The Classic Inca Trail is usually the top of the treks in the Cusco region. It doesn’t matter how far in advance you try and book the Inca Trail; permits are always an issue. Why would you settle for an alternative trail you may ask? However, the incredible network of Inca roads called the Qapac Ñan contains a number of original Inca trails included the Classic Inca trail, all of which offer impressive Inca trail experiences and do not rely on permits to hike them. Here are our top five Alternative Inca Trail treks!
Distance: 24 miles (38 ½ km)
The incredible Moonstone Trek is somewhat a secret and is perfect for those who want to trek in areas that are more remote and off the beaten track. The trail leads at the magnificent Quillarumiyoc site which was an ancient Inca temple of a water cult and in honor to the moon. The head to the Inka quarry of Cachicata where the stones were taken to build other more famous Inca sites. Enjoy spectacular landscapes, remote rural communities, Inca aqueducts chullpas and a sun gate along an original Inca Trail as you head to the main attraction of Machu Picchu.
Distance: 28 miles /45km
Authentic and remote, Choquequirao is the more challenging and isolated alternative to get to Machu Picchu for hikers seeking a route steeped in Inca history. Located in the Apurimac Valley, this archaeological site whose name means "cradle of gold” in Quechua, is believed to be three times bigger than its famous sister city of Machu Picchu and can only be reached on foot.
The starting point is from the village of Cachora walking to the Capuliyoq pass, from where trekkers descend into the Apurimac Canyon. Terraced farmlands on the edge of the canyon’s river eventually give way to an exhilarating shift from vertical desert to high-elevation jungle as hikers ascend to the site. Finally, after reaching 10,000ft above sea level (3050m), hikers can appreciate the impressive view of the magnificent ruins. It is estimated that half of the site of Choquequirao has been excavated and today there are 12 visible sectors across three hilltops can be seen with the added bonus of very few, if any other visitors to the archaeological site.
Distance: 21 miles (34 km)
The Lares trek is one of the best treks in Peru for hikers who are also culture enthusiasts. It winds through the Sacred Valley, passing through Andean villages and llama herds. In fact, it is even nicknamed the “Weaver’s Route” for the traditions of textiles the area. On top of cultural heritage, Lares boasts incredible mountain views and hot springs. Most consider Lares to be a moderate trek. However, it’s still at high elevation, reaching higher than the Inca Trail, that can be tough if you’re not acclimated. This trail is another alternative to the Inca Trail but ends far from Machu Picchu. On the third day of the trek, you end in Ollantaytambo where you take the train to Aguas Calientes. On the fourth day, you are able to tour the Inca citadel Machu Picchu. If you missed out on the Inca Trail and still dream of walking through the Sun Gate, it’s still possible. You can combine the first two days of Lares with the 2-day Inca Trail to experience both of these incredible treks.
Distance: 32 miles (51 km)
Salkantay is a spectacular alternative Inca Trail when permits are sold out for the Inca Trail. When it comes to Andean landscapes, you couldn’t ask for more and the Salkantay trek covers several Andean microclimates. First, trekkers climb up into the alpine tundra facing the imposing Apu Salkantay. Then you descend into subtropical cloud forest as you approach Machu Picchu. The vibrant blue-green Humantay Lake also sits along the trail, as well as the Inca ruins Llactapata. Trekkers will also enjoy soaking in hot springs at Santa Teresa and enjoying locally grown, freshly roasted and brewed coffee. The Salkantay trek takes five days. The first four days are full trekking days, while the fifth day is the visit to Machu Picchu. Salkantay ends at Aguas Calientes where you can hike the train tracks into Aguas Calientes or take the daily train. You will spend the night in a hotel before the Machu Picchu visit.
Distance: 43 miles (73 km)
The Ausangate trek is one of the best off the beaten path treks in Peru. The trail is remote and boasts spectacular and untouched Andean scenery. Highlights include the snow-capped peaks, glaciers, jewel-toned lakes and traditional Andean villages. There is also the option to add an extra day to visit the famous Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca. Thanks to mineral deposits in its soil, this mountain has natural rainbow colors, more visible now the snow caps have melted.
However, trekkers should keep in mind that the Ausangate trek is one of the more difficult Peruvian treks due to the high elevation, reaching a high point of 5,120 meters. With tour options ranging from four days to six, it’s best to pick a longer tour if you’re not an experienced hiker. This will give you more time to rest along the trail and better enjoy the impressive landscape. If you don’t have time for a multi-day trek, you can spend a full day hiking to the top of Rainbow Mountain.