Our six best treks in Peru
The famous Inca Trail trek into Machu Picchu has put Peru on the map as a global trekking destination, and this is the one which is almost invariably top of our guests’ list when they ask us about trekking opportunities in South America. But as you would expect in such a scenic country, there are a number of other treks in Peru which should be equally considered – here are six of our favourite:
1. THE SALKANTAY TREK in the Sacred Valley follows the ‘Salkantay Inca Trail’ and winds through the Cordillera Vilcabamba, ending with a visit to Machu Picchu itself. What we like about this trek is that after a hard days hiking through spectacular and varied scenery, guests overnight in one of four homely lodges with hot showers, good food and very comfortable beds. They are entirely for the use of people on the trek and are in stunning locations. For some of us a welcome improvement over a camp site!
On the first day you drive out of Cusco and then hike along the Camino Real (Royal Path) for an easy 6 hour trek to Salkantay Lodge just under Mt Salkantay, the second most sacred peak in Inca mythology. On the second morning hike to Humantay Lake to see the hanging glaciers, returning to the lodge for a relaxing afternoon. Over the next three nights you hike to three different lodges (Wayra, Colpa and Lucma Lodges), descending into the Cloud Forest and then passing through remote farms and coffee plantations. Here you will see a wonderful array of birds, flora and fauna. On Day 6 you get you first glimpses of Machu Picchu, and after overnighting in Aguas Calientes, the last day you will visit Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco.
2. THE CORDILLERA BLANCA in the Ancash range of the Andes is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and used to be visited mainly by mountaineers, but the recent opening of some comfortable lodges and the short flight to the airport at Huarez has opened up the area to general visitors. Treks in the Cordillera Blanca are with a private guide and can therefore be tailored to suit individual group preferences. We would recommend a 4 day trek, based at the colourful Cuesta Serena Hotel or Llanganuca Lodge, with day treks to the pre-Inca site at Chavin de Huantar, up to the breathtaking turquoise clear waters of Laguna 69 and elsewhere in the Huascaran National Park.
3. AUSANGATE TREK is another higher altitude trek in the Wilkanuta range of the Andes. There are two trekking options here, a rigorous longer 7 day trek around Ausangate mountain mainly camping overnight, or a shorter 5 day trek staying in four different eco lodges. The latter is therefore similar to the Salkantay trek in concept, but this area is much less known and less visited by tourists and you are only likely to come across other trekkers. Each day entails a 5 to 7 hour trek with the option of riding small horses if you prefer, accompanied by Quechua guides, ending the day at a cozy adobe built lodge.
4. THE LARES TREK is an alternative high end trekking option in the Sacred Valley, centred on two lodges and a hotel in the Urubamba Valley. There are two options based on 5 days or 7 days trekking and because the treks tend to be more on an ‘out and back’ basis centred on the two lodges (Lamay and Huacawasi Lodges) and a hotel in the Sacred Valley, there is flexibility to keep the trekking fairly moderate at 5 to 6 hours per day, but on some days reduce this if guests feel like relaxing or alternatively add on a bit more for those who feel they have not yet tested their limits. The treks take in high mountain passes with stunning views and traditional villages, but hikers also walk in to the fascinating Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo. On the last day guests visit Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco.
5. CHOQUEQUIRAO is often referred to as the ‘other lost city of the Incas’ and is located in the Vilcabamba mountain range, much more remote than Machu Picchu and visited by a fraction of the number of tourists. For the time being, the only way to reach Choquequirao is by a 4 day trek (two days there, one day at the ruins and then return). The purpose of the trek is therefore to access the ruins rather than for the trek itself. The hike is reasonably arduous and overnight accommodation is in tents, but the highlight of the trip is undoubtedly being able to camp just outside the ruins with very few other people nearby.
6. THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU is the most famous trek and the only one which allows you to walk in to the ruins at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate. The main trek is for 4 days with 3 nights staying in camps and takes in the Inca ruins at Llactaparta and Sayacmarca, with 6 to 7 hours trekking each day. The trek embraces a variety of scenery and part of it is along original cobbled Inca trails. Fortunately the park authorities now limit the number of people on the trail at any one time so although passes now need to be booked a long time in advance, the path does not get crowded.