Few travel excursions will top as many bucket lists as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and for good reason. Combining sub-tropical jungle, lush cloud forests and staggering alpine scenery, the 44-kilometre trek is ranked among the finest in the world.
But there are certain drawbacks. With an increasing number of travellers looking for their piece of the action – 2012 saw 62,789 pass the main gate of the trail. This is one adventure thats fast becoming the most popular trek in the world.
In a bid to minimise environmental impact, the Peruvian Government now issues just 500 permits a day (with up to 300 of those going to cooks, porters and guides), meaning those looking to travel in peak season, May to September will often need to apply for permits months in advance.But to avoid crowds and red tape, a great option is to look at some of the lesser-known alternative treks. The exhilarating, high altitude Salkantay Trek is steadily growing a reputation.
Encompassing five different ecosystems over the same number of days, the ancient path offers a mind-blowing mix of snow-capped glacial mountains, lush tropical rainforests and vast Lord of the Rings-style plains across Mt Salkantay rising 6,271 metres above sea level.
And while the Salkantay may not possess the international brag factor of the Inca Trail, its advantages are many.The Salkantay Trek offers a different experience to the Inca Trail and delivers the best vistas of the Salkantay mountain as well as superb hiking.
Also, you don't need porters. Most travellers on the Salkantay Trek using animals, such as mules or horses. You get really close to the majestic Mt Salkantay, and its possible to stay either in lodges or camp. It's important to note the Salkantay Trek will require a permit from 2015. It doesn't lead directly to Machu Picchu though it does still culminate at the site following a brief transfer from nearby Aguas Calientes on the final morning.
The Salkantay Trek is also a more strenuous alternative to the Inca Trail, the altitude is higher in several places and there is some steep, rugged terrain to tackle. That said, a little bit of prior fitness training goes a long way and people of all ages, in good physical condition, with some hiking experience will do fine on this trek.
If you have the time and energy many people trek both trails as they a really both unique unto themselves.