For the adventure-minded, there’s nothing quite like traversing a remote trail on foot, arriving to a new place by muscle power just like the travellers of old.

Trekking in Peru satisfies the human itch to travel by foot for days, to earn a destination after a hearty physical challenge. With trails that combine epic mountain scenery with fascinating pre-columbian indigenous history, Peru is without doubt one of the finest places on earth for trekking and hiking.

Of course, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu steals most of the limelight – and with good reason; there really is nothing else like it on the planet. But eclipsed by the Inca Trail's long shadow are numerous excellent trails, both within the popular Cusco region and beyond. Its popularity makes booking the Inca Trail a tricky prospect. If you're not set on this particular route, it's well worth considering some of the alternatives.

Peru has four main trekking regions. The Cusco region, home to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu draws by far the most attention and visitors. Then there is Arequipa and the Colca Canyon in the south, and Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca in the central highlands. In distant fourth place but by no means a lesser destination is the northern Chachapoyas region, home to magnificent ruins of Kuelap.

The country has an excellent and well-developed trekking industry, with first rate guides and equipment. There are certain ethical dimensions to the country's trekking business and a mindful visitor will come pre-equipped with some background knowledge. Read the section below for essential details on planning and booking a trek in Peru.

In the meantime, read on for our essential guide to trekking in Peru. Happy hiking!

Inca trail trek

Slogging upwards on the world famous Inca Trail

The best treks in Peru

Peru's most popular – and lesser known – treks

Peru's main trekking regions are Cusco, Arequipa, Huaraz/Cordillera Blanca, and Chachapoyas. There are numerous trekking routes to be found in all four – here are a smattering of our top picks and lesser-known highlights.

The classic Inca Trail

The Inca Trail

Difficulty: Difficult

Duration: Four days

Max elevation: 4,215 metres (13,828 ft)

Accommodation: Camping

Start/end point: KM82 to Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail is easily the most famous of all the Peru treks. Since it first opened, it’s been included in every roundup of the world’s best trekking routes, and for good reason. There’s something profoundly magical about making this pilgrimage, as the Inca once did from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

Only on this classic route can you actually arrive at the famous ruins on foot. For any of the so-called alternative treks, the route will finish at a different point, and you’ll arrive in Machu Picchu via train to Aguas Calientes.

Although you’ll certainly see your share of stunning landscapes as you head from the mountains to the high jungle, this trek is particularly known for its stop-offs at numerous Inca sites along the way. While you’ll be sharing the path with a great number of other tourists, porters, cooks, and guides, you can still snatch some private moments to take in the scenery, not to mention the history, of the trail.

Peru Choquequirao mist

The trek to Choquequirao is a classic "Inca Trail alternative"

The Choquequirao Trek

The Choquequirao Trek

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: Approx 64km (40m)

Duration: Four to five days depending on pace

Max elevation: 3,300 metres

Accommodation: Cabins or camping

Start/end point: Capuliyoc

Until recently, relatively unknown and vastly overshadowed by the “sister ruins” of Machu Picchu, the Choquequirao complex is a true hidden gem that receives just a handful of visitors each year.

This splendid isolation is down to the ruins’ absolute lack of access: no luxury train and bus connections here, just a gruelling three-to-four day trek over challenging, but hugely rewarding, terrain. The roundtrip distance is 64 kilometres, not counting how much you walk around the ruins themselves.


Crowd free ruins on the Qhapac Ñan

Credit: Christian Declercq / Kmcero

The Qhapac Ñan

Qhapac Ñan

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

Distance: Various routes, typically around 60 km (37 miles)

Duration: Five to seven days

Accommodation: Camping

Start/end point: Huanuco Pampa

Not really a single trek, Qhapac Ñan ("Beautiful Road" in Quechua) is the name for the 25,000 mile road network that stitched the Inca Empire together from Colombia in the north to Chile in the south.

Only recently discovered (by the tourism industry at least – locals have always known about it), pioneering travel companies are now developing sections of the Qhapac Ñan into commercial treks. This is a truly frontier travel experience, and one that can contribute directly to the preservation of a fascinating but criminally overlooked historical artefact.

Most of the action is centred around the central region near Huaraz, but various routes stretch a long way both up and down the Andes.

Peru lares trek

Quiet valleys on the Lares trek


The Lares Trek

The Lares Trek

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: Various routes, classic route approx 33km (20m)

Duration: Three to four days

Max elevation: 4,400 metres

Accommodation: Camping or lodges

Start/end point: Huarán - Lares Hot Springs

Known as the “cultural trek” to Machu Picchu as it offers opportunities to interact with local communities along the way, the Lares trek is one of the shorter treks, which makes it a good option for those who are short on time.

Hiking from the Sacred Valley up to high mountain passes, you’ll be treated to some stunning vistas on this route. However, the real treat here is meeting the local inhabitants of indigenous villages along the way, learning about ancestral weaving techniques directly from the descendants who are still practising them today. An added (and welcome) bonus is finishing at the hot springs in Lares.

Approaching Salkantay Mountain peru

Approaching Salkantay Mountain

The Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: Approx. 60km (37m)

Duration: Four to five days

Max elevation: 4,630 metres

Accommodation: Camping or lodges

Start/end point: Challacancha - Santa Teresa

The Salkantay Trek is the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail, described by National Geographic as one of the best treks in the world. While there are no ruins along the way unless you do the lodge-to-lodge version, the opportunity for gorgeous landscapes is even greater than on the Inca Trail, leading it to be known as the “Nature Trek.”

From snow-capped mountains down to high jungle, this trek is known for its varied ecosystems and landscapes. You’ll pass high mountain glaciers, walk along rolling fields and pastures, and end up in the high jungle that surrounds Machu Picchu.

Humantay is a 5473 meter 17956 ft mountain in the Vilcabamba Range in the Andes of Peru It is located in the region of Cusco

Laguna Humantay in the Vilcabamba Range

The Vilcabamba Trek

The Vilcabamba Trek

Difficulty: Challenging

Duration: Five days

Distance: 55 km

Maximum elevation: 4500m

Start/end point: Huancacalle - Yanatile

The Vilcabamba Trek takes hikers through the remote and rugged Vilcabamba mountain range, home to the last Inca stronghold during the Spanish conquest. Few trekking agencies run trips here but if you do go, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. Two amazing Inca ruins that you’ll visit are Vitcos and Ñustahispana.

The highlight of the trek is the visit to the remote and well-preserved Inca site of Espiritu Pampa, also known as "The Last City of the Incas." Read “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams for a humorous account of his gruelling trek to Vilcabamba. This is a difficult trek because of the high mountain passes.

Ausungate trail Cusco Peru horsemen

Horsemen in traditional Quechua dress following the Ausungate trail

The Ausangate Trek

The Ausangate Trek

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: Approx. 96km (60m)

Duration: Four to five days

Max elevation: 5,200 metres

Accommodation: Camping

Start/end point: Tinki - Pacchanta

The classic Ausangate route is a beast of a trek, although - as with Salkantay - there is a lodge version that brings some very welcome creature comforts to the overall experience.

The landscape here is rugged, wild, and pristine. You’ll be surrounded by awe-inspiring glacier mountains, turquoise lagoons of various sizes, and wildlife such as an abundance of waterfowl, raptors, and vizcachas, a cousin of the chinchilla. There are also some high mountain communities in this area who shepherd their alpacas in the region and offer some of the most beautiful weavings you’ll see in Peru. You’ll also get to soothe your aching feet in hot springs along the way.

View to top of Huayna Picchu with terraces Machu Picchu Peru

View of Huayna Picchu, the classic Machu Picchu day hike

Day hike to Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: Two to four hours

Max elevation: 2,693

Start/end point: The trailhead is at the far end of the Machu Picchu citadel

Huayna Picchu is best known as the perfectly triangular peak that towers behind Machu Picchu in all the classic photos. Many of the breathtaking photos you’ve seen that are taken from a vantage point far above the ruins were shot from this peak.

New in 2023, entrance tickets to Huayna Picchu are limited to just 300 per day; 75 people may enter each hour between 7am and 10am. All are expected to exit by 2pm. The entrance tickets must be purchased as an add-on to the ticket for Machu Picchu itself; availability will generally sell out a couple of months ahead of time.

Inca trail of Machu Picchu peru

Hikers walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

KM 104 (aka the 2-Day Inca Trail)

KM 104 trek

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: Six to seven hours' hiking

Distance: 11 km

Max elevation: 2,500

Start/end point: Km 104 to Machu Picchu

Although tour operators typically refer to this as the "Two Day Inca Trail", it actually only involves one day of hiking. The second day you visit Machu Picchu after spending the night in a hotel Aguas Calientes. The advantage of this two day itinerary is that you see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate on the day that you hike, with the afternoon light and return to the ruins the next morning with the sunrise.

The trail begins at KM 104, hence the name for this hike. You will take the train towards Aguas Calientes but stop about half an hour before the train reaches town. There is no train station and you will just hop off the train when it stops at KM 104. Train attendants know who has tickets to KM 104 and will make sure you get off the train at the right spot. The walk takes you into the high jungle which surrounds Machu Picchu.

Peru Colca Canyon 2

The Colca Canyon in Peru's southern Arequipa region

Colca Canyon trek

Colca Canyon trek

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

Distance: 14km

Duration: Two days

Max elevation: 3,500 metres

Start/end point: Cabanaconde

The Colca Canyon Trek is the most popular trek in the Arequipa region. The trailhead is in Cabanaconde, 200 km from Arequipa. The trail takes you down into the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, and offers spectacular views of the Andes Mountains and the Colca River.

Colca Canyon is moderately difficult because of the steep climbs and high altitudes. The hike up out of the canyon from San Juan de Chuccho to Cabanaconde is gruelling, especially if you don’t start early enough and you are subject to the harsh desert sun. For people coming directly from sea level, the altitude can also make the uphill hike more difficult.

Huascaran National Park in Yungay Peru laguna 69

Laguna 69, a detour on the Santa Cruz trek

Santa Cruz trek

Santa Cruz trek

Difficulty: Challenging

Duration: Four days

Distance: 47km

Max elevation: 4,750 metres

Start/end point: Cashapampa to Vaquería

The Santa Cruz Trek is considered one of the best treks in the Huaraz region, which also makes it the most commercially available.

The trek takes hikers through beautiful high-altitude landscapes, past crystal-clear lakes, and over high passes, with the option to add on a visit to the nearby Laguna 69. The highest pass is Punta Unión, from which you can see ten of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Blanca, including Alpamayo and Artesonraju.

Karajia chachapoyas kuelap Gran Vilaya trek peru

Karajia sarcophagi on the Gran Vilaya trek in Chachapoyas

Gran Vilaya trek

Gran Vilaya trek

Difficulty: Moderately difficult

Duration: Four days

Max elevation: 3,500 metres

Accommodation: Hostels, homestays and cabins

Start/end point: Cocachimba/Kuélap

This is the best trek in the north of Peru to see both spectacular jungle and pre-Inca archeological sites. You’ll visit the petroglyphs of Pitaya, the sarcophagi of Karajia, the extensive Gran Vilaya archeological complex, the Lanche archeological site and the immense citadel of Kuélap. You’ll also see Gocta Waterfall, which is an astonishing 771 metres high, and the unique ecosystem that transitions from the high Atlas to the Amazon Rainforest. You’ll hike past coffee farms and have the opportunity to try locally grown and roasted coffee.

Choqui trail peru

Trail through the Apurímac Valley towards Choquequirao

Peru trekking: Need to know

How to plan and book a trek in Peru

Any adventure activity in an unpredictable climate demands careful preparation and sensible packing. Use the climate advice as a guide but be prepared for rapid changes in weather and hiking conditions, especially at high altitude.

Check what camping equipment is provided by your operator. Tents and foam mats are usually provided, but you’ll probably need to bring your own sleeping bag—a three-season rating is recommended up to 4,000 metres above sea level and a four-season bag for camping at higher elevations. Some operators will rent these, check when you book.

Even people who are used to carrying all of their own gear on multi-day treks are advised to book treks with support staff in Peru. For the Inca Trail, it is required by government regulations. For other treks, the altitude will make you happy to have a packhorse carry most of your gear. Another consideration is local culture and economy, which often depend on the jobs provided by foreigners who hire local guides, porters, cooks and muleteers.

Private vs group treks

You have the option of booking a private trek for your group, or trekking with other people in a larger group. Aside from the cost implications, there are pros and cons to both, especially when factoring in younger travellers.

There’s immense pleasure to be found in meeting and trekking with new people–after several days supporting and coaxing each other along the way, you’ll feel like lifelong friends.

On the other hand, a private group means more flexibility and fewer worries about holding anyone else up. It’s a decision you’ll need to make for your own group and preferences.

Peru trekking permits & regulations

As Machu Picchu grows in its renown as a destination, a permit system has been enforced in order to keep the sheer volume of travellers in check. Permits to the following sites are required, and can be found here. (Note, however, that the site’s language options are limited and the online payment portal is notoriously spotty). You can also pay directly at the offices in Cusco or Aguas Calientes, or have permits arranged through a reputable tour operator.

Inca Trail permits

The classic four-day Inca Trail route is strictly regulated by a permit system. The limit is 500 people per day, including guides and porters, and permits sell out months in advance. Any variation of this route (even the one-day “Km 104 hike”, which overlaps with the last stretch of the Inca Trail), requires a permit. The Inca Trail is closed for conservation work every February.

Machu Picchu permits

Entrance to the citadel itself is capped at 2,500 per day. While this limit is rarely reached, it’s better to reserve in advance — especially during the peak season and festivals.

Huayna Picchu permits

For a short but steep hike to the top of the peak hovering behind Machu Picchu (called Huayna Picchu), reserve in advance. This permit is added to the entrance ticket, and is capped at two waves of 200 people per wave. Less popular is the hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, which is also permit-regulated and can also be added to the entrance ticket.

Visitor regulations

As a protected area, certain rules apply to Machu Picchu visits. It is prohibited to bring food, sound systems, or pets into the citadel. Hiking poles must have rubber covering metal tips, in order to protect the stonework. The gates open at 6am and close at 5pm each day.

A note on Quechua names

Many Quechua words have more than one correct spelling, so you may see the same place written with what looks like different names. “Huayna” in Huayna Picchu and “Wayna” in Wiñay Wayna are the same word, which means young. The word for town is spelled both “llacta” and “llaqta.” The main issue is that the Spanish alphabet does not have letters that represent all the sounds in Quechua. Stop and listen to people in the markets in Cusco and you’ll hear several sounds that you would be hard pressed to find the right letter for. Quechua does not have its own alphabet, so we have to accept that the writing system imported from Europe will not always work well.

Peru trekking safety

You don’t need to be exceptionally fit and strong to complete a trek – moderate fitness is fine, although it won’t hurt to prepare with some cardio exercise in the weeks and months before you travel.

Book with a credible, well-established operator for the reassurance of a professional, safety-conscious guide who will anticipate any problems before they arise.

Aside from the Inca Trail, many trekking routes follow faint or even non-existent trails, sometimes alongside sheer drops with no guardrails. It’s safe provided you heed your guide’s advice and pay attention to where you’re walking. It’s a good idea to use hiking poles here, even if you are typically sure-footed. Many trails have loose rocks and steep downhill sections.

Avoiding altitude sickness

By far the most important factor to keep in mind is the altitude. Machu Picchu is situated at 2,430m above sea level and Cusco at an incredible 3,400m. The town of Huaraz is at 3,052 metres but the hikes in the area are between 4,000 and 6,000 metres. Arequipa is only 2,335 but most treks there take you to close to 6,000 metres. Arriving here from Lima or elsewhere you’ll immediately notice the thin air, with reactions ranging from mild breathlessness to headaches and nausea. Severity varies by person and is usually more pronounced for younger and older travellers. Plan a rest day for your first day at altitude and take the second day easy.

It’s essential that you acclimatise before beginning your trek – a minimum of 3 days is ideal. During that time, drink plenty of coca tea (the Andean remedy for altitude sickness), stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and heavy meals, and generally just go easy on yourself.

Peru trekking tips

Upon arrival to Cusco, it’s worth immediately heading to the lower altitudes of the Sacred Valley to acclimatise for a day before heading back to explore Cusco. After this your body should be well adjusted to begin trekking.

Medical conditions

Be sure to disclose any pre-existing conditions to your trekking operator at the time of booking so that they can be forewarned and prepared. If you have any heart or respiratory conditions it’s particularly important to get your doctor’s clearance before travelling at altitude. Always check with a travel clinic before travelling to Peru.

Managing stomach issues

Foreign travel always carries a slight risk of picking up new stomach bugs. What’s usually a mild inconvenience in the comfort of a hotel can easily derail your trekking experience when you’re halfway up a mountain. Nausea and diarrhoea make it difficult for your body to stay hydrated and absorb sufficient nutrients from your food, which can make you feel weaker and less steady on your feet.

Bring whatever medication works best for you, and in the days prior to beginning your trek follow common-sense eating and drinking rules: avoid tap water, raw foods washed in untreated water and anything else that might risk a stomach upset.

Travel insurance

This should go without saying but it’s astonishing how many people travel without proper insurance. The vast majority of claims are for transport delays but still double check that your policy covers trekking and full medical evacuation. Buy your policy in your country of residence before you travel. Don’t assume that your credit card provides comprehensive travel cover–most don’t!


On an organised trekking tour all food and drink will be provided, including three square meals and plenty of water and energy-dense fruit and snacks to keep you going through the day. Follow your guide’s advice and eat and drink plenty–it’s essential you remain well hydrated.

Emergency procedures

Ask about your operator’s emergency procedures and first-aid equipment and training before you book. Horses and mules are not allowed on the Inca Trail but on other routes, there should be an “emergency horse” for exhausted or sick trekkers.

In this guide

Peru trekking highlights

Peru Trekking: An Expert Guide

Heather Jasper

Based in Cusco, Peru, Heather is an expert on travel to Peru and South America. Heather writes on travel to Peru and beyond for publications including BBC Travel, Fodor’s Travel, Matador Network, Thrifty Nomads, World Nomads, Scott’s Cheap Flights, Flashpack, and more. Heather co-founded the Covid Relief Project with Henry Quintano Loaiza to assist vulnerable families in the Cusco region.

Peru Trekking: An Expert Guide

Maureen Santucci

Maureen is based in the ancient Peruvian capital of Cusco, where she works as a travel advisor and journalist covering Peru for Fodors Travel Guides and a variety of other publications.

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