Probably the most famous trek in South America, Inca Trail permits sell out faster and faster every year. In order to ensure a spot on this most famous trek in Peru, you better think about booking 6 to 8 months in advance. Not a plan-ahead kind of person? Never fear! There are a lot of alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
The mountains around Cusco, Peru offer an unending supply of trekking adventures and amazing Inca trail alternatives that are sure to satisfy everyone – from the expert mountaineer to the weekend hiker, the history buff to the nature lover. The Peruvian Andes have something for everyone! At Apus Peru, we specialize in offering unique, alternative Machu Picchu treks. Here are some of our favourites!
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What Does “Alternative Inca Trail” Mean?
Alternative Inca Trail treks get their name because they were originally developed as an alternative to the Classic Inca Trail. But they’re all among the best treks in Peru!
Before 2004, the Inca Trail was open to anyone who wanted to hike it. Since then, government regulations have become increasingly strict, limiting the number of people who get to hike its length on any given day. When the rules were new, some people found themselves unexpectedly unable to hike the Inca Trail and in need of an alternative.
However, “alternative” doesn’t mean “second best”! After decades of roaming these beautiful mountains, we know that every route features breathtaking vistas, captivating cultural sites, pristine natural environments and an unforgettable immersive Andean experience! That doesn’t mean we don’t love the Inca Trail, too – it’s called “classic” for a reason.
The Inca Trail vs Alternatives: Should you do an Alternative Hike to Machu Picchu?
If you’re considering alternatives to the Inca Trail, generally, what you lose in popularity you gain in unique experiences. Here are a few of the pros and cons of choosing the Inca Trail vs Alternatives:
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#1 Best Inca Trail Alternatives: The 4-day Choquequirao Trek
For the Adventurous History Buff…
Fancy yourself something of an Indian Jones? Then you’ll want to get off the beaten track and head to this trail that is challenging, strenuous, stunning and culminates in a relic of Inca history that some say even outshines Machu Picchu.
The classic Choquequirao trek is a tough but spectacular 4-day circuit. This is a great alternative to the Inca Trail, though it does not include Machu Picchu. Instead, the trek focuses on Machu Picchu’s sister city, Choquequirao, a larger yet more mysterious Incan site. Known as the “Cradle of Gold,” the name comes from the Quechua words chuqi (metal) and k’iraw (crib).
From high above the canyon, the trail first plunges you down to the Apurimac River, and then takes you back up again towards the Choquequirao ruins. This is a very physically demanding trek, but is at a lower altitude than most Andean treks, making it easier on the lungs and also warmer (in fact, it can get quite hot in the Apurimac Canyon!). This trek is becoming increasingly popular but is still fairly remote and adventurous.
RELATED: Why Trek to Choquequirao Now?
The trail is a circuit and after visiting the ruins, you will hike back along the same path. If you don’t like hiking in a circuit, we also have an alternative 4-day Choquequirao route via Huanipaca.
Highlights of Choquequirao as an Alternative to Inca Trail
- Lower altitude
- Spectacular ruins and gorgeous views
- Challenging hike with steep elevation gains/losses
- Adventurous & remote
- 4 days hiking
- Does not include Machu Picchu but can be added on as an extra day
- Not available during rainy season
Is there a Choquequirao Machu Picchu Trek?
Yes, but it’s a long one! We offer 3 Choquequirao to Machu Picchu treks, 7, 8 or 9 days long.
The 9-day Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek via Vilcabamba is Apus Peru’s signature trek, a unique route crafted by one of our very own co-Founders, Ariana Svenson. If you’re into Inca history, this is a no-miss trek. Scroll to the bottom to read more about it!
#2 Best Alternative to Inca Trail: The 4 Day Machu Picchu Hike via Lares
For the Culture Lover…
Are you the type of traveller who likes to really immerse yourself in the local culture? The type who’d rather eat at the local hole-in-the-wall than consume standard tourist fare; the type who craves an authentic experience? If that sounds like you then, among all the alternative hikes to Machu Picchu, Lares is no doubt the one for you.
The 4-day Lares to Machu Picchu trek will have you stumbling upon people in colourful traditional dress, still living an age-old lifestyle, as you cross from the Sacred Valley to the Lares Valley through the Andean wilderness. Llamas and alpacas dot the landscape and you will be treated to some of the most breathtaking views of crystalline lakes that the Andes has to offer.
This trekking alternative is the best way to immerse yourself in traditional Andean culture, with opportunities for family homestays on some routes. For an even greater cultural immersion, check out our 3-day Lares Valley Cultural Trek.
Bonus highlight: a delightful soak in the Lares hot springs!
RELATED: The Lares Valley Trek
Lares Highlights: One of the Best Alternative Treks to the Inca Trail
- Stunning mountain vistas
- Slightly easier terrain
- Best chance to immerse yourself in traditional Andean culture – option for a homestay!
- 3 days of hiking and one day at Machu Picchu
- No other Inca Ruins along the trail
- Includes Machu Picchu
- Available year-round
Get all the details here about the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu.
#3 Top Machu Picchu Alternative Trails: 5-Day Ausangate Rainbow Mountain Trek
For the Nature Enthusiast…
Abundant Andean wildlife? Check. Mind-boggling natural wonders? Check. Awe-inspiring vistas? Check. For the engaged nature enthusiast, this 5-day Ausangate hike has it all. Hike around snow-capped Ausangate, the highest local peak and most important apu in the Andean pantheon. You’ll pass stunning alpine lakes teeming with birds, and spot llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and, if you’re lucky, maybe even the elusive vizcacha!
This particular route also includes a stop at the newly popularized Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain – a natural marvel with its colourful striations. The Ausangate route may be cold – it is the highest altitude trek around, with passes above 5000m! – but it is simply unparalleled for its beauty and uniqueness.
This Inca Trail alternative does not include Machu Picchu, but you can add it on as an extra day with our Machu Picchu Extension.
Highlights of Ausangate Rainbow Mountain
- Unparalleled views of the Andes mountains, including the famous Apu Ausangate
- High altitude trek – must be well acclimatized and prepared for cold conditions
- Includes a visit to the Insta-famous Rainbow Mountain!
- Remote wilderness teeming with Andean wildlife
- No Inca Ruins and does not include Machu Picchu (but can be added on)
Find more details here about the Ausangate Rainbow Mountain hike.
#4 Alternative Inca Trail: Salkantay, A 5 Day Machu Picchu Hike
For the Sociable Hiker…
After the need for alternative trails to Machu Picchu first arose, Salkantay quickly became the go-to trek for most people. It even once made it to National Geographic’s list of the 25 Best Treks in the world! For that reason, it is the now considered one of the best Machu Picchu treks, and is the second-most popular trek around Cusco. It is almost as busy as the Inca Trail, especially during the high season from May to August. At the moment it remains unregulated, and you do not need a permit to hike Salkantay.
The 5-day Salkantay trail is a difficult trek. It reaches a high point of 4800 metres – higher than on the Inca Trail. In many ways, Salkantay has a lot to offer, so it’s no wonder it has become such a popular alternative trek to Machu Picchu. The trail combines spectacular mountain vistas, not least of which is Salkantay mountain itself, with a descent into the Andean jungle. Along the way, you have the opportunity to visit interesting Inca ruins, like Llactapata.
Our innovative 5-day Salkantay itinerary keeps you out of sync with most of the crowds, but you can still expect to share the trail with fellow trekkers and make new friends! Included on the Salkantay trek: a short hike to Lake Humantay and also hands-on coffee-making workshop at Lucmabamba (where you can also add on a homestay!). If you are especially fit and hardy and looking for an extra challenge, you can also do the Salkantay Trek in 4 days!
Highlights of Salkantay, the Original Alternative Inca Trail Hike
- High altitude – reaches a higher altitude than the Inca Trail
- Stunning scenery – from mountain peaks to Inca jungle
- Visit Humantay Lake, hike to Llacatapata and see Machu Picchu
- 4 days of hiking, visit Machu Picchu on Day 5
- Learn all about coffee production in a hands-on workshop at Lucmabamba
See the full 5 Day Salkantay itinerary here.
#5 Top Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu: 5 Day Ancascocha Trek
For the Wilderness Escapist…
Ever wanted to hike to Machu Picchu with nothing but clean mountain air and gorgeous vistas to accompany you? Then the Ancascocha Trek may be the Andean trek for you! You’ll hike through high Andean farming villages, walk past jewel-like high altitude lakes, and camp in the shadows of the region’s most impressive snowy peaks, including Salkantay and Humantay.
Ancascocha is the next valley over to the one where Huayllabamba, the first campsite on the Inca trail, is located. The first time our co-Founder Ariana hiked Ancascocha, she ended up walking in reverse down the Inca trail! Talk about Ancascocha being an “alternative” to the Inca Trail!
“What I love about the Andes is learning how they are not a wild untapped wilderness, but the homes of people who have lived here for centuries. Everything is connected by trails that can be used as hiking trails by us foreigners.” – co-Founder, Ariana Svenson
The isolated Ancascocha trek is a true adventure for those craving a chance to commune with nature as they hike the real Andes while walking to Machu Picchu. We also offer a 3-day Ancascocha trek, yet another of our alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
Highlights of Ancascocha, Machu Picchu Alternative Hike
- Remote – you most likely won’t see another soul on this trek
- Beautiful vistas
- Little-visited Inca ruins
- A glimpse of modern-day Andean culture
- Can be done in 3 or 5 days (2 or 4 days of hiking)
- Includes Machu Picchu
See the full Ancascocha 5 day trek itinerary here
#6 Huchuy Qosqo, A 3 Day Machu Picchu Trek
Our custom-crafted 3 day trek to Machu Picchu is a perfect choice for those short on time but big on adventure. Starting on the outskirts of Cusco city, you hike across and down to the Sacred Valley following original Inca trails, visiting the Huchuy Qosqo ruins along the way.
Although less well-known, Huchuy Qosqo (which means “small Cusco” in Quechua) is an equally fascinating Incan ruin. The Huchuy Qosqo trek is really a 2 day Machu Picchu hike, with two days of hiking, an overnight in Aguas Calientes and a visit to Machu Picchu on the third day, before returning to Cusco. You can also skip Machu Picchu and return to Cusco on the second day.
Highlights of the Huchuy Qosqo to Machu Picchu Hike
- Spectacular views of the Sacred Valley
- Fascinating Inca ruins
- 2 days of easy-moderate hiking
- Includes Machu Picchu
Other 2 Day Hike to Machu Picchu Options
While not strictly speaking an alternative to the Inca Trail, the Short Inca Trail is a nice 2 day trek to Machu Picchu that lets you experience some of the best parts of the Inca Trail, without having to do the whole four day trek. The 2 Day Inca Trail trek is really just one day of trekking, with an overnight in Aguas Calientes, a visit to Machu Picchu on the second day and zero nights camping!
#7 What about the Inca Trail vs the Quarry Trail?
If you are doing your research on treks around Cusco you may have read about the Inca Quarry trail. It is another alternative trek to Machu Picchu. Just a valley or two over from Ancascocha, the Inca Quarry trek passes through similar landscapes, with farming villages, Inca ruins and views of snow-capped peaks. It is extremely wild and remote, a far cry from the Classic Inca Trail!
One of the newest Machu Picchu hikes out there, National Geographic named the Inca Quarry trail one of the top six alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
It reaches altitudes of 4400m and takes you through isolated villages, impressive mountains, high waterfalls, stunning flora and fauna, and to stone quarries – the ancient quarries used by pre-Inca and Inca civilizations to build the vast complex of Ollantaytambo.
You will get to see a couple of amazing archeological sites, including the Perolniyoc Waterfall that leads to the Raqaypata Archaeological Park. These Inca ruins actually sit on top of the cliffs that house this waterfall, and feature their own Sun Gate. This Sun Gate is not the same as the one at the end of the Inca Trail, but is equally fascinating.
Apus Peru currently doesn’t offer the Inca Quarry trail as a multiday camping trek. If you are interested in seeing the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) on this trek, we offer this as a one-day trek, the Cachicata Inca Quarry Trail.
BONUS! Best Adventurous Alternate Route to Machu Picchu
For the Endurance Trekker…
The 9 Day Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek via Vilcabamba is one of the Inca Trail alternatives that is most full of great ruins and real adventure. Follow the footsteps of the Incas as you retrace the path from Machu Picchu’s “sister city,” Choquequirao, all the way to Machu Picchu itself.
Along the way, you enter the near-mythic Vilcabamba area where the Incas took refuge during the last stages of the Spanish conquest, visiting the ruins at Vitcos-Rosaspata. Your first four days of trekking crosses remote mountain valleys and visits villages still only accessible by foot.
This is an epic Andean adventure if there ever was one – and an amazing alternative Inca trail trek!
- If 9 days seems like a lot: We also have a 7-day Choquequirao & Machu Picchu Hike
- If 9 days isn’t enough: Try our epic 12-day trek which combines Choquequirao, the Inca Trail and Salkantay in an unforgettable hiking tour to Machu Picchu
Highlights of Choquequirao 9 Day Alterantive Treks to Machu Picchu
- Stunning views of snow-capped mountain ranges and plunging canyons
- Hike along intact Inca roads
- Pass through little-known remote, high Andean villages
- 8 days of hiking
- Walk to Machu Picchu via Choquequirao as you immerse yourself in Inca history
- Includes Machu Picchu
Or…Build Your Own! You Can’t Go Wrong with Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu
As specialists in Inca Trail alternatives, we have loads of ideas for you to customize your own Andean trek, no matter what your interest or how much time you have. If you want some help getting started, check out our page on how to choose the best Machu Picchu trek for you.
Or, get in touch! Our team of Peru trekking experts are waiting to craft your dream trip to Peru. Need some more inspiration first? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or join our mailing list using the form below for inspiring photos, useful tips, ideas and more!
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This post was originally published on 26 July, 2013; updated on December, 2021.