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Not the Inca Trail: The best treks near Cusco and Machu Picchu

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Best treks near Cusco and Machu Picchu

This week Kathy, co-author of the Bradt Peru trekking guides, takes us through what to do when the Inca Trail is sold out…….

 

Permits gone

When those 500 much sought after permits are sold, often many months in advance, then that’s it. They are gone.

The best thing to do then is to consider trekking one of the other amazing routes in the Cusco area or to visit Machu Picchu by train.

There is no shortage of mountains in Peru and there are dozens of gorgeous treks, less famous than the classic Inca Trail, but equally impressive.

 

The lowdown

• Lares (all year round though can be wet in Dec, Jan, Feb)

• Salkantay (not advisable Dec, Jan or Feb due to rain/sleet/snow)

• Choquequirao to Machu Picchu (not possible Dec to April due to a river that becomes impassable)

• Ausangate (not advisable Dec, Jan or Feb due to rain/sleet/snow)

 

More information

 

Lares

4 days trek, plus 1 day to visit Machu Picchu.

40km

 

You get more culture

The Lares people live as they have since the time of the Incas. A simple subsistence lifestyle, tending alpacas and llamas, growing beans, potatoes, carrots and onions.

Most still live in low built stone houses, with thatched roofs and cook on open fires. They speak Quechua, the language of the Incas and wear traditional red ponchos woven by hand.

You get away from the crowds

The Inca Trail has 500 people starting it most days of the year. The Lares trek sees far fewer and there are several variations on the route, so the few people that do go are well spread out.

 

Your knees won’t suffer so badly

The Inca Trail has a lot of big stone steps. When you are building rock steps you build as few as possible, so the steps are often very high. This is really tough on the knees, not only does stone give a hard landing, but stepping down them is hard on the calves and thighs. In contrast the Lares trails climb and descend more gradually on softer ground.

 

You get horse support

On the Inca Trail everything is carried by porters. On the Lares trek everything is carried by horse allowing us to travel in more comfort.

And there is always an emergency horse should someone be unwell. On the Inca Trail if you are too ill to walk, you will have to be piggy backed down the trail by the porters. Not really a pleasant experience for them or you, but the only way out.

 

Salkantay

4 days trek, plus 1 day to visit Machu Picchu

60km

 

You go higher

While you can be proud of yourself for reaching the 4,212m high point of the Inca Trail, you can be even prouder for crossing the 4,650m high pass of the Salkantay trek.

You camp beneath glaciers

On the Inca Trail you can see glaciers far off in the distance. On the Salkantay trek you rub shoulders with the glaciers and camp nearby. At 6,271m high the mountain of Salkantay dominates the landscape for miles around and is spectacular close up.

You get away from the crowds and your knees suffer less

The paths are well graded and don’t have the steps that the Inca trails does. Horses are used to carry belongings and weary trekkers.

 

Unique view of Machu Picchu

Few people have ever seen the ruins of Llactapata. Perched atop a small ridge they were only re-discovered by British explorer Hugh Thomson and the American archaeologist Gary Ziegler in 2003.

It was actually Hiram Bingham of Machu Picchu fame who first discovered them in 1912, but his map was so bad it took over 90 years for them to be found again.

 

Choquequirao to Machu Picchu

6 days trek plus 1 day to visit Machu Picchu,

65km

You get to see it before the crowds  

There are often as few as 5 visitors per day to Choquequirao. The Peruvian government plans to build a cable car to cross the mighty Apurimac river that protects these ruins from the masses. They want to open it up to more people to take the strain off Machu Picchu.

Currently the only way to get there is to walk over 30 km, down into the canyon and back up again. Get there now, before it’s too late.

You have more time to acclimatise

Choquequirao is even lower than Cusco, at 3,050m. To get there you start at Cachora 2,900m, drop 1,600m to the river, then climb back up to 3000m. You then drop down the other side 1,400m and climb back up again to 4,000m.

So not only is the highest pass 200m lower than the Inca Trail, but you are well acclimatised by the time you get there.

 

More remote

This trek is well away from the crowds. You may see a few other trekkers on the way to Choquequirao but once you drop over the other side you will probably see nobody. Not even many locals.

 

Bigger challenge

This really is a fantastic challenge. Not only is it 22 km longer than the Inca Trail at 65km but it is tougher and wilder. If you really want a challenge this is the trek for you.

The Hiram Bingham trilogy

Sure everyone has heard of Machu Picchu and its “discovery” by the Yale university professor Hiram Bingham. But how many know about his other discoveries? He actually went to Choquequirao before he found Machu Picchu. Then he discovered Llactapata too.

You get a unique view of Machu Picchu from Llactapata, and horse support throughout the trek.

 

Ausangate

6 days trek

80km

 

More remote

This trek is well away from the crowds. You’ll see very few trekkers up here in the high mountains and may not see any.

 

Go higher

The high point on the Inca Trail is 4,212m, on the Ausangate trek you rub shoulders with the glaciers on passes of 5,000m.

At 6,372m the glaciated massive of Ausangate, a sacred mountain, provides a stunning backdrop throughout the trek, with a new view of it from each campsite. This really is a tough high mountain trek, for which you should be well acclimatised before heading off.

 

More culture

The local people live pretty much as they have for centuries, in low stone, thatched houses. They tend alpacas and llamas and grow a few hardy vegetables. There is a strong knitting and weaving tradition in this part of Peru, and you can see the weavers at work in many of the villages around. Most of the locals wear traditional clothing.

 

Contact us for more.

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