Trekking to Machu Picchu is a dream adventure for many people, with the Classic Inca Trail featuring as the most popular route to the famous site.
But its popularity has its downsides as well.
Here are a number of brilliant alternative Inca trail treks to Machu Picchu – each offers something truly unique.
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Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu
The Classic Inca Trail is one of the world’s most famous trekking routes for obvious reasons.
Trekkers spend four glorious days walking along vast stretches of authentic Inca trails that sojourn through breath-taking Andean landscapes.
Scattered throughout the trail are a number of important Inca ruins, which trekkers get to visit.
And perhaps most impressively, the trail ends at the famous entrance to Machu Picchu, Inti Punku or Sun Gate, which affords trekkers an early-morning birds eye view of the incredible Inca city.
But there are some downsides to the Inca Trail.
Firstly, the trail has a limit of only 500 trekking permits a day, half of which are used by guides and porters.
This means that would-be trekkers need to book early, especially during the peak season of May-September.
Secondly, despite the limit of 500 people per day, the trail is always crowded which can make the experience feel a little too ‘touristy’.
And finally, the trail is closed in February due to heavy rains.
So if you are not one for booking early or sharing an experience with crowds, then these alternative Inca trail treks to Machu Picchu might just be right for you.
Alternative Inca Trail Treks
The Salkantay trail is perfect for mountain-lovers.
It is the most popular alternative trek to Machu Picchu, but get’s nowhere near as many trekkers as the Classic Inca Trail.
The route provides unparalleled views of the snow-capped Mount Salkantay, which stands at just over 6,200 meters, and provides an incredibly diverse range of scenic views.
The route reaches a maximum altitude of just over 4,600 meters and typically takes 5 days to complete, with two additional days spent acclimatising in Cusco.
Note: The Salkantay route is the only alternative route to Machu Picchu that can be combined with the Classic Inca Trail if you book early
The Lares trek is the perfect trail for anyone looking to experience authentic Andean culture.
The trail, which is the second easiest of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu, goes through a number of fascinating and unique local villages.
Some of these villages have remained unchanged for 100s of years.
Along the route trekkers will undoubtedly meet and interact with local farmers and weavers wearing their traditional Andean clothes.
It is worthwhile taking a few spare Soles to buy some locally weaved materials – they are a lot cheaper in these villages than in Cusco town.
The trail also provides noteworthy mountain views and requires trekkers to scale a few 4,000-meter passes.
Inca Jungle Trek
The Inca Jungle Trail is for adventure-seekers.
It starts with a 4-hour drive to the 4,300-meter Abra Malaga pass. From here trekkers mountain bike down the winding road to Santa Maria, a 60km cycle all downhill!
A night in Santa Maria is followed by a trek due South to Santa Theresa where trekkers spend an adrenaline-filled afternoon having fun on South America’s highest zip-line.
From here trekkers make their way to Aguas Calientes, the town that sits just below Machu Picchu. Three days of biking, trekking and zip lining is followed by a tour of the famous Inca city.
The perfect alternative trail to Machu Picchu for the young and adventurous, or for anyone with limited time.
The Choquequirao trail is one of the quietest treks in the region.
The route begins with a 2-day journey to Choquequirao, one of the largest and most-intact Inca sites outside of Machu Picchu.
However, unlike Machu Picchu there is usually only a hand-full of people at this impressive site. Look out for Condors flying overhead – they are quite common in this region.
From here trekkers follow a beautiful 3 or 4 day trail towards Machu Picchu.
The trek is relatively tough so a good level of fitness is required, and is best done during the dry season shoulder months (March/April or October/November), as the sun is very intense in the peak season (May-September). You can see detailed historical Machu Picchu weather information here.
The Vilcabamba trail is by far the quietest route to Machu Picchu. In fact it is possible to do this trek and not see one other trekking group.
The route is also arguably the most scenic in the region, taking trekkers from wondrous highlands that feature a number of impressive snow-capped peaks through to lush rainforests.
The five-day trek is however very tough and trekkers need to be prepared for three 10-12 hour trekking days.
The trek is ideal for the rugged and experienced trekker. We love this alternative Inca trail trek!
Huchuy Qosqo trek
The Huchyuy Qosqo trek is perfect for people with limited time, as it is the shortest – only 17km.
It is also the easiest so if you are looking for a trekking experience that won’t give you sore feet, this alternative Inca trail is for you.
The route begins at Tauqaq, a small village that sits on the edge of Piuray Lagoon. The 2-day trail includes a visit to Huchyuy Qosqo, an impressive Incan complex.
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References: (1) TrailBlazer Guides (2) Wikipedia (3) Multiple Guide Interviews (4) First-hand trekker experience