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Inca Trail vs Alternative Treks: Ultimate Guide About the Best Trails to Machu Picchu

Home / Travel Blog / Inca Trail vs Alternative Treks: Ultimate Guide About the Best Trails to Machu Picchu
Inca Trail vs Alternative Treks: Ultimate Guide About the Best Trails to Machu Picchu

Why choose an alternative hike to the Inca Trail? Is it worth doing the alternative trails? For many travelers to Cusco, it is the highlight of their trip, to hike in the footsteps of the Incas by the Inca Trail to the famous inca city, "Machu Picchu". However, you have to book your hike months in advance. There are only 500 spots available every day. These spots available are divided trekkers, guides, trekking chefs, and super porters. The permit system helps keep the trail clean and allows everyone to have a true Inca Trail experience. However, it can be very disappointing when the permits are granted for the dates you want to travel. That either means you have to try your luck for other dates or have to postpone your plans for next year. Wait a moment!! Real and authentic. The Inca Trail system, Qhapaq Ñan, has a total length of 40,000 km. Isn't there something more real and authentic than a hike that attracts thousands upon thousands of people every year? Of course, there is. In fact, there are some Inca Trail alternatives in Peru that are way, way better than the Classic Inca Trail and the Royal Inca Trail.

 

Inca Trail

The Inca Trail tours are one of the top treks in the world! These treks offer four versions of hikes to Machu Picchu. The 4-day Inca Trail, 5-day Inca Trail, and Salkantay to Inca Trail are the most popular hike among all trekkers, these trails are through the Andes including amazing views of snowy peaks, hardly accessible, but impressive Inca ruins, and the overwhelming Inca city of Machu Picchu! The short version is the 2-day Inca Trail, this trail starts from Km 104 to Machu Picchu. During the hike, you will appreciate the flora and fauna of the zone and also the Inca ruins of the Challacancha, Wiñaywayna, and Intipata. The short Inca trail trek is not very popular. But the experience is unforgettable.

 

Since 2002, the Peruvian government has enforced a strict system of permits for the famous Inca Trail. The classic route to Machu Picchu was overrun and needed some structure., the government has limited the number of hikers to 500 per day. This includes the entire supply team: the mountain guide, trekking cook and super porters. For every ten trekkers, there are another 15 helpers. The hiker himself carries a daypack with the most important equipment. In addition to sun protection, this also includes warm clothing. Although the highland sunburns during the day, it can get bitterly cold at night.

 

Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

For those who prefer less traffic and stress trying to book the Inca Trail, there are some perfect alternatives. These so called Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu offers challenging hikes, less crowd, beautiful sceneries, contact to local Andean inhabitants and some Incan archaeological sites.

 

Salkantay Mountain

The very best of those Alternative Treks are the Salkantay Trek 5 daysits shorter Salkantay Trek 4 days, you will appreciate the Salkantay Mountain, flora and Jauna or the new version route to Salkantay Trek Expedition 5 days, this trek involve a short Inca Trail, Salkantay Mountain and beatifull landscapes.

 

The Salkantay Trek follows a portion of the Inca Trail that approaches Machu Picchu via a different route. The trek is known for the Salkantay Pass which is 4600m high and has to be traversed. It's not the only highlight on this tour: Llactapata, Llactapata in Quechua, is a complex of Inca ruins. It is great preparation for the final destination of this trek: Machu Picchu. It is believed that Llaqtapata was also an important resting place on the way to Machu Picchu in Inca times. A bonus for the Salkantay Trek is that, unlike the classic Inca Trail, you are not required any permits, but it is very important to book in advance, this trek requires the Machu Picchu ticket circuit 1 or 2. and usually these tickets are booked quickly and maybe you could not find more available for your trip. If you want to add more experience, we recommend the Huayna Picchu mountain.

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

 

Lares Trek

The Lares Trek feels like you have the Peruvian Andes to yourself. Walking the pristine trails of the Lares you can really feel that not everyone has experienced this gem of a hike. You are high up in the Andes mountains where at night you can dream of the endless galaxy and count the stars. When hiking the Lares Trek, you are likely to meet the locals. As you are off the beaten track, you will travel through small indigenous villages that are very welcoming to adventurers. At the end of it all, you will also get to know Machu Picchu. Isn't that exactly what you wanted?

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

More information about the Lares Trek

  • How difficult is the Lares Trek? The trek is classified as moderate. Much easier than Choquequirao. Most people have problems with the height.
  • Cusco is at 3249 m, the highest point of the Lares Trek is at 4550 m. You should be well acclimatized, drink a lot and get a good rest.
  • Bookable at Mountain Lodges of Peru – luxury version of the Lares Trek (also bookable at Salkantay Trek)
  • The trek lasts 5 days with arrival and departure from Cusco, also bookable as a 7-day variant
  • You can decide day by day after briefings which hike or community activity you want to do (different levels of difficulty)
  • For everyone who doesn't feel like camping, but would like to go hiking for several days.

Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek

One of the most epic ways to get to Machu Picchu is to follow the little-known Inca trails and visit their "sister city" Choquequirao on the way to Machu Picchu.

 

This is truly an epic 9-day trek that has everything you need to know about the Inca culture, Inca Trail and Inca cites. In case you've never heard of Choquequirao, the Spanish conquerors never discovered Choquequirao; Today the Inca city, which, like Machu Picchu, still poses many mysteries for researchers, is a real insider tip and the ideal opportunity to take in the originality and magic of the Peruvian Andes off the beaten track.

 

Perched high above the Apurimac River, a visit to the Choquequirao ruins is a challenging two-day trek that still sees very few visitors. However, no luxury trains or tourist buses go to this site, which is very similar to its big brother in terms of architecture and structure - the only way to get there is via historical Inca paths past overwhelming landscapes, raging rivers, and magnificent vegetation.

 

Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek

 

So now do something you'll never regret that falls into the "different" category. Hike first to Choquequirao and then on, past obscure Inca ruins, over the beautiful Victoria Pass (where the Incas once mined silver) and then on to Machu Picchu.

 

To top off this challenging from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek, we visited Llactapacta (which had been missing for almost 100 years) and looked directly at Machu Picchu.

Llactapata Inca Trail tours

 

Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu Trek

The trekking route through the Cordillera Vilcabamba north of Cusco Peru reveals a bit more of the irrepressible Peru. Starting from the ruins of Vitcos, the Vilcabamba Trek leads over several Andean passes to the legendary inca city of Machu Picchu. On original, partly overgrown Inca paths, the trail touches the banks of ice-cold mountain streams and meanders along the foothills of huge glacier tongues.

Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu

Only in the depths of the Vilcabamba Gorge itself does the true diversity of the subtropical animal, plant and jungle world open up to the hiker. The magic of these unique mountain ranges is characterized by contrasts that are second to none. The trail is breathtakingly beautiful in a completely intact and balanced ecosystem.

 

The difference between the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks:

Many customers have asked us about the differences between the Inca Trail and the Inca Trail Alternatives to Machu Picchu. Well, choosing the right trek might be difficult so we have stated below a list of various factors that might help you deciding

 

CLASSIC INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU

  • One of the most famous treks worldwide
  • Following an authentic path of the Incas
  • Taking you to Machu Picchu
  • Arrival to Machu Picchu through Inti Punku (Sun Gate) offering impressive views of the Lost City of the Incas
  • Breathtaking views from snowy mountains to luxuriant cloud forest
  • Everyday´s visits of inaccesible Inca sites
  • 500 permited persons to do the Inca Trail a day (including trekking staff)
  • A necessity of booking approx. 4-6 months beforehand when you like to hike during high season and 2-3 months in advance if you like to trek it in low season
  • When booked, you CANNOT change your starting date!! If someone cancels, his/her permit CANNOT be used! There is no "waiting list"!
  • Good facilities and toilets at campsites
  • Campsites are very crowded and do not provide you a feeling of wilderness or adventure camping
  • If you like to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, you need to buy another Machu Picchu entrance ticket including one of these mountains. The cost is about US$ 65!

ALTERNATIVE TREKS

  • On some of the hikes you might be the only person/group departing that day
  • A unique opportunity of cultural interaction meeting remote Andes inhabitants
  • Adventure feeling discovering new trails; however, the trails are original Incan
  • Real wild camping with quality camping gear
  • A feeling of real independence and seclusion
  • Some campsites have either basic toilets or only toilet tents at disposal
  • There are not so many Inca ruins along the Alternative Treks as can be found on the Inca Trail
  • An average number of trekkers per day is 60 persons
  • The last night of each of these treks is spent in Aguas Calientes (a small town just below Machu Picchu)
  • Majority of the alternative trails cost less the classic tour
  • If you like to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, you just upgrade your ticket to include one of these mountains. The cost is between US$ 8 and 10! However, no change is allowed once you have purchased your entrance ticket!
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