The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most famous trekking routes for so many reasons!
- It is completely unique compared to any other trekking routes in the world and includes a staggering 3000 stone steps made during the Inca Empire.
- You can walk on the actual trail the Ancient Incas built and hiked over 600 years ago.
- You will trek through history with archaeological sites to explore all along the entire trail.
- It is an incredibly scenic hike through glacier topped peaks, exotic cloud forests and a myriad of tropical vegetation and fauna.
- This is only trek that hikes through the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) directly into the Machu Picchu Citadel.
- The trek is unrivaled with its spectacular views from the Sun Gate on to the mysterious Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu.
But there are some special challenges to the Inca Trail.
First, the trail has a limit of only 500 trekking permits a day, with only about 200 available for trekkers, since the rest are required for the guides and porters.
This means that trekkers need to book early, especially if they want to hike during the peak season of May-September. When the permits go on sale in October each year, certain dates sell out in minutes for the following year. See the Inca Trail availability online here!
Second, despite the limit of only 500 people per day can hike the trail, it can feel crowded, especially at certain points along the trail. This can make the experience feel a little too ‘touristy’.
Third, the difficulty of the trek with its thousands of steps and the high altitude is more than some people can prepare for. High altitude is not for everybody!
And finally, the trail is closed in February due to the rainy season and maintenance.
So if you are not one for booking early or sharing an experience with crowds, then the following alternative treks to the Inca Trail (which will still take you to Machu Picchu) might just be perfect for you.
*** See the TOP Inca Trail operators.
Alternative Inca Trail Treks
The Salkantay trail is perfect for mountain-lovers.
It is one of the most popular alternative treks to Machu Picchu, but it receives 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. The whole trail 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 acclimatizing in Cuzco. The highest point on this trek is higher than the highest pass on the Classic Inca Trail.
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.
This trail is the second easiest of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu. Its unique route takes the trekker through a number of very traditional and unique local villages.
Some of these remote villages have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The Quechua people here continue to keep their traditions alive they preserve the ancient Inca culture and style of life.
Along the route, trekkers will undoubtedly meet and interact with local farmers and weavers wearing their traditional Andean clothes.
It is worthwhile taking some local currency if you would like to buy locally made textiles. They are a lot cheaper in these villages than in Cusco City. Also, you have the satisfaction of knowing that 100% of your money goes directly to the person who cared for the alpacas, sheared the wool, made the yarn and wove the product.
The trail also provides spectacular mountain views, waterfalls, herds of llamas and alpacas. It also requires trekkers to scale a few 4,000-meter passes. At the end you get to soak tired muscles in the Lares Hot Springs. Some companies will take you to a hotel swimming pool, which is cleaner than the heavily mineralized waters in the hot springs.
Inca Jungle Trek
The Inca Jungle Trail is for adventure seekers who want to experience a variety of adventure activities.
It starts with a 4-hour drive to the 4,300-meter Abra Malaga pass. From here, you get to mountain bike down the winding road to Santa Maria, a 60km ride all downhill!
A night in Santa Maria is followed by a trek due south to Santa Teresa, where you spend an adrenaline-filled afternoon soaring over canyons on South America’s highest zip-line.
From Santa Teresa, you will make your 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 adventurous, or for anyone who wants more than just hiking.
The Choquequirao trail is one of the remote and quietest treks in the region. You can do this trail as an out and back in 4 or 5 days. For a through hike, look for a reputable trekking agency that will take you on a 7 or 9 day trek. The 7 day trek is usually combined with a visit to Machu Picchu at the end of the trip.
The route begins with a 2-day journey to Choquequirao, one of the largest and best preserved 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 months (March/April or October/November), as the sun is very intense in the peak season (May-September).
The Vilcabamba trail is by far the most peaceful route to Machu Picchu. In fact, it is possible to do this trek and not see even 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.
This trek is ideal for the rugged and experienced trekker. We love this alternative Inca trail 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 Inca complex.