Alternative Treks to the Inca Trail

Yesterday we wrote about The Inca Trail, one of the best known and most popular treks anywhere in the world, culminating with hikers arriving at Machu Picchu following a stunning four day journey through the Andes. Unfortunately the popularity of the trail is also one of its drawbacks, with literally hundreds flocking to it on a daily basis during the high season. Those crowds can deminish the experience for those who prefer solitude on their adventures.

Fortunately, there are some excellent alternatives to the Inca Trail that offer more challenging hikes, little to no traffic, and scenery seen by only a select few. Here are three of the very best of those alternatives:

Salcantay Trail
This trail is named after the tallest mountain in the region, but has also garnered the nickname of “Machu Picchu’s Backdoor”. Much like the inca Trail, this trek is four days in length and ends at the lost city. For now it remains light on traffic, although a number of hikers are switching to this trail with increasing frequency, as the Inca Trail continues to sell out earlier and earlier each year. Unlike the Inca Trail however, there are no ruins along the path, and altitude is more of a consideration as the Salcantay climbs as high as 15,420 feet, nearly 2000 feet higher than the Inca. But those who choose the Salcantay get quieter campsites and smaller crowds, with a similar payoff.

Another amazing trek that ends in an ancient Incan ruin, this time a mountain fortress known as Choquequiro. While not as famous as Machu Picchu, Choquequiro is no less spectacular, with much of the place still being reclaimed from the jungle. The trail to Choquequiro is virtually unknown outside of the backpacker crowd, and the virtually empty route reflects that, but this one is not for the tourist crowd. Far more challenging and remote than the Inca Trail, without the same high altitudes, this hike allows visitors to get up close and personal with the people who inhabit the Andes Mountains in Peru, more so than any of the other trekking options. One of the other draws for this hike is that it can still be done independently as well. Experienced backpackers are able to hike to Choquequiro on their own should they choose, although a guide is still highly recommended.

Cordillera Huayhuash
Peru has some of the best hiking in the world, with stunning landscapes all over the country. Not all of the best hikes are in the Cusco region close to Machu Picchu. Take the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit located north of Lima. This particular trek is not for the faint of heart. While the Inca Trail, and the alternatives listed here are just four days in length, this epic trail takes 16 days to complete, with more demanding hiking across its length. Trekkers pass through 12 distinct high passes and climb above 18,000 feet, surrounded by glacier covered mountains and some of the most stunning vistas in the world. The Huayhuash Circuit is one of the premiere hikes on the planet, and should only be considered by experienced adventure travelers with plenty of trekking experience. Those that do undertake it are rewarded with an adventure of a lifetime.

So, there you have it. Leave the Inca Trail to the crowds, and take one of these other hikes. Enjoy the solitude of the Andes, without giving up the adventure.