The Inca Trail is probably South America´s most iconic trekking trail. It tops the bucket list of many adventure travelers and hiking lovers. Without a doubt, hiking directly into Machu Picchu via the Sungate, just like the Inca’s did, is an amazing and unforgettable experience.
However, the popularity of this trek has its downsides. To avoid over tourism and trail erosion, permits are limited and booking far ahead is essential (6-8 months in advance). Heading off in the same direction as 500 fellow hikers and sleeping at busy campsites for some might not turn out to be the mysterious hiking experience they were expecting. And the tourism load is a huge challenge for the environment. The trail needs to close down completely every February for maintenance work, to clean up, tidy up campsites, and remove trash from the trails.
We aren’t suggesting that you skip Machu Picchu, or take the Inca Trail off your Peru travel list, if this is the one you have your heart set on – it is beautiful trail and the most popular hike for good reason.
However, if you fancy an off the beaten path hiking adventure in Peru, away from the crowds, along stunning mountain landscapes and natural sceneries that are equally (or even more) exciting than the Inca Trail, make sure to check out our 3 favourite and amazing alternative trekking routes around Cusco. All of these treks end with a tour of Machu Picchu and are a better choice for those seeking to travel ethically, sustainably and responsibly.
Recommended for: Hikers interested in Inca Culture and ancient Inca Ruins
The Choquequirao Trek takes hikers through historically rich territory and diverse landscapes and climates. Those who opt for this hike will walk from highlands surrounded by snow-capped mountains along green valleys, and arid mountain peaks to the cloud forest and the tropical forest of the high jungle.
This trek is an excellent alternative as you get to visit, and even camp in, Choquequirao, a spectacular Inca Ruin site that is even larger than Machu Picchu and far less touristy. The Choquequirao Ruin site is one of the ancient lost Inca Cities that Hiram Bingham discovered in 1909.
The Choquequirao Trek trek is rated as a challenging hike considering the high altitudes and length of walking.
Ausangate & Rainbow Mountain Hike
Recommended for: Hikers looking for amazing landscapes and plenty of photo opportunities
The Ausangate & Rainbow Trek is a true off the beaten path wilderness hike on a new route located in the high Andean mountains of Peru, a few hours south of Cusco. En route hikers encounter snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes, glacial peaks, rainbow mountains, hot springs, llamas, alpacas, chinchillas, and maybe even a wild vicuña.
This trek takes visitors along a portion of the Ausangate Trail to the incredibly colorful Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain composed of stratified layers of sandstone.
The Ausangate/Rainbow Trek is a moderate to strenuous hike due to the mileage covered each day, high altitude hiking and camping (highest pass is 17,060 ft), and steep ascents.
Recommended for: Experienced hikers looking for a true challenge and adventure
The Ancascocha Trek is also known as the Hidden Inca Trail or the Super Inca Trail and National Geographic recently named the Ancascocha Trail as one of the World’s 20 Best Hikes!
This route leads hikers through amazing, never-ending mountain vistas, glacial peaks, deep blue-green lakes, a small Inca ruin, waterfalls, and lots of llamas, alpacas, and sometimes even a wild condor sighting! It is the perfect alternative for trained hikers looking for off the beaten path trails, pristine wilderness, and a challenging trek.
The Ancascocha Trek is very strenuous and challenging due to the altitude gain, high altitudes, 7 steep summits, and length of hiking.
Is your dream trekking route missing from this list?
There are several further options we can offer you in Peru: The Lares Trek (a more cultural option interacting with local people living in the mountains), the Salkantay Trek (which combines Andean plateaus with high jungle and cloud forest) or an amazing day hike leading to Lake Humantay. Get in touch with our Travel Specialists to find the best trekking option for you!
Photos from top to bottom by Phil Nguyen, N/A, Jose Montes, Amoris Walker