South America

Peru Trekking Guide

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  21 December 2017

 Discover breathtaking world of high peaks, mysterious ancient sites and unforgettable landscapes

Explore the high Andes on your own steam with our Peru Trekking Guide, and discover breathtaking world of high peaks, mysterious ancient sites and unforgettable landscapes. 

A country renowned for being a trekker’s dream playground, Peru boasts one of the most scenic sections of the mighty Andes Mountains, with Machu Picchu – the famed Lost City of the Incas – acting as the ultimate enticement to giddy-on-up.

So don’t forget to pack the hiking boots and an extra sweater when you visit Peru (the breathtaking views are well worth the chilly temps) and come discover all the amazing trekking options this small but unrivalled South American country has to offer. Due to the high-altitude nature of all the hikes, you’ll need to leave all preconceived notions – in regards to how much you can walk – at home. These are the high Andes, where even a mere kilometre can seem to last forever.

And with views like these…who on earth would mind?

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Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – 4 days, 43km

The most famous trek in the country is the Classic Inca Trail that retraces the steps of the ancient Incas. History and culture aside, this is a truly sensational hike, one that will see you traverse an eclectic mix of high-altitude passes, verdant valleys and even a section of rainforest, before culminating at sunrise, on the 4th day, at the revered Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. This trek is both difficult and unmissable (don’t let names like Dead Woman’s Pass throw you off the scent!) and is so popular that trail passes are sold out months in advance. The Andean scenery on this multi-day hike is magnificent to say the least and the way it is organized with local porters (who carry camping gear and prepare sumptuous meals in the most unimaginable places) it makes this a once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list worthy trek indeed.

Check out our Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu tour to get an idea of how best to plan this hike around a stay in Cusco, in order to take in the sites and allow for acclimatization at these high altitudes.

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Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu– 2 days, 16km

This softer version of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is by no means any less spectacular, but it is a lot easier, for obvious reasons. Tackled across two days (one overnight stay) and starting with an early morning train-ride from Ollantaytambo to km104 of the Inca Trail, the Short Inca Trail is ideal for trekkers who still want to reach Sun Gate under their own steam, or simply don’t have the desire nor time to prepare and tackle the longer route. In many ways, this synthesized version is a more intense experience, as you still visit what is often considered the most sensational site of the Inca Trail (the stunning ruins of Wiñay Wayna) and will have a lot more energy for exploring Machu Picchu, which you’ll reach on Day 2. Include a hike up Huayna Picchu for an even more comprehensive experience.

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Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu– 4 days, 42km

A stellar alternative to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is – along with the Classic Inca Trail – named by National Geographic as one of the world’s 25 best treks. Once here, you’ll have no problems understanding the accolades. Some of this trek affords the most spectacular mountains scenery of all the treks and we’d find it hard to disagree. Serene, splendidly beautiful and gloriously scenic, the Salkantay is favoured by return visitors to Peru who love the region around the Inca Trail – and still want to visit Machu Picchu – but wish to hike with fewer fellow tourists in tow. The most sensational aspect of this trek is that it starts among glaciers and, after a series of awe-inspiring ascents and descents, ends in the heart of a jungle. The Salkantay Trek will see you reach Aguas Caliente, the base town of Machu Picchu, from where you can either hike up to Machu Picchu (1.5hrs) or take the bus instead. Throughout this trek, you’ll hike past lesser-visited but equally striking Inca ruins and will traverse a kaleidoscope of landscapes, including the Salkantay Pass at 4600masl, cloud forests, valleys covered with wildflowers as well as waterfalls and glacial lakes.

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Lodge-to-lodge to Machu Picchu Trek

The Mountain Lodges of Peru is one of the most popular options for discerning trekkers who wish to be active whilst visiting Peru but still don’t want to compromise on comfort and luxury. Because, let’s be honest, ending a full day of high-altitude trekking sipping a Pisco sour whilst soaking in a steaming Jacuzzi wouldn’t be a travesty now, would it? Consider this the softer version of the Salkantay Trek, where you trek during the day (sometimes, you’ll also have the option to take road transport or horseback ride), ending every day in one of the glorious mountain lodges scattered along the route. Our Luxury Trekking to Machu Picchu tour offers you the best of the Vilcabamba Cordillera and the Salkantay mountains. But be under no illusion: the trekking is still breathtakingly intense. At least you’ll have your happy place with a Pisco sour and Jacuzzi to retreat to, at least mentally, during the hardest slog.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu – 3 days, 33km

The most remote trek to Machu Picchu and the one that presents more logistical challenges, the Lares is swiftly gaining recognition among avoid hikers due to its uniqueness. Shorter in distance but higher in altitude, the Lares Trek is a wonderful ‘cultural’ experience as well as nature-filled one and takes you way off the well-trodden path of the Sacred Valley and onto the Lares Valley instead. With an initial breathtaking ascent of 1300m, the Lares Trek requires optimal acclimatisation and is the only one that sees hikers pass local towns brimming with curious locals. This gifts a wonderful insight into the authentic Andean lifestyle of some of the most remote inhabitants in the country. Moreover, the Lares offers more options in terms of side-excursions so caters to avid and casual trekkers alike. With this option, Machu Picchu is reached on Day 3. Do note that a Lodge-to-lodge Lares Trek option is also available for those who wish to tackle the Lares Trek.

Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu – 5 days, 64km

The BIG mama of the lot, the Choquequirao Trek is not for the faint of heart and can easily be described as the most adventurous trek on this list. Combining several sweat-inducing high-altitude switchbacks and steep ascents that take you past the superlative ruins of Choquequirao. An Inca stronghold that is bigger and in many ways even more sensational than Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is a visual feast of untold proportion. Partly reclaimed by jungle and as remote as it can possibly be, this site is a salivating enticement for anyone who wants to feel like an old-world explorer. It’s difficult to even imagine a site, and a trek, that can seriously take the WOW shine off Machu Picchu. But this one is it. Two of Peru’s most remarkable ancient sites in one totally heart-stopping adventure. This 5-day trek ends in Ollantaytambo, where you can stay overnight, visiting Machu Picchu on Day 6.

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Rainbow Mountain Trek – 1 day, 10km

The Vinicunca hike, otherwise known as the Rainbow Mountain Trek, is surprisingly challenging, despite it advertised as a ‘1-day trip’ from Cusco. The only attraction that could ever divert your attention from Machu Picchu in this region, the by-now world- famous Rainbow Mountain  is one of the most recognizable highlights of the country. With variable weather and lack of major infrastructure, the Rainbow Mountain Trek makes for a very long day, starting with departure from Cusco in the very early hours of the morning. Rainbow Mountain is about a 3-hour drive from Cusco and the start of the trek, at the base of the peak, is best reached at first light. From beginning to end, this trek can take up to 12 hours, although many hikers manage just 8 or so. A fabulous horse-taxi option is also on offer, for those who find the altitude a little too arduous. The day-long trek may be challenging – you will reach 4450masl – but the vistas throughout the day are out of this world. You’ll come across endemic wildlife and, hopefully, will have startling weather when you reach the peak so you can capture the splendour of this multihued mountain. The all-encompassing view atop Rainbow Mountain is one of the most spectacular you’ll ever experience.

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All the treks are designed to satisfy the needs and desires of most visitors. However, changes can be made for visitors on tailor-made tours who wish to hike with their own group alone. Treks can be lengthened and combined, accommodation options changed and comfort levels increased. Given enough time to arrange, there really isn’t much that can’t be organised in this magnificent trekking paradise. So if you know of an option that isn’t listed here or envisage a hybrid trek that combines some parts of some hikes…contact us. Let us know. We’ll endeavour to plan a bespoke walking tour that will meet and exceed your expectations.

Before you go, do peruse our extensive collection of Tours of Peru and our trekking guide to Patagonia and let us know how we can help you plan your unforgettable adventure.

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