Which Peru Trek is Right For You?

Inca Trail

Peru is trekking heaven, and there are so many options out there! The five most popular areas to trek around Cusco and Machu Picchu are the Inca Trail, Salkantay, Lares Valley, Choquequirao, and Ausangate. Each of these areas provide a different experience. Which trek is right for you?

INCA TRAIL

The descent from Dead Woman's Pass on the Inca Trail
The descent from Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail

What is the trek like? The Inca Trail is the only way to arrive at Machu Picchu on foot, and it is a classic Peruvian trek. You trek through river valleys, high mountain passes and lush cloudforest, and through indigenous communities and past Inca ruins. You trek on stairs and paths built by the Incas until reaching the Sun Gate and your first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

How hard is the trek? The Inca Trail is moderately challenging. While it is lower in elevation than a lot of the other treks in the area, there are very steep sections and two high passes. About half of the trail is on Inca steps and stones, most of which are uneven and of different heights. But if you are fairly active in your daily life, and enjoy hiking long distances, you’ll do fine.

Is it difficult to get permits? Yes. It is the only trek that requires permits and is by far the most popular trail in Peru. 500 people start the trek each day. Permits sell out very quickly, so it can be very difficult to acquire permits, especially if you are planning to go between May and August. If you have your heart set on trekking the Inca Trail, you will want to plan your trip 6 months to a year in advance. You can check live availability of Inca Trail permits here (under the “Consultas” tab).

How long is the trek? The Inca Trail is 4 days of trekking and 3 nights of camping, and you cover approximately 26 miles. As you start looking at trips, you will find that the Inca Trail Trek is offered as 4 or 5 day packages. You can read more on our blog post What Are the Differences Between the Four and Five Day Classic Inca Trail Trek Options? There is also more information about this in the next section on visiting Machu Picchu on this trek.

You can also do a 1 day version of the Inca Trail, which is approximately 8 miles on the last section of the trail. In the morning you take the train part way to Machu Picchu, disembark, and then begin your hike. You arrive at Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. Most people spend the night in Aguas Calientes, and return to Machu Picchu the next day for a full tour. This trek also requires permits, and although they do not sell out as quickly as the full Inca Trail, they need to be booked well in advance.

You need at least 2 nights in Cusco before starting the trek in order to acclimatize. And you need at least one night in Cusco at the end before your onward travel.

What are accommodations like? On the Inca Trail there are no lodges, only camp sites. You must camp for 3 nights. Camping can be either comfortable tent camping on sleeping pads or glamping in spacious tents with air mattresses.

Do you visit Machu Picchu on this trek?  Yes, you will hike into Machu Picchu. When you start looking in to Inca Trail packages, you will see that some trips advertise a 4 day Inca Trail trek, and some a 5 day Inca Trail Trek. On the 4 day trek, you will wake up very early on the 4th day, hike into Machu Picchu, do a full guided tour of the ruins, and take the train back to Cusco that evening.  On the 5 day trek, you will pass through Machu Picchu on the afternoon of the 4th day, spend the night in Aguas Calientes, and return to Machu Picchu on the 5th day for a guided tour and return to Cusco that evening. I recommend the 5 day trip, as you get much more time to explore Machu Picchu, but the 4 day trip is more budget friendly.

Recommended Trip

  • Ultimate Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu: This is my top recommendation for the Inca Trail. It includes acclimatization day hikes in Cusco and the Sacred Valley so you can see the highlights of the area as well as prepare for your trek. This trip does the Inca Trail in 5 days, giving you plenty of time to explore Machu Picchu. The best part though, is that you start the trek midday on the 1st day, so you avoid the crowds for the entire trek.
    • Trip Length: 9 Days
    • 2018 Price: From $2,499.00 per person on a group departure
    • 2018 Group Departures: every Saturday from early March through December

SALKANTAY

Trekkers approaching Apu Salkantay
Trekkers approaching Apu Salkantay

What is the trek like? The Apu Salkantay trek is the most popular alternative trek to the Inca Trail trek. Apu Salkantay was one of the most sacred mountains to the Incas and this trek takes you get up close to the celebrated peak. This trek is great for getting into the heart of the Andes and witnessing dramatic high mountain landscapes. It should be noted that most Apu Salkantay treks do not feature Inca ruins during the hike. You will be hiking on Inca trails every day, but they are not of stone like the trails of the Inca Trail. Rather they are dirt trails.

How hard is the trek? This trek is challenging. While it is not as steep as the Inca Trail, you are are a higher elevation for most of the trek. If you give yourself plenty of time to acclimatize in Cusco, the altitude will be tough, but it will be manageable.

Is it difficult to find availability? It depends. If you want to do a camping trek, it is fairly easy to find a few available treks, and you don’t have to look to far in advance, just a couple of months. However, if you want to do a lodge to lodge trek (see recommended trips below), this is a popular trip with limited spaces. You will want to plan your trip 6 months in advance, up to a year if you want to go between May and August.

How long is the trek? This trek can be anywhere from 4 to 6 days of trekking. There are a few different routes. You need a few days in Cusco before starting this trek in order to acclimatize. You also need at least one night in Cusco at the end before your onward travel.

What are accommodations like? You can opt to camp or stay in lodges along this route. The camping trek is comfortable, with thick sleeping mats. The lodges are very luxurious. See Recommended Trips below for more details on the different treks.

Do you visit Machu Picchu on this trek? Yes, the majority of trekking packages include a visit to Machu Picchu at the end of the trek. How it works is on the last day of trekking, you will end at the train tracks below Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. You can either catch a train or walk to town. Here you spend the night, and the next morning you go to Machu Picchu for a full day, taking the train back to Cusco at the end of the day.

Recommended Trip

  • Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge Trek: You trek from lodge to lodge through the high mountains, skirting the base of Apu Salkantay. The lodges are very comfortable and many have hot tubs for relaxing in the evenings. Group sizes are small, with a maximum of 6 travelers. You’ll have 6 days of trekking and 1 day to explore Machu Picchu. This trip includes a few days before the trek to acclimatize and explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
    • Trip Length: 10 Days
    • 2018 Price: From $3,503.00 per person
    • 2018 Group Departure Dates: nearly every other day from late March through December.

LARES VALLEY

Visiting with the locals in the Lares Valley

What is the trek like?  The Lares Valley encapsulates all the things that make southern Peru great: warm, vibrant people, mountains so gorgeous they are deities, and astounding ruins that tell of an incredibly advanced ancient civilization. In the Lares Valley you camp or overnight in lodges in small, Quechua-speaking villages and interact one-on-one with the direct descendants of the Incas before taking the train for a grand finale at Machu Picchu. This trip offers a great mix of culture, history and stunning scenery!

How hard is the trek? This is a moderately challenging. You are trekking at high altitude. There are many Inca trails that criss-cross the valley, so depending on your group, you can take more or less challenging routes.

Is it difficult to find availability? No. It is fairly easy to find group departures and private departures to do a trek in the Lares Valley.

How long is the trek? The trek can be anywhere from 2 to 4 days of trekking. Since there are many different trail routes, the mileage varies greatly. You need at least 2 nights in Cusco before starting the trek in order to acclimatize. And you need at least one night in Cusco at the end before your onward travel.

What are accommodations like? You can opt to camp or stay in lodges along this route. The camping trek is comfortable, with thick sleeping mats. The lodges are very luxurious. See Recommended Trips below for more details on the different treks.

Do you visit Machu Picchu on this trek? Many trip packages include a visit to Machu Picchu, but not all, so be sure to check the itinerary. If the trips do include a visit to Machu Picchu, on the last day of trekking, usually in the early afternoon, you will be driven down to the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Here you will catch an evening train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, and spend the night. The next morning you go to Machu Picchu for a full day, taking the train back to Cusco at the end of the day.

Recommended Trips

  • Ultimate Lares Valley Trek to Machu Picchu: This trip includes acclimatization day hikes in Cusco and the Sacred Valley so you can see the highlights of the area as well as prepare for your trek. You’ll be trekking for three days in the Lares Valley, and camping for 2 nights in comfortable tents in local communities, giving you a lot of time to meet the local people. Then you trek the last 7 miles (11 km) of the Inca Trail, arriving at Machu Picchu on foot through the Sun Gate.
    • Trip Length: 9 Days
    • 2018 Price: From $2,499.00 per person on group departures
    • 2018 Group Departure Dates: Every Saturday from early March through December
  • Lares to Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge Adventure: This is not a traditional trek, but rather a multisport trip. You have your choice of activities each day. You can choose between long day hikes in the Lares Valley, easier day hikes in the Sacred Valley, or cultural activities. You stay in comfortable lodges in the Lares Valley each night. All of the lodges are partially owned and operated by the local community.
    • Trip Length: 7 or 9 Days
    • 2018 Price: From $2,143.00 per person for 7 days / From $2,643.00 per person for 9 days
    • 2018 Group Departure Dates: 2 or 3 times per week from March through December

CHOQUEQUIRAO

Descending to the Choquequirao Ruins
Descending to the Choquequirao Ruins

What is the trek like?  This challenging trek goes far off the beaten path to explore the amazing ruins of Choquequirao, comparable in size to Machu Picchu. The ruins are accessible only by foot which limits traffic and enhances the mystique of this amazing site. You’ll most likely find yourself the only tourists exploring the vast complex of ruins and camping beside the site. You’re surrounded by stunning mountains throughout this trek. 

How hard is the trek? This is a very challenging trek mostly due to the huge elevation gains and losses, and steep trails and stairs (much like the traditional Inca Trail). You’ll be hiking about 7 or 8 hours each trekking day. Elevation gains and/or losses are around 4,500ft each day. But the reward of exploring a little-visited but important Inca ruin is well worth it.

Is it difficult to find availability? No, but there are not very many group departures that go to Choquequirao, as it is off the beaten path. If you have flexible dates, you won’t have a problem finding a group departure. If you’re open to a private trip, this trek can operate on any date from March through December.

What are accommodations like? There is camping only on this trek.

How long is the trek & do you visit Machu Picchu? There are two ways to do this trek. You can do a one-way trek in 7 days: starting near Cusco, trekking to Choququirao ruins (and spending the night there twice to have a full day to explore), and then continuing on to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The 7th day you go to Machu Picchu Ruins and then return to Cusco at the end of the day. This is my top recommendation, but it is not for the faint of heart, as it is 5 days of hard trekking covering 43 miles, 1 day to explore Choququirao where you can cover up to 8 miles wandering through the ruins, and 1 day at Machu Picchu which adds another day of up to 8 miles.

The other way to do this trek is an out and back over 5 days. You start near Cusco, trek two days to the ruins, spend one full day exploring Choquequirao, and then two days back the same way. This route is 27.5 miles roundtrip (over 4 days), plus up to 8 miles in the ruins. Doing the trek this way does not include a visit to Machu Picchu. You will return to Cusco at the end of the 5th day. It is very easy to add on a visit to Machu Picchu after this trek, either on your own or through your trek operator.

You need at least 2 nights in Cusco before starting the trek in order to acclimatize. And you need at least one night in Cusco at the end before your onward travel.

Recommended Trips

  • Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: Trek the Andes: This is a one-way trek, starting at a trail head near Cusco, trekking to Choquequirao, and a full day at these amazing ruins before continuing on through the mountains to Aguas Calientes. You then have a full day to explore Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco. On this trek you will camp in comfortable tents with high quality gear, and you’ll be accompanied by your bilingual guide and support team.
    • Trip Length: 9 Days
    • 2018 Price: $2,899.00 per person on group departures
    • 2018 Group Departure Dates: The first Saturday of every month from May through November
  • Classic Out and Back Choquequirao Trek: If you don’t have the time to do the one-way trek, or want the trek to be a little less strenuous, going the out and back route is a great option. You still get a full day to explore Choquequirao and trek through the stunning Andes. This route starts and ends in Cusco, and does not include a visit to Machu Picchu, but this can easily be added on to your trip.
    • Trip Length: 5 Days
    • Prices and Dates: Varies. Please contact us for more details.

AUSANGATE

Ausangate Trekking

What is the trek like? Ausangate is the magnificent snowy mountain seen from the Inca capital of Cusco. It is the largest mountain in the Cusco region at 20,900 feet. The “Apu” god that resides at its summit is still worshiped by the locals. Trekking at Ausangate offers incredible mountain views. You’re above tree line for the entire trek, and colors and stark mountains create a unique landscape. The trek takes you over several high passes, through llama grazing plains, ancient Inca villages, and past red, blue and green lakes

How hard is the trek? This is a very physically demanding trek at a formidable altitude. The highest altitude reached is approximately 17,000ft above sea level. You will be trekking for 6 to 8 hours each hiking day, with very steep ascents and descents. But the stunning scenery is well worth the effort.

Is it difficult to find availability? No. Because this trek is off the beaten path, it is likely that you will find it to be available during your travel dates. But there are fairly limited group departures that go to Ausangate, so you may want to consider a private trip.

How long is the trek? This trek varies in length, from 2 days to 7 days of trekking. On most trekking days, you will trek for 5 to 8 miles each day. You need at least 2 nights in Cusco before starting the trek in order to acclimatize. And you need at least one night in Cusco at the end before your onward travel.

What are accommodations like? You can opt to camp or stay in lodges along this route. The camping trek is comfortable, with thick sleeping mats. The lodges are very nice. See Recommended Trips below for more details on the different treks.

Do you visit Machu Picchu on this trek? No. This trek begins and ends in Cusco. You’ll be picked up from your Cusco hotel on the first day, and dropped off at your hotel at the end of the last day. It is very easy to visit Machu Picchu either before or after this trek.

Recommended Trips

  • Lodge to Lodge Ausangate Trek: Trek during the day, and stay in comfortable, locally owed and operated lodges each night. You get to know the locals who live here, eat traditional foods, and learn about their culture and history.
    • Trip Length: 8, 10, or 11 Days
    • 2018 Price: $2,669.00 to $3,850.00 per person on group trips depending on the trip length and group size
    • 2018 Group Departure Dates: every Monday and Sunday from March through November
  • Ausangate Trekking: This is a five-day trek circumnavigating Ausangate, and you overnight in remote campsites with spectacular views. The trek is mule supported so all the comforts of home can be taken, leaving you unburdened to fully enjoy the hike. Visits to hot springs, friendly locals, and amazing mountain views make this trek one of the great mountain circuit treks available.
    • Trip Length: 5 Days
    • 2018 Price: From $1,204.00 per person on a private trip (Price depends on groups size, there are no group departures)
    • 2018 Private Departure Dates: Any day from May through October

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