By James Bridgeford II
Trekking in Peru is an amazing and rewarding experience. Whether you are an active individual seeking an alternative route of getting to Machu Picchu or an experienced hiker who loves exploring off the beaten path, the variety of treks in Peru will take your level of adventure to new heights… literally!
4 Day Inca Trail
This is the most common trek for hikers wanting to arrive in Machu Picchu. The classic Inca Trail starts near the village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, just outside of Cusco. The trek is done over a period of four days and while on the trail you will have the opportunity to visit many historic locations, archeological sites, and ancient villages. On the morning of the fourth day you have the option to wake up early and begin hiking while it is still dark so that you arrive into Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) of Machu Picchu to see the sunrise.
2 Day Inca Trail
This is a great option for travelers who want to enjoy the experience of hiking to Machu Picchu yet are short on time or prefer the idea of a more moderate hike. You will start your journey by taking an hour and a half train ride to Chacchabamba where you begin the trail. You will walk for about six hours before arriving into Inti Punku (the Sun Gate). Depending on your pace it is possible to arrive into Machu Picchu at dusk, in time to see the sunset.
It is important to note that the Inca trail is the most popular trek in Peru. So if you are seeking a path less traveled you’ll want to consider one of the alternatives.
5 Day Salkantay Trek
On this trek you will encounter extreme contrast in the amazing landscapes of the Andes. On the second day before midday you will pass the summit of Salkantay, located at 13,530 ft (4,510 m). The pass will be the zenith of your adventure as you walk alongside the snowcapped glacier whose peak reaches over 20,500 ft. yet, before sunset on this same day you will enter into lush cloud forest blooming with vibrant vegetation.
The third night on the trail you stay near the village of Santa Teresa, whose natural thermal pools are a hot spot for trekkers looking to relax. This trek ends with a night in Aguas Calientes and a visit to Machu Picchu at sunrise the following (5th) day.
4 Day Lares Trek
This is a moderate trek that only includes two nights of camping. There are some variations of the Lares Trek, which can help you to avoid large crowds and be able to experience the highlights of the journey at an easy going pace. Bear in mind that, although this is often billed as the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, you will actually take the train to Aguas Calientes on the 3rd day, overnight in a hostel and then have a tour of Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day.
The treks in Peru range from moderate to extreme difficulty. Even with what may be considered an easy trek it is important to note that spending at least a day or two in Cusco to acclimatize is highly recommended.
When to Trek:
The rainy season in the Peruvian Andes starts in November (sometimes October) and reaches its height in February. During the month of February the Inca Trail is closed and it is not advisable to hike any trails leading to Machu Picchu. June through August is the peak of high season for travel in the Cusco region.
The Inca trail is the most popular trek and there are a set number of spaces for the amount of trekkers permitted on the trail each day, so if you are planning on hiking during the peak months of travel make sure to confirm your arrangements well in advance.
James is an avid photographer and travel writer originally from Kansas City, USA who has spent the last 5 years living in South America. He loves finding places off the beaten path and living amongst the locals. James penned this article on behalf of Peru for Less, organizers of Peru treks such as the Inca Trail and more.