One of the most popular treks in South America, the Inca Trail draws thousands of hikers each year. If you’d rather avoid the huge crowds, here are some equally impressive alternatives for exploring hidden ruins and enjoying scenic landscapes.
Beginning in the village of Lares, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) outside of Cusco, the Lares Trek is slightly shorter than the Inca Trail and passes through many of the same stunning Peruvian landscapes. While a bit more challenging, this less traditional route offers hikers the opportunity to encounter traditional Andean farming communities where locals still dress traditionally.
This 4-day trek is quieter, more affordable, more authentic, and more convenient than the Inca Trail—you don’t have to book months in advance. This trail passes through the same region as its more popular counterpart, giving hikers spectacular views of valleys, snowcapped Andes mountain peaks, glaciers, and cloud forests along the way. A short train ride brings visitors to Machu Picchu at the end of the hike.
While the two-day drek to Choquequirao is quite strenuous, the reward is a chance to explore Inca ruins with only a handful of other visitors. The ruins at the end of the trail are nicknamed “the other Machu Picchu” for their stone terraces and ornate structures, believed to have been a retreat for Inca royalty.
Inca Jungle Trail
The Inca Jungle Trail makes an excellent alternative route to Machu Picchu for adventure travelers and thrill seekers. The 4-day trek begins with a mountain bike descent to the town of Huamanmarca and also allows for hiking, zip-lining, or even rafting on your way to the famed ruins.
Huchuy Qosqo Trek
This is the shortest and easiest alternative to the Inca Trail. Hikers often make this trek to Aguas Calientes over two days, with a visit to Machu Picchu on the third. The hike gets its name from the Huchuy Qosqo ruins, set atop a plateau overlooking the Sacred Valley.
Inca Quarry Trek
This trail winds for 16 miles (26 kilometers) through small villages, along scenic ridgelines, and past little-known ruins from the Inca Empire. You’ll likely see few other hikers on this 3-day trip before arriving at Aguas Calientes, where a pre-dawn bus brings trekkers to Machu Picchu.