When it comes to high-altitude treks, few countries spoil walkers like Peru. Although people will argue the relative merits of the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, and a handful of other walks in the Himalayas, almost nowhere on earth can hold a candle to the sheer variety of trekking on offer in Peru.
For many people, however, when you mention the possibility of doing a trek on their holidays in Peru they really only think of one thing – the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There’s no doubt that the ‘classic’ Inca Trail, starting at km82 of the Machu Picchu railway, is a superb hike, with a great mix of history, scenery, and terrain along the way, even before you reach the lost Inca city at the end. If you’re looking for your own personal “Cities of Gold” moment (albeit without a giant golden condor…) then you may well decide that this is the trek for you. However, even if you want to end up at Machu Picchu, there are actually several differentyou could look at, all of which offer something different.
The ‘classic’ route is usually described as a 4-day trek, but in reality it’s only three-and-a-half days of actual trekking, since you arrive at Machu Picchu on the morning of Day Four. It has to be said that if you want to arrive at Machu Picchu to see the sunrise over the site then this is the only real way to do it. The downside to the classic route is really a question of numbers. Although the government now limits the number of people on the trail to 500 a day, that’s still a fair number of people on what is quite a constrained route, so it’s that bit harder to lose yourself in the undoubted majesty of the surrounding scenery. If you’re the kind of person who wants to lose yourself in the moment, then you might like to consider some of the alternative Inca Trail treks available for your holidays in Peru. Probably the most widely-recognised among these is the Salkantay trek.
Although it also ends up at Machu Picchu, it takes a totally different route to get there, and covers some surprisingly different terrain. Although the Inca Trail takes you up well over 4000m above sea level, much of it is actually quite a bit lower down, and much of the trek is based in the sub-tropical slopes of the eastern Andes. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and the steeply-forested slopes are part of what makes the trek so appealing. But if you’re serious about trekking in Peru, you probably want to challenge yourself with some higher-altitude trekking, and for that you need to think aboutinstead. It’s undoubtedly tougher than the classic route, with a couple of mountain passes at 5000m, but your reward is more of the snow-capped peaks of the high Andes, and even a short section where you cross a glacier.
The Salkantay trek takes a full four days, at the end of which you arrive in the small town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of the Machu Picchu Mountain. You then stay overnight in a local hotel, before enjoying a full day visiting the site of Machu Picchu the next day. Travel between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu is usually by one of the small shuttle buses which runs backwards and forwards between the two all day, but if you want to be at Machu Picchu for sunrise, you’ll need to walk up the road yourself, because the buses don’t start early enough for that! If Salkantay sounds a bit tough but you don’t want to trek the classic Inca Trail, there are also other routes available as well, such as combining Machu Picchu with the Lares trek (often known as the ‘Weavers Way’) or even working in a route trekking to Machu Picchu’s sister site of Choquequirao… So if you’d like to include some trekking on your next holidays in Peru, and somebody mentions the Inca Trail trek, remember that it’s actually Inca Trail treks – plural!