Top 8 Treks to Machu Picchu
By ~ Eric-Sheets
Hike or Take the Train
If you are not taking the train to Machu Picchu, understand that your only other option is hiking. There are no roads that lead to Machu Picchu; the entry hub to the Seventh Wonder of the world is Ollantaytambo. Whether you are taking the train, the single day hike to Machu Picchu, or a multi-day trek, every person must have a permit to enter Machu Picchu and you will not be granted entry without one; that goes for each trail system too. One cannot simply arrive in Peru and start walking a trail to the ancient citadel; it must be planned prior, and for most, it must be planned up to a year in advance.
Deciding which route to take can be a difficult process to begin- as there are many options to choose from, so planning can become confusing fast. That’s why we at Latin Excursions offer prospective travelers a free consultation with one of our Travel Designers to help alleviate the stress and create the perfect trip for you. Aside from taking the train to Aguas Calientes and doing the different options of day hikes from there, hiking is the only other option to arrive at Machu Picchu. Therefore, we have broken down the eight best options of hiking to the Seventh Wonder of the World for you.
Top 8 Hikes to Machu Picchu
1) Km 82 Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Coming in at number one, this classic four day, three night trekking journey from Km 82 is truly astonishing. Considering this trail was actually the original route for the Inca Royalty to arrive at Machu Picchu, you can expect to discover a variety of ancient ruins from outposts to storage houses, and unfortunately, many tourists and campers. Due to the rising popularity of travelers wanting to mark this off of their bucket list, the trail has become increasingly more difficult to experience in peace year after year. Because of that, the Peruvian government has limited the selling of permits for this particular hike, and they sell out almost more than a year in advance from the departure date and have a strict deadline for when travel companies are able to purchase them.
That being said, this can cause overbookings and chaos with shared excursions. At Latin Excursions, we specialize in private travel for this very reason. We will take you and your group along the Inca Trail unbothered so that you can fully soak in the spirit of the Inca and not be distracted by the outer chaos. Specifically for this Peruvian journey, we highly recommend reaching out to us more than a year in advance with a full head count for your party. By doing so, we are able to book private campsites away from the mass crowds, offer private chefs, portable bathrooms, a masseuse, extra guides, elevated beds and upgraded tents, along with peace-of-mind knowing that we have secured your permits and can remain unbothered by outside travelers joining your journey.
*Plenty of Other Trekking Options Available*
Don’t get me wrong, the Inca Trail is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but if you aren’t able to plan a year in advance, don’t like camping, or would like a more adventurous route, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from!
2) Km 104 Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
A personal favorite, this route is certainly the way-to-go if you are seeking a thrill of an entry to the Seventh Wonder of the World, but still prefer the comfort of sleeping in a bed with a roof over your head, opposed to a tent for the evening. From the beginning of the trail, you will begin an immediate ascent as the view of the Urubamba River flowing to Machu Picchu below becomes smaller and smaller. After about 2 hours of steep hiking, the trail planes out for about 1 hour until reaching the ruins of Wiñay Wayna – a station for Inca soldiers to manage who enters the royal Machu Picchu ruins. From there, you will make one final climb before entering the cloud forest region.
Once in the cloud forest, you will experience a cool breeze and a final descent to Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) for your first glimpse of the magical Machu Picchu. Separate from the main crowds that enter by bus, the Sun Gate allows travelers to truly soak in the remoteness of this ancient kingdom.
Choquequirao is a sublime archaeological site in its own right, tucked away in the Apurimac River Valley of the Willkapamba Mountains some 60 miles from Cusco. Translating to ‘Cradle of God’, this lesser-known Inca ruin dates back to the 15th century though it was only re-discovered around 50 years ago; to this day, much of the site still remains unexcavated. Hiking to Choquequirao rewards trekkers with access to a beautifully secluded, ancient Inca city that few others get to experience (the only way to reach it is by hiking from Cachora). You can either embark on a four-day trek to Choquequirao, or opt for a longer hike that incorporates Machu Picchu as well. This nine-day adventure begins with a drive from Cusco to Cachora, then walking to Chiquisca and onward to Choquequirao the following day. After soaking up this mystical ruin, the remaining five days are spent trekking to Aguas Calientes, finishing up at the one and only Machu Picchu.
4) Salkantay Lodge-to-Lodge Trek
The seven-day Salkantay Trek is a little different to other Machu Picchu hikes as, instead of camping each night, adventurers stopover in boutique mountain lodges along the way, with opportunities for extra activities too. This means that your hard work can be rewarded each evening with a peaceful night’s sleep in comfortable beds, delicious cuisine and even dips in bubbling hot tubs. The trek itself varies each day, starting with an easy/moderate hike to the Salkantay Lodge, a circular route to Lake Humantay on the second day, with the option to enjoy a horseback ride in the afternoon as well. Day three sees you hiking the Salkantay Pass-a challenging trek taking around seven hours, with views of the majestic Salkantay Mountain. Stay at Wayra Lodge before continuing on day four through the cloud forest to Colpa Lodge, then on day five pick from a mix of activity options: visit a coffee plantation, go zip-lining or try a biking adventure, finishing up at Lucma Lodge. You reach Machu Picchu on day seven, where you can soak up the magical citadel on a guided tour before taking the train back to Cusco.
5) Inca Jungle Trek: For Adrenaline Junkies
Love the sound of the Inca Trail but want to inject a big dose of adrenaline into your experience? Then the Inca Jungle Trek is just the ticket! This four-day hike to Machu Picchu incorporates thrilling activities like mountain biking, white-water rafting and zip-lining, all enjoyed en route to the Lost City of the Incas. From Cusco, adrenaline junkies are driven to the Abra Malaga Pass (at an altitude of 4,316 m) where an all down-hill, hair-raising bike ride of 60 km awaits, with the option to go white-water rafting in the afternoon. Having stayed overnight in Santa Maria, the second day involves a 15 km trek through low-lying jungle towards the hot springs of Cocalmayo, and onwards to Santa Teresa. Day three offers the chance to try some zip-lining, soaring up to 150 fm above the ground, before carrying on to Aguas Calientes on foot or by train, depending on your energy levels! Afterwards, your fourth and final day is dedicated to exploring Machu Picchu itself, with plenty more exhilarating activities here to also take advantage of.
6) Vilcabamba Trek
For a more rigorous Peruvian hike, strap on your walking boots and make way for the Vilcabamba Trek. This five-day route to Machu Picchu is certainly not for the fainthearted and does require a good level of fitness. Efforts are compensated by remote trails, isolated viewpoints, and little-known archaeological sites that are rarely visited by those in Peru to walk the Inca Trail. Even day one has its physical challenges- trekkers begin from Ollantaytambo in a varied-albeit relatively short-afternoon of hiking. Early ancient sites come at Rosaspata o Vitcos and Ñusta Hispana, before a lengthy uphill climb of five straight hours on day two, reaching 3,915 m above sea level at the Asuntina Pass, and fantastic valley views as a result. Adventurers hike through quaint villages and rural pastures on the Vilcabamba Trek, as well as witnessing Yanococha Lake and the Tullu Tacanca Pass, a full 4,500 m above sea level. Finally, having conquered four full days of extreme undulations and varied terrain, passing dilapidated ruins and small settlements, ‘journey’s end’ comes on arrival at Aguas Calientes, and a visit to Machu Picchu the following day.
7) Lares Trek
The Lares Trek is one of the more versatile hiking routes to Machu Picchu, still relatively popular though drawing in far fewer visitors than the Classic Inca Trail. There are in fact several different hiking options that each takes alternative directions. All routes are accompanied by their own memorable highlights, striking views, ruins and remote regions. Importantly though, your end point is always the same: finishing up at the Sacred Valley’s Lost City itself. Depending on exactly which Lares route you choose, this wondrous trail will see you trek for up to six hours per day over a three or four-day itinerary. You get the chance to take a dip in thermal springs, stop at the traditional weaving community of Huacahuasi, reach passes such as Ipsaycocha that sit upwards of 4,400 m above sea level, perhaps the scenic sights of Ipsaycocha Lake or elevated views from the Huilquijasa Pass. Along the way, there is a real sense of isolation while savoring the Lares trek, though you do come across more than one traditional settlement which certainly helps keep things interesting, before concluding the adventure at Machu Picchu, of course.
8) Ausangate Trek: The Rainbow Mountains
The Lares Trek is one of the more versatile hiking routes to Machu Picchu, still relatively popular though drawing in far fewer visitors than the Classic Inca Trail. There are in fact different hiking options that each takes alternative directions. All routes are accompanied by their own memorable highlights, striking views, ruins and remote regions. Importantly though, your end point is always the same: finishing up at the Sacred Valley’s Lost City itself. Depending on exactly which Lares route you choose, this wondrous trail will see you trek for up to six hours per day over a three or four-day itinerary. You get the chance to take a dip in thermal springs, stop at the traditional weaving community of Huacahuasi, reach passes such as Ipsaycocha that sit upwards of 4,400 m above sea level, perhaps the scenic sights of Ipsaycocha Lake or elevated views from the Huilquijasa Pass. Along the way, there is a real sense of isolation while savoring the Lares trek, though you do come across more than one traditional settlement which certainly helps keep things interesting, before concluding the adventure at Machu Picchu, of course.
Hopefully now you have a better idea of what to expect when planning a hike to Machu Picchu! The options are far and wide, but there is definitely something for everyone. To begin planning your dream journey, fill out this form and schedule a free consultation with one of our trip designers. We look forward to meeting you there!