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Lares: Hiking trails leading to Machu Picchu

TOP Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

Written by: Incatrailhikeperu May 7, 2022

Every year thousands of adventurers make the trip to Machu Picchu Via the world famous Inca Trail. Although it’s by far the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu not everyone can or wants to take this route. Whether it’s because there is no more availability or because you would rather take a less trafficked more nature filled hike there are many alternatives hikes to the Inca Trail.

Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trail

The most popular trek after the Inca Trail, Salkantay is a nature lovers paradise. During the journey you’ll hike over mountain passes, enjoy alpine lakes, and descend into tranquil valleys. This hike is also less popular than the Inca Trail, consequently, there will be smaller crowds. It’s important to note however, that there is only one Incan ruin on the Salkantay, Llactapata ruins. Depending on what type of trek you choose you may or may not visit Llactapata. If you are more of an archeological lover than a nature lover then maybe consider one of the other alternative hikes.

The Salkantay trail is perfect for hikers who love alpine settings.

Price Range 

There’s a large variety of trekking options when talking about the Salkantay. It really depends on what you want in your adventure. Do you want a luxury hiking experience, or do you want the more classic backpackers hiking adventure? The prices range drastically from around $500 to upwards of $1000. If you are looking for a smaller guided trip or a completely private tour it will increase the price by a lot. You’ll also be able to find tours for under $500 but as the saying goes “You get what you pay for”.

Difficulty of the trek

The most difficult part of this hike is the altitude, being in the heart of the Andes it’s very important to acclimatize a few days in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before attempting this hike. Ranging from moderate to difficult this hike is not as difficult as some of the other hikes in the region such as Choquequirao or Ausangate. However, it is considered more strenuous than the Inca Trail.

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu 4 Days/ 3 nights 

The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu takes you through pristine mountain passes and through the Incan ruins of Llactapata where you get an amazing view of Machu Picchu. A great way to get to Machu Picchu, this hike is for nature lovers.

Day 1: Cusco – Soraypampa – Salkantay Pampa – Humantay lake – Sorococcha

You’ll start this journey early in the morning before the sun rises at 4:30 am. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the town of Soraypampa. At the Soraypampa trailhead you’ll have breakfast made by your private chefs. From the trailhead, you’ll start the 2.5 hour round trip hike to Humantay lake. Stop for a moment to take pictures of this Sacred lake and take in the tranquility. The turquoise and green colors of this lake have captivated locals and foreigners alike for many years.

After admiring the vibrant colors of Humantay, return on the path you came until you arrive again at the Soraypampa trailhead. From the trailhead hike towards Salkantay Pampa where you will rest and have lunch. After lunch, continue on to the first campsite Sorococcha. When you arrive at camp you’ll be greeted with hot drinks and appetizers to hold you over until dinner. The tents will already be pitched when you arrive, relax enjoy your dinner, and get a good night’s rest.

  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time and dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities
  • Distance: 12kms / 8 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Day 2: Sorococha – Apacheta Pass -Huayracmachay – Chaullay – Lucmabamba

Your day will start early with a hot cup of coffee or tea and a warm bowl of water to freshen up. The chefs will have a hearty breakfast ready for you to get a good start to the day. Once your all done with breakfast hit the trail going up up up until you come to Apacheta Pass 4,650m (15,367ft). From this pass you’ll have great views of three huge mountains Humantay Salkantay and Huayanay. The sheer size of these mountains have inspired people for thousands of years. Ask your guide about each one and they’ll describe how these are sacred mountains for the Andean people.

Once you’ve conquered Apacheta Pass you’ll descend for around 2 hours before coming to the optional campsite of Huayracmachay, where you and your group will stop to rest and have lunch. If you’re hungry by this point eat some trail snacks you packed in your day bag. You won’t get a chance to eat until you reach the small remote village of Chaullay which is around 3 hours below Huayracmachay. As you descend you’ll notice the climate changing from the arid rocky landscape of the high Andes to the lush humid landscape of the Amazon Rainforest!

After arriving in Chaullay you’ll take a break, have a snack, then take local transportation to Lucmabamba where you’ll camp for the night.

  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time and dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities
  • Distance: 18kms / 11 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Day 3: Lucmabamba – Llactapata – Hydroelectric – Aguas Calientes

You’ll start this day much like the day before, with a hot beverage followed by the last breakfast you’ll have on the trail. From this point on you will be walking on a section of the Inca Trail network. Not the Classic Inca Trail hike but, a section of the more than 30,000 km of stone pathways the Inca constructed. Walk for about 4 hours before coming to the small village of Lucmabamba where you will get the unique opportunity to roast, grind, and prepare your own fresh coffee. This is some of the freshest highest quality coffee in the andean region, if you are a coffee fanatic you will absolutely love this part of the trek.

Use your Andean coffee high to push onward towards the Incan ruins of Llactapata. Here will be your first view of Machu Picchu! Your guide will tell you the history of the Llactapata ruins with a beautiful view of Machu Picchu in the background.

At this point the coffee has probably worn off but, that’s okay because for the rest of the hike you’ll be going downhill! Descend for about two hours to the Hydroelectric Plant where you will have lunch, the last meal prepared by your private chefs. Say goodbye to your excellent chefs and take the half hour train ride to Aguas Calientes where you will have dinner. After dinner check into your hotel and mentally prepare yourself to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Distance: 15kms / 9 miles
  • Time: Approximately 9 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Day 4: Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Cusco

Today is the main event, get ready to be awed by the majestic Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu! Wake up at the agreed upon time and take the bus to Machu Picchu. Generally, you want to wake up early, around 5:30 am, have breakfast and take the first bus to Machu Picchu in order to catch the sunrise. Once in Machu Picchu your guided tour will start which will last about 2 hours. After the guided tour you’ll have a couple hours to explore the complex on your own. Or, if you have a pre purchased ticket for one of the mountain hikes, you’ll start your hike right after the tour. After exploring Machu Picchu to your hearts content take the bus back, or walk, to Aguas Calientes.

Board the 1 hour and 45 minute Expedition train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. During the train ride you’ll chug through the Sacred Valley of the Incas following the Urubamba river. Enjoy the relaxing ride and the beautiful views of this unique landscape. Upon arriving in Ollantaytambo your guide will have a private van ready to take you directly to your hotel. This marks the end of the adventure, but dont worry theres a lot to see in the Cusco region and Peru in general. Get some much needed rest in a comfortable bed and prepare yourself for the next adventure!

Example Itinerary: Orange Nation

5-Day Glamping Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

A uniquely customizable trip this hike is similar to the classic 4-day Salkantay trek but, with a few added sites of interest and a much more luxury experience.

Instead of camping at Lucmabamba on the 2nd day you’ll take it a bit slower and stay the night at the small village of Colpapampa. The 3rd day will be nearly the same as the 4 day version except after arriving at Lucmabamba you’ll take a private vehicle to the hot springs at Colcamayo returning to the village of Lucmabamba to stay the night.

The route for day 4 is exactly the same as the Classic Salkantay trek. You’ll visit the ruins of Llactapata and get great views of Machu Picchu from across the valley. From the ruins you’ll continue on the last leg of the hike to Hydroelectric Plant then taking a train to Aguas Calientes. Upon arriving in Aguas Calientes you’ll check in to your luxury hotel, El Mapi. In the morning you’ll take the bus to Machu Picchu and explore the Incan Citadel. The return trip will take you to Cusco through Ollantaytambo via the high end Vistadome train. Once in Ollantaytambo the private van will drive you directly to your hotel.

***PLEASE NOTE: The main difference when comparing this option to the classic Salkantay is that this is a full luxury experience. From hot showers and silk robes to pisco sours and nightly massages you really can’t beat this tour if your looking for the highest end Salkantay trek.

Example Itinerary: Glamping Peru

Salkantay Trek and Classic Inca Trail Hike 7 Days/6 nights 

One of the most extensive treks available this option takes you through both pristine wilderness and all of the Incan ruins on the Inca Trail. If you don’t want to compromise between nature and history this is the trek for you. Halfway through the third day you will leave the Salkantay Trail and start the Classic Inca Trail. The 4th day you will come to the first Incan ruin of Paucarcancha.

One of the best things about this trek is that you get to hike the salkantay and get to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate or “Inti Punku”. This really is a unique opportunity because the regulations this year changed prohibiting anyone from visiting the sungate unless hiking the Inca Trail. Previously, you could hike up to the the Sun Gate from Machu Picchu but not anymore.

***PLEASE NOTE: On this trek you get the opportunity to enter Machu Picchu through the Sungate!

Information provided by Sam Travel

Lares Trail

What is unique about the Lares Trek?

The lares trek to Machu Picchu is unique in that it’s one of the most culturally immersive hikes the region has to offer. Instead of passing through old long abandoned Incan ruins you will get the opportunity to visit and interact with remote and lively Andean villages that are still practicing some of the same traditions as their Incan and pre-Incan ancestors. The locals are extremely kind and are willing to share their customs and traditions with foreigners. Take the opportunity to try your hand at the traditional weaving. Who knows maybe you’re a natural at it!

The second easiest trek to Machu Picchu the lares trek is the perfect option if you want a more more relaxing adventure and a chance to practice your Quechua with the local Andean people. Additionally, it’s one of the most remote and least traveled treks to Machu Picchu. If you are looking for a hike without any crowds and want to be alone with your party, Lares is one of your best options. There are a few different packages to choose from and you can even combine Lares with the last section of the Inca Trail. After a few mountain passes upwards of 4000m you have you’ll have a the privilege of soaking in the therapeutic lares mineral hot springs.

Extra money for souvenirs

It’s a good idea to bring some money to buy textiles and other traditional goods from the local people. You’ll have the peace of mind knowing that your money is going directly to the person who raised and cared for the animals, harvested the wool, and wove the textiles. Because of the remoteness of these villages, donations are also greatly appreciated. A lot of the people and children living here do not have access to a wide range of nutrients, consequently, many of the people here are malnourished. Something as simple as fresh fruit and vegetables, or even toys or childrens clothes or writing supplies could go a long way.

The Lares trek is the perfect trail for anyone looking to experience authentic Andean culture.

Price Range 

The price range like all the hikes varies drastically depending on what type of adventure you want. However generally, it’s between $450 to $780. It also depends heavily on which tour operator you chose. Some operators are more ethical than others paying their employees a livable fair wage while others take advantage of their employees. Additionally, the size of the tour also affects the price, tour company that guide smaller more intimate groups will generally eba bit more expensive. However you will get more one on one time with your guide and can ask them more questions which will make for a more educational experience.

Difficulty Rating

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu is one of the easiest alternative hikes to the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. There are some high mountain pases but if you pace yourself it really should not be a problem. The only concern is that you may get altitude sickness if you haven’t properly acclimatized to the altitude beforehand. With that being said you’re still hiking in the mountains and need to be in at least decent physical shape. It’s not quite a walk in the park but more a walk in high altitude.


Day 1: Cusco – Huaran – Cancha Cancha

The lares hike starts like many of the other hikes, with an early morning pickup from your hotel around 5:00 am. The private van will take you first to the Pisac Citadel ruins where you will get the chance to explore and eat breakfast at the Pisac Guest house. After a delicious breakfast cooked by your private chef you’ll continue on in the private van for 40 minutes until arriving at the village of Huaran. At Huaran the pack animals will be fitted with all the equipment and you’ll start the hike.

The first leg of the journey is a 3 hour hike to the remote village of Cancha Cancha around the halfway point you will stop for lunch. Cancha Cancha is one of the most remote and isolated villages in the region with no roads leading to it and only recently getting electricity, in 2019. This village is completely self sustaining and has been practicing the same traditions and customs for hundreds of years.

After settling into camp you’ll have the unique opportunity to visit a local Andean family where they will share with you their way of life. Next you’ll sit with your fellow hikers to a delicious dinner prepared by your private chef. After dinner, listen as you guide explains the Incan constellations which helped the Inca and the current andean peoples with their agricultural practices.

  • Meals included: Breakfast – Lunch – Afternoon Tea Time – Dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities with bathroom building
  • Distance: 9kms / 5.6 miles
  • Time: 3.5hrs approximately
  • Difficulty: Moderate 

Day 2: Cancha Cancha – Quiswarani

The guide and porters will wake you with either tea or coffee and a bowl of hot water to freshen up. After getting the sleep out of your eyes eat breakfast with your fellow hikers. Get ready for a pretty long day around 7 hours to the next campsite. The day stats off fairly difficult with a few high mountain pases and the highest part of the trek Pachacutec pass (4,500m /14,800 ft). Rest for a bit at the top of Pachacutec pass. Have a snack and take the opportunity to admire the incredible mountain landscape. With glaciers covering the mountain peaks alpacas and llamas grazing in the valleys below and various other andean fauna the view is absolutely breathtaking.

After conquering Pachacutec Pass continue on the trail for about 3 hours until finally reaching the first campsite at Quiswarani (3,700m/12,139ft). Along the way you will see and interact with andean shepards and their livestock. Your guide will teach you a few Quechua phrases and act as your interpreter again. You’ll know you’re close to the campsite when you reach the Seven Waterfalls just before Quiswarani.

The camp will be all set up by the time you arrive enjoy some hot beverages and eat a filling delicious dinner. After dinner try and get a good night’s rest so you’re ready for the next day of hiking.

  • Meals included: Breakfast – Lunch – Afternoon Tea Time – Dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities with bathroom building
  • Distance: 12kms / 7.5 miles
  • Time: 7hrs approximately
  • Difficulty: challenging

Day 3: Quiswarani – Cuncani – Lares – Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes

Just as the days before you’ll wake with hot beverages and warm water to freshen up, then have a delicious breakfast. Considered the most picturesque day of the hike, you’ll start the hike with a short 3 hour walk to Willqaqasa Pass (4,200m/13,779ft). At the summit you’ll have views of the Colquecruz and Pitusiray Mountains. Continue on the trail and descend into the Puna Grasslands an immense region spanning multiple countries with vast valleys that seem to go on forever. After about 2 hours you’ll come to the remote Cucani village. Depending on the year you may get the chance to visit the small scholl, interact with the children, give them gifts, and play soccer!

Continuing on from Cuncani you and your group will take a private van to the Lares Hot Springs. Get your swimmies on and take a much needed soak in the mineral waters of these volcanic hot springs. Relax and eat lunch, which will be your last meal prepared by your wonderful private chefs. Say goodbye and give thanks to the chefs and horsemen. After the relaxing soak and lunch you’ll take another ride in the private van to Ollantaytambo approximately 2.5 hours. In Ollantaytambo you’ll have dinner at one of the local restaurants. From Ollantaytambo take the expedition train to Aguas Calientes where you will check in to your hotel and stay the night.

  • Meals included: Breakfast – Lunch – Afternoon Tea – Dinner
  • 2* Accommodation: Ferre Hotel or similar
  • Distance: 15kms / 9.3 miles
  • Time: 6 hrs approximately
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Day 4: Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Cusco

Get an early breakfast in your hotel and take the first bus to Machu Picchu so you can catch the magnificent sunrise. Once you arrive at Machu Picchu you’ll have the 2 hour guided tour lead by your expert bilingual guide. Ask your guide all the questions you can think of as Machu Picchu is full of history and unexplained mysteries. Depending on if you have booked one of the mountain hikes you’ll have 2 hours to either complete the hike or to explore Machu Picchu on your own.

When you’re done exploring Machu Picchu take the bus or walk back to Aguas Calientes. Depending on your train’s departure time you may have the opportunity to explore the town of Aguas Calientes and take a soak in the Aguas Calientes hot springs. Eventually you’ll take the train back to Ollantaytambo through the scenic sacred valley of the Incas. From Ollantaytambo you’ll get in the private van and get dropped off at your hotel around 7:00 pm.

  • Meal included: Breakfast
  • Difficulty: Easy

Example Itinerary: Spider Travel Peru

Lares trek

Inca Jungle Trek

What makes The Inca Jungle Trail Unique? 

The Inca Jungle Trek is the most adventurous hike offered in the region! You’ll get to mountain bike, white water raft, and trek all the way to Machu picchu.

A unique way to get to Machu Picchu The Inca Jungle trek is for adrenaline junkies. If your an avid mountain biker or someone who likes to white water raft this is the hike for you. On top of it all you’ll get the chance to explore a few Incan ruins all the while journeying through different micro climates such as the Andean Cloud Forest, high rainforest, and Urubamba Valley. Start the adventure at 4350m on your mountain bikes and ride down from the Andean Cloud Forest to the Urubamba Valley. Climb into the rafts once you get to the Urubamba River and float down the river until coming to the remote lodge where you’ll eat dinner and stay the night.

You might be a bit sore from all the biking and rafting but don’t worry because you have the chance to soak in the hotsprings of Colcamayo. The first views of machu picchu will be at the remote ruins of Llactapata where you can get great pictures with Machu Picchu in the background before finally visiting the Ican CItadel of Machu Picchu with an expertly guided tour.

Price Range 

Prices generally range from $450 to $800 depending on which tour operator you choose. Things that may or may not be included vary from one company to the next. For example, meals may not be included every day, or entrance tickets to Machu Picchu. Some companies may not offer the lodging in their price. Additionally, it’s important to consider your safety. How professional and serious is the company you’re choosing? Some companies may sacrifice safety equipment or maintenance of rafts and bike equipment in order to save on costs. Because of these factors and others it’s very important to look through each companies itinerary thoroughly and clarify any questions you may have.

***PLEASE NOTE: Entrance to Colcamayo hot springs is optional and will cost an additional 10 soles per person

Important Weather Information

Unlike most of the other treks, the Inca Jungle trek is heavily dependant on weather conditions. During the rainiest months of the year, January and february, the trek is not available due to heavy rains. Check in with your tour company beforehand to ensure the trek is being offered.

Difficulty rating

A demanding and strenuous trek, the Inca Jungle involves extreme sports at high altitudes. You’ll need to be in good to great physical shape and acclimatize for a few days in order to complete this journey. Even if you are fit altitude sickness can affect you, that’s why it’s very important to acclimatize in Cusco or the Sacred Valley for a few days before trying this or any other treks in the region.

Example Itinerary: Inca Jungle to Machu Picchu 

Choquequirao Trek

What makes Choquequirao Trek unique and special?

The only way to visit the immense and largely unexcavated site of Choquequirao is on foot. There are no roads trails or any other ways to get to the Incan ruins. If you are interested in exploring ruins that rival even Machu Picchu, you must set out on the Choquequirao Trek.

Only experienced hikers can complete this hike solo. It’s possible to attempt the hike with a guided tour if you’re are a novice however, you must be in good to great physical condition. During this adventure you’ll be hiking through dense jungle ascending and descending multiple times each day.

A less know ruin complex when compared to Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is often forgot about when tourists plan their trips to the Cusco region. Surrounded by huge mountains and thick lush jungle Choquequirao’s remote location means less crowds especially when compared to the zoo that is Machu Picchu. On average Choquequirao has only 25 daily visitors where as Machu Picchu has 5000! Because of this, it’s very possible you won’t see a single soul while on the trail and even at the complex itself! A truly stunning complex, Choquequirao spans a huge area and only about 30% has been excavated. There are still many discoveries to be made and mysteries to be solved!

Difficulty rating

This hike is considered very difficult and is one of if not the most strenuous hike in the region. If you are hoping there will be a rest day, think again! Every single day will be a challenge, you’ll descend into valleys as low as 1400m (4593ft) and then go back up to 4660 (15,290 feet) and back down again. Unlike Rainbow Mountain, the altitude is not necessarily the problem. The difficulty comes from the daily up and down of this trek. Very demanding on the legs and knees, it’s highly recommended to bring trekking poles especially for the down hills that you will encounter every single day. Although this is a very difficult hike, it is very rewarding and absolutely worth the effort. My philosophy in life is that everything that’s truly worth doing is difficult, and the more difficult the more satisfying when you finally achieve your goal!

Example Itinerary: ORANGE NATION

Choquequirao trek

Huchuy Qosqo trek

What makes the Huchuy Qosqo Trek Unique

The Huchuy Qosqo trek is the easiest way to hike to Machu Picchu. it’s the shortest and has the most forgiving approach totaling just 17km

If you are limited on time or you don’t like the idea of a difficult multi day trek then this is the best option for you. This is also the only hike that offers a visit to the Incan ruins of Huchyuy Qosqo which means “little Cusco” in Quechua. Additionally, you’ll get to journey through small remote Andean villages. Some tour operators even offer the opportunity to stay the night in one of the villagers homes. Don’t worry there will be hot water, electricity, and comfortable beds.

Difficulty of the trek

Huchyuy Qosqo is the easiest trek to Machu Picchu by a long shot. It’s a short 17 km and the elevation is fairly low for the region only 3650m (11980ft). Please make sure you acclimatize for a few days before attempting this or any other treks. Even though this hike is not as high most of the others, altitude sickness is still a concern if you are new to the region.

Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

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