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Inca Trail Alternative treks

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Inca Trail Alternative treks

Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views. 


The 4 Day Inca Trail Trek is one of the most popular and well know, but unfortunately it sells out very quickly and bookings must be made well in advance.


What is an Alternative Trek?

An Inca Trail alternative route is an alternative option of a trek instead of the 4 Day Inca Trail, also in the Andes Mountains and Cusco region. The most popular alternative treks are: 3 Day Inca Trail, 2 Day Inca Trail Tour, and the 2 Day Inca Trail with Camping. There are some great Inca Trail alternative treks that still lead to Machu Picchu. These are gaining in more popularity as they are more well known. These are not restricted by the government so they are available any time of the year.


When hike to Machu Picchu?

For the best of both worlds, the months at the beginning and end of the dry season are ideal. If you travel in June, we recommend you to book the Inti Raymi 2020 Tour that takes place in June 24th, and also hike the Palcoyo Mountain Tour, which is an incredible Rainbow Mountain located in the Andes. 


Top 5 best Inca Trail Alternative Treks

Here are a number of brilliant Inca trail alternative treks to Machu Picchu each offers something truly unique


1. The Salkantay Route

The Salkantay Trek covers the southern part of the Vilcabamba mountain range, showing beautiful landscapes that vary from the pampas to the jungle. From those chilly heights, the trail descends into subtropical cloud forest, where it meets up with an ancient Inca highway (part of the original Capac Ñan network that connected the far ends of the empire) that leads to the recently rediscovered ruins of Llactapata. A downhill walk ends at the small train station, where a frequent shuttle runs along the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu complex.

Far from the agglomeration of tourists and the bureaucratic difficulties of the best-known circuits, Salkantay offers privacy and authenticity to travelers who dare to go on this trek.

With a duration of 5 days, this tour visits several Altiplano localities, as well as lagoons, hot springs and the famous Salkantay mountain.


Advantages of the Salkantay Trek: The Salkantay Trek includes the Llactapata Inca ruin (not to be confused with Patallacta!) which is not visited on other alternative treks and part of the final day trekking on day 4 travels along the original Inca Trail route to Vilcabamba, part of the Chapaq Nan Andean Road System.


Disadvantages of the Salkantay Trek: The standard Salkantay Trek is a total of 5 days (including the visit to Machu Picchu) so is longer than most other alternative trek options which means it is usually a more expensive option, and it is also a more difficult trek at higher altitude (up to around 4600 metres) which is something to bear in mind.


2. The Lares Route

A route through the impressive landscape and a great diversity of cultures, which is located in the beautiful Lares valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks and a wide variety of hot springs. You will visit the Sacred Valley highlands with distant settlements where life remains as it was centuries ago and the local inhabitants preserve the Inca coasts of their predecessors: authentic and traditional clothing, agriculture with llamas and alpacas helping to cultivate the best of corn and potatoes around the world. The Lares Trek ends near the historic ruins of Ollantaytambo, and from there the train trip to Machu Picchu is only 90 minutes.


Advantages of the Lares Trek: The trek is quieter than the Inca Trail so is a good option for anyone looking to avoid the crowds. As the trek is 4 days (the same length as the official Inca Trail) it serves as a good alternative to that trek and permits are also not required for the Lares Trek so you can reserve a spot with relatively short notice. While the Inca Trail passes through barren valleys the Lares Trek travels through valleys that are home to traditional farming and Andean villages and tiny communities, so is a great option to meet local people and see a traditional Andean way of life.


Disadvantages of the Lares Trek: This Inca Trail alternative route is frequently mis-advertised as a trek to Machu Picchu which is not strictly true as the trek ends at the Inca town of Ollantaytambo at the end of the Sacred Valley with onward travel to Machu Picchu by train. Compared to the Inca Trail the Lares Trek can be a slightly more expensive option as it requires an additional train ticket (from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu) and the cost of a hotel on the evening of day 3. Unlike the Salkantay and Choquequirao Treks the Lares Trek does not include any additional Inca sites other than Machu Picchu.


3. The Choquequirao Route

The Choquequirao Trek is a spectacular hike that connects the most challenging Inca trail alternative treks in Cusco region. Choquequirao ruins or at the same time called 'Golden cradle', is also considered one of the last strongholds and refuge of the Incas and was used presumably, as a checkpoint since it served as a link between the Amazon rainforest and the imperial city of Cusco . It is estimated that 30% of the city has been exposed and is called the 'Sacred Sister' of Machu Picchu, for its similarity in structure and architecture. We will camp under the stars, we will walk from the snowy peaks through the tropical river of the Apurímac river valley and we will go up to the high jungle. This challenging and unconventional adventure will take us through small Andean towns, along Inca roads and landscapes will always change.


Advantages of the Choquequirao Trek: The ruin of Choquequirao is one of the more special Inca ruins in the Cusco region so the main advantage of the Choquequirao Trek is a visit to this special and little-visited ruin. From a trekking perspective the Choquequirao Trek is a perfect choice for anyone wanting to get away from the crowds of Machu Picchu and experience something off the beaten track and a little bit more isolated through similar landscape.


Disadvantages of the Choquequirao Trek: Unlike most of the other alternative treks to Machu Picchu listed here the 4 day Choquequirao Trek doesn't go to Machu Picchu. This isn't necessarily an issue, as visiting Machu Picchu is still possible the usual way by train from Cusco or the Sacred Valley, but this means the Choquequirao Trek can be a more expensive option comparatively as it requires the cost of the trek plus the cost of a visit to Machu Picchu, whereas the alternative treks to Machu Picchu include Machu Picchu within the price of the trek itself.


4. The Ausangate Route

Ausangate is one of the places of beautiful landscapes of the mountain chain of the Peruvian Andes, Ausangate is imposed as one of the highest mountains of Cusco, the Ausangate Glacier (6384 m.), Has the presence of the white spirits of the snow of the Andean men of the Cordillera de Vilcanota. During the Ausangate Trek , you will appreciate the presence of the diversity of ecosystems, with its varieties of flora and fauna species of the Peruvian Andes. The Rainbow Mountain is also seen in this trekking adventure! Ausangate circles snowy Ausangate, which is about 60 miles east of Machu Picchu. It is one of the most beautiful and sacred treks in the Cusco region, but sees significantly less traffic. The 5 day trek is most famous for the Qoyllur Riti pilgrimage, which takes place every year in June to honor the harvest season and Inca heritage. 


Advantages of the Ausangate Trek: Traditional Andean lodge accommodation is available on this trek (rather than camping) so this is a popular trek for anyone looking for a little bit of extra comfort at the high altitude. The landscape on the Ausangate Trek is beautiful and more barren and isolated than that found on some of the other alternative trek options.


Disadvantages of the Ausangate Trek: The trek reaches altitude in excess of 5000 metres so is possibly the most difficult alternative trek to Machu Picchu and certainly a minimum level of fitness and acclimatisation time will be required.


5. The Inca Jungle Route

Inca Jungle to Machu Picchu is one of the best Inca Trail alternative route to Machu Picchu, which will take you on a combined route, including mountain biking, hiking and a few stretches by car, in addition to optional adventures such as; rafting, zip line or zip line, for 4 days until Machu Picchu. The Inca Jungle Trek begins in the city of Cusco and ends at Machu Picchu. During the journey you will cross the Sacred Valley of the Incas, then enter the jungle of Cusco to finally reach the Wonder of the World. 


Advantages of the Inca Jungle Trek: this Inca Trail alternative route is cheaper than the other treks to Machu Picchu. A lot of different landscapes and activities: the first day you will go down hill mountain biking. And optionally you can do a zip-line tour, rafting or visit the beautiful hot springs. The route is varied; from a high pass to the upper jungle.


Disadvantages of the Inca Jungle Trek: this is a budget trip, for this reason many times the groups are larger.


6. Cachicata Trek to Machu Picchu

The incredible masonry of Ollantaytambo is one of the best examples in the Sacred Valley. The Inca Quarry Trail gives us the opportunity to see where the Incas extracted the stones. The trail is somewhat long along the route that the stones would have transported. Interestingly, some of the rocks that never reached Ollantaytambo can still be found around the quarry, these are like "tired stones" and there are almost 100 of them around the main quarry site.


Advantages of the Cachicata Trek: The Cachicata hike is relatively easy compared to some of the others, making it a great option for less experienced hikers. Another great thing about the walk is that almost nobody does it so, if you're looking to get away from the crowds, then this is the walk for you.


Disadvantages of the Cachicata Trek: This hike is not very popular, therefore, if you travel alone it will be difficult to find a group and you must hire a private tour, which is more expensive than the shared service. 

Inca Trail vs Alternatives Treks

Here we explain you the main differences between Inca Trail vs Alternatives, so you can decide the trek you prefer. Whichever route you choose, you will spend the last day of your Machu Picchu Vacation in the citadel, exploring and admiring the Lost City of the Incas- the perfect culmination of a rewarding hike.


  Inca Trail Trek Salkantay Trek Lares Trek

Choquequirao Trek

The Ausangate Trek

Inca Jungle Trail
Scenery Mountains, cloud forest and Incan ruins Mountains, abundant wildlife Snow-capped alpine scenery and remote villages Dramatic landscapes, stunning vistas, Incan ruins and trails crowning the mountains Deserted Peruvian paths along the coloured hills and around the skirt of the highest snow-capped peak in Cusco Vegetatively lush as you are in fact in the Jungle region of Cusco
Distance 26 miles over 4 days 46 miles over 5 days 21 miles over 4 days 76 miles over 9 days 42 miles over 7 days 67 miles over 4 days
Difficulty Moderate Strenuous Moderate Challenging Very strenuous Moderate
Highest Altitude 13,828 feet 15,000 feet 15,682ft 18,278 ft 19,685 ft 14,108 ft
Availability Tourist permits capped at 200 per day, must book far in advance. More customizable than Salkantay. No permit restrictions, average of 50 hikers per day. More last-minute booking flexibility for group tours than Inca Trail. This hike does not require permits so there is always availability, however, it is best to reserve your hike in advance to secure the Machu Picchu Tickets entrance and the best train tickets. The Choquequirao Trek departs daily, although the dry season (April through October) is definitely a better time of the year to travel. Daily departures are available along the year although due to weather conditions, the recommended period for this trek is April to Novembe This hike does not require permits so there is always availability. The Inca Jungle trek can be completed all year round, however, heavy rains during January and February often lead to landslides on the trail and road that connect Santa Maria with Santa Teresa
Best For Travelers in good hiking shape who value comfortable camps and don't mind a popular trail, want to walk in the footsteps of the Incas, and prioritize seeing ancient ruins Experienced, fit hikers who want to get off the beaten path and value solitude, mountain scenery, opportunities to view wildlife, and a wider range of overnight options. The Lares trek is the perfect trail for anyone looking to experience authentic Andean culture. Those who enjoy hiking and are in good physical shape. Those in good physical condition, and previous trekking experience. This trek is certainly not ideal for beginners. The Inca Jungle Trail is for adventure-seekers. The perfect alternative trail to Machu Picchu for the young and adventurous, or for anyone with limited time.
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