While everyone has heard of the famous Inca Trail, many don’t realize that there are also a number of alternative treks in Cusco that are just as beautiful (if not more), just as historically significant, and just as worth the journey as a trip to Machu Picchu itself.
With the help of fellow travel bloggers who have experienced this region first-hand, we’ve put together a list of alternative treks in Cusco to assist you in your travel planning to Peru’s famous attraction.
Salkantay Trek – 5 Days
Contributed by Eli from The Partying Traveler
The Salkantay Trek is a hiker’s dream, taking you across snow-capped mountains, vast valleys, misty forests and more. The epic journey culminates with a stunning sunrise at one of the world’s most amazing places, Machu Picchu.
The trek lasts five days, starting in the isolated mountains of Peru and ending at Machu Picchu. While the trek is undeniably difficult, the trek goes by pretty quickly thanks to the stunning sights and natural scenery that surrounds you the entire time.
Each (literally) breathtaking sight will keep your tired legs motivated as you trudge closer to the ultimate goal. Despite Machu Picchu being the destination, the Salkantay Trek is also all about the journey. It takes you across a variety of terrains, from lush valleys to treacherous mountainous landscapes.
The second day is undoubtedly the most difficult, seeing you trek for up to ten hours. The altitude peaks at about 14,000 feet at the Salkantay Pass, and thankfully, it’s almost all downhill from there. That doesn’t mean it gets any less stunning.
Reaching the top of Machu Picchu was a surreal feeling after everything we had gone through as a group. The journey was unforgettable, but we also faced our challenges. Through the altitude sickness, actual sickness, slight injuries, freezing nights and early mornings, our group formed a strong bond during the trip.
Having fellow trekkers to encourage each other and support one another throughout the difficulties and then celebrate our successes was one of the best parts of the experience.
It is hard to beat the incredible views and scenery of the Salkantay Trek, but if anything could beat it, it was the camaraderie and friendships that were formed during those five days. The Salkantay Trek deserves to be on any trekker’s bucket list!
For more information about the Salkantay Trek, read about Eli’s experience on The Partying Traveler
Lares Trek – 4 Days
Contributed by Gemma from Two Scots Abroad
The Lares Trek is a 3-night hike to Machu Picchu. It begins with a very early bus ride from Cusco where trekkers can catch some sleep while the sun comes up. They are then treated to a breakfast of kings before prepping the muscles in the hot springs of Lares.
The next three days of hiking take you through and past villages with rosy-cheeked Quechua kids, local houses and complacent llamas. The scenery is green, which explains the constant drizzle and misty climate. There are areas of wide open space then hills.
The first stretches of the route are pretty easy with a steady incline but that all changes as you reach Condor Pass which is the highest point of the Lares, reaching 4650m (15255ft) above sea level is tricky. It even snowed at the very top. The descent is just glorious, however, those who have not acclimatized will feel the impact. Although the first two nights involve camping, the final rest is in a hotel at Machu Picchu Pueblo.
For more information about the Lares Trek, read about Gemma & Craig’s experience on Two Scots Abroad
Jungle Trek – 4 Days
Contributed by John from Roaming Around the World
The Inca Jungle Trek is arguably the most adventurous way to reach Machu Picchu. It’s much more than just a hike to the ancient ruins, as this route incorporates an array of different adventure activities throughout the trek.
The experience begins with a harrowing downhill mountain bike ride, descending 2,000 meters in altitude down a rough and twisting road. It’s an incredible thrill! You start in a cold and barren alpine environment and end up in the lush and warm jungle.
If that somehow doesn’t get your adrenaline going, the Jungle Trek continues in a raft through whitewater! Hang on tight as you go over the class 3 rapids of the Urubamba River. And that’s all just on the first day.
The second day is more about actually trekking. The 21-kilometer hike hugs the edge of a steep and beautiful jungle valley crosses a number of rickety suspension bridges and traverses a few shallow creeks. The day’s trek culminates with a final river crossing in which you’re loaded into a hand pulled cable car that flies high above the valley!
That cable car acts as a tease to the adventure of the third day. That begins with a series of zip lines through the jungle, crisscrossing the river valley below. A final trek then ensues along the side of the scenic railway that leads to Machu Picchu.
The fourth and final day of the Jungle Trek begins in the early pre-dawn hours for a steep ascent towards Machu Picchu in the dark. Seeing those famed Inca ruins after such a multifaceted trek to get there is a thoroughly rewarding experience. But it’s all the adventures encountered during the four days reaching the ruins that really makes this entire experience so much fun!
For more information about the Jungle Trek, read about John’s experience on Roaming Around the World
Ausangate Trek – 5 Days
Contributed by Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
The Ausangate Trek in Cusco region is still one of our favorites – even though we did many amazing hikes after that. The hike is quite demanding; the whole trail is above 4000m, so such altitude requires good acclimatization and a decent level of fitness.
Unlike some of the famous treks near Cusco, Ausangate is still unspoiled and we’d say underestimated. Many people know about the Rainbow Mountain nowadays; you can even do a day tour from Cusco just to see it. But the Ausangate Trek is much more than that.
During the 4-5 days, you’ll walk through scenery that is absolutely stunning; see lakes of all possible colours from turquoise blue to pink, and gasp at mountains with snow peaks. You’ll also see emerald meadows, hundreds of alpacas walking around and almost no people, one or two local shepherds (and rarely any tourists!).
The Ausangate Trek wasn’t on our bucket list, in fact, we didn’t even know about it! One day – by chance – we saw the name on a billboard of one of the tour agencies. After some research on the Internet (to be honest, there wasn’t much info mostly photos) we decided to do the hike.
We spent about three weeks in Cusco and did two other hikes before Ausangate which means we were very well acclimatized and had no problem with altitude. We hiked it in November, which is the beginning of the rainy season in the region but we were very lucky with the weather. We had snow/rainfall only once and could really enjoy the hike and the scenery.
The route isn’t very well marked and sometimes it was quite difficult to find the trail. But in the end, we were never lost and were always on the right track though sometimes it felt wrong. Ausangate was a real discovery for us and a good lesson that even in a very touristy place like Cusco, you still can go off the beaten path and have an amazing experience.
For more information about the Ausangate Trek, read about Campbell & Alya on Stingy Nomads.
Chachicata Trek – 4 Days
As one of the newest trekking routes offered in the Cusco region and based in the area around Ollantaytambo, the 4-day Cachicata Trek is a hidden gem for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The area is not as known to the public so it’s a great option for anyone looking for an escape and to really become one with nature.
The total walking distance for the trek is 25 km, making it easier in comparison to the other alternative treks in Cusco. During the trek, you’ll pass by stunning waterfalls, descend down into the Sacred Valley, and end the trek at the final destination of Machu Picchu.
Vilcabamba Trek – 5 Days
The Vilcabamba Trek is the perfect combination of a trail with wondrous sights and beautiful lush scenery that’s not heavily swarmed by tourists.
The 5-day hike takes you into the area of Cusco that has some of the last remains of the great Inca empire. The route includes a look into Vitcos, the place of the last Inca ruler; and to the beautifully stoned-carved Ñusta Hispana, also known as the ‘White Rock’.
Be advised that there are no facilities along the trail, which some may argue that it makes the experience more authentic – as this is how the Incas used to live.
Choquequirao Trek – 5 Days
Choquequirao trek is a fantastic alternative to hiking the Inca Trail. The 5-day return trek takes you to the ruins of Choquequirao, a lesser known, but an equally impressive set of ancient Inca ruins hidden deep in the Apurimac Valley.
Read more about our experience on the Choquequirao trek, in our post An Alternative to Machu Picchu: Trekking to Choquequirao, the Last City of the Incas
If a 5-day trek to Choquequirao is not enough hiking for you, consider the longer version….
Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek – 9 Days
Prepare for some seriously high altitudes and get your adrenaline pumping with this 9-day 100km expedition to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. The route begins in a village called Cachora, 4 hours outside of Cusco, makes its way through Choquequirao and continues on until it reaches the last section of the Salkantay Trek.
The longest walking days are Day 1 and 6 where you will see wondrous sights like the snow-capped Vilcanota mountains, and the rocky depths of the Apurimac canyon. You’ll also have a chance to visit Inca silver mines and remote Inca communities along the way.
Although this is the most challenging of all the alternative treks in Cuscco– even for the most seasoned hiker – it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will have you checking off another item on your bucket list.
With adventurous treks comes great risk. So no matter which one of these treks you plan on undertaking, it’s important to remember to purchase travel insurance, in case of any type of emergency that might happen on the trail. Since many of these treks go above 3,000m in elevetation travel insurance providers may charge a premium for this type of activity.