Physically tougher but at least as peaceful and also within striking distance of Cuzco is the Choquequirao trek – a four-day, three-night out-and-back hike of 30 miles from the village of Cachora to the semi-excavated, rough-shod ruins of ‘The Cradle of Gold’. The infernally hot descent into and out of the Apurimac valley is worth it in the end – just be sure to hire a donkey to carry your load. Choquequirao doesn’t quite match Machu Picchu for perfectly-fitted masonry, but it does boast a similarly steep-sided location – and it delivers more of a ‘virgin experience’ than its invaded neighbour.
For those already trail-toughened trekkers, there’s the option of stringing Cachora, Choquequirao and Machu Picchu together – via Aguas Calientes – on an epic seven-day route.
A modern-looking city sandwiched between the Cordillera Negra to the west and loftier Cordillera Blanca to the east, Huarez is central Peru’s answer to Cuzco. It’s similarly tourist orientated and perfectly placed as a base for many of the treks weaving into the Cordillera.
One of the most celebrated of these treks takes you high into the compact-yet-dramatic Huayhuash range. Even the shorter treks in this area take you to higher altitude than those around Cuzco – the briefest being a four-day, 20-mile trail and the longest a 12-day, 80-mile beast that compensates for its fearsome 5,000-metre passes with majestic views of ice-clamped peaks and stunning glacial lakes. Those ambitious souls taking on the monstrous version will also journey through the landscape featured in Touching the Void – the very same landscape that nearly cost Joe Simpson his life. This is serious trekking, then, so fitness and acclimatisation and paramount here.
Neither quite as glacier-gouged nor as demanding, the Cordillera Blanca nevertheless offers a multitude of treks and is also home to Peru’s highest mountain – the 6,768-metre Huascaran Sur. Considered by National Geographic Adventure to be one of the world’s best hikes, Santa Cruz is perhaps the pick of this particular bunch. A 31-mile, four-day, high altitude route possessing few technical challenges, the Santa Cruz trek is a veritable alpine highlight reel and is within reach of those with at least moderate hiking fitness.
It is, in both senses, breathtaking.