For the outdoor adventurer, Peru holds within its boundaries a plethora of trails and treks. With a vast array of climates, land formations, rivers and jungles, Peru has something to suit the taste of nearly everyone with a grand sense of adventure. Depending on the physical shape you’re in and the time of year you visit, Peru’s offerings are vast and many. Paul Jones, a Peru travel expert at The Only Peru Guide takes a closer look at the 5 Best Treks in Peru.
1) Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
If you are adventurous and ready for a challenge, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a must when you visit Peru. Following ancient trails built by the Inca’s, hikers pass thought incredible Andean scenery traversing mountain passes before finally descending down into Amazon Jungle. Be prepared to explore settlements, tunnels and Inca ruins before completing your trek at the Sun Gate high above Machu Picchu. If this looks like the trek for you, book well in advance. We recommend booking online using the operator comparison website FindLocalTrips.com
Concerns about overuse of the Inca Trail leading to erosion have led the Peruvian government to limit the number of people who hike the Inca Trail per season (500 per day including porters, guides and hikers). High season bookings fill up quickly and the trail is closed each February for cleaning and maintenance. Take 4 days to enjoy the historical wonder of the Andes, but if that’s too much for you, a 2 day option is also available. Of the 5 best treks in Peru, this has to be at number one.
Missed out on your Inca Trail booking? Try the Salkantay Trek instead. Close to the Inca Trail, Salkantay is an attractive alternative. With several mountain trails to choose from, your disappointment will disappear. Enjoy the glorious views of the impossibly tall Andes, but breath deep to avoid altitude sickness in the thin air.
Named among the 25 best treks in the world by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, Salkantay will take you along ancient and remote footpaths across this “Savage Mountain”. But don’t let the name fool you, this mountain offers more peace and solitude than its neighbouring Inca Trail.
Although considered an alternative trek to the Inca Trail, here at The Only Peru Guide, we consider it to be an incredible trek in its own right!
Salkantay is a strenuous trek that requires a high level of fitness and a lot of preparation in advance. It’s crucial for travellers planning to do this trek to allow time to acclimatize to the altitude. Many travellers dream of visiting of Machu Picchu and have this dream tainted by the issue of altitude sickness when they arrive. For some, the effects are merely shortness of breath and a mild headache. For others, they can be much worse and some people become bedridden, having to change their entire itinerary to suit.
Spending at least 24 hours at every 2000ft. increase in altitude is the best way to properly adjust. If travelling from Cusco to Lima we strongly suggest you follow Peru Hop‘s route from Lima to Cusco. The route ascends moderately to allow travellers to acclimatise to the thinner air and therefore adjust to altitude appropriately when arriving to Cusco.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
3) Choquequirao Trek
This Cradle of Gold is the sister city of Machu Picchu. A five hour drive from Cusco will bring you to the trailhead. If the busy Inca Trail is more than you bargained for, Choquequirao is a more peaceful alternative. With similar structures and ruins, you won’t be missing out on anything but unwanted company. A jewel in the crown of the remnants of Incan civilization, Choquequirao has impressive archaeological offerings and so far is only partially excavated. There are many more secrets yet to be unearthed.
Typically taking 4 to 5 days, the Choquequirao trek can be drawn out for those who wish to stay on the trail longer or even head out to meet up with the Inca Trail to experience Machu Picchu. While the length of your stay on the trail is adjustable, the difficulty is not. Choquequirao is recommended for those only in good physical condition. The many ups and downs are physically demanding, and the climate as well as altitude do not lend themselves for a relaxing vacation. But if adventure is what you seek Choquequirao will provide in abundance. Certainly considered the toughest of the 5 best treks in Peru, it is also one of the most rewarding and least trodden paths.
Beginning near the village Lares, north of Cusco and east of Machu Picchu, a bus or van will take you to the start of your trek. Shorter in distance but higher in altitude, the Lares Trek is a spectacular alternative to the Inca Trail. It is recommended that you book through a reputable company since this trek involves significant planning. Some companies offer outreach trips where you are able to able to offer service to locals settled along the trail. Bring some small toys and toteable basics and see the smiles of joy and appreciation from the Peruvian Highlanders.
Stand and be in awe of the gorgeous White Mountains of Peru on this trek. Of the 5 best treks in Peru, the Santa Cruz is considered to be some of the best alpine hiking in the world. Leave Everest in Asia and head to South America to reach new heights. Appropriate for nearly all levels of hikers, the Santa Cruz Trek boasts great weather from May through September. With fewer restrictions than many other trails, Santa Cruz is also safe from bandits, though local cattle and other domestic animals may make a pass for your food or even tent! But with only 3 nights on the trail, guarding your gear shouldn’t be a major tribulation.
Close enough for an 8 to 10 hour bus ride from Lima, the Santa Cruz Trek begins in Huaraz. Alternatively, flights are now available if you are anxious to be on your way. Although there are no restrictions or permits needed for hiking this trek, it is always best to trek with a recommended operator. If you want to experience something totally different this incredible trek through Peru’s Cordillera Blanca offers a breath-taking encounter with pristine nature.
Santa Cruz Trek, Skyline Adventures, Flickr
Bonus trek: Rainbow Mountain Peru
The largest mountain chain in the world, the Andes, does not cease to amaze us. Quite recently, a colorful formation on the top of Vinicunca mountain has been discovered. This unusual rainbow-like pattern formation is composed of 14 different colorful minerals. The trekking adventure to reach the top of this mountain can be completed in one day and it begins with an early morning car ride from Cusco towards the Ausangate region. The trek is moderate to challenging because of the altitude, but a couple of days spent in Cusco and a good supply of coca leaves or coca tea shall get you in good condition to cope with the altitude. Once you reach the 5033 meters above sea level, Rainbow Mountain Peru will reward you with enchanting and breathtaking views worthy of a postcard!
Whether you like to slowly meander down the trails or push your physical limits, any of these Peruvian treks can provide you with the action, adventure and scenery you seek.
See our helpful article on the Top 5 Inca Trail Operators. Most of these trekking companies will also be able to offer the other treks mentioned in the article.
This article “The 5 Best Treks in Peru” was brought to you by the Guide to Cusco experts at The Only Peru Guide. Contact us today for information on booking treks in Peru, and our selection of Peru travel packages.