7 Amazing Alternatives to the Inca Trail

Looking for the best alternatives to the Inca Trail? When it comes to trekking, the Inca Trail in Peru is, of course, one of the most iconic and sought-after experiences in the world. We completed the classic 4-day/3-night trek with Alpaca Expeditions and had an incredible experience.

That being said, there are lots of reasons why you might want to consider an alternative trek if you’re looking for something different or want to avoid the crowds, 

There are several incredible alternatives to the Inca Trail that offer equally rewarding experiences, and we did a ton of research into these options while planning our 7-day Peru itinerary.

Why Consider Alternatives to the Inca Trail?

While the Inca Trail is incredible, it’s also incredibly popular, and this can be a turn-off for some people.  The trail can get crowded, and while choosing the best time to visit Machu Picchu can help mitigate this to some extent, many people might prefer to choose a different, less crowded route entirely.  

Because the Inca Trail is so popular, expect to book far in advance as Inca Trail permits sell out fast.  This is especially true if planning to hike with one of the best Inca Trail tour companies (which we highly recommend).  Kendall and I booked our tour with Alpaca about seven months ahead of time. 

Altitude might also be something to think about.  Acclimating to the high-altitude city of Cusco can help you avoid problems on the trail (besides, there are so many things to do in Cusco that we could have spent weeks there).

However, the Inca Trail still reaches an altitude of 13,828 feet at Dead Woman’s Pass.  If you’ve had issues with altitude sickness in the past, this might be a reason to consider an alternative route. 

hikers ascending the stairs on the Inca Trail

Alternative 1: Salkantay Trek

If you’re up for a challenge, the Salkantay Trek should be at the top of your list.  The highlight of this trek is that you get to stop at Humantay Lake, with its turquoise-blue water, and you still get to see Machu Picchu at the end. 

The Salkantay Trek typically takes around five days to complete, and you’ll need to have a fairly good fitness level. 

Important note: This route reaches an altitude of 15,190 feet at Salkantay Pass, so this is NOT  a good option if altitude sickness is a concern for you.

the turquoise-blue water of Humantay Lake on the Salkantay trail, one of the best alternatives to the Inca Trail

Salkantay Quick Facts

  • Total distance: 46 miles
  • Tour duration: four to six days (depending on your tour company)
  • Highest Altitude: 15,190 feet (or 4630 meters)
  • Highlights: Humantay Lake, Machu Picchu, views of Salkantay Mountain

Alternative 2: Lares Trek

If you’re interested in immersing yourself in traditional Andean culture, the Lares Trek is an awesome choice. 

This route takes you through remote villages where you can interact with indigenous communities and learn about their way of life. 

The Lares Trek typically takes around three to four days to complete, depending on your pace and itinerary. 

Lots of tour companies offer the opportunity to do things like learning about traditional weaving techniques and tasting authentic Peruvian food, and some even stop at some natural hot springs.

Important Notes: This trek tends to be colder than many of the others, so bring lots of layers!  However, it also moves at a slower pace, so it is good for younger or older hikers. 

llamas grazing in a field

Lares Trek Quick Facts

  • Total distance: 20-22 miles (33km)
  • Tour duration: 4 days (for most tour groups that include a stop at Machu Picchu afterward)
  • Highest Altitude: around 14,928 feet (or 4550 meters)
  • Highlights: hot springs, stops in Andean villages, Machu Picchu

Alternative 3: Choquequirao Trek

For those wanting to avoid crowds, the Choquequirao Trek is an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail. 

The site of Choquequirao is an incredible Machu Picchu alternative (it’s actually known as the ‘sister city’ of Machu Picchu). 

And, many tour groups offer options to include a stop at Machu Picchu as well.  Without the Machu Picchu stop, this trek is usually five days; with Machu Picchu, six days. 

Some highlights include getting to see the Apurimac River Canyon and the unique terraces of Choquequirao. 

overhead view of the Incan site of Choquequirao

Choquequirao Trek Quick Facts

  • Total distance: depends on the tour company.  Thirty-one miles with Alpaca Expeditions (no stop at Machu Picchu) https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/choquekiraw-trek-5d4n/
  • Tour duration: 5-6 days
  • Highlights: lesser-visited (but still magnificent) Incan site

Alternative 4: Ausangate Trek

While all the Andes mountain treks have incredible landscapes, Ausangate is especially known for its incredible views.  Also, most tour companies combine this route with a trip to Rainbow Mountain.

And many tour groups also still include a stop at Machu Picchu.  If your priority is to do both Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu during your stay in Peru, Ausangate can be a perfect choice.  

This is a fairly hard route that takes you around Ausangate Mountain, the highest peak in the area, and you’ll also get to see lots of other impressive, snow-capped mountains. 

This is a higher-altitude trek, so if you are worried about altitude sickness, you might want to go with another option.

sunset over a tent in the Andes Mountains

Ausangate Quick Facts

  • Total distance: 43 miles(70km)
  • Tour duration: 4-5 days
  • Highest Altitude: Arapa Pass (16,000 feet) 
  • Highlights: beautiful mountain scenery; many tours offer the option to add on Rainbow Mountain and/or Machu Picchu

Alternative 5: Inca Quarry Trail

The Inca Quarry Trail is a great alternative for those who want a slightly easier route.  The trail does not reach Macchu Picchu through the classic Sun Gate, but most tour companies offer a stop at Machu Picchu via a train ride after completing the trek. 

The Quarry Trail is usually 3-4 days (this includes the time spent transferring to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu).

The trail is only 26 km (16 miles), so it’s great for those who are worried about a strenuous four or five-day trek.  Also, this route is at a lower altitude, great for those worried about altitude sickness.  

Quarry Trail Quick Facts

  • Total distance: 16 miles (26km)
  • Tour duration: 3-4 days
  • Highest Altitude: Arapa Pass 4,450 meters (14,600 feet) 
  • Highlights: get to see the Kachiqata rock quarry and the Perolniyoc Cascade Lookout

Alternative 6: Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

If you want an option that combines trekking with other adventure activities like mountain biking or river rafting, choose the Inca Jungle Trail. 

One of the other tour companies we looked at, TreXperience, combines trekking with mountain biking to Maras and Moray, River Rafting in the Sacred Valley’s Urubamba River, and then visiting Machu Picchu.

This option is usually 4 Days/3 Nights, and trekkers will stay in lodges or hotels in between activities. 

This option also includes a stop at the Pispitayoc hot springs in Santa Teresa and a stop at the Incan site Llactapata. 

the Incan site of Llactapata

Jungle Trail Quick Facts

  • Total distance: varies (18 miles of hiking with TreXperience), along with other activities such as biking and rafting.
  • Tour duration: 4 days
  • Highest Altitude: various depending on the tour company and included activities 
  • Highlights: combines hiking with adventure activities, like biking and rafting.  

Alternative 7: Day Trek to Machu Picchu

While we think that spending multiple days in the Andes really made our trip to Machu Picchu worth it for us, many people have time constraints or aren’t up to the physical challenge of hiking for multiple days. For these people, a day trek is a fantastic option.  

Here’s a list of tour companies that offer one-day Inca trail treks:

  • Sam Travel Peru
  • Peru Spirit Adventure
  • Inka Trail Expeditions Peru

While a day hike/day tour may not provide the same level of physical challenge (that may be a pro or con for you), you’ll still get to see the incredible Andes Mountain scenery. 

Our favorite day of trekking was day three, and most short Inca Trail routes pass through the same region. 

overhead view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

The Classic Inca Trail Compared to Alternative Treks

Is there a reason to stick with the classic Inca Trail instead of going with an alternative route?  I heavily researched alternative routes and then ultimately still decided to go with the classic Inca Trail.  Here’s why:

This was our first time hiking with the Andes, and we really wanted to hike the classic route.  The classic route has access to more archeological sites along the way than some of the other options, and that was more important to us than avoiding crowds.   

We also really wanted a seamless experience with our tour company.  We knew that because the Inca Trail is the most popular, the biggest tour companies would have all the details down pat.  

Everything was so well organized, and we were very impressed.  Would it have been the same story with an alternative trek?  Probably.  But we just wanted to go with the most popular option for our first time.

campsite on a hill on the Inca Trail

Inca Trail Alternatives Packing List 

Is your packing list for an alternative trek going to be any different than the classic Inca Trail?  Not really.  Unless you are doing the colder Lares Trek, in which case you’ll want to be sure to have extra layers. 

You’ll want to pack the following for any hiking in the Andes, and, of course, you’ll just have to adjust for temperature/season. 

hikers on cloud-covered stairs on the Inca Trail

Clothing

  • One lightweight long-sleeve shirt (this works great for sun protection)
  • Two short-sleeve shirts
  • One dedicated clean set of sleepwear (we recommend long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and the nights can get chilly)
  • Jacket
  • Rain Poncho
  • Hiking pants or leggings (Kendall loves hiking in jeans but we don’t recommend it for these treks)
  • Sturdy, broken-in hiking boots 
  • Hiking/wicking socks
  • Camp shoes or sandals

Gear 

  • Daypack
  • Trekking poles (these are important!)
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • Camera or smartphone with extra portable charger

Sun/Skin Protection

  • Sunscreen (high SPF)
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Insect repellent
  • Personal medications
  • Small first aid kit

Food/Water

  • Reusable water bottle (most tour companies provide treated water)
  • Energy snacks and trail mix 

Other Essentials

  • Passport or ID (you will need this to enter the Machu Picchu site!)
  • Travel insurance information
  • Cash for tipping and snacks along the way (many routes go through small towns with vendors)

Alternatives to the Inca Trail: The Bottom Line

So, how to choose the right alternative?  Here’s what we recommend.

Salkantay: Best for those who want a challenging hike, really want to see Humantay Lake, and still want the opportunity to see Machu Picchu at the end.  

Lares Trek: Best for immersing yourself in local villages and for those who don’t mind the cold

Choquequirao: Best for those wanting to see an impressive Incan site and avoid the crowds

Ausangate: Best for those who want a trek with a Rainbow Mountain option and who are able to tolerate high altitudes. 

The Inca Quarry Trail: For those who want an easier route with lower altitudes. 

The Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu: Perfect for those who want to combine Machu Picchu with adventure activities, like biking, rafting, or ziplining, and would prefer to sleep in hotels or lodges. 

Day Trek to Machu Picchu: For those who really want to have the experience of hiking to Machu Picchu but don’t have the time or physical capacity to do a multi-day trek. 

While we LOVED the classic Inca Trail, there are lots of other fantastic options for those wanting to avoid the crowds or have a more unique experience. 

These trails, some alternative Inca trails, and some different routes entirely, offer a unique way to see this incredible region.  

What is the alternative to the Machu Picchu trail?

There are actually multiple alternative routes that still give visitors the opportunity to see Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trail, the Lares Trek, and the Choquequirao Trek are examples of these.

Is Lares or Inca Trail better?

That entirely depends on the experience you want. The Lares trail is more focused on cultural immersion as it passes through various Andean villages and is often less crowded. The classic Inca Trail is more popular, and visitors get to experience incredible sites along the way, such as Wiñay Wayna.

Do you have to do the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu?

No, you do not; there are other options. You can visit Machu Picchu as a day trip from Aguas Calientes, or you can see Machu Picchu as part of an alternative route, such as the Salkantay Trek.

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