Best Alternatives to the Inca Trail

Thinking about trekking Machu Picchu? You and about a million other adventure-craving travelers (actually, one million other people will visit the site this year).

The Inca Trail is the classic Machu Picchu trek. Crossing through the Andes on the exact path that the Incas followed, this is a fan favorite, but there’s a limit to how many can travel it each day and it often reaches its limits far in advance. While it’s so exciting to see how widespread the popularity of this World Heritage Site has become, it’s come with just a few downsides- but we know how to work around them.

Luckily, there are a ton of alternatives to the Inca Trail that are just as great, and most people don’t know about them! So, whether you’ve been faced with sold out treks or maybe you’re looking for a lesser-known route, we present you with our guide to the best alternative treks to the Inca Trail! Some travelers even swear they’re better…

Read below for what makes these alternative treks different, why we love them, and why you should consider them- We know you’ll love them as much as we do!

The Inca Jungle

This trek is lighter, known for having young and fun groups, and actually overlaps with part of the original Inca Trail (so it’s a happy medium for those who don’t want too different an alternative). This route is unique because it passes through a jungle-area (with a hotter climate), and the first day involves mountain biking unlike any of the other routes. This trek arrives at the base of Machu Picchu, and for most of your last day you’ll be able to see the ruins from afar.

This trek stays in local hotels and hostels, like the Inca Trail. It’s usually 3-4 days, and the level is beginner to moderate.

Salcantay Trek

On this trek, you’ll walk through beautiful mountain passes high in the Andes. It’s known for a cooler climate and more challenging route than the Inca Trail (which is exactly what certain travelers are looking for!). The scenery is dramatic and impressive, and it’s usually considered one of the best alternative treks, although unfortunately it’s not easy enough for everyone. This trek ends as you descend upon Machu Picchu, and you’ll see it as your trek towards it on your last day.

The traditional trek involves camping, although some offer the option of staying in lodges (see below). It’s usually 5 days long, and the level is advanced.

*One company also offers the option of completing it by horseback.

Lares Trek

The Lares trek is unique because it goes through the Lares Valley, away from the rest of the treks to Machu Picchu. You’ll pass through local villages and stunning lakes surrounded by beautiful mountains. Another of our favorite alternatives, one thing that distinguishes it from the Inca Trail is that you don’t arrive at Machu Picchu by foot (as you do with the Inca Jungle and Salkantay listed above). You finish your trek in the Lares Valley, then take the train over to the base of Machu Picchu. This hardly changes the experience, but is an important factor to some.

Donkeys carry your belongings like on the Inca Trail. This trek involves camping, but like Salkantay there are options for lodges (listed below). It’s moderate to advanced.

Vilcabamba Traverse Route

The most intense and perhaps rewarding of the alternatives, this weeklong journey covers 60 miles. You’ll visit the remote ruins of Choquequirao (being called the new alternative to Machu Picchu), and hike through the Cordillera Vilcabamba that Hiram Bingham first walked through when discovering Machu Picchu. You’ll cross diverse scenery, from mountain ranges to the grasslands to the cloud forest.

This one takes from 7-13 days and is advanced.

The Chaski (or Cachicata) Trek

In addition to the Inca Trail, there is a network of trails all over Peru that were used by speedy messengers traveling around the country. This follows one of those such trails, so it still has historic Inca value. You’ll pass many ruins on this trail, making it an especially worthy alternative, and it ends in Ollantaytambo where you can take the train the rest of the way to Machu Picchu.

This trek takes 3-5 days and is moderately challenging.

Lodge-to-Lodge Trek

Salkantay and Lares can be completed on their normal routes, but with staying in luxury lodges along the way if camping is not for you. If one of those treks seems like a good fit but you want a higher standard of comfort, definitely check out Mountain Lodges of Peru for these options.

The One-Day Inca Trail

This is a great option for those who don’t have enough time for the Inca trail, however it won’t help you out if the trail is sold out because spots are factored into the same limited amount of spaces as the longer version.

But, if you’re booking in advance and want a modified version, this is great because you’ll get to walk the last portion on the trail!

We hope that gives you a good look into all the alternative treks for arriving at Machu Picchu. Just because the Inca Trail is the most famous doesn’t mean these other routes aren’t as amazing! Take a chance, we know you won’t be disappointed. And afterwards, make sure to come back and share your favorite with us in the comments below!