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5 off-the-beaten treks to Machu Picchu

We take a look at five alternative treks to Machu Picchu, a world away from the busy classic route.

Machu Picchu may well be a bucket list cliché, but there’s ample justification for why so many visitors flock to this glorious citadel perched high in the Andean mountains.

Trekking to Machu Picchu through the Sacred Valley is profoundly gratifying and remains a must for nearly every visitor to Peru. The Incan masterpiece is spectacularly located and, once reached, lives up to every expectation of its glorious emerald peaks and terraced ruins.

The classic Inca Trail trek has become increasingly popular in recent years. In fact, in 2018, Peruvian authorities changed the daily limit to morning and afternoon cycles to allow for more overall visitors per day.

There are several alternative treks to Machu Picchu (Eteri Okrochelidze, Shutterstock)

Now, a total of 5,940 people are allowed into the complex every day (including on the Inca Trail). Despite the increase, demand for the most famous hike in South America – perhaps the world – remains insatiable.

Fortunately, the Incas were also master road builders. They blazed trails throughout the Andes, many of which provide excellent alternative treks to Machu Picchu. When we visited in 2015, we chose the quieter but more challenging Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.

If, like us, you prefer trekking away from the masses, then these off-the-beaten treks to Machu Picchu from Action Peru Treks may be what you’re looking for. All treks conclude with a guided visit to Machu Picchu and the option to climb Huayna Picchu.

5 off-the-beaten treks to Machu Picchu

1. Ancascocha trek

Distance: 49km
Duration: 5 days / 4 nights (+ other options)
Price: $770 USD

alternative treks to Machu Picchu Ancascocha
Ancascocha is one of the least-known treks to Machu Picchu (Scott Biales, Shutterstock)

The Ancascocha trek is one of the least-known treks to Machu Picchu, but boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the region. The remote route spends more time at higher altitudes than other treks.

Of course, higher altitudes bring harder hiking. The demanding trek climbs to the Huayanay Pass at 4,650m (15,255ft). The reward is that trekkers enjoy some of the finest alpine scenery in the Andes. At this height, the landscape stretches out with spectacular views across montane lakes, cascading waterfalls and the soaring peak of Salkantay which at 6,266m (20,551ft) dominates the horizon.

The final day of this version of the trek includes a section of the classic Inca Trail. Ancascocha is Action Peru’s signature trek with six permutations of the route available.

These options include a four-day trek, a five-day trek incorporating a two-day section of the Inca Trail and a five-day, seven-day or eight-day itinerary combining the Ancascocha with the Salkantay trek.

More information: actionperutreks.com

2. Salkantay via Inca Trail trek

Distance: 42km
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights
Price: $690 USD

alternative treks to Machu Picchu Salkantay
The Salkantay via Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu (Marquess Kilian Beck, Shutterstock)

This initially challenging trek winds through some high-altitude scenery and spends much of the first two days beneath the imposing peak of its namesake. The landscape on this route changes rapidly on the third day as the route joins the Inca Trail and, with it, the lush vegetation and archaeological sites found there.

The itinerary includes two nights of camping with the final night spent in comfort at a hotel in Aguas Calientes. On the third day, trekkers can relax and enjoy a train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes before visiting Machu Picchu on the final day.

More information: actionperutreks.com

3. Moonstone trek

Distance: 38.5km
Duration: 5 days / 4 nights
Price: $780 USD

alternative treks to Machu Picchu Moonstone 1
The Moonstone route is only used by Action Peru Treks (elocin84, Shutterstock)

The Moonstone route is one of the newest treks to Machu Picchu, developed and used solely by Action Peru Treks. A more moderate trek than the footslogs of Salkantay and Ancascocha, the Moonstone trek takes in a range of contrasting and distinctive sites.

Trekkers will visit a well-preserved pre-Incan archaeological site, the longest canal in the Incan Empire and a quarry where the stone used for the Ollantaytambo temples originated. En route, the distinctive peak of Mount Veronica looms overhead at 5,893m (19,334ft) casting its shadow across the surrounding glaciers, valleys and mountain villages.

More information: actionperutreks.com

4. Lares trek

Distance: 37km
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights
Price: $690 USD

alternative treks to Machu Picchu Lares 1
The Lares Valley (Lisa Stelzel, Shutterstock)

In the Lares Valley, on the northern edge of the well-trodden Sacred Valley, life continues much as it has for centuries. Villagers in traditional Andean dress tend to llamas and alpacas, plant potatoes by hand and weave cloth as they have for generations. They may well be the only other people you see on the entire trek.

This alternative to the more traditional Lares route incorporates a visit to the Lares hot springs on the third day where trekkers can rest their weary limbs before continuing on to Ollantaytambo. The itinerary includes two nights of camping and one night at a bed and breakfast.

More information: actionperutreks.com

5. Huchuy Qosqo trek

Distance: 17km
Duration: 3 days / 2 nights
Price: $620 USD

alternative treks to Machu Picchu Huchuy Qosqo 1
The Huchuy Qosqo archaeological site (Marco Alhelm, Shutterstock)

The most moderate option on the list, the Huchuy Qosqo trek only includes one full day of hiking. The first day covers 14km, pausing at Lake Qoricocha for lunch, before continuing along a small section of the original Inca Trail in the afternoon. That evening, trekkers camp on the terraces of the Huchuy Qosqo archaeological site.

The following morning includes a tour of the Incan ruins covering an impressive collection of buildings including the 40m-long kallanka (great hall). On this day, trekkers will cover a far more leisurely three kilometres before catching the train at Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes for a night at a hotel.

More information: actionperutreks.com


Lonely Planet Peru is a comprehensive guide to Peru covering a range of activities and destinations as well as treks to Machu Picchu.

Lead image: saiko3p, Shutterstock

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