With Inca Trail passes filling up three months in advance (sometimes even faster during peak travel months), the last-minute Peru trekker can find themselves wondering what their options are when there's not a trail pass to be found. There are alternatives, and they are excellent.
If you want to stay within the same region as the Classic Inca Trail, consider the Salcantay trek. The reason it's not as popular as the Classic Inca Trail is the Salcantay does not hike directly into Machu Picchu. This is a big deal for some folks—and rightfully so; when you hike those steps up to the sun gate that overlook Machu Picchu after four days of trekking through the Andes, it's truly special. Keep in mind, the Inca built a road system stretching along the coast from Ecuador and into Chile and Argentina—an estimated 15,500 miles of roads. To put it simply, there is lots and lots and lots of "Inca Trail" throughout the region.
Total Distance: 45 miles
Highest Altitude: 15,252 feet
I also highly recommend the Cachiccata trek. This cultural four day/three night trek includes a visit to the Inca temples of Chokekillka and Intiwatana. It also visits local Peruvian communities. It's an easier, shorter option with hiking at lower altitudes. Rather than hike into Machu Picchu, you'll take the train at the end of this trek into the ruins. This is a more secluded and less-traversed trail—I'd be surprised if you ran into another traveler outside of your group.
Total Distance: 12.5 miles
Highest Altitude: 12,500 feet
If Machu Picchu is not a must on your list (or you are one of those lucky travelers who has two to three weeks to travel throughout Peru), there are some great options outside of the Sacred Valley region. The Cordillera Blanca (in the north) and the Ausangate (in the south) circuits offer some of the Andes most celebrated treks by hikers around the world.
One of Peru's most sought after treks is the Cordillera Blanca. Compacted into a fairly small area, this region has more than 50 peaks 18,700 feet or higher, including Huascaran, Peru's premier mountain.
Total Distance: 38 miles
Highest Altitude: 15,620 feet
Ausangate mountain is arguably the most sacred mountain in Peru. The range is in the southern part of Peru and is close enough to Cusco if you are interested in spending time in the colonial city, but the range is very remote and away from the bustle. This Andean trek begins at the river Ocongate and onto the puna (high grasslands) toward Mount Ausangate. The highest point on this 7-day/6-night trek is Palomani Pass, ascending to 16,564 feet.
Total Distance: 47.5 miles
Highest Altitude: 16,564 feet
Brian Morgan is the CEO of Adventure Life Journeys. Adventure Life is committed to providing quality small group tours that have a positive impact on the local culture and environment. Group size is kept to a minimum, welcoming a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Check out their options for trekking the Inca Trail.
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