The Inca Trail is an iconic trek through a spectacular landscape ending at one of the most beautiful historical sights in the world; in short it’s popular for a reason.

This acclaim has lead to the Peruvian government taking extra measures to protect the ancient route and there is a limit of 500 people a day allowed on the trail (including trekkers, porters and guides) and in February it’s closed all together.

Though this is great for the local environment it can mean that the permits for the trail are like gold dust during busy months and many people are unable to secure them for their visit. The fame of the route and the ensuing crowds have also led to some visitors seeking out alternative routes (we call them Inca hipsters). But which trek one should you choose? Here’s our run-down of the 4 most popular to help you decide:
Inca Trail routes

WHICH MACHU PICCHU TREK SHOULD I DO?

THE CLASSIC INCA TRIAL

What’s the deal?
The original and some would say best route. Starting from kilometre 82 it’s a 4 day, 3 night trek through 26 miles (yep that’s all!) of cloud forest and jungle culminating at Machu Picchu at sunrise on day 4. There is a shorter version starting at kilometer 104 which take 2 days and 1 night if the full trek is a bit too daunting.
Best bits?
The views from Warmi Wañusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4200m are more than a little amazing, as is the feeling of “discovering” Machu Picchu from the sun gate. The food on the trail is also surprisingly good as your super-human porters run ahead (yes, literally run) to set up the tents and start cooking before your sweaty forehead even peeks over the brow of the latest hill.
Any draw backs?
There’s no denying it can feel busy. Even with the cap on daily visits it’s unlikely you’ll get that “in the jungle on a mountain alone in the middle of South America” moment – without Dave from Kansas getting in the way of your selfie.
How tough we talkin’?
In terms of actual distance? Not very. In terms of the high altitude knocking all of the air out of your lungs at 4200m and making you feel as weak as a kitten, quite tough. We’d definitely recommend spending a couple of days in Cuzco before hand to adjust to the height before stepping out – and that goes for all the other trails on this list too.

Machu Picchu

THE SALCANTAY TREK

What’s the deal?
Often listed among the best hikes in the world, the Salcantay trek lasts for 5 days with 4 days actual trekking and the 5th reserved for a Machu Picchu tour. The route winds up through high mountain passes and past the glacier capped peak of Salcantay mountain before descending down through lush countryside and ending in Aguas Calientes. There are some options that join the Inca Trail for the last couple of days of this trek and so end at Machu Picchu itself but these are subject to the same permit issues as the Inca Trail.
Best bits?
The view from the remote (and only recently “re-discovered”) ruins of Llactapata is simply stunning and the second day of trekking which takes you from high grass lands, over the glacial mountain pass and then down through cloud forest is something truly special.

Salcantay

Any draw backs?
Again, in most cases this trek does not finish at Machu Picchu itself. It’s also longer than the first two options at just under 40 miles and just as high as the Lares.
How tough we talkin’?
Though this hike would definitely be described as “difficult”, mules or alpacas are available to carry most of your gear and your guide will help you through the difficult times. Even so this is one for hiking enthusiasts.

CHOQUEQUIRAO TO MACHU PICCHU TREKKING

Choquequirao

What’s the deal?
The least well known of the Machu Picchu treks as well as the longest at around 62 miles…not for the faint hearted! Again there are various routes but the most common includes 8 days of trekking through the mountainous Choquequirao area finishing at Santa Teresa and Aguas Calientes with day 9 at Machu Picchu.
Best bits?
Choquequirao itself is second only to Machu Picchu in its grandeur and remoteness and is actually far more historically significant. The route between Choquequirao and Santa Teresa is pretty much as remote as it gets for a traveller in Peru.
Any draw backs?
You won’t hit some of the most famous ruins on this route and the untouched nature of the surrounds can be a little intimidating if you’re not a confident hiker.
How tough we talkin’?
This is definitely not a walk in the park, but if that’s what you wanted you probably wouldn’t be here.

HONOURABLE MENTION – TAKE THE BUS

Trekking isn’t for everyone. There we said it. For some the prospect of slogging along miles of ancient pathways before coming to the place you’ve already travelled half way around the world to see just isn’t fun. If that’s you then don’t force yourself just because “everyone else” is trekking – you can get the bus up from Aguas Calientes and spend the extra time exploring the ruins in the sacred valley itself.


 

If Peru is calling we can guarantee your permit for the classic Inca Trail if you book with enough notice!

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