Discover Peru's alternative Inca trails
Want to experience Peru’s mountains without taking on the madding crowds? Never fear, says A&K’S Graeme Bull: There’s more to the Andes than Machu Picchu.
You may have heard of the Inca Trail – a four-day hike over 42 kilometres, which is on just about everyone’s travel bucket list. But, while millions flock to this very beaten track, trekking off-piste can be hugely rewarding. Visit sites that rival Machu Picchu such as Choquequirao, Peru’s unsung citadel. or take paths that lead you deep into the Andes without seeing another soul. Who needs the Inca Trail? Here are five alternative hikes.
Not so little sister
Experienced hikers should revel in this lesser-known trail. Referred to as Machu Picchu’s little sister, the hilltop complex of Choquequirao dates back to the 15th century. Currently, the site is only accessible to those willing to take a five-day hike (60 kilometres) across steep canyon slopes, snowy mountains and jungle terrain. Unlike its bigger sibling, only 64 kilometres away, which sees over a million visitors per year, this archaeological site receives only a dozen or so people each day, who can explore its stone terraces, green plazas and holy temples in peace. And although Choquequirao hasn’t quite reached the same iconic status as Machu Picchu, there’s talk of a cable car for those who don’t want to trek. On the horizon, there may also be a road connecting it to Machu Picchu. But for now, hiking means that you can take in a marvellous Inca site in rare solitude.
Duration: Five days, or eight should you want to end at Machu Picchu
Best suited: Intrepid travellers
Maximum altitude: 2,896 metres
A savage challenge
Those game for a challenge may want to consider the
Salkantay trek, which includes a mountain pass that reaches just over 4,572 metres. You’ll be rewarded for your endeavours with Salkantay’s raw peaks (Salkantay means ‘savage’) and a journey along rocky pathways once trodden by the Incas.
En route you can meet Quechuan-speaking indigenous communities tucked away in the mountain landscape. On your last day, descend into tropical terrain where adrenalin junkies can whizz over the jungle canopy on one of South America’s longest zip lines. End at the Hydroelectrica station, a 45-minute train journey to Machu Picchu Town. You could camp, but the hot tubs and deep duvets at Mountain Lodges of Peru along the trail will help you recuperate after days of adventure.
Duration: Five days
Best suited: Experienced hikers
Maximum altitude: 4,633 metres
Beauty for all
One of the most stunning treks in Peru, the terrain on the Ancascocha route varies from the exposed foothills of the Andean peaks to the fabled Queuñas forest. With the help of horses who’ll carry most of the load, the trek isn’t too strenuous – a good one for adventurous families. Trek up trails carved by the Incas and take in emerald lagoons. You can explore traditional stone houses in remote farming villages, and if you’re lucky you may see a condor or two. A chef will whip up lunches alfresco and every evening you’ll arrive at camp in time for happy hour.
Duration: Three days
Best suited: Those who like off-beat adventures with perks
Maximum altitude: 4,694 metres
A royal visit
Follow the trail to Huchuy Qosqo or ‘Little Cusco’, believed to be a royal estate of the Inca Emperor, Viracocha. Arrive at the scenic Laguna Piuray, where horses will be waiting to carry your bags. As you traverse the countryside and along mountain passes, you’ll come across jewel-like lakes and plenty of endemic flora and fauna. You won’t see many people, but you’ll be confronted with wild Andean views and herds of curious llama. Stop at an ancient quarry where the Incas cut stones to build Huchuy Qosqo. After wandering the site with your history guide and refuelling on deluxe picnic fare, you
can hitch a ride with our 4x4s that will take you down to
the Sacred Valley.
Duration: Two days
Best suited: Families and those short on time
Maximum altitude: 4,450 metres
Walk through history
Set off along rarely visited ancient Inca roads which wind through rolling valleys and past high-altitude lakes. Pop into villages where traditionally dressed farmers live a lifestyle unchanged for centuries. Every night arrive at your campsite set up with double beds and hot showers to soothe any aching muscles, not to mention three-course dinners with your favourite tipple and decadent picnics with wow-factor views. If camping’s not your style, then Mountain Lodges Peru offer post-hike cocktails and plush beds along the way. For those who don’t want to miss out on trekking to Machu Picchu, combine this route with a night in a Sacred Valley hotel. The next day, take a train ride to the KM 104 trail, skipping most of the crowds, and climb the final seven miles of the main Inca route to Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate.
Duration: Four days, or five if you want to end at
Best suited: Those who like hiking with added luxury
Maximum altitude: Around 4,572 metresReady to embark on your Peruvian adventure? Speak to one of our Latin America travel specialists to begin building your perfect itinerary.
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