The famous Inca Trail is a 4 day hike through the incredible Sacred Valley of Peru that takes travellers to see various ruins and natural wonders of alpine tundra and cloud forests. There are three different routes that encompass the classic Inca Trail including the Mollepata, Classic, and One Day. Hikers eat and sleep along the trail, rising early to start each day and reach heights of 4200m above sea level. With a final destination of Machu Picchu, hikers enter the Sun Gate on their final day to revel in the natural and human built splendour of the ruins of this indigenous citadel.
In order to avoid too much erosion and degradation of the trail, the government of Peru only permits a total of 500 people on the Inca Trail each day, of which only 200 are hikers and the other 300 are porters and guides. Given this, those interested in hiking the Inca Trail must book their trek far in advance and the cost to do so can be upwards of $1200 or more. For those of us who like to travel with flexibility and who are unable to shell out that much money ahead of time, there are 5 different alternative hikes to consider, each of which also take one through the Sacred Valley to see ruins and navigate parts of the Inca Trail. So you can see the sites and marvel without the forward planning.
Of all mountains in the Vilcabamba mountain range, Salkantay is the highest peak reaching over 6000m above sea level. Named after this famous peak, the Salkantay Trek is a fantastic alternative to the wildly popular Inca Trail. While less travelled, the Salkantay Trek has been named one of the top 25 hikes in the world by the National Geographic, given the abundance of natural beauty present on the journey. Unlike the Inca Trail, for those who are well prepared and used to multiday overland hikes, the Salkantay Trek does not have a fee and camping is even free.
Despite this, hikers still have the option to hire a guide and porters to assist them, costing far less than the Inca Trail and far greater flexibility with embarkment dates. Instead of booking your trek six to eight months in advance, those considering the Salkantay Trek can book as little as days to weeks ahead of departure. While the Salkantay Trek can take from 5 to 8 days to complete, it is worth the extra time to truly take in the majesty of the Sacred Valley of Peru and still wind up at Machu Picchu.
The Choquequirao Trek is another stellar alternative to the Inca Trail that takes hikers to both the ruins of Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. For those seeking more immersion in Quechuan culture and history, this is a wonderful option to explore. Also not requiring a permit to traverse, hikers are gifted with the opportunity to visit the Incan City of Choquequirao which means “Cradle of Gold” in Quechua.
While the government of Peru is currently looking to invest a significant amount of money into tourist infrastructure for Choquequirao, in the meantime this trek remains off the beaten path for hikers and is therefore less popular and quieter than more established routes. A longer route, taking from 7 to 10 days to complete, the Choquequirao Trek is for those seeking a more rugged option that is rich in history and culture.
In just 2 or 3 days, hikers can complete the quiet and less travelled Lares Trek without a permit. As a route often used by the Quechua for transporting textiles, hikers may have the opportunity to learn to weave during their trek in the village of Huacahuasi. While shorter than the traditional Inca Trail, the Lares Trek takes hikers even higher to an altitude of 4400m above sea level. This route is excellent for those who are on a budget, looking for a shorter and easier trip, who want flexibility on dates to leave or all of the above.
Given that this trek is only 33km, it is important to ensure you are ready to brave the one high pass along the way by acclimatizing to the altitude ahead of time. Like other treks, you have the option to either book this trek with a travel company or to head out on your own and wind up at Machu Picchu.
Why simply hike when you can zipline, mountain bike, white water raft and soak in natural hot springs? For those looking to shake things up and try various activities, the Jungle Trek is for you. Over the course of 4 days, those choosing the Jungle Trek can participate in different activities and get their adrenaline pumping on the way to Machu Picchu.
While each of these activities is optional, you can give everything a try and still have the opportunity to hike along the mountain paths of the Quechua and take in the incredible beauty of the mountains above and rivers below.
Like other alternative treks to Machu Picchu, the Vilcabamba Trek is a quieter, more rugged and less popular yet naturally and culturally rich option for hikers. The Vilcabamba Trek takes a standard 5 days to complete on most itineraries and is one of the hardest hikes to Machu Picchu. The trek itself is beautiful, taking hikers through 60km of snow-capped mountain peaks and on several different Inca trails.
Those looking to challenge themselves physically will find the Vilcabamba Trek a worthy opponent. With an abundance of plant and animal life ready for observation, those who take on this difficult trek will be rewarded with endless natural wonder. While not for the faint of heart, the Vilcabamba Trek will certainly take adventurers on the trip of a lifetime.
With so many different trekking options for hikers, there is something for everyone to consider when determining how to make their way to Machu Picchu. Whether you’re looking for a short and easy hike or a long and strenuous one, here you’ll find both. If you want to be immersed in nature, culture or both, there’s a trek for you. Whether you need flexibility on when to depart on your trek or are on a budget, there’s an option for every wanderer.
Image source: Trail To Peak, Choquequirao, Lucky Peru Tour, Amazon Des Peru, Kiwis of Course, Evolution Treks Peru.