4 Alternatives to the Inca Trail
Featured destinations: Central & South America
Published 30 March 2016
It may only be springtime in Britain, but Inca Trail permits are already sold out until the end of October! Due to restrictions enforced by the Peruvian government, only 2,500 people can tackle the route at a time. So if you’ve booked your trip to Peru but you haven’t bought your passes already, you may have to rethink your plans. Don’t panic though; there are plenty of alternatives to the Inca Trail. Even better: many, bar the most dedicated hikers, have never even contemplated these routes, so you’re likely to have an even more unique experience blazing an untrodden trail.
Otherwise known as the ‘Alternative Inca Trail’, the Salkantay trek is just that. It doesn’t have the ruins or the gravitas that the classic Inca Trail has, but it is higher, longer and offers panoramic vistas across high snow-capped mountains, lowland jungle and Tolkien-esque landscapes instead. It's also home to mention five different ecosystems too.
For now you don’t need a permit either and you won’t have to compete with busloads of tourists. It’s a versatile route as well: bed down at exclusive lodges or pitch a tent at a well-equipped campsite en route. You can even make the journey on horseback if you’re a lover of the equine and you’ll get two Inca sites for the price of one, stopping at the restored city of Llactapata before reaching the archaeological wonder that is Machu Picchu.
Move over Machu Picchu: if you want ruins more fascinating and miles more remote, the four-day Choquequirao trek into the Apurimac Canyon is simply breathtaking. While the ruins, perched on a mountainous ledge, may not be as vast as Machu Picchu (which sits adjacent to Choquequirao, on the other side of Mount Salkantay) they’re definitely more mysterious and ripe for exploration.
This lost city flies firmly under the radar: on an average day you’re unlikely to see more than 10 other visitors, so you’ll feel more like a pioneer here rather than in its legendary neighbour, where you’ll be jostling for space and photo opportunities. Get there quick though; government plans for a cable car at Choquequirao could make the ancient Incan site much more accessible and therefore, much busier.
If you’re up for a challenge, the trek across the 18-mile Cordillera Huayhuash range will literally put you through your paces. Not for the faint-hearted, this Andes-based circuit takes between 10 and 14 days to complete, passing glacial lakes and hot springs, as well as crossing rugged auburn terrains. Despite the high altitudes, wildlife is abundant here too: look out for the rabbit-like viscacha as well as condors, llamas and alpacas.
Travel is advised in the cold, dry season between May and September. The temperatures may fall below freezing at night, but the days are clear, dry and with minimal risk of snow.
Meet traditional Andean farmers and wandering market traders on the Lares trek – which has all the magic and beauty of the Inca Trail without the tourist-packed pathways. You’ll get in touch with the culture on this route too, passing through several tiny villages and spotting locals planting crops by hand, raising animal herds and weaving cloth.
You’ll walk past the towering Mount Veronica, a craggy behemoth hugged by dense patches of cloud and fog, cascading down its sides like a waterfall. The trek ends in the ancient Incan town of Ollantaytambo and from here, if you still want to see visit Machu Picchu, you can take a 90-minute train journey to the iconic ruins.