Menu

For me, there’s nothing quite like traversing a remote trail on foot, arriving at 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. I’ve done my fair share of hiking around the world but, in my view, there’s nothing that quite compares to the Peru trekking experience. The Peruvian Andes are at once accessible, but feel so remote at the same time. What I love most are the constant reminders of Quecha culture and the Andes’ long indigenous history.

Peru has four main trekking regions. As a resident of Cusco, home to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, I’m very partial to that region. 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.

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 I recommend coming with some background knowledge.

Read on for my personal recommendations for trekking in Peru. Happy hiking!

Where to go trekking in Peru

Our experts' top picks

Cusco, Machu Picchu & The Sacred Valley
Peru

Cusco, Machu Picchu & The Sacred Valley

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

The titan of Peru's tourism industry, the Cusco area – home to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu – dwarves the country's other trekking regions. This is the backdrop of the world-famous Inca Trail, a route so popular that it has spawned a multitude of 'alternative treks'. All are worth your time.

If you're in this area you're almost certainly here to see Machu Picchu, but please do spare some extra time for the rest of the region – it's certainly not 'just' all about Machu Picchu!

Arequipa & the Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon

Arequipa & the Colca Canyon

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

The Arequipa region in southern Peru is famous for its volcanoes and the harsh beauty of its desert landscapes.

This is one of the best places in the world to hike up a volcano because the trails, although tough, are not technical climbs. It’s also great for spotting condors and vicuñas, the wild cousin of the llama.

Huaraz & The Cordillera Blanca
Cordillera Blanca

Huaraz & The Cordillera Blanca

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

Move over Cusco. The Cordillera Blanca, near Huaraz is Peru's capital for serious trekking, verging into mountaineering.

The mountain range is one of the highest tropical mountain ranges in the world and has the highest mountains in Peru, along with 722 glaciers. Despite its attractions, you will encounter far fewer people here than in the Cusco region. The distance from Machu Picchu and high altitudes in the Cordillera Blanca discourage the more casual trekker.

Chachapoyas
Chachapoyas & Kuelap

Chachapoyas

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

The Chachapoyas region is most famous for Kuélap, a massive pre-Inca citadel built by the Chachapoyas civilisation which controlled the area from 900-1400 AD and were conquered by the Inca less than 200 years before the Spanish arrived. A trekking highlight here is the Gran Vilaya trek, possibly the best trek in the north of Peru to see both spectacular jungle and pre-Inca archeological sites.

The best treks in Peru

Peru's most popular – and lesser known – treks

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

The Inca Trail deserves its fame, but in my opinion there are so many better (and less crowded) routes. If I had to pick an absolute favourite it would be the Lares Trek, but here are a few more that are well worth considering:

  • The Lares trek

    The Lares trek

  • KM 104

    KM 104

  • Choquequirao trek

    Choquequirao trek

  • The Inca Trail

    The Inca Trail

  • Gran Vilaya trek

    Gran Vilaya trek

  • Santa Cruz trek

    Santa Cruz trek

  • Colca Canyon trek

    Colca Canyon trek

  • The Ausangate trek

    The Ausangate trek

  • The Vilcabamba trek

    The Vilcabamba trek

  • The Salkantay trek

    The Salkantay trek

  • The Huayhuash Circuit

    The Huayhuash Circuit

  • Kuelap day hike

    Kuelap day hike

Choqui trail peru

Trail through the Apurímac Valley towards Choquequirao

Planning a Peru trek

Everything you wish you’d known before booking

The great Inca Trail debate

In my opinion, Peru has been let down badly by the international tourism industry which has historically focused on Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, to the detriment of the rest of the country.

I’ve hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu twice and definitely understand the allure, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s just too busy and commoditised, and the way porters are treated is too problematic. Real changes must be made before I can recommend the Inca Trail without reservation.

I usually recommend one of the Inca Trail alternative treks instead.

Peru lares trek

Quiet valleys on the Lares trek

My favourite Inca Trail alternative

Heather Jasper
By Heather Jasper

If it’s important for you to arrive at Machu Picchu by foot, consider doing the KM104 hike to Machu Picchu, which I’ve also done twice. You get the epic arrival with a less crowded experience.

A little-publicised benefit to the KM104 trek is that you arrive at Machu Picchu in the afternoon, as the crowds are beginning to thin out. You are not allowed to enter the ruins, but you have a great view of them from the Sun Gate (Intipunku) and can stop to take photos on some of the upper terraces. Even better, you return the next morning for a full guided tour.

My ultimate pro tip: combine the Lares trek for the multi-day hiking experience, followed by the KM104 hike for the epic Machu Picchu arrival.

My favourite Peru trekking regions

Miles Buesst
By Miles Buesst

I may be biased, but in my opinion, the places beyond the uber popular Machu Picchu and Cusco region have all the ingredients for world-class trekking – just without the crowds! My first visit to Peru back in 2000 was centred on the hotspots around southern Peru, but over time I learned there are some real trekking gems in the north – especially around Huaraz, Chachapoyas and Leymebamba. The main issue with trekking outside of Cusco is it's harder to find group treks that you can book onto. However, if you are a group of two or more, you may well find that a private trek in northern Peru works out as cheap or cheaper than a Machu Picchu hike.

Mind the altitude

The itineraries offered by most tour operators can be too fast-paced, which is not a great idea at these altitudes. 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.

Check the small print

Check what camping equipment is provided by your trekking 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 livelihoods, which often depend on the jobs provided by foreigners who hire local guides, porters, cooks and muleteers.

Being a curious trekker

You might think of South America as a hispanic continent, but Peru (along with Ecuador and Bolivia) is primarily an indigenous Andean culture; much more reserved and conservative than the Latin stereotypes.

Be curious about food, art (especially textiles), language, music and dance. You’ll likely have the opportunity to try foods that are uncommon or non-existent outside of Peru. Some of my favourites are maca, a hot drink in the morning, and lúcuma, a jungle fruit that makes smoothies especially creamy.

Traditional textiles all have symbols woven in, each with specific meaning. If you’re buying art, try to buy directly from the artist so you can ask them what it means to them. Buying directly from the artist also ensures that they get a fair price for their work. While some bargaining is normal, don’t expect the price to go down much. Market prices may be inflated 10-20% to accommodate bargaining but don’t be offended if sellers don’t agree to take much off the original price.

You’ll see some Quechua words spelled differently. Huayna Picchu and Wiñay Wayna both contain the word for young: huayna/wayna. Both are considered correct because there is not one standard way to spell most Quechua words. The language was not written until Europeans tried to write it, and the European alphabet doesn’t do a good job of conveying many Quechua sounds. Listen to how words are pronounced and don’t get hung up on spelling.

Music and dance are very important in Andean cultures. If you’re in Cusco in June, plan to spend some time in the Plaza de Armas enjoying the traditional music and dances that are celebrated every day. Most songs are still sung in Quechua and Andean flutes are commonly used for all kinds of music.

When to go

When timing a trekking trip to Peru you’ve got one basic choice: dry season or rainy season. The dry season (April/May to September/October) is generally considered to bring the best trekking conditions, but this is peak tourism season and the trails will be busy.

Peru Colca Canyon 2

The Colca Canyon in Peru's southern Arequipa region

Peru trekking FAQs

Your questions, our expert answers

Question

Will altitude sickness be a problem? How can I avoid it?

Answer

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is by far the most important factor to keep in mind while trekking in Peru. Most treks in Peru involve high altitude at some point. 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 two or three days at altitude before you start your trek. I recommend two days taking it easy in town, followed by an easy hike at high altitude before you start the trek. Near Cusco, consider hiking to Inkilltambo or Waqra Pukará. In Huaraz, Laguna Parón and Pastoruri Glacier both take you to high altitude without a lot of walking. Near Arequipa, check out the Ruta del Sillar. In Chachapoyas, visit Kuélap or Yalape. During that time, drink plenty of coca leaf tea (the traditional Andean remedy for altitude sickness), stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and heavy meals, and generally just go easy on yourself.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

When is the best time to go trekking in Peru? Is it year-round? What are the best and worst months?

Answer

Trail conditions are best during the dry season, from April/May through September/October. I’ve done plenty of trekking in November, December, March and April but avoid January and February because those are the rainiest months. I think April and May are the best because it doesn't rain much but the hills are still green and covered with flowers.

Note that the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance during the month of February.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

Is the Inca Trail realistic, say for someone in their 60s who is pretty fit and active?

Answer

Yes, if you acclimate to the altitude first. Every day somebody gets to the point that they can’t walk any more and a porter actually carries that person piggy-back. I don’t think that should be allowed, but it happens and you don’t want that to be you.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

I’m not keen on touristy places, is Machu Picchu really a must-see in your opinion or should we go somewhere less popular?

Answer

I wouldn’t call Machu Picchu a must-see, especially if you don’t like crowds. That said, of all the Inca ruins near Cusco, Machu Picchu is the biggest that’s easiest to get to and has the most qualified guides who can tell you all about the site. Comparatively, the Inca ruins at Pisac are more accessible, cheaper and have fewer crowds but aren’t as big. Choquequirao is just as big and impressive but requires a long and challenging hike.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

What alternative to the Inca Trail do you most recommend, and why?

Answer

Personally, I like Lares the most because you get a real taste of indigenous Andean culture while staying close to Machu Picchu. If you want to do a challenging trek and see Inca archeology, but not necessarily Machu Picchu, go to Choquequirao.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

Can you do any of these treks solo or without a guide?

Answer

Yes. Choquequirao is the easiest to do without a guide because the trail is easy to follow and local families rent cabins and provide meals. Salkantay is getting easier every year, in terms of infrastructure.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

What are the hardest and easiest treks?

Answer

In the Cusco region, Choquequirao is definitely the hardest trek that I’ve done, because the trail is very steep and you have to first descend 2,000 metres of elevation before hiking back up that same amount. The Inca Trail is hard because on the second day you hike over a pass that’s 4,215 metres above sea level.

The easiest is KM104 to Machu Picchu, which is really a day hike but you spend the night in Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu the next morning. Lares can be relatively easy because it’s not a long trek, so you can take it slow.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

Is trekking in Peru safe? How about for solo female travellers?

Answer

I have been travelling solo around Peru since 2013 and have never had a problem as a female traveller. That said, I speak Spanish and take the time to research places before I go so I don't wander around looking lost. I have found hostels around Peru to be safe, but I avoid clubs and the party hostels. The Policía de Turismo is a police force dedicated to serving tourists but they rarely have anybody on staff who speaks English so if you need help you’ll probably have to find your own translator. Call the Centro de Emergencía de la Mujer at 100 for any crimes against women.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

What kind of food should I expect on a trek?

Answer

Lunch and dinner almost always start with soup because it’s cold in the mountains and you need to hydrate. Meals are relatively light with small portions because digestive systems don’t work as well when you’re at altitude, i.e. when your body is functioning with less oxygen than it’s used to. However, trekking agencies cook plenty of food, so there’s always seconds and thirds if the portions are too small for you.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

How can I support responsible tourism in Peru?

Answer

Research your trekking operator carefully before you book. Don’t go for the cheapest, as corners will be cut on the ground employees’ wellbeing and livelihoods. Don’t book anything on the street in Cusco. If you’re booking through an international brand, try to find out who is actually running the ground operations. Good quality trekking outfitters will talk openly about how they work responsibly with indigenous communities, or – ideally – will be fully or part-owned by local people. Stay in family-run hostels or hotels rather than big hotels owned by international brands. Buy souvenirs from non-profits like the Traditional Textile Center of Cusco, Mantay and Xapiri.


Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper
Question

What permits will I require?

Answer

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. Entrances are managed in waves of 75 people at 7am, 8am, 9am and 10am for a total of 300 people per day. Less popular is the hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, which is also permit-regulated and can also be added to the entrance ticket.

Heather Jasper
Answered by Heather Jasper

In this guide

Peru trekking highlights

About the authors

Trekking in Peru

Heather Jasper

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

Trekking in Peru

Miles Buesst

Miles has been travelling to Peru since 1999, originally as a tour leader and more recently as the founder of PeruNorth, a leading specialist in Peru trekking tours to lesser-known locations. Over the years, his expert knowledge has been employed by various guidebooks, including National Geographic Traveller: Peru, DK Eyewitness, Footprint: South America Handbook and Viva Peru!

Other guides you might like

Need expert advice?
I'm here to answer any of your questions
Heather Jasper

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial travel guides

Our guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world's best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.