The Inca Trail was, at one time, the only way to trek to Machu Picchu. Now there are several other options, some of which follow portions of more recently re-discovered Inca paths. Given the popularity of the original Inca Trail, it can sometimes be difficult to acquire your desired departure dates, and the trail is closed every February for maintenance. For any of these options you can decide whether you prefer to hike in a group of travellers, or prefer to book a private trip for your party. All options include a guided visit of Machu Picchu, free time to explore the citadel, and a train and transport back to Cusco.
Inca Trail 4d/3n – 44 km hike
This classic trail is the pinnacle for many Peru-bound travellers. Starting in the Sacred Valley, the trail ascends into the mountains, following an ancient path that was constructed by the Incas. On this trail you will encounter several archaeological sites, traverse high mountain passes, and cross several ecozones including cloud forest. A major attraction of this trail is that on the fourth day you will approach Machu Picchu descending via the Sun Gate, rather than ascending from Aguas Calientes. If you rise early enough in the morning you may have the opportunity to watch the sun rise over the citadel before your guided visit.
Salkantay 5d/4n – 60.5 km hike
This challenging yet inspiring trek takes a different route through the mountains to Machu Picchu. Salkantay is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba range, its snow-capped peak promising a stunning backdrop for the high altitude portion of the trek. This trail reaches a maximum altitude of 4650m at the Salkantay pass. From there you descend through the cloud forest, past coffee and fruit plantations. This trail ends in Aguas Calientes where you spend a night in a hostel before visiting Machu Picchu on the final day of the trip.
Inca Jungle 4d/3n – 22 km hike (plus ~3h descent on bike)
This route is the perfect option for people who crave adrenaline. Day 1 offers an all down-hill ride on a paved road from the mountain pass between the Sacred Valley and cloud forest, with an option of white water rafting that afternoon. Day 2 is a hike from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa, where you can relax in the hot springs, or keep the adventure going with an optional zip line tour. From Santa Teresa you approach Aguas Calientes along the same path as with the Salkantay trek, visiting Machu Picchu on the final day. This option is great for people who don’t want to take on a hard core hike, with the added comfort of overnights in hostels. This option also tends to be the most budget-friendly.
Lares Trek 4d/3n – 33km hike
This trek can be completed with or without the connection to Machu Picchu (via Ollantaytambo by train). Lares offers natural hot springs and the opportunity to connect with andean people. This trek is less common, but offers breathtaking mountain panoramas with glacier lakes and cloud forests. The trek is 3 days, followed by a train to Aguas Calientes.
Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain
Remember when booking your Machu Picchu trip to ask about Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain. There is an extra ticket required for entry to either mountain. Huayna Picchu, located on the northwest side of the citadel, is the more popular option with a steep ascent and an archaeological site on the top. It is not for the faint of heart, but the views are worth the extra climb! Machu Picchu Mountain, on the southwest side of the citadel, is not as crowded and less steep, but a longer climb. Both options offer amazing views over Machu Picchu and surrounding area.