called Inti Punku, are structures built to honor the sun, usually at such an angle that they frame a distant mountain and welcome the first rays of the winter solstice. You can also see Inca mummies inside their tombs. Another great attraction of this route of the Inca quarry is the Perolniyoc waterfall, where you can take a dip, at the top you will appreciate the Inca ruins of Perolniyoc. They are Andean terraces that in the past were a very important ceremonial center for the cult of water and mother earth. But perhaps the attraction that most stands out this circuit is undoubtedly the Inca stone quarries, where the ancient Incas developed a great technique for cutting lithic material, to later be taken to the town of Ollantaytambo. Today you can still see the lithic workshops with all their work elements, as if they had been left yesterday.
Huchuy Qosqo is an archaeological site of the Incas located at an altitude of 3,600 meters above sea level, Calca province, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This archaeological complex is one of the most important in Cusco due to its architectural level, after Ollantaytambo and Pisac. One of the main attractions of Huchuy Qosqo, is a building with three floors or levels; the first two are made of finely carved stone and the third level is made of adobe and although it has lacked a roof for a long time, it is so resistant that it has stood for more than 500 years. In Huchuy Qosqo you can see an esplanade on the side of an abyss where you can see Inca constructions, terraces, rooms with up to two floors, canals and everything looks spectacular because they are built on platforms.
During this walk, we will be able to appreciate the signs of the Inca constructions; some Inca stairs and small doors with Inca decorations until reaching the Wonder of Huchuy Qosqo. Which is located on the mountains of the Sacred Valley of the Incas; Also, from this point you can appreciate the impressive panoramic view of the entire Cordillera del Vilcanota with its imposing snow-capped peaks.
The sacred Inca trail to Machu Picchu is a new route that starts from the city of Cusco, we will go in our private transport to the north-west of the city of Cusco, during the first rays of the sun we will visit the typical market of Pisac, and appreciate its fine handicrafts, also the traditional ovens where some small empanadas are made in the Cusco style. Then we depart through the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas, to the archaeological complex of Urco, where we will visit one of the sacred temples of the Incas, of great significance, since according to archaeologists this is the true origin of the Incas. On this trip we will also visit the Inkarry museum, a cultural space where the best representations of all the cultures that existed in Peru since 4,000 BC are displayed. And after having been imbued with a lot of information on history and culture, we will finally make an ascent through the mountains of Apu Kusanpata, passing through beautiful forests of Queuñas and Chachacomos, to Lake Yanacocha, a sacred space since time immemorial. Continuing the trip you will go up to the high peaks of the apu Illahuaman, from where you have a fabulous view of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and be part of an offering ceremony to the sacred apus of the Quechua people, with the coca leaves, with our Andean priest of Q’eros.