Hike to Machu Picchu – Trails and Route Options

When most people think about a hike to Machu Picchu, they immediately think of the famous Inca Trail.

Admittedly the Inca Trail is the only trek to Machu Picchu that actually arrives directly at the famous Inca ruin, via the impressive Inti Punku (Sun Gate).

It is, however, not the only trek to Machu Picchu.

Below we have provided a brief overview on the key characteristics of all the possible hikes to Machu Picchu, along with links to specific pages that provide detailed information on route profiles and itineraries.

Quicklinks:

Hike to Machu Picchu Summary Table

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Inca Trail

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the world’s greatest hikes and the most popular trek in Peru.

Due to it’s popularity the trek is only operated by licensed trekking companies and there are only 500 permits available per day (~200 for trekkers and ~300 for support staff).

The trek can not be completed without using a registered trekking agency.

Permits for the trail sell out months in advance so it is advised to book at least 6 months prior to your preferred trekking date.

There are three trekking options on the Inca Trail – the Classic, Short and Salkantay / Inca Combo. We briefly outline the key characteristics of all three here.

Classic Inca Trail (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~45km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~12km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,200m (Warmiwanusca Pass aka Dead Women’s Pass)
  • Number of Days: 4D/3N (can be extended to 5D/4N for trekkers who would like to spend an additional day at Machu Picchu)
  • Difficulty: +++ (trail consists of many steps which take a battering on your knees)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. Note, the trail is the busiest at this time. Rainy shoulder months of March/April and October/November can be good months. Trail is closed in February and very wet in December/ January
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Ideal for: Iconic trek. Perfect for those who feel a deep desire to trek the original route of pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. Entrance via the impressive Inti Punku. Route can feel crowded.

Short Inca Trail (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~13km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~13km
  • Highest Altitude: ~2,700m
  • Number of Days: 2D/1N (can be extended to 3D/2N for trekkers who would like to spend an additional day at Machu Picchu)
  • Difficulty: + (short and easy, no high altitude passes)
  • Best Time: As above
  • Accommodation: Hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: Gives a flavour of the Inca Trail for visitors looking for a non-challenging trekking experience. Entrance to Machu Picchu via the unforgettable Inti Punku (Sun Gate)

Salkantay / Inca Trail Combo (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~65km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~12km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,900m (Incachiriasca Pass)
  • Number of Days: 6D/5N (can be extended to a 7D/5N for trekkers who would like to spend an additional day at Machu Picchu)
  • Difficulty: ++++ (long trek with a big second day pass – a proper challenge)
  • Best Time: As above
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Ideal for: The ultimate Inca Trail trek in our opinion. Combines tough trekking through amazing mountainous landscapes with the iconic Inca trail route that is steeped in ancient history.

Alternative Hikes to Machu Picchu

There are a number of alternative hikes to Mach Picchu, each offers something unique.

All these treks do not require permits.

They all arrive at Machu Picchu town (i.e Aguas Calientes) the day before visiting the ruins. Trekkers sleep in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and either catch a bus up to Machu Picchu in the morning, or hike the final switchback paths to the entrance gate. None of these treks arrive at Machu Picchu via the famous Sun Gate.

It is possible to complete these treks unsupported, but not recommended for anyone who is not familiar with the area or inexperienced in backcountry trekking.

Salkantay Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~55km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~12km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,600m (El Passo – Salkantay Pass)
  • Number of Days: 5D/4N
  • Difficulty: ++++ (long trekking days and high altitude)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay is not too busy during these months. Rainy shoulder months of March/April and October/November can be good months and are much quieter. The trail can be hiked all year round but we recommend avoiding the heaviest of the rain months (Dec, Jan and Feb)
  • Accommodation: Camping, with a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: A tough trek with amazing scenery. Main draw card is getting up close and personal with Nevada Salkantay (6,217m) and it’s large neighbours. Great for unsupported treks as well.

Lares Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~33km (varies depending on route variation)
  • Average trek distance per day: ~8km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,450m (Ipsaycocha Pass)
  • Number of Days: 4D/3N (can be extended or shortened depending on route variation and number of days spent in Machu Picchu)
  • Difficulty: ++ (relatively easy, with one tough pass)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. The trail never gets too crowded during the peak season. Rainy shoulder months of March/April and October/November can be good months. The trail can be hiked all year round but we recommend avoiding the heaviest of the rain months (Dec, Jan and Feb)
  • Accommodation: Camping, with a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: A great trek for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture and meet / interact with authentic Peruvian communities.

Choquequirao Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~65km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~8km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,670m (Yanama Pass)
  • Number of Days: 9D/8N (can be shortened by a few days or lengthened if one wants to spend more time at the ruins of Choquequirao and Machu Picchu)
  • Difficulty: ++++ (Long trek, some high passes and intense sun in the dry season)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. High exposure to the sun – make sure to wear loads of sunscreen and long-sleeve breathable shirts. The trail can be hiked all year round but we recommend avoiding the heaviest of the rain months (Dec, Jan and Feb)
  • Accommodation: Camping, with a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: The ruins at Choquequirao are very impressive and well worth the visit. Trek is relatively tough but flexible, so it can be easily shortened or lengthened depending on your requirements. See two classic Inca sites in one trek.

Inca Jungle Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~60km cycle, ~15km trek
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,316m (Abra Malaga or Malaga Pass
  • Number of Days: 4D/3N (can be shortened to a 3D/2N by skipping the trek section)
  • Difficulty: ++ (long cycle but it’s all downhill, short time at altitude as the cycle is so fast, relatively easy trekking)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. The rain shoulder months of March/April and October/November can be good, especially if you want to river raft as well. Trail is closed in Jan and Feb due to landslides
  • Accommodation: Hostels, with a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: Brilliant trekking option for adventure seekers as it includes an incredible downhill cycle, trekking and potential zip-lining and river-rafting.

Vilcabamba Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~62km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~16km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,500m (Tullu Tacanca Pass)
  • Number of Days: 5D/4N
  • Difficulty: +++++ (arguably the most difficult trek to Machu Picchu, long trekking days and many high passes)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. This trail is always empty so no need to worry about crowds. Rainy season months are not great as the trail gets very muddy and fog is common Vilcabamba River Valley
  • Accommodation: Camping, with a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: Perfect for experienced backcountry trekkers. Trail is incredibly diverse and beautiful. A tough but unique challenge. You will be one of a handful trekkers (at a maximum) on this trail.

Huchuy Qosco Trek (Find out more)

  • Distance: ~20km
  • Average trek distance per day: ~10km
  • Highest Altitude: ~4,230m (Rumicruz Pass)
  • Number of Days: 3D/2N (trek occurs in the Sacred Valley and finishes with a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes)
  • Difficulty: ++ (short and relatively easy trek)
  • Best Time: The dry months of May-September are best. Trail is generally quiet during this months. Rainy shoulder months of March/April and October/November can be good months. The trail can be hiked all year round and because it is so short you can watch the weather forecasts for the Sacred Valley and take a chance to trek even in Dec, Jan and Feb.
  • Accommodation: One night camping, with another night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Ideal for: Trekkers with not much time or for those who would like to visit Machu Picchu but also do a little trekking. Great scenery. Limited interaction with locals. Huchuy Qosco ruins are worth seeing

Tags: Hike to Machu Picchu, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Hiking to Machu Picchu, How to get to Machu Picchu, Getting to Machu Picchu, Trek to Machu Picchu

References: (1) Trailblazer Inca Trail Guide, (2) Personal Experience, (3) Depth interviews with local guides and tour operators

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