Want to experience the beauty and grandeur of hiking through the Andes Mountains where the mighty Inca Empire once flourished? The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most popular choice for trekkers since it finishes at the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, an incredible way to complete the end of your Inca Trail Trek. But the classic Inca Trail is often booked months in advance, so you might want to consider some of the roads less traveled. There are plenty of alternative Inca Trail treks to Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an excellent alternative to the classic Inca Trail. This 88 km (55 miles) 5-day trek leads you through challenging terrain in the Andes to the famous city in the sky, Machu Picchu. You’ll start the trail in the Apurimac Valley, at Sayllapata at 3200 meters. Passing quiet villages, you’ll reach Soyrococha at 4200 meters. The highest part of the trek is the Salkantay Pass at 4600 meters. Here you can appreciate the stunning snow-capped peak of Salkantay Mountain, small lakes, and moraines.
You will also encounter lush cloud forest, called “Ceja de la Selva” or Eyebrow of the Jungle. Passing coffee, cocoa and fruits plantations, you can cool off in a refreshing waterfall, and perhaps you’ll spot the Peruvian national bird, the Gallito de las Rocas. You’ll take local transportation from La Playa to Lucmabamba, then climb to the Llactapata ruins. Descend to the Hidroelectrica Station and then to Aguas Calientes, and spend the night in a hostel. Then get an early bus ride to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Once inside this breathtaking city-in-the-sky, enjoy a 2-hour guided tour plus plenty of free time to explore. Then return to Aguas Calientes, eat a late lunch and wait for the train to take you back to Cusco.
The Choquequirao Trek is another excellent Alternative Inca Trail trek. This 4-day trek is well off the beaten path in the Sacred Valley; in fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone else on the trail besides a few farmers. From Cusco, you’ll drive towards Cachora to Tarawasi, where you can explore the ruins of Inca Usno, then continue along the Apurimac Valley to Curawasi and Saywite to visit the ruins of what may have been the Tahuantinsuyo Empire.
At Cachora, start hiking at 2800 meters through the Apurimac river canyon until you reach Chiquisca. Head to Rosalina Beach and then to Santa Rosa, where you can try cambray, a local sugar cane extract. Continue to Marampata and to the archeological ruins of Choquequirao, located at 3103 meters. Enjoy a guided tour of the area and free time to explore. Then return to Santa Rosa and head to Rosalina Beach. Lastly, hike towards Chiquisca and finally Cachora, where you’ll catch a bus back to Cusco.
The Lares Valley trek is another attractive option for those wishing to hike through the Sacred Valley during a Machu Picchu tour. Starting in Cusco, you’ll travel by bus to the Lares hot springs. At Wacawasi, browse the textile weavers who make their living in this village. Then start hiking towards Puma’s Abra at 1415 meters, continuing to Aroray and Mantanay lakes. Pass the town of Yanahuara and continue to Ollantaytambo. Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins before boarding the train to Aguas Calientes, where you can spend the night in a comfortable hostel. Wake early and take the shuttle bus to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Spend the day on a guided tour with free time to explore the ruins on your own. Then return to Aguas Calientes to catch the train back to Cusco.
The Lodge to Lodge Machu Picchu Trek is the longest of the alternative Inca Trail treks, but it is the most luxurious Inca Trail trek since you’ll be staying in 4 & 5* Peru lodges along the way. From your Cusco hotel, you’ll be taken to the ruins of Tarawasi, where you can explore before heading to Marcoccasa, where you’ll start your trek to Soraypampa. Following an old route called the Camino Real, you’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery before you reach the Salkantay Lodge and Resort. Relax in your hotel room and enjoy dinner.
The next day, relax before heading out on a short trek to a glacial lake, then return to the hotel. The next day, hike to Rio Blanco, circling the snow-capped peak of Humantay Peak at 4600 meters. The following day, trek to the Salkantay River to the Colpa Lodge where you can soak in an outdoor hot tub. Next, you’ll head down to the Santa Teresa River Valley past coffee plantations and banana groves. Then take transportation to Lucma Lodge, exploring the Lucmabamba ruins. On day 6, hike to Llactapa Pass at 2700 meters where you can see Machu Picchu for the first time. On the last day, wake early to get an early bus ride to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Once inside this breathtaking city-in-the-sky, you’ll enjoy a 2-hour guided tour plus plenty of free time to explore. At the end of the afternoon, take the bus down to Aguas Calientes. Eat a late lunch and wait for the train to take you back to Cusco.
All of our Inca Trail Tours include everything you’ll need to get from your Cusco hotel to the trailhead and nearly everything you’ll need while on the trail, except a sleeping bag (which can be rented in Cusco) and personal items such as clothes, boots, camera, and snacks. For the Lares Valley trek and Choquequirao Trek, just let us know if you want to add-on Machu Picchu, and we’ll make it happen!
You may also want to read our blog post, How to Research Machu Picchu Inca Trail Tours.