Destinations

Best Treks in Peru

Find out the best routes in a country famous for its incredible trekking and walking...

With its immense Andean spine cut by glacier-fed waterways, Peru is stacked with the raw materials required for exceptional trekking. Within this jagged, trail-imprinted territory there are two genuine epicentres of trekking: Cuzco and Huaraz.

Besides being a must-visit destination in itself, the Inca capital of Cuzco is a fantastic base camp for a number of routes into the Sacred Valley and beyond. Most Inca Trail trekkers will head out to the trailhead for Machu Picchu by bus, perhaps pausing for breakfast along the way in the pleasant Inca town of Ollantaytambo. The reward for having spent three nights under canvas, tramped the 24 or 26 miles of the Inca Trail and puffed up and over three passes en route – the highest being the 4,200-metre ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ – will be a dawn view of Machu Picchu and the chance to explore the ruins of this sacred site. 

Punctuated with breathtaking views of the Andes, impressively terraced slopes and various Inca buildings, the Inca Trail is without doubt the best way to approach Machu Picchu on foot.

Inca Trail alternatives

This indisputably classic trek doesn’t hold all the aces, though. If you want a more authentic vista of traditional Andean life and would rather take a higher and quieter line through the mountains, then consider two other treks from a Cuzco base. In the space of 20 miles, the three-day, two-night Lares trek will take you deeper into the indigenous world, over two mountain passes of 4,600 metres and along sections of a different Inca Trail. And rather than porters hefting your belongings for you, this time they can be strapped to a train of llamas – all the way to the end of the trek at Ollantaytambo. From here, it’s a train to Aguas Calientes for a revivifying night in a hotel, then an early-bird bus up to Machu Picchu on the morning of day four.

Also ending with a short bus ride from Aguas Calientes, the Salkantay trek typically takes four days and three nights – each of which can be spent in comfortable accommodation rather than under canvas. Again, you’ll be able to see traditional communities up close and enjoy a quieter trek amidst the resplendent experiences of the natural world – all while a horse hauls your baggage for you. Topping out at the 4,600-metre mark, the Salkantay trek – like the Lares trek – does reach higher into the mountains than the Inca Trail, so it’s essential to be properly acclimatised to the altitude before setting off. 

All three of these treks should, however, be well within the capabilities of a moderately fit walker.

More strenuous hikes

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.

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