Trekking to Machu Picchu: Which Trail Should I Hike?

Huayna Picchu

Wanderlust Wednesday!

There isn’t a hotter bucket list destination and experience right now than trekking to Machu Picchu.  The challenge, the emotional and spiritual journey, and the incredible scenery makes this a must do for anyone that is healthy and fit enough to do the trek.

As I finalized my plans for Peru this past summer, my heart absolutely broke as I found out that the Inca Trail was fully booked. This is a “problem” that many people face if you aren’t into booking travel plans one year in advance. Not to worry though, there are THREE great trails that offer really wonderful experiences! Although I have not done the Inca Trail, I was actually really glad that it was booked, because I had the most incredible time doing the Salkantay Trail.

Here are three important considerations as you figure out which one of the three trails is best for you:

1. What type of experience are you looking for? (From most to least popular)

SALKANTAY TRAILA) Inca Trail: 43km over 4 days, highest point of elevation ~13,800 ft. This is a great option if you want to:

  • See more of the Inca ruins
  • Do the “traditional trail”
  • Arrive by foot to Machu Picchu

B) Salkantay Trail: 49 km over 4 days (5 days is the standard trek, 59m), highest point of elevation ~15,300 ft. National Geographic named the Salkantay Trail as one of the top treks in the world because of its beauty and the wide range of microclimates and ecosystems that you get to experience through the trek.  This is a great option if you want:

  • A wide range of REALLY epic views (Andes and Salkantay Mountains, Cloud Forests, Mountain Jungles)
  • The less travelled, scenic option
  • A different, challenging Machu Picchu trekking experience

C) Lares Trail: 33kn over 4 days, highest point of elevation ~14,435 ft. This is a great option if you want:

  • An easier trekking option
  • A cultural experience centered around the villages and people
  • To still get a lot of natural beauty throughout the trail

2. What difficulty level are you comfortable with? (From Hardest to Easiest)

SALKANTAYA) Salkantay: Most difficult. Being asthmatic, I struggled on the ascend at the high altitude.  The majority of our trekking group struggled with the descend because it’s really tough on your muscles and knees.
B) Inca: Second most difficult.  This trail doesn’t reach altitudes as high (13,800 is by no means a cake walk), but has multiple ascends and descends.
C) Lares: Easiest of the three trails. Still reaches high altitudes, but takes you through villages with less drastic ascends and descends.

3. How far in advance can you book? (From longest to shortest lead-time)

HUAYNA PICCHUA) Inca: 9+ months, you must look to see when the passes open up and book them on the day they become available.
B) Salkantay: We booked 3 months in advance with our company (I HIGHLY recommend Salkantay Trekking).
C) Lares: Earlier is always better, but you can likely book this in Cusco when you arrive if you don’t get to do it in advance.

TIP: DO acclimate to the altitude. I recommend 2 full days in Cusco before doing a tough hike with high altitudes.  I’m in good physical shape and I almost passed out hiking to Salkantay Pass at 15,225 feet. Nothing can prepare you for the altitude, but Coca leaves and Coca tea are also extremely helpful.

More on Machu Picchu:

How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu? 5 Steps and Tricks to Planning a Trip
Read about my experience on the Salkantay Trail
Need Help Packing? Here is what you need for the trek

Questions? Leave them in the comment box below!

Xoxo,
Roaming with Ruth

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