With alluring images of Peru in every travel magazine, it’s little wonder that Peruvian trekking holidays are more popular than ever. The Andes curve like a spine through Peru providing some of the best trekking on the planet, but what are the 10 best treks in Peru?
Peruvian trekking holidays
A poster of Machu Picchu combined with a Paddington Bear duvet cover as a kid – he is from ‘Deepest Darkest Peru’ – inspired my travel bug. Add the Nazca lines, Lake Titicaca, the source of the Amazon river and the mighty Andes and Peru makes an incredible holiday destination.
And that’s before you start thinking about the trekking. With high mountain passes linking ancient civilisations of ‘cloud people’, trails to lost cities, routes that cover everything coastal to desert and rainforest to glacier. The variety you can experience on Peruvian trekking holidays is staggering.
But it is not just the climate and environment that varies. There are treks in Peru suitable for all experience and fitness levels. Whether you are a first time hiker or an experienced trekker there are multiple options suitable at all levels of difficulty.
10 best treks in Peru
From the commercial, but still impressive Machu Picchu, to the testing Huayhuash Circuit, you can expect difficulties and discoveries in this most rewarding landscape. Here are what we feel are the best treks in Peru – be sure to take good boots!
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: 4 days
Built in the 15th century, Machu Picchu is considered to be one of the greatest man-made destinations on the planet. So a good place – if a little cliche – to begin this top 10.
It is of little surprise, that the main Inca Trail which starts in cusco is the most popular route for Peruvian trekking holidays. The original Inca Trail is the busiest and most over-regulated hike on offer in Peru. But it is also the obvious option for those wanting a safe and accessible route into Machu Picchu.
Despite the huge numbers on the route, the Inca Trail offers a wonderful opportunity for all levels of hiker to trek to one of the new seven wonders of the world. Almost anyone can trek through a variety of landscapes, for most people it tkes just 4 days.
Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: 8 days
Trekking into the forgotten city of Choquequirao gives hikers an opportunity to visit a ruined Inca city, that is less accessible and less crowded than Machu Picchu. Whist this trek is still considered to be strenuous and somewhat dangerous, it is becoming significantly less so as more hikers take the trail.
There are various hiking itineraries that take in Choquequirao. In our opinion, the 7-night Choquequirao to Machu Picchu route via Aguas Calientes offers the ultimate experience and is one of the best treks in Peru.
This route takes you high up on the sacred Salkantay (the highest mountain in the region). You’ll pass through humid jungle, and get up close to the indigenous Quechua people.
Despite the majority of the trek taking place at relatively low altitude, there is a lot of elevation change and in places the trail is very steep and can get very muddy. Hikers should also be aware of the biting ants, which are a pain in the….
Salkantay Trek: 5-8 days
Rated as one of the 25 best treks in the world by National Geographic, this hike is the easiest and most popular alternative route to Machu Picchu. As long as you are well acclimatised, most self-sufficient hikers will have no problems, making it one of the best Peruvian trekking holidays.
The trails are not difficult and the only significant challenge comes in the form of the 4,700m Salkantay Pass. Whilst there are the expected challenges of wind and cold, the hike is really about immersion, observation and enjoyment of the stunning natural environment and wonderful local people.
Lares Trek: 4 days
Another fantastic alternative to the Inca trail is the Lares Valley trek. This hike has all the legacy and natural beauty of the Inca trail but without the tourist crowds, making it one of the best treks in Peru.
The valley is hidden amongst the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Andes. This inaccessibility means that life has changed little here for hundreds of years, making for an interesting cultural experience.
Beginning in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this 33km trek takes about 4 days to complete, passing through terraced fields and traditional villages as you climb high into the Andes. Day trips to Macchu Picchu can easily be added on at the end of this authentic and magical hike.
Vilcabamba: 7 days
A journey into the Vilcabamba area is unique among Peruvian trekking holidays. The region itself is located in the high jungle area that links the most rugged part of the Andes with the Amazon rainforest, meaning this hike takes place against a varied and remote backdrop.
What makes it really special is that from the time of the Conquest until 1572, the remnants of the Inca civilisation lived here. And as a result, the region is known as ‘the Lost Capital of the Incas’.
Taking around a week, the Vilcabamba is an ideal fit for the adventurous hiker looking for a fascinating, tranquil and beautiful trek into the heart and history of Peru.
Ausangate Mountain Trek: 4-5 days
The Ausangate Mountain Trek is considered to be one of the best treks in Peru and possibly the world. It is a remote trek with several high passes – up to 5,165m – to cross, so the Ausangate is recommended for confident, self-sufficient hikers with experience at high altitude.
You will sleep in a tent, so you will need to be prepared to deal with the cold, as temperatures can fall well below freezing at night. Trekking in Peru at this altitude it’s also wise to expect snow.
The Ausangate Circuit is 70km long and takes most hikers around 4/5 days to complete. It is absolutely imperative to recognise that there is no rescue service on hand here and hikers must go it alone. So it’s highly recommended you hire a guide.
The rewards however are plentiful. You will hike through the sacred Ausangate massif taking in the fantastic view of the glacier. You’ll see thousands of alpacas and can enjoy wonderful hot springs, both at the start and at the end of the trek.
Alpamayo Base Camp: 7 days
This trek in Cordillera Blanca offers the opportunity to get up close to one of the most beautiful mountains in the world: Alpamayo. Despite the fantastic views on offer, this is a remote environment and as a result there are relatively few trekkers on the trail.
While this creates a tranquil experience, be aware that this is one of the most demanding Peruvian trekking holidays. It is only recommended for experienced trekkers who are self sufficient and know what they are doing.
Acclimatisation is all important when undertaking the Alpamayo circuit. There is a huge elevation gain from Cholin, where the trek begins, and many passes between 4,600 and 4,900m to cross.
With 90km to cover, the trek normally takes about a week. It finishes with the infamous Portachuelo de Llanganuco, the mountain road out which is considered by many to be one of the most exciting and extreme ‘roads’ in the world!
Santa Cruz Trek: 4 days
A safer and easier alternative to the Alpamayo trail, but still one of the best treks in Peru. This hike is one of the most popular in the Cordillera Blanca due to the fact that it suits all experience levels.
Departing from the legendary hiking town of Huaraz, the trek lasts about 4 days. It passes through a stunning landscape, rich with turquoise lakes, red quenua trees and of course high mountains.
However, bear in mind that this is no easy hike. Trekkers will have to cover 50km of terrain and cross the high mountain pass of Punta Unio, which at 4,750m offers a significant challenge.
Cotahuasi Canyon: 8 days
This 8-day adventure in northern Arequipa is a fantastic journey into the highs and lows of Peruvian trekking holidays. While Cotahuasi is located at the highest Andean point in Arequipa, the actual Canyon itself is the deepest canyon in the world.
The trek takes you through the foothills of the Solimana to the confluence of the Ocona River. On the way you will pass through a varied landscape taking in wonderful waterfalls, thermo-medicinal waters, Inca and pre-Inca ruins, white glaciers, and spectacular flora and fauna.
In some places Cotahuasi Canyon itself is 3,535m deep. Yet at almost every turn the views are panoramic providing a fabulous mix of natural vistas that will satisfy any hiker.
The Huayhuash Circuit: 10-11 days
This mountain range was made famous when mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates climbed Siula Grande in 1985. As anyone who has read or seen the film Touching The Void will know, this is not an area for the amateur.
In our opinion it one of the best treks in Peru – and arguably worldwide – for experienced high altitude trekkers. While you can expect reasonably sunny and benign weather conditions in the Cordillera Blanca, the Huayhuash is a much more terrifying beast.
With cold and wind at such high altitudes, hypothermia is a big risk but the greatest threat comes from altitude sickness as there are many passes over 4,600m – the highest of which is the Punta Coyoc pass which stands at 5,490m.
With 140km to trek, the Huayhuash Circuit is long and arduous and normally takes 10-11 days to complete. If you are a serious hiker planning Peruvian trekking holidays this has to be on your shortlist.
Hardship aside, this trek offers a rare experience to hike in an intensely beautiful, glaciated landscape. The area is rich with condors and other wild birds, and offers the opportunity to get up close to Peru’s second highest summit, Yerupaja (6,634m).
If our guide to the best treks in Peru has inspired you to book a flight to Lima and to invest in some good walking boots, then be sure to check out our Peru discounts as you could save a fortune.