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Inca Trail Alternative treks

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Inca Trail Alternative treks

The Classic 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 Inca Trail alternative trek?

An Inca Trail alternative route is an alternative option of a trek instead of the Classic Inca Trail, also in the Andes Mountains and Cusco region. 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.


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 Classic Inca Trail is famed for the diversity of its topography and ecosystems; the Salkantay Route’s smorgasbord is even more impressive. The 20,500-feet-high Mount Salcantay was one of the holiest apus, or sacred peaks, in the Inca religious pantheon. It’s still revered today in traditional Andean religion. This mule-assisted hike cuts through the beautiful Mollepata Valley and traverses past Salkantay at an altitude above 15,000 feet. 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. From there, one can gaze a few miles across the valley to take in a rare sidelong view of the full Machu Picchu complex. 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.


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.


  1. The Lares Route

The Sacred Valley, through which hundreds of thousands of train-riding visitors pass each year on their way from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is justifiably famous for its beauty. It’s also a little crowded. Just beyond the massive snowcapped peaks that mark the Sacred Valley’s northern edge, however, sits the Lares Valley. Here, life continues much as it has for centuries. Locals in traditional Andean dress plant potatoes by hand, raise herds of llamas and alpacas, and weave cloth as they have for generations. Those farmers and artisans may be the only other people you see for days. This trek usually starts at the tiny town of Lares, home to a famous hot spring, and passes through several villages. Along the way it provides close-up views of the 18,000-plus feet of Mount Veronica and several high-altitude lakes. 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.


  1. The Choquequirao Route

The Choquequirao Trek is considered one of the most challenging Inca trail alternative treks in the region. Lasting a total of 9 days and 8 nights, the trail guides travelers through the Rio Blanco Valley into the high altitudes of the once sacred mountain passes. Trekkers will have the opportunity to visit the Choquequirao ruins rarely seen by travelers and experience the diversity in ecosystems for which the region is known. From high altitude tundras and lush river valleys to sub tropical cloud forests, this trek will show you the dramatic contrasts of the Inca Heartland.


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.


  1. The Ausangate Route

If you are looking for true isolation, unique and fantastic landscapes and a tougher "trekkers" trek then the Ausangate Trek is one of the best treks in Peru and might just be the best choice for you.

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.


  1. The Inca Jungle Route

An adventurous and sporty Inca Trail alternative route to Machu Picchu, that has some advantages over the other four day treks. You have a great range of variety: mountain biking, hiking and the option of rafting or a zip-line tour. And this trek is cheaper than the other treks. The Inca Jungle Trek is for adventure-seekers.

From here trekkers make their 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.


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. 



Inca Trail vs Alternatives

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 your final day in Machu Picchu 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 entrances 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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