If Machu Picchu is your goal, and walking your preferred way to get to the world famous Inca citadel, then there are actually several options other than the Inca Trail.
Difficulty levels range from medium to hard but the views of the Andes and cloud forest are always jaw dropping.
If seeing Machu Picchu is the most classic Peru experience, then getting there on foot may not be far behind. Most hikers follow the Inca Trail, yet it is increasingly crowded and requires booking a permit weeks and even months in advance.
The good news is that there are various other spectacular yet less-travelled multi-day routes that you can take to the fabled Inca Citadel, all of them part of the original pre-Colombian network of roadways crisscrossing much of the Andes. To tackle any of them, you need to be in decent physical shape and ready to hike for several days in a row. Here we outline three.
1. The Salkantay Route offers even more diverse landscapes than the Inca Trail, as it heads over a snowy high pass at around 15,000ft, just below the towering Salkantay mountain, and then descends some 8,000ft into cloud forests where squawking parrots fly overhead and you can sooth your body in natural hot springs. The route now has a series of luxury lodges dotting its length, meaning that you can actually walk it without camping, or missing out on five-star comfort.
2. The Lares Route runs parallel to the Sacred Valley, along the much less visited Lares Valley. Life here remains unspoiled by tourism, with locals still dressing in colorful traditional Andean attire while weaving, cultivating potatoes and rearing llamas and alpacas. The walk will take you below the 18,000ft Mount Veronica, past several icy lakes and eventually to the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo, scene of a rare Inca victory over the marauding Spaniards. From there, Machu Picchu is a short train ride away.
3. The Chaski or Cachicata Trail gives a unique taste of Inca logistics. The original chaski were the runners who carried messages and goods in relay around the Inca Empire. They were fleet-footed enough that members of the Inca elite in the imperical capital of Cusco, some 300 miles and 11,000 vertical feet from the Pacific coast, were able to eat fresh seafood daily. The Chaski Trail retraces routes thought to have been taken by those runners to give you a three-to-five day hike to Ollantaytambo, from where you can board a train to Machu Picchu. As it does so, the trail passes waterfalls, unspoiled ruins and even the quarries used by the Incas’ peerless stonemasons.
To trek to Machu Picchu as part of your unique, individually tailored Peru itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.