In the whirlwind world of COVID, unfortunately, some of the classic tourist spots in Peru remain closed. Most notably of which is the long 4 or 5 days Inca Trail. Thankfully, the KM104 Royal Inca trail, or the final day that walks you into Machu Picchu, is still open.
Why isn’t the Inca Trail Currently Running?
The long Inca Trail is currently closed because the governing bodies who run the trail can’t reach an agreement on correct and safe protocols that will allow for its reopening. The issue that is being faced is how they will enable 200+ trekkers, the same number of porters, cooks, and guides to all travel around, staying in campsites of a limited size.
It’s a problem that the Inca Trail simply wasn’t built for social distancing, or to observe the current health, safety, or hygiene standards. After all, the Incas weren’t preparing their roads for a 21st-century pandemic.
Another problem that needs to be addressed is the lack of infrastructure in place to deal with a potential outbreak on the Inca Trail- nor a plan of how to contain or evacuate the trail if an outbreak were to happen.
So When Will the Inca Trail be Available to Hike?
The past few months have seen plenty of proposals and trial runs of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but unfortunately as of yet, none have been approved. Currently, we don’t know when the trail will be reopening, or what the new operating regulations will be when it does.
However, all is not lost. The Inca trail to Machu Picchu covers just 40 of the 10,000+kms of Inca trails that cover Peru. Here at, Amazonas Explorer, we have worked for many years specializing in showing trekkers amazing hidden Inca trails and still getting them to Machu Picchu. You don’t need to walk to the road most traveled to tred where the Incas did.
So I can’t hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
Actually, you still can. The good news is the Km104 Royal Inca Trail 2D is open and running at just 30% capacity. This means that you can still hike into Machu Picchu through the Sungate, and complete the final day of the “classic” Inca trail. You just won’t be able to do the full four or five-day hike.
If you still want to take part in a multi-day trek, then you can then choose from any of these amazing options. With each of these options we are confident we can run a safe, fun, and socially distanced experience, and give you a unique opportunity to trek in spectacular parts of the Andes on virtually deserted original Inca trails, avoid other hikers, and still get to Machu Picchu on foot.
Alternative treks to Machu Picchu when Inca Trail permits are sold out
- Lares Trek plus One Day Inca Trail
- Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek
- Ausangate Trek
- Salkantay Trek
The LARES TREK- 5 Days
How does the Lares Trek compare to the Inca Trail?
The Lares Trek is similar in difficulty and distance to the Inca Trail. It goes slightly higher. While it does not have Inca sites, instead you get indigenous culture which you do not get on the Inca Trail. The Lares Trek is much quieter than the Inca Trail. It feels easier on your legs because there are no stone steps. The scenery is mountainous with less change of ecosystem than the Inca Trail. There are fewer weight restrictions. You do not require a permit unless combining with the One Day Inca Trail, which is what we offer.
You experience living indigenous culture on the Lares Trek
The Lares Trek takes you through one of the strongholds of indigenous culture in Cusco. Very different from what you can see in the Amazon. The hill people of Lares dress in red ponchos which they weave themselves. They are very talented weavers. The ponchos represent their life if you understand the code used.
The people of the Lares valley are subsistence farmers. They herd alpacas and llamas and farm potatoes, carrots, onions, and not much else. They live from this, and from trading these goods in the local market. Some also earn an income as horsemen on the treks. The traditional houses in Lares are made from stone. They consist of one room and a thatched roof. The room is usually very smoky from cooking on an open fire.
So by taking the Lares Trek you get living indigenous culture. Of all the trekking in Cusco you could choose, the Lares Trek is the best for indigenous culture. We combine it with the One Day Inca Trail so you do not miss out on the Inca cultural sites (remember the Incas died 500 years ago).
You see fewer tourists on the Lares Trek than the Inca Trail
The Lares Trek is much quieter than the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail gets about 300 tourists and 200 porters per day. We do a 5 Day Inca Trail rather than the 4 Day Inca Trail, making it much quieter than normal. But it is still busier than the Lares Trek. There are various Lares Treks, you would be unlucky to see more than 10 or 20 other tourists in a day on any of the routes.
The Lares Trek is easier underfoot than the Inca Trail
While you go about 200 metres higher on the Lares Trek vs the Inca Trail, the walking is easier. The climbs and descents are less steep and the ground is softer underfoot. One of the things that make the Inca Trail hard for people is the big stone steps, which can take a real toll of your knees. By contrast, the Lares trek does not have steps, so you can shorten your stride, and do not have to lift your leg so high. And when descending you can take short steps too, rather than bumping down stone steps.
The Lares Trek has fewer weight restrictions vs the Inca Trail
Weight is strictly controlled on the Inca Trail because everything must be carried by human beings, the famous porters. So you can only take 6 kilos per person in the bag to be carried by your porters. On the Lares Trek, we move your luggage by vehicle. So we can allow you more weight. It also allows us to provide bigger tents and other things to make camping more comfortable.
Evacuation is easier on the Lares Trek than on the Inca Trail
We take an emergency horse and as our vehicles can access the campsites, it is much easier to get out if you have a medical problem. If you need to be evacuated on the Inca Trail, then you either walk, or the porters carry you out.
Campsites are less busy on the Lares Trek vs the Inca Trail
Campsites on the Inca Trail are allocated by the authorities. You will almost certainly share with other groups, especially if doing the 4 day Inca Trail where the campsites are very busy indeed. On the 5 Day Inca Trail, you will share with far fewer people. On the Lares Trek, you will have the campsite to yourself and your group. Which is far nicer and quieter. This is simply because there are not so many people trekking the route.
How far is the Lares Trek
The version we offer, the Lares Trek with One Day Inca Trail is 61km/ 38 miles in total. Of which 12km/8 miles is the One Day Inca Trail part. So the actual Lares Trek part is about the same distance as the Inca Trail which is 43km/ 27 miles. It takes you 5 days. So it is the most straightforward alternative trek to Machu Picchu, in terms of being most similar in distance and time and difficulty to the Inca Trail.
How hard is the Lares Trek? Is it for me?
The Lares Trek is of medium difficulty. It is do-able by anyone with reasonable fitness and proper acclimatisation. Altitude affects everyone differently but it will feel harder than trekking the same distance at sea level. If you are able to go walking in the mountains at home for 5 days, such as the Lake District in the UK or the Rockies in the USA, you should be fine. If you would struggle to do so back home, then you will struggle more here.
What is the best time to do the Lares Trek?
The best time to do a Lares Trek is between April and November. It is possible all year round, but from December to March there is more chance of rain. January and February especially can be very wet, which while not dangerous, is not as pleasant and you may not get the great views. The Lares treks do not get very busy, so there is no high season to avoid. The coldest nights and sunniest days will be May to August. But the shoulder season can be very nice too.
What is the weather like on the Lares Trek?
Daytime temperatures on the Lares Trek reach 16 celsius and nighttime temperatures can drop to zero. As you climb to the higher passes, it can feel colder than in the valleys. Occasionally there is hail on the passes or a light coating of snow. Daytime between April and November is generally sunny and you can often trek in shorts and t-shirts, for part of the day.
You will have to put on a fleece jumper at times. Being in the mountains it can change very quickly, going from sunshine to stinging hail and back in minutes. It can rain at any time of year, although more between December and March. So layers of clothing are the best option, including waterproof jacket and trousers, to allow you to adapt as needed to the often changeable weather on the Lares Trek.
Do you need a permit for the Lares Trek?
No, you do not need a permit for the Lares Trek itself. But if you take the Lares Trek with One Day Inca Trail, as we offer and recommend, then you do need a permit for the One Day Inca Trail. But these are a separate allocation of 400 to the main Inca Trail. So even when the 5 Day or 4 Day Inca Trail is sold out, there are usually permits available for the One Day Inca Trail. But please check.
Do you need a guide for the Lares Trek?
No, you do not need a guide for any Lares Trek, but the trails are not marked and there is no accommodation en-route, so taking an organised package with a guide will be the best option for most people. It is possible to backpack it yourself. However, if doing it as we offer, with the One Day Inca Trail- you do need a guide as the Inca Trail part requires it.
Lares Trek with One Day Inca Trail Route Map and Altitude Profile
We operate the Lares Trek plus One Day Inca Trail– taking 5 days. It replaces our 5 Day Inca Trail fixed departure each Tuesday when permits are sold out. You can book a private trip on any day. Except for February, when the whole Inca Trail is closed for maintenance.
THE CHOQUEQUIRAO TREK TO MACCHU PICCHU- 7 Days
How does the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek compare to the Inca Trail?
The Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu is a much harder alternative to the Inca Trail. It is more remote and has far fewer people than the Inca Trail. It is 22km/13 miles longer than the Inca Trail with more ascent and descent. It takes 7 days instead of 5. You reach the same maximum altitude as the Inca Trail, 4200m/13800 ft but require less acclimatization. It is hotter and drier. It does not require a permit. Guides are not obligatory. It is ideal if you want to go trekking in Cusco, on a challenging alternative trek to Machu Picchu.
NB: most companies offer a shorter Choquequirao Trek that does not go to Machu Picchu. They only go to Choquequirao and back. But we offer a trek which carries on past Choquequirao to Machu Picchu, which is a far better option.
The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek is harder than the Inca Trail
The huge ascents and descents and the heat in the canyons make this a much tougher challenge than the Inca Trail. This is great if you are an experienced trekker wanting to do something different.
The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek sees far fewer tourists than the Inca Trail
The Inca site of Choquequirao sees no more than 10 to 20 people on an average day. And even fewer trek beyond to Machu Picchu. Most return the way they came to Cachora. The Inca Trail sees 500 people and Machu Picchu sees anywhere between 5000 and 7000 people per day. So Choquequirao is much quieter.
The Choquequirao Trek requires less acclimatization than the Inca Trail
You start lower than Cusco and descend even further. Plus the high pass is 200 meters lower than the high pass on the Inca Trail. Of all the alternative treks to Machu Picchu, this is the one that requires the least acclimatization.
You see Machu Picchu from a different angle
The view from Llacatapata, an Inca site you pass through on your Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek, is of Machu Picchu from behind, i.e. the other side to everyone coming in off the Inca Trail. You can walk up to the Sun Gate on the day of your Machu Picchu tour, in order to see the view from the Sun Gate, which Inca Trail trekkers get. Thus you see Machu Picchu from 2 different angles.
The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek takes an emergency horse
If you need to be evacuated, you will do so by horse, rather than be carried by a human as on the Inca Trail. However Choquequirao is remote and steep, so be aware if you do not like horses, this can be a tough experience, not an easy option.
How far is the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek?
The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek is 65km/ 40 miles and 7 days (6 days of trekking with the 7th day touring Machu Picchu). The Inca Trail is shorter at 43km/27 miles. So it is one of the toughest alternative treks to Machu Picchu. Note we use a vehicle transfer from Yanama to Lucmabamba to avoid walking on what is now road.
What is the best time to do a Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu?
The best time to do a Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu is in Peru’s dry season between May and October. This is the best time for any trekking in Cusco. In the rainy season, the river between Choquequirao and Maizal may not be passable. There may also be landslides. April and November can also be good months, but there is a higher chance of rain than between May to October. The trek is never busy, so you do not need to worry about crowds.
Do you need a permit for the Choquequirao Trek?
No, you do not need a permit for the Choquequirao Trek. There is a small entrance fee payable at the ruins, which is included if taking a package.
Do you need a guide for the Choquequirao Trek?
No, you do not need a guide for the Choquequirao Trek. But there are many advantages to going with a guide on an organized package.
Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu Route Map and Altitude Profile
The Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu goes from Cachora to Machu Picchu. Note on the 7-day version we offer, you take a private bus transfer from Yanama to Lucmabamba, and the train from Hidroelectrica to Machu Picchu town and the bus up to Machu Picchu Inca site from the town. Otherwise, it would take longer.
The altitude profile below shows the altitude change when trekking from Cachora to Choquequirao and onto Machu Picchu. So you start lower than Cusco at Capuliyoc and descend even lower to the Apurimac River at Playa Rosalina. The highest point of the trek is Abra San Juan at 4200 meters. The highest point you pass is 4650 meters, but we drive over that in a private vehicle.
We operate the Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu once a month, between April and November. It takes 7 days, 6 of trekking and the 7th exploring Machu Picchu. You can book it on a private basis any time between March and December, although we recommend April to November.
New York Times author Mark Adams wrote this article about our Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek when he came trekking in Cusco with us. Note he did a longer trek.
THE AUSANGATE TREK- 5 Days
How does the Ausanagate Trek compare to the Inca Trail?
The Ausangate Trek is a much tougher alternative to the Inca Trail. It does not go to Machu Picchu. Instead, it completes a circuit around Ausangate Mountain to the south of Cusco. It has 2 passes over 5000 meters, and various camps above 4000 meters. There are no Inca sites on the trail, but you get fabulous big mountain scenery and very few people.
The Ausangate Trek does not have as many trekkers as the Inca Trail
You are unlikely to see more than one of two other groups on the whole Ausangate Trek. Much fewer than the 500 people per day trekking the Inca Trail.
Does the Ausangate Trek go to Machu Picchu?
No, the Ausangate Trek does not go to Machu Picchu. But you can easily combine it with a visit to Machu Picchu, as the Ausangate Trek is only 3 and a half hours from Cusco. We suggest you go to Machu Picchu first and use that as part of your acclimatization.
How high is the Ausangate Trek?
The Ausangate Trek reaches has 2 passes over 5000 metres. The highest pass is 5200 metres or 17060 feet. That is 1000 metres/ or 3300 feet higher than the Inca Trail. You also camp much higher on the Ausangate Trek, with the highest camp at 4585m/ 15,038ft and all the campsites over 4000 metres.
How much acclimatisation do you need for the Ausangate trek?
We recommend at least 4 days acclimatisation for the Ausangate Trek as an absolute minimum. More days is better to increase your chance of succeeding on and enjoying the trek.
Does the Ausangate Trek use porters or horses?
On the Ausangate Trek, all equipment is carried by mules. So weight is not so restricted. And in the case of an emergency, you would be evacuated by horse.
How far is the Ausangate Trek?
The Ausangate to Machu Picchu Trek is 69km/ 43 miles and 4 or 5 days of trekking. So almost twice as long in distance as the Inca Trail.
What is the best time to do the Ausangate Trek?
The best time to do the Ausangate Trek is May to October or November. From December to March, the area is likely to have snow on the passes, and perhaps in April too.
Do you need a permit for the Ausangate Trek?
There is no permit needed for the Ausangate Trek, but a small entrance fee is payable to the community at the start, in Tinqui. But you do not need to book this. It should be included already in any trek package you buy.
Do you need a guide for the AusangateTrek?
While you do not need a guide for the Ausangate Trek, most people will certainly want one to arrange the trek for them. The maps available are not very detailed, so route finding can also be difficult in bad weather.
Does the Ausangate Trek go to Rainbow Mountain?
The Ausangate Trek does not go to Rainbow Mountain, but you can see various similar rainbow mountains along the way, all without the crowds of the well-known one.
THE SALKANTAY TREK- 5 Days
How does the Salkantay Trek compare to the Inca Trail?
The Salkantay Trek is similar in difficulty to the Inca Trail. It takes the same time as the Inca Trail, 5 days. But it is 22 kilometers/13.7 miles longer. The maximum altitude is 418 meters/1371 feet higher than the Inca Trail. It is almost as busy as the Inca Trail. Unlike the Inca Trail, there are people living the whole way along. Horses, rather than porters carry your equipment. You travel past glaciers and past coffee farms. You do not currently require a permit, though this may change soon.
We do not recommend it anymore, as it has been somewhat tainted by the influx of tourists. Read on to find out why.
The Salkantay trek can be as busy as the Inca Trail
The Salkantay Trek became the go-to route when Inca Trail permits and regulations became stricter. With road access creeping closer on each side, the Salkantay Trek is now being offered by some companies as a 2-day trek, with the vehicle used on each side to shorten the distance you actually trek.
This has made it more accessible for people looking for a cheap trekking package in Cusco, but the experience is not the same as a longer trek. As a result, it can be quite busy at times with up a few hundred people per day in high season. Humantay Lake at the start of the trek is now a very busy spot with day-trippers coming in busloads to take their selfie by the glacier.
There is a lot of construction along the Salkantay Trail
The Salkantay Trek has always had a few people living along its route. But since it became popular there has been a massive rise in construction, with companies building permanent camps and lodges along the route to cater to the increasing demand of trekkers who prefer not to camp. This has sadly changed the landscape.
Soraypampa especially has seen a huge amount of constructions and now resembles a village rather than the pristine mountain environment it once was. There are plans to try and expand Machu Picchu Sanctuary to include the whole of the trek, in order to give it better protection and remove these permanent constructions. Whether that happens or not is hard to say as there are a lot of vested interests.
All this has brought problems with the local communities complaining they do not have water to irrigate their crops, due to it being used for showers for tourist. And the environmental agency finding traces of sewage being deposited in Humantay glacial lake, from some of these buildings.
Many landowners have put barbed wire along the trail to keep out the many horses used by trekking companies, who were trampling their land, looking for grazing as they passed.
There are no stone steps on the Salkantay Trek
The path is a stone trail mainly, so you do not have the huge steps of the Inca Trail. So your knees do not take such an impact.
Horses, rather than porters are used on the Salkantay Trek
This means there are fewer weight restrictions and an emergency horse is available should you need it.
How far is the Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is 65km/ 38 miles in total. Of which 12km/8 miles is the One Day Inca Trail part. So the actual Lares Trek part is about the same distance as the Inca Trail which is 43km/ 27 miles. It takes you 5 days. So it is the most straightforward alternative trek to Machu Picchu, in terms of being most similar in distance and time and difficulty to the Inca Trail.
What is the best time to do the Salkantay Trek?
The best time to do the Salkantay Trek is between April and November. The route closes in February due to heavy rains, and so January and March can also be relatively unpleasant owing to rainfall. The high season is June, July, and August, making October the best month to go for minimal footfall and still relatively nice weather.
Do you need a permit for the Salkantay Trek?
Currently, you do not need a permit for the Salkantay Trek. But there have been attempts to introduce one by the park authorities. However, this was stopped by the local community, who charge a small entrance fee to trekkers instead. This may change in the future.
Do you need a guide for the Salkantay Trek?
No, you do not need a guide for the Salkantay Trek but most people choose to take an organized and guided package. You can backpack it should you wish. There are also some people offering lodging and food along the way to save you carrying so much.
Salkantay Trek Route Map and Altitude Profile
The Salkantay Trek starts at Mollepata and finishes at Machu Picchu. But different companies offer different versions with more or less trekking. Some start at Soraypampa and end at Wayraqmachay, doing it as a one-night trek. So when you are comparing prices, beware, not all Salkantay Treks offered are the same. Some are longer or include much more than others.
The altitude profile below is for the whole Salkantay Trek. The highest point is the Abra Salkantay at 4630 metres/ 15190 feet.
See here for more of the Peru treks we offer.