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Hike Machu Picchu: Which Route Should You Choose?

Written by Sam Corporations January 20, 2024

Hike Machu Picchu: Which Route Should You Choose?

Looking for a Machu Picchu hike? Here are the top 3 Machu Picchu hikes, with the pros and cons of each. Plus some lesser-known treks you might like to try.

The best way to get to Machu Picchu is on foot. But Machu Picchu is an ancient city of the Incas and the Machu Picchu hike is almost like a pilgrimage. You hike through the mountains and valleys of Peru in the footsteps of Inca people or olden-day explorers. Rather than just stepping off the train or bus and “doing” Machu Picchu in a touristy whirl, you can take time to appreciate the setting and the culture.

The three main routes to hike Machu Picchu

So we’ve convinced you to hike to Machu Picchu. Excellent.

Three main route options will get you to the foot of Inca city:

  1. Inca Trail
  2. Salkantay Trek
  3. Lares Trek

Each of these Machu Picchu hikes has its pros and cons. Let’s get stuck into the details so you can choose the best hike for you.

Inca Trail

  • Distance: 40km
  • Typical trekking time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Start Point: Km 82

First up, let’s explain the thing about the kilometers. There are several start points to the Inca Trail, all marked out by how many kilometers along the train line they are from Cusco. So, for the classic Inca Trail, you start at the 82nd-kilometer marker, affectionately known as Km 82.

The Inca Trail is the most famous route to Machu Picchu. You hike up an old Inca road and arrive at the famous Sun Gate to a commanding view over Machu Picchu. That’s the picture and the angle of Machu Picchu that you see everywhere. If Machu Picchu is just about ticking off that photo for you, then you probably want to hike the Inca Trail. If you dont have the time an are fit than why not do the one day Inca Trail, cutting out most of the trekking and just doing the last day.

Of course, the flip side of trekking the most famous route to Machu Picchu is that it will be busy with tourists. If you’re hoping for a quiet hike through the jungle, then you may be disappointed. You also have to get a permit to be allowed to hike the Inca Trail and they disappear quickly!

Inca trail to machu picchu - Sam Corporations

Salkantay Trek

  • Distance: 72 km
  • Typical trekking time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • Start Point: Soraypampa

Despite being voted one of the best 25 treks in the world by National Geographic, the Salkantay Trek is still very much off the beaten track. It is a longer hike, which automatically removes a lot of tourists. But we think it’s worth your time.

The Salkantay Trek is a hike to Machu Picchu for serious hikers… for people who like long treks in the mountains. The fact that it finishes at the wonder of the modern world, Machu Picchu is just an awesome bonus. You will be hiking up some serious mountain passes and wild camping overnight.
We included it in our list of 5 Multi-Day Treks in Peru that are not the Inca Trail for that reason. If the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu isn’t necessarily your be-all and end-all, it’s worth widening your horizons to the great trekking options across Peru.

Lares Trek

  • Distance: 33km
  • Typical trekking time: 2 or 3 days, 1 or 2 nights
  • Start Point: near Lares village

If you’re looking for a short hike to Machu Picchu that avoids the crowds of the Inca Trail, then the Lares Trek might be your answer. The route is best known as a way to experience some Peruvian culture. Many traditional weavers live and work in the Lares Valley, giving the area a reputation for quality handicrafts.

The Lares Trek doesn’t require a permit and is still a lesser-known route to Machu Picchu. Although be aware that it is at a much higher altitude than the Inca Trail – watch out for acclimatization!

Other Machu Picchu Hiking Routes

Many routes and tour companies are proclaiming to have “the best new alternative to the Inca Trail”. Okay guys, if you say so. Here’s a quick breakdown of where some of these other hikes to Machu Picchu go. Whatever you decide, check the details of the trek: some catch public transport to Machu Picchu on the penultimate day.

  • The One Day Inca Trail – start at KM 104 and just do the final day’s hike
  • Inca Jungle Trek – seems to be a mix of adrenaline junkie activities with a small amount of hiking
  • Choquequirao Trek – taking in the Inca ruins of Choquequirao and then joining up with the Salkantay Trek
  • Vilcabamba Traverse Route – a long (one to two week!) trek through the mountains, including several high passes

… and many more! Whether you want to have an adventurous hike to Machu Picchu or stay in hotels on an easygoing walk, someone has designed a route for you.

Still not decided on an adventure holiday in Peru? Take a look at the Salkantay Trek itinerary or your other adventure options in Peru.

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