Trains remain the most popular means of transport for reaching the ancient complex of Machu Picchu – which is no surprise, since the journeys are comfortable and pass through scenic landscapes. However, if you want to spice up your travels and experience the wild beauty of the Peruvian Andes with your own two legs, it might be better to set off to Machu Picchu via one the adventurous trails whose superb nature and mysterious ancient treasures will enchant even the most experienced trekkers.
Lace up your hiking boots and let’s get going!
The Inca Trail
There is no better way to fully absorb the greatness of Machu Picchu than by following the footsteps of the people who built it. The Inca Trail follows the ancient roads Incas themselves used to take to climb to the citadel, which is why it remains a favorite among visitors going to Machu Picchu on foot. This route will allow you to admire and explore many ruins and breathtaking natural sights before reaching the Sun Gate that will welcome you to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is moderately demanding and takes between four to five days to complete. One thing to keep in mind is that the number of hikers allowed per day is limited to 500, so you should book your permit well in advance (this might even take months if you’re planning to visit the complex during high season).
The Short Inca Trail
If you’re out of luck and all the tickets for classic Inca Trail are already sold out, or perhaps if it sounds too physically demanding, you can instead try out the Short Inca Trail, which is about 16 km long and takes two days to complete. If you are concerned about missing out on sights along the way due to the shorter itinerary, worry not: on the road to Machu Picchu, you will still be able to see several ancient ruins and explore otherworldly landscapes that include awe-inspiring mountains and a lush cloud forest. This trek is ideal for travelers short on time, novice hikers or visitors traveling with children.
The Salkantay Trek
Due to similarities in terms of difficulty level and length, the Salkantay Trek is the most popular alternative to the sacred Inca trail. It normally involves hiking and camping that lasts four to five days, while the final night of the journey is usually spent in Aguas Calientes. Even though this trail is not as rich in historic sights as the Inca one, during the Salkantay hike you will be able to witness some of the most amazing wonders of nature, from snow-capped peaks to icy glaciers to luscious rain forests.
The Choquequirao Trek
Not designed for unexperienced hikers, the 8-day Choquequirao trek is the ideal choice for visitors who are interested in a genuine off-the-beaten-path experience. The Choquequirao trail is said to be one of the most physically demanding ones in Peru, which is why you should carefully consider your own physical capabilities before deciding to pursue it. The hike sets off from the town of Cachora and begins with a steep zigzagged hike along the Apurimac canyon. This path leads to Choquequirao, an old Incan settlement. This archeological site is impressive in its own right – however, it remains relatively unvisited in comparison with Machu Picchu due to lack of transport routes. The hike continues through unspoiled nature and little villages of the stunning Vilcanota mountain range. The last day of the hike is dedicated to exploring Machu Picchu.