While the Inca Trail trek is probably what comes to mind when thinking about Peru trekking, the country is home to thirty-seven peaks over 19,685 feet (6,000 meters). Famous Peru mountains include the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash. From cloud forest, deep canyons, and ancient civilization, trekking in Peru will be a treat.
For other treks in neighboring countries, check out our list of South America top treks.
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Trekking in Peru
If you are looking for Inca Trail alternatives when you visit Peru, look no further. Together with other travel bloggers, and based on our research, here is a list of some of the best hikes in Peru.
Many treks leave from Cusco, but Huaraz trekking is one of the many other Andes treks outdoor enthusiasts can explore.
Peru Treks: Comparison Table
|Alpamayo Base Camp Trek
|Colca Canyon Trek
|Cotahuasi Canyon Trek
|Gran Vilaya Trek
|Kuela & Vira Vira Trek
|Santa Cruz Trek
Alkipo-Ishinca Trail / Cordillera Blanca / Huaraz
Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range may not draw the crowds as Machu Picchu does, but it is an increasingly popular destination among extreme alpinists and casual hikers alike. There equally brave and experienced climbers can scale Peru’s highest peak called Huascaran or join the crowds on the insanely popular 4-day Santa Cruz trek for more straightforward backpacking experience. Those seeking a bit of solitude while they hike would be wise to consider the 3-day Alkipo-Ishinca trek as a great alternative to the crowded Santa Cruz experience.
The 28-mile (45-km) trek meanders through a quiet valley before climbing over Alkipo Pass at 16,404 feet (5,000 meters). Then it passes by the endlessly picturesque Laguna Alkipo and glaciers of Mount Toccaraju. It can be done either with a guide for about US$200 a person or without a good quality map.
Camping on the first night will be in a tent, but people can choose to stay in Refugio Ishinca on the second night. Reservations aren’t generally required ahead of time to camp, but people without a guide will need to pay 60 soles (US$18) for the entrance to Huascarán National Park and to cross any nearby community’s private land.
Trekking season is from May to October, with June and July considered to be the best months for dry weather. Alkipo-Ishinca is a challenging but straightforward hike that features incredible views without the crowds of the more popular trails in the region where busloads of tourists are dropped off every day. Completing the trail is a great way to see this majestically beautiful part of the world.
Alpamayo Base Camp Trek / Cordillera Blanca
The 6-7-day Alpamaya Base Trek of 56 miles (90 km) is a shorter version of the Alpamaya Circuit’s 90 miles (145 km), though the trail still goes over 15,090-16,070 feet (4,600 – 4,900 meters) passes. The path is remote and considered very difficult given the high elevations. No permit required for this trek, but you need to pay the entrance fees to the Huascaran National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
[For costs on organized Alpamayo treks, click here]
Ancascocha Trek / Cusco
The 5-day trek ends in Machu Picchu and is also called the Hidden Inca Trail. The trail is an excellent alternative to the classic Inca Trail as it sees fewer people though the trek is strenuous and goes over remote high-altitude terrain. The good new compared to the Inca Trail is that the Ancascocha Trek doesn’t require any trekking permit.
[For the latest prices on organized Ancascocha treks, click here]
Ausangate Trek / Andahuaylillas / Cusco
A moderately challenging 5 to 7-day trek from Cusco, the Ausangate Trek to the Rainbow mountain is a great alternative away from the crowd of the Inca Trail and will take you to one of the unique and colorful mountains of Peru. Maximum elevation is about 16,732 feet (5,100 meters).
[For cost ideas on organized Ausangate treks, click here]
Choquequirao Trek / Cusco
If you are looking for a seriously challenging trek – but few tourists – and some stunning scenery and Inca ruins – then the Choquequirao trek might be the trek for you. This stunning trek is usually done in 4 days, trekking down to the Apurimac River before gaining another 4,920 feet (1,500 meters) in altitude to finally arrive at the breathtakingly situated Choquequirao ruins at 10,925 feet (3,300 meters), high on a spur above the river.
Sometimes known as the “other” Machu Picchu hike, the site of this Inca city is truly spectacular, and apparently, only a small portion of the ruins have been excavated. Throw in very few other tourists, and all this adds to the allure of the Choquequirao trek.
Crossing a hot, dry and insanely steep river valley, this trek loses 4,920 feet (1,500 meters) in altitude one day, only to gain the same the next. It is an arduous trek and should be attempted only by experienced hikers or people who are fit and resilient. This trek can be done unguided and without permits, a considerable advantage compared to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek.
The standard Choquequirao trek involves two days trek to the ruins, and then two days back along the same route (the most significant negative in our opinion). We’ve heard that you can now do another exit route, called the Choquequirao Huanipaca route, but have not done it ourselves. Alternatively, if you keep hiking through the mountains for about 8-9 days you will arrive at Machu Picchu, or the last stronghold of the Incas at Vilcabamba.
We’ve heard that it is perilously dangerous during the Andes wet season (December through March) and that people have died due to rockfalls. Pricing for the Classic 4 day Choquequirao trek ranges from cheap, right through to expensive – depending on the company offering the trek. We encourage people to investigate companies, how they treat people – and the environment before making a booking. Exploitation in the Cusco tourism industry is rife, and environmental standards are not high – all exacerbated by people looking for the cheapest deal.
[For ideas on costs on organized Choquequirao treks, click here]
Colca Canyon / Arequipa
Colca Canyon in the south of Peru has a depth of over 1,988 feet (3,200 meters). Located 99 miles (160 km) northwest of the city of Arequipa, it is Peru’s third most visited attraction. The hiking trail near the town of Chivay can be reached by bus from Arequipa Peru, this can be done as part of a tour, or you can arrange public transport from the bus terminal. I would suggest starting your journey at either 3.00 am or 5.00 am like the next buses will arrive late in the evening and hiking the trail in the dark will be dangerous.
The descent took around six hours, longer than expected due to slow members of the group. The trek begins at an elevation of 10,826 feet (3,300 meters), and we descend into the canyon to about 6,889 feet (2,100 meters). There are some incredibly steep areas along the trek, so be sure to watch your footing.
Most buses will stop at Cruz del Condor to give visitors a chance to spot the fantastic Andean condor. As we did the trek as part of a tour, the route was restricted. We hiked from Cabanaconde to San Galle at the bottom of the Canyon. This place is where we stayed for the night.
During the decent, we walked at our own pace and only formed as a group once we were all together at the bottom. Our guide pointed out flora, fauna, and birds all along the trail once the group was together, we ate lunch at a rest stop during the decent. The descent took around six hours, longer than expected due to slow members of the group. Once in San Galle, we had dinner at our hostel and then went to bed before our early morning hike.
Beginning at 4.00 am, the ascent took about six hours. As the sun didn’t rise until 6.00 am, we had to use flashlights for the beginning of the trek. We then rested, waited for the group to form, had breakfast, and boarded our bus back to Arequipa. For this, you will ascend back to 10,826 feet (3,300 meters).
I would recommend doing a self-guided trek. Our trek felt rushed, and a guide and arrangements are unnecessary as they can easily be down solo. The total cost was in the region of 200 soles (US$60) including permit and extra food, etc. Self-guided should be far less.
From Eoin at Dolly’s Quest
[For costs on organized Colca Canyon treks, click here]
Cotahuasi Canyon Trek / Arequipa
Different trek options are available in the Canyon, including a moderate 4 to 6- day trek that will take you up to the Cascada de Sipia waterfall, over hanging bridges, and a maximum elevation of 8,858 feet (2,700 meters). Waterfalls, ruins both Inca and pre-Inca, and potentially condor sightings make this trek a popular alternative to the Colca Canyon trek.
Gran Vilaya Trek / Cordillera Central
A 4-day moderate trek in the mountainous jungles of the Chachapoyas through cloud forests and up to the Fortress of Kuélap at a maximum elevation of 9,842 feet (3,000 meters). No permit required but fees must be paid to enter the ruins.
Huayhuash Circuit / Cordillera Huayhuash
Considered one of the most challenging treks in Peru, the strenuous 7 to 14-day Huayhuash trek passes by remote glaciers, 19,685 feet (6,000-m) peaks, and lakes, and has a maximum elevation of around 17,717 feet (5,400 meters) over 110 km. Camp by snowy mountains high in the Andes by snow peaks, with seldom anyone around.
[Click here to find costs on organized Huayhuash treks]
Huaytapallana Trek / Junín Plateau
Inca Trail / Cusco
The Inca Trail is a 42km four-day trek in Peru that starts near Cusco and culminates in the ancient city of Machu Picchu. The trail contains many Inca ruin sites as well as breathtaking natural scenery; passing through snow-capped Andes Mountains, lush jungle, and mystical cloud forests. The incline of the trek goes from 7,880 feet (2,400 meters) to 13,780 feet (4,200 meters), so it is possible to experience altitude sickness. To avoid this take altitude sickness tablets, acclimatize in Cusco before starting the trek, and eat coco leaves to help with the symptoms. Preparing for the Inca trail by walking regularly and building up stamina will make it a more enjoyable experience.
The best months of the year to hike the Inca Trail are late March, April, May, and September, October, November. During these months, the Inca Trail tends to have fewer crowds and relatively good weather conditions. December and January are the most popular times to hike the trail, and in February the trail is closed for maintenance.
The Inca trail is among the most popular treks in the world, and the government only allows a certain amount of Inca Trail permits per day, so you need to book in advance. It is not possible to hike the Inca Trail without a guide. I booked my tour five months in advance with Peru Treks. On the trek, you sleep in provided tents on campsites throughout the trail.
The cost to hike the Inca Trail varies depending on the tour operator. With Peru Treks, the Inca Trail cost USD 650, which included pickup from Cusco to the start of the trail, trek permits, two guides, porter services, food, camping equipment, entry to Machu Picchu, and a train ticket back to Cusco.
While hiking the Inca Trail does require some preparation in advance, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Read more about preparing for hiking the Inca trail here.
[Click here for prices on Inca Trail tours]
Kuelap & Vira Vira Treks / Chachapoyas
The Chachapoyas region is not as famous as the Huaraz and Cusco, but those looking to mix cloud forest scenery with ruins exploration will be in for a treat. Different treks from 7 to 10 days take you to the famous ruins of Kuelap, or the 200-structure complex of Vira Vira, or the 770-m Catarata de Gocta waterfalls. Treks are moderate, and the maximum elevation is at 9,850 feet (3,000 meters).
Lares Trail / Cusco
The Lares Trek is one of the main alternatives to the Inca Trail in Peru. It’s not nearly as popular, and that’s what makes it so unique. As you walk through the stunning landscapes and stop at small local communities, you will see hardly any other tourists along the way.
The standard trail for the Lares Trek, Peru is about 20-miles (33-km) long, and it’s generally done over three days. A fourth day is then needed to visit Machu Picchu itself. This Peru trek goes higher than the standard Inca Trail hike, with a top altitude of 15,750 feet (4,800 meters) but, other than that, the trek has medium difficulty.
You don’t need a permit to do the Lares Trek, as you do for the Inca Trail tours, but it’s still recommended to have a guide. Local and international tour operators offer Lares Trek packages, and they are the best way to do it because they will also factor in the transport to and from Cusco. It also helps because camping is the only option.
By Michael from Time Travel Turtle
[For organized Lares trek tours, click here]
Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys / Cordillera Blanca
An alternative to the Santa Cruz trek, the 3 to 4-day Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys trek is challenging, going over 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) elevation. The steep trail prevents pack animals from going so you need to pack your bag all the way. No permit required but fees need to be paid to enter the Huascarán National Park.
Salkantay Trail / Cusco
One of the options for trips to Machu Picchu is taking the Salkantay Trek, among other trails going to the famous site. The trek is a five-day journey with the last day including a visit from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. To participate in the trek, you need a team of guides and sherpas, to carry equipment. You will need to book a tour. To book the trek, it is recommended that you speak with your hotel/hostel. When you book online, the cost is roughly $600. If you book with a hostel, you can sometimes get a better deal. It seems counterintuitive to wait to the last minute, but you will get a much better deal.
The trek is divided up into four days. Day one includes a pickup from your hostel at 4:30 am, a two-hour drive to Challacancha (11,808 feet / 3,600 meters), and a four-hour hike to your campsite, Soraypampa which is an altitude of 12,464 feet (3,800 meters). Be prepared to spend the night in tents and sleeping bags.
The next day is the hardest. The first half of the day is spent climbing up to the highest point of the trek at an altitude of 15,088 feet (4,600 meters). After a short break, you spend the rest of the day descending the mountain before stopping at Chaullay, an altitude of 9,512 feet (2,900 meters). The next day the group hikes to Sahuayaco, an elevation of 7,459 feet (2,300 meters). The last day the group goes up to Aguas Calientes.
Overall, the trek will be exhausting but incredibly fulfilling. You will be tired, frustrated at a time and or even want to give up, but it is worth it to push through. You don’t have to train a lot for the trek, although it might be more enjoyable if you do. It is recommended to go any time between June- September. This way, you avoid the rainy seasons and get some sun during the day.
[Click here for costs on organized Salkantay treks]
Santa Cruz Trek / Cordillera Blanca
The Santa Cruz Trek is a famous one-way trek through the heart of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range. The average hiker will want to take 3-4 nights to complete this scenic 27-mile (43-km) route that climbs over passes reaching up to 15,616 feet (4,760 meters) at Punta Union Pass. If you have more time, there are also several side treks you can add, including a hike below the famous Alpaymato peak.
You don’t need a guide if you’ve got the gear and money, but there are plenty of organized treks which can be found from Huaraz, including those using donkeys to carry your gear. The park entrance costs about US$20, which is valid for up to 21 days, and if you don’t go with a guide, you will need to pay for transport to and from the trailhead, which cost about US$10 per person in total for the various trips. I’ve hiked in many different places, and the Santa Cruz Trek stands out as one of the premier treks in South America, one that you should not miss if you travel to Peru.
[Find out the latest prices on organized Santa Cruz treks]
Vilcabamba Trek / Cusco
A difficult 5-day trek is even considered dangerous given the extremely remote location. Better reserved for the most experienced, the trail goes through thick jungle and hidden ruins, reaching the Inca site of Espiritu Pampa which is sometimes called “the lost city of the Incas,” the last refuge at the time of the Spanish conquest.
Hiking in Peru: Travel Guide
Find below some Peru travel tips:
- Best time to trek in Peru: During the dry season from May to October is the best time for trekking in Peru, but there might be slight variations depending on each trail and year.
- Altitude sickness is a significant concern given the high altitudes of most treks. Plan extra days for acclimatization, and learn, to recognize the symptoms of about acute mountain sickness (AMS), especially High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which can be both life-threatening. Some trekkers take Diamox tablets to help but make sure to talk to your doctor before to ensure this is safe for you.
- Plan ahead of time if you want to trek some of the most popular trails as trekking permits might be required like for the Inca Trail which are booked months in advance.
- Insurance: Not only it is recommended to have travel insurance, should you fall sick during your vacations, but you want to make sure that your insurance covers trekking as a sport, and covers for high altitude. We came across several travel insurances that either don’t cover trekking at all (walking in the streets was fine but putting a foot on any non-urban environment was potentially considered “trekking”), and if they do, they need to cover to 19,700 feet (6,000 meters), or whichever altitude you plan on reaching.
- Pack in layers: Any experienced trekker will know it, layers are essential when in the outdoors. This rule is even more so important when trekking in Peru when temperatures can change quickly. Stay dry and warm can make a difference and keep you away from dangerous situations.
- Trekking Gear: In the three most crucial trekking gear for Peru, we would list
- a waterproof, windproof jacket to keep you safe from extreme weather. Click here to read our Best Lightweight Waterproof Jackets guide.
- a pair of good waterproof shoes to keep your feet dry as much as possible, and give you sound footing while hiking
- and given the steep inclines, a pair of trekking poles is also a must to protect your knees
- Check out our trekking gear list for ideas if you want to refresh your equipment.
- Independent Trekking or Organized Trek: Some treks require you to go with a guide and a tour. Others can be done independently. For these treks, make sure you are in top shape, adequately equipped, have a good understanding of the trail and conditions, and are experienced trekkers. Many of the trails are in remote locations, and emergency services would have a hard time to reach out in case of problems.
- Recommended tour operators and trekking agencies: Not all agencies are equal in their knowledge of the trails, the quality of their guides and services, the costs they charge, and how they treat their staff.
We hope you found some exciting South America treks on this list. And remember, if you have any other South America hiking trips to suggest, we would love to hear from you.
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