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Treks to
Machu Picchu

GLOSSARY


The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous trek in Peru and it has a history that goes back several centuries. But what about the alternative treks to the famous world heritage site? How do they compare to the Classic Inca Trail route? What’s the best option for you?

This edition of Sense Peru zeros in on answering your questions about trekking to Machu Picchu.

INCA ROAD SYSTEM


Qhapaq Ñan: Connecting the Inca Empire

Let’s begin by clearing up a common misconception about trekking to Machu Picchu: There is not just one Inca Trail.

There actually exists an extensive network of Inca roads along which goods were transported, political power exerted, and sacred pilgrimages undertaken, for example, to Machu Picchu. This vast network of trails is called Qhapaq Ñan, meaning “Royal Road,” and it connected the entirety of the Inca Empire.

With its central hub based in the ancient capital city of Cusco, the roads stretched across South America, uniting the modern-day cities of Quito (Ecuador) to south of Santiago (Chile), traversing the Andes mountains and foothills, and linking to the Pacific coast, the Amazon, and the pampas of northern Argentina.

Access to these Inca roads was highly regulated, even more so on special stretches, such as that which linked Cusco to Machu Picchu. The Classic 4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, 31 mi (50 km) from start to finish, is a very small fragment of Qhapaq Ñan. This part of the trail leads directly to the world famous archaeological site and was likely restricted to Inca nobility, priests, and their porters.

Salkantay, Lares and Choquequirao fall under the umbrella of alternative treks to Machu Picchu. These treks are also Inca footpaths of Qhapaq Ñan, but unlike the Classic Inca Trail, these sections of trail don’t end at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Rather, these treks forge through the Andes Mountains and conclude near but not at Machu Picchu.

Are you wondering in what other ways the Classic Inca Trail compares with alternative treks to Machu Picchu?

Click here for an easy side-by-side comparison.

Classic Inca Trail

Inca Trail Sungate
4-Day Inca Trail

The Classic Inca Trail is the famous 4-day trek that offers exclusive entry into Machu Picchu through Inti Punku, likewise known as the Sun Gate. It’s impossible to ignore the exceptional qualities of this footpath. Like a scene intentionally staged to inspire awe, the natural setting is dramatic, with mist rising from the floor of the cloud forest, graced by beautiful Andean orchids, set to the sound of chirping birds, and framed by views of high mountain peaks.

Blog Icon

View a 4-Day Inca Trail Map detailing trekking distances and daily highlights.


2-Day Inca Trail

Journey along the final 7 mi (11 km) stretch of the Inca Trail to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, all in the same day. This compact Inca Trail itinerary includes only one day of hiking, an overnight at a hotel at the base of Machu Picchu (in Aguas Calientes), and then a return trip to the famous archaeological site for a guided tour on the second and final day.

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View a detailed 2-Day Inca Trail Trekking Package.


Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

Salkantay

Apu Salkantay is a revered mountain spirit for which this trail is named. The incredible trek is a journey through staggering variations of landscapes amid the Andes. Cross over a high mountain pass under the imposing peak of Salkantay and drop down into highland pampas and then lush green foliage, passing farmers tending to their crops, as Machu Picchu gets closer.

Salkantay Adventure Trek
Salkantay Adventure Trek
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Check out this interview with our travel expert who recounts her Salkantay Trek experience.


Lares

The Lares Trek is for anyone whose interests lie in cultural immersion. The trail may not pass as many Inca ruins as the other options but the journey through remote villages in the Lares Valley is an eye-opening look into local life. See first-hand the vibrant garments that adorn traditional Andean lifestyles. Lares concludes in the town of Ollantaytambo where you then continue by train to Machu Picchu.

Lares Cultural Trek
Lares Cultural Trek
Blog Icon
Read “Step-By-Step on the Lares Trek.”

This blog may have been published in 2009, but readers can still relate to the trek’s cultural appeal.


Choquequirao

Choquequirao means “Cradle of Gold” in the native Quechua language. Tucked away in an extremely isolated region of the Andes and far less visited than Machu Picchu, this grand Inca complex is thought to have served as the administrative and military capital of the Vilcabamba region. The off-the-beaten path of Choquequirao leads through the remote western edge of the province of Cusco. After reaching the ruins of Choquequirao, the trail continues through the Vilcabamba range to Machu Picchu.

Choquequirao Trek
Choquequirao Trek
Blog Icon

Read “Wilderness Hike to Machu Picchu’s Sister City of Choquequirao” on our blog.

THE BEST MACHU PICCHU TREK FOR YOU?


Inca Trail VS. Alternative Treks

4-Day Inca Trail
2-Day Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek
Lares Trek
Choquequirao Trek

YES


YES


YES


YES


YES

4-Day Inca Trail, 2-Day Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Choquequirao Trek


YES

4-Day Inca Trail
2-Day Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek
Lares Trek
Choquequirao Trek

Depart from the campsite on the final morning of the trek and walk along the final stretch of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Tour the site the same day


On day 1, walk along the final stretch of the Inca Trail to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

On day 2, after an overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes, take the 20-minute bus shuttle up to the main visitor entrance of Machu Picchu and tour the site.


Alternative treks to Machu Picchu do not permit entry to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

Instead, the camping and trekking portion ends the second to last day of the package. After a final overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes, take the 20-minute bus shuttle up to the main visitor entrance of Machu Picchu and tour the site.

Icon Blog Learn more about Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu.

4-Day Inca Trail


Depart from the campsite on the final morning of the trek and walk along the final stretch of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Tour the site the same day

2-Day Inca Trail


On day 1, walk along the final stretch of the Inca Trail to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

On day 2, after an overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes, take the 20-minute bus shuttle up to the main visitor entrance of Machu Picchu and tour the site.

Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Choquequirao Trek


Alternative treks to Machu Picchu do not permit entry to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

Instead, the camping and trekking portion ends the second to last day of the package. After a final overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes, take the 20-minute bus shuttle up to the main visitor entrance of Machu Picchu and tour the site.

Icon Blog Learn more about Aguas Calientes

4-Day Inca Trail
2-Day Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek
Lares Trek
Choquequirao Trek

Yes.

Only 500 permits are available each day and must be reserved and paid for in advance.

The trek is immensely popular. Inca Trail permits sell out very quickly, especially during high season (roughly May to August).

PERU FOR LESS BOOKING EXPERTISE:

Reserving a spot on the Inca Trail far in advance is a must. Permits sell out up to 5 months in advance, so make sure you’re prepared.


No.

Salkantay, Lares, and Choquequiroa have far less foot traffic than the Classic Inca Trail and do not require the advanced purchase of a permit.

PERU FOR LESS INSIDER SCOOP:

If your heart was set on doing the Inca Trail, you’d probably be bummed to learn permits for your desired dates were already sold out.

But as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

There are great perks to choosing an alternative trek to Machu Picchu.

  • No required permits means more trip planning flexibility.
  • Less foot traffic on the trail means a more intimate experience with nature.

4-Day Inca Trail and 2-Day Inca Trail


Yes.

Only 500 permits are available each day and must be reserved and paid for in advance.

The trek is immensely popular. Inca Trail permits sell out very quickly, especially during high season (roughly May to August).

Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Choquequirao Trek


No.

Salkantay, Lares, and Choquequiroa have far less foot traffic than the Classic Inca Trail and do not require the advanced purchase of a permit.

PERU FOR LESS INSIDER SCOOP:

If your heart was set on doing the Inca Trail, you’d probably be bummed to learn permits for your desired dates were already sold out.

But as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

There are great perks to choosing an alternative trek to Machu Picchu.

  • No required permits means more trip planning flexibility.
  • Less foot traffic on the trail means a more intimate experience with nature.
4-Day Inca Trail
2-Day Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek
Lares Trek
Choquequirao Trek

The Inca Trail closes each year in February for maintenance. This applies to both 4-day and 2-day itineraries.

TRAIL FACT:

Access to the Inca Trail is highly regulated. Under no circumstances are trekkers allowed to do the journey independently.


Alternative treks to Machu Picchu are open year round. Trekking groups can embark on their mountain journey any day of the year.

4-Day Inca Trail and 2-Day Inca Trail


The Inca Trail closes each year in February for maintenance. This applies to both 4-day and 2-day itineraries.

TRAIL FACT:

Access to the Inca Trail is highly regulated. Under no circumstances are trekkers allowed to do the journey independently.

Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Choquequirao Trek


Alternative treks to Machu Picchu are open year round. Trekking groups can embark on their mountain journey any day of the year.

4-Day Inca Trail
2-Day Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek
Lares Trek
Choquequirao Trek

It’s up to you.

The majority of trekkers hire a porter to carry their personal belongings. Alternatively, you can carry your own backpacking.

Hire a porter to carry 8 kg (17.6 lb) or 15 kg (33 lb).


Usually, it’s not necessary to hire a porter.


Porters are not hired to carry your personal belonging. Instead, pack animals managed by the trekking provider carry equipment.

INSIGHTS FROM THE TRAIL:

Porters exclusively carry all equipment for trekking groups along the Classic Inca Trail. Pack animals are not permitted to help preserve and reduce the wear of the trail.

4-Day Inca Trail


It’s up to you.

The majority of trekkers hire a porter to carry their personal belongings. Alternatively, you can carry your own backpacking.

Hire a porter to carry 8 kg (17.6 lb) or 15 kg (33 lb).

2-Day Inca Trail


Usually, it’s not necessary to hire a porter.

Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Choquequirao Trek


Porters are not hired to carry your personal belonging. Instead, pack animals managed by the trekking provider carry equipment.

INSIGHTS FROM THE TRAIL:

Porters exclusively carry all equipment for trekking groups along the Classic Inca Trail. Pack animals are not permitted to help preserve and reduce the wear of the trail.

Compare Trek Itineraries

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu gets a lot of glory, and for good reason. Salktantay, Lares, and Choquequirao may fall under the umbrella of alternative treks to Machu Picchu, but don’t let the word “alternative” sway you from considering these trekking options. They are not second-rate trails.

Swipe through the trek itineraries to compare the options and trail maps.

Select title

Select your trek


Machu Picchu Additions

You’ve already endured one of the amazing multi day treks to Machu Picchu, and now it’s time to explore the grand Inca site with your guide. Within the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, in addition to taking a guided tour, there are a few additional hiking options that you can do that gift you different perspectives of the Inca ruins. Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain are two of these hikes that require a special ticket that must be purchased in advance along with your general entry ticket.

The 4 hiking options at Machu Picchu are outlined below. After noting your favorite option, talk with your travel advisor about incorporating it into your trekking and Machu Picchu itinerary.

Blog Icon Read more about the hiking options in Machu Picchu, a great addition to a guided tour.

TICKET

Special Entry Ticket Required
Only 800 tickets per day available

Entry Times – Huayna Picchu

  • 1st group (400 people) is 7 am to 8 am
  • 2nd group (400 people) is 9 am to 10 am
WALKING TIME

60 minutes to 1.5 hours to reach the summit

HIGHEST ALTITUDE

10,111 feet (3,082m)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Challenging.
A good level of fitness is required to ascend the steep switchback and stairs to the summit.

TICKET

Special Entry Ticket Required
Only 400 tickets per day available

Entry Times – Huayna Picchu

  • 1st group (200 people) is 7 am to 8 am
  • 2nd group (200 people) is 10 am to 11 am
WALKING TIME

60 minutes to 1.5 hours to reach the summit

HIGHEST ALTITUDE

8,835 feet (2,693m)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Moderate.
Towards the summit, the stone steps get narrow and steep. This is not a hike if you're scared of heights.

TICKET

No Ticket Required

WALKING TIME

40 to 60 minutes

TICKET

No Ticket Required

WALKING TIME

20 to 30 minutes

TRAVEL TIPS


Best Time to Plan Trek

The best time to plan a trek to Machu Picchu depends on personal preferences and scheduling.

In general, peak season and low season in the Peruvian Andes coincide with seasonal weather. There are pros and cons to traveling during each season.

Check out Weather Conditions for more details.

Low Season

Pros
  • Peak Season coincides with the Rainy Season in the Andes. The mountain landscapes are beautiful and green during these months.
Cons
  • Trail conditions can be very muddy. Hiking poles are helpful.
  • They are less Trekkers on the trail.
  • The Classic Inca Trail (4-day and 2-day) is closed in February.

Peak Season

Pros
  • Peak Season coincides with the Dry Season in the Andes. Weather conditions are usually the most pleasant and sunny.
Cons
  • Be prepared for crowds.
  • Advanced booking of the Inca Trail is a must.

Weather Conditions

Weather Map of Cusco

Rainfall

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Rainy Season

December to March

  • Day Average: 68 to 70°F (20 to 21°C)
  • Night Average: 45°F (7°C)

Cloudy skies are the norm. Periods of sunshine are certainly possible, but rainfall during these months is unpredictable and can range from light showers to heavy downpours. The most rainfall usually occurs in January and February.

Pack a poncho or waterproof jacket and pants to shed rain and stay dry. Water-resistant boots are a big perk too. Sometimes outer clothing doesn’t have enough time to dry, so pack a few extra pairs of socks and layers.


Dry Season

June to August

  • Day Average: 68 to 73°F (20 to 23°C)
  • Night Average: 30 to 45°F (-1 to 7°C)

During these months, blue skies and sunshine is regular. Chance of rainfall is much lower.

During the day season, the temperature difference between day and night is more extreme compared to the rainy season. At high altitude campsites it gets chilly when the sun goes down and you’ll be thankful to have packed a hat, gloves, and extra layers for extra warmth.


Transitional Months

September to November
March to May

Trekking Packing Essentials

Here’s a list of packing essentials that you’ll need for your next trek to Machu Picchu.

Packing List Machu Picchu Treks Preview

Download your checklist now!


  • Packing List for Treks to Machu Picchu

Packing List Machu Picchu Treks Preview

Download your checklist now!


Outdoor Gear Shops in Cusco

Already in Cusco and missing a few items from the trekking packing list?
Here are recommended gear shops within walking distance of Cusco’s main plaza.

Hiking Shop Cusco

Contact info:


Contact info:

  • 258 Portal Carrizos, Cusco

Contact info:

  • Procuradores 394, Cusco

Contact info:

  • Portal Espinar 144, Cusco
  • Website

Contact info:

  • Portal de Comercio 195, Cusco
  • Website

Contact info:

  • Del Medio 123, Cusco

How to Relax After Your Trek

Treat yourself to some rest and relief after trekking through the Andes to Machu Picchu.

Here are some recommended hotel spas based in Cusco:


Andes Spirit Spa @ Palacio del Inka Luxury Hotel

  • Treatments: Couple’s massage, foot bath, therapy baths, hair and scalp treatments, etc.
  • Spa Facilities: hydrotherapy pool, heated whirlpool, Jacuzzi, specialized treatment rooms
  • Website
  • Plazoleta Santo Domingo 259, Cusco

Marriott Spa Palacio Cusco
Marriott Spa Palacio Cusco

Hypnôze Spa @ Belmond Palacio Nazarenas
  • Treatments: holistic re-energizing classes, body wraps, full body massage, reflexology
  • Spa Facilities: steam room, relaxation area
  • Website
  • Calle Plazoleta Nazarenas 223, Cusco
Belmond Spa Nazarenas Cusco
Belmond Spa Nazarenas Cusco

Health Club Spa @ JW Marriott El Convento Cusco

  • Treatments: Body scrub, facials, massages, etc.
  • Spa Facilities: sauna and pool
  • Website
  • Corner of Calle Ruinas 432 and San Agustin, Cusco
Marriott Spa Convento Cusco
Marriott Spa Convento Cusco
Sense Peru Treks To Machu Picchu Edition

    SENSE PERU

    Treks to Machu Picchu Edition


  • PUBLISHER: Peru for Less
  • CONTENT CREATION: Britt Fracolli
  • FEATURED GUESTS:/
  • DESIGN & PRODUCTION: Clement Taquet
  • LAST UPDATED: May 2019

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