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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and alternative treks in Peru

There are many ways to trek along Inca trails to Machu Picchu in Peru. Some routes will incorporate the classic Inca Trail, others will not. Some are busier than others, some have you walk into Machu Picchu, whereas other options have you arrive by train and bus through Aguas Calientes. Read on to see the best options on the Inca Trail and its alternatives. A word on Inca Trail permits - tour operators cannot buy blocks of permits ahead of time to horde them for a particular tour and then sell them to clients. Instead, once a client is booked on a tour, the tour operator will have to buy an individual permit for that client. The permit is tied to that client's name and passport number. This system prevents tour operators snatching up all the permits and then sell them to the highest bidder. It does mean Inca Trail permits are very much in demand and sell out many months ahead of time. Follow this link to check up-to-date availability of Inca Trail permits. CLASSIC INCA TRAIL Pros: classic trail, arriving in Machu Picchu on foot, visit other ruins en-route Cons: busy, permits sell out months ahead of time Maximum altitude: 4200 metres / 13,780 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 4 days The traditional Inca Trail offers a great combination of history and scenery. The classic Inca Trail winds its way from the Urubamba River, across mountain passes and through cloud forests. It passes several old Inca fortresses before reaching the famous citadel of Machu Picchu. You will need a permit for the Inca Trail. They sell out many months ahead of time as only 500 permits are given out on any day, which includes those needed for porters and guides. Permits can only be purchased in a person's name, so tour operators are unable to secure blocks of permits ahead of time. There are a few ways of doing the Inca Trail. The option that is offered most is the 4-day trek which has you arrive at Machu Picchu at dawn, take a tour of the ruins, before taking the train back to Cuzco that same day. Because this option is offered by all large tour operators, camp sites can feel crowded. An alternative option is to do the 5-day trek along the same route. You will arrive at Machu Picchu in the afternoon and stay overnight at Aguas Calientes, before coming up the next morning for your tour of Machu Picchu. As your trek is spaced out over more but shorter days, you end up camping in quieter campsites. HIGH INCA TRAIL (SALKANTAY TREK) Pros: some remote, big mountain scenery, arriving in Machu Picchu on foot Cons: tougher than the Inca Trail, you still need an Inca Trail permit, high altitude Maximum altitude: 4960 metres 16,300 ft Major passes:3 Days hiking: 7 days One trek which we recommend is the so-called High Inca Trail from Mollepata. You spend a few days high up in the Vilcabamba Mountains, trekking through remote valleys, alongside glaciers and over a high pass before joining the classic Inca Trail. The big advantage of this trail is that you get to see some spectacular mountain scenery, but still get to hike into Machu Picchu. LARES PASS Pros: visit villages, quieter than Inca trail Cons: shorter trek, arrive in Machu Picchu by train/bus, offered by many large tour operators Maximum altitude: 4480 metres / 14,700 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 3 days A popular alternative to the classic Inca Trail, the Lares Trek is no longer off the beaten track but has you visit some remote villages. You trek for 3 days before taking the train to Aguas Calientes, from where you make a day trip to Machu Picchu. MOONSTONE TREK Pros: remote, quiet, big mountain scenery Con: arrive in Machu Picchu by train/bus Maximum altitude: 4600 metres / 15,100 ft Major passes: 1 Days hiking: 4 days The Moonstone trek starts in a quiet valley and finishes in Ollantaytambo, from where you take the train to Machu Picchu. It passes through little-visited hamlets and past ancient ruins, then heads onto a beautiful plateau where you are surrounded by beautiful glaciated mountains. You are unlikely to see other trekkers on this very rewarding trail. QUARRY TREK Pros: quiet, visit Ollantaytambo ruins Cons: shorter trek, arrive in Machu Picchu by train/bus Maximum altitude: 4450 metres / 14,600 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 3 days This trek is offered by Intrepid and its sister companies Peregrine and Geckos. It is a circular route, starting with a short drive from Ollantaytambo. You then trek for 3 days through villages and pretty mountains before returning by vehicle to Ollantaytambo, where you will have time to look around. You then take the train to Aguas Calientes, where you overnight before visiting Machu Picchu. TREK TO CHOQUEQUIRAO Pros: a diverse route crossing rivers and high passes, snow-topped mountains and cloud forest. Visits the magnificent lost Inca site of Choquequirao. Cons: demanding long route. Machu Picchu needs to be added on, making for a 13-day trip. Maximum altitude: 4560 metres / 15,000 ft Major passes: 3 Days hiking: 8 days (a shorter 5-day trek is available)

The last stronghold of the Incas against the Spanish conquest is the magnificently preserved site at Choquequirao. The trek is dominated by high peaks but extremely varied as you cross rivers, hike over high passes close to glaciers. AUSANGATE INN-TO-INN TREK Pros: trek through remote and unspoiled mountain paradise near Peru's highest sacred peak; stay in comfortable eco-friendly inns. Cons: High altitude, Machu Picchu needs to be added on Maximum altitude: 5150 metres / 16,900 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 5 days

Enjoy spectacular mountain scenery while you trek in harmony with nature through remote valleys where the only people yuo are likely to encounter are Andean shepherds. DRAGOMAN COMMUNITY-BASED TREK Pros: on trails used only by local villagers and Dragoman clients this trek leads through spectacular scenery, passing through Inca ruins and staying in remote villages. Villagers benefit from your staying with them Cons: arrive in Machu Picchu by train, rough trails Maximum altitude: 4800 metres / 15,750 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 4 days

A unique trekking route passing through pristine scenery and remote villages as part of Dragoman's commitment to community-based tourism. You are unlikely to see other trekkers on this route. LODGE TO LODGE TREK Pros: stay in comfortable lodges Cons: while you get a view of Machu Picchu from the trail, you arrive by train/bus Maximum altitude: 4600 metres / 15,100 ft Major passes: 1 Days hiking: 4 days trekking plus one optional day of hiking and one acclimation day with hiking Enjoy challenging trekking on the flanks of Salcantay in the Vilcabamba Cordillera, and overnight in luxurious mountain lodges on the Lodge to Lodge to Machu Picchu Trek. You'll be in awe of this exhilarating range of steep valleys, lacy waterfalls, and towering granite snowpeaks.


Pros: remote trek through spectacular mountain scenery Cons: high altitude, operated on a private basis only; nowhere near Machu Picchu Maximum altitude: 4765 metres / 15,650 ft Major passes: 2 Days hiking: 7 days

Traversing a 5-day challenging route, the Cordillera Blanca trek is Northern Peru's most popular trek. Turquoise lakes lie at the foot of 6000m summits and spectacular views abound.


Pros: very little hiked trek through one of the most spectacular ranges in the Peruvian Andes - snow-capped summits, glacial lakes and alpine meadows

Cons: long trek, almost all at high altitude

Maximum altitude: 5000 metres / 16,400 ft

Major passes: 9

Days hiking: 15 days

The Cordillera Huayhuash is one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in Peru, home to the country's second highest peak. Offering plenty of acclimatization time, this trek crosses 9 passes, all around 5000 metres (16,400 feet) in altitude. Camp against the backdrop of soaring peaks and glacial lakes, cross alpine meadows and enjoy the incredible views from Siula Grande Base Camp and Cerro Bella Vista.

No matter which Inca trek you choose, you will have an awesome time. Email us if this article inspired you or if you have questions.

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