Many tourists dream about visiting Machu Picchu as part of an intense pilgrimage. A few years ago, most of these travelers would choose the Inca Trail, which has become a real headache. Fortunately, nowadays you can choose between many options to be in contact with nature and history while you walk toward Machu Picchu, a World Heritage site.
Today, we will briefly describe the 3 routes that we think are the best to hike to Machu Picchu and highlight their pros and cons so you can choose the best option for you.
On the 4-day Inca Trail, you will walk approximately 46 km / 28.58 miles in 25 hours. The highest point is 4,215 MASL / 13,828 FASL. Among the three, this route is the least recommended for several reasons.
With the intention of protecting the trail network of the Qhapaq Ñan, and because of the high demand of the route, the Peruvian Government has limited daily access to 500 people. Of this total, only 180 are tourists. The rest is made up of tourism workers, such as guides, chefs and porters. That means that to be able to obtain access this trek, you need to make your reservation well in advance: 3 months if you want to visit between October and January, and 6 months (or more) for March to September.
Anyway, the Inca Trail route is considered by many to be the best hike in all of South America. During this journey which crosses the Andes, you’ll be astounded by the imposing Urubamba mountain range, which easily exceeds 5,000 MASL (16,400 FASL). You’ll also visit 18 archeological complexes along the Inca Trail, including walls, canals, staircases, plazas, enclosures, farming terraces, and bridges, among other structures.
Tourists usually prefer to visit this route, lasting 5 days. In total, you will walk 76 km / 47.22 miles for 32 hours, considerably more than what is covered on the Inca Trail. So, if you want to challenge yourself, this will be the best option. The highest point on this route is at 4,638 MASL / 15,216 FASL.
The Salkantay Trek is the most popular alternative trek to Machu Picchu because it offers an amazing and diverse trekking experience from the massive snow peaks in the Andes to the warm tropical jungle. There are also no permit limitations. Actually, National Geographic Adventure Magazine recently rated the Salkantay Trek as one of the 25 Best Treks in the World.
One of the most impressive things that you will find on this route is the privileged view of the sacred mountain of Salkantay. You will experience this massive glacier with your own eyes! Along the way, you will also see natural bridges, snowcapped mountains, colorful valleys, waterfalls, wildlife, unique plants, and clouded forest. Additionally, you encounter the ancient and living Andean culture in remote villages hardly ever seen by foreigners!
This route is still little known; however, we consider it one of the best options to get to Machu Picchu. It’s not as challenging as the Salkantay Trek, but it is suffused with impressive natural beauty. It’s also not as busy as the traditional Inca Trail. In fact, there are hardly any tourists on the trail. It’s a path to honor bodies of water, sophisticated Andean textiles, and friendships with the true heirs of Peru. During the excursion’s 4 days, you will hike a total of 37,5 km in 19 hours, but you will reach an astounding height of 4,700 MASL / 15,419 FASL.
As you can see, this path is quite intense, but not as hard as the others. The rivers are always roaring beside you. Impressive waterfalls suddenly appear before you to help you relax. You’ll also see bodies of water in magical colors: blue, green, yellow.
If you’re interested in Andean culture, this trail will be your favorite since you will pass through various countryside communities who raise llamas and alpacas. These communities particularly try to keep their traditions alive, and so their gorgeous fabrics stand out amongst others. The textile arts of these communities are very impressive. Take advantage of this opportunity to make new friends and open your mind.