Alternatives to the famous Inca Trail that ends at Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the great adventures of global tourism that no one wants to miss: deep lush valleys, giant snowcapped mountains that appear and disappear, shrouded in clouds, and lost citadels that have survived hidden among the vegetation and mists of forested mountains. Walking this route along stone pathways, following a sacred route that remained hidden for centuries is, without a doubt, an unmissable experience for any traveler.
Throughout the year (except in February, when the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance and environmental conservation work), authorized tour operators in Cusco organize groups to walk this ancient route. But in recent years, demand has been overwhelming. Travelers have had to book a place several months in advance, even for the low season, and even if they opt for the two-day short Inca Trail.
Fortunately, there are other alternatives in the Cusco region, where local travel companies offer many other hiking trails that the Peruvian tourism industry is seeking to promote. In Peru, the main hiking centers include Arequipa, in the south, and Huaraz in the north.
But the vast majority of hikers come to Cusco to walk, because in addition to incredible trekking routes, the Cusco region also offers the incomparable legacy of Inca culture, and of Peru’s viceroyalty era, in the form of archaeological sites, churches, mansions, museums, and vibrant living culture.
An alternative to the classic Inca Trail, which runs above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is Lares, a multi-day itinerary through picturesque Andean villages, with the train to Machu Picchu included (from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes). This high Andean route can be accessed easily from the city of Cusco.
Another Cusco route is Mount Salkantay. This five-day trek takes hikers from subtropical valleys to Andean plains over 4700 meters above sea level. A version of this route takes travelers to Machu Picchu, passing through the sleepy town of Santa Teresa.
And from the city of Cusco, another alternative to the in-demand Inca Trail is the spectacular walk around Mount Ausangate, a route that offers Andean landscapes dotted with typical tiny villages that have not changed for centuries, and the chance to spot herds of alpacas. Ausangate is one of the highest peaks in southern Peru, visible from Cusco when the Andean sky is clear. It takes between five and six days to complete the circuit around the base of the mountain, along a challenging route that crosses a series of high passes, reaching more than 5000 meters above sea level.