The Andes in Cusco offer some of the most spectacular hikes in the world, walking on some of the old paths and winding roads constructed by the Incas themselves. Trekking in Cusco on one of many Inca Trails offers an incredible fusion of natural beauty, with green mountains and snow-topped glaciers, as well as historic Inca ruins. For those who are avid hikers, to those who love picturesque scenery, to those who are interested in famous ruins, hiking in the Cusquenian Andes offers something for everyone. Paul Jones a Peru Land Agency expert takes a closer look at Cusco Best Treks.
The Inca Trail
The most famous trek of all has to be the classic four day Inca Trail. Originally built to connect the city of Cusco with the lost city of Machu Picchu, today it offers an action-packed trek full of great scenery. You begin at Kilometer 82 and trek to the small village of Huallabamba to spend your first night under the stars of the Andes. The second day on the Inca Trail is an intense hike, going up Warmiwañusqa or “Dead Woman’s pass” to reach highs of 4,200 metres/13,800 feet, where if you still have your breath, the views will take it away. After the descending the pass, you will then pass some of the historic scenery, the Incan ruins of Sayacmarka, Phuyupatamarka, and Winyaywaina. After spending the night at the camp site, you wake up early morning to hike to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu and descend down into the famous lost city. The Inca Trail is a medium level trek, good for anyone with decent fitness. Don’t worry you don’t have to be a professional hiker! Remember that the Inca Trail is limited to just 500 hikers, porters and guides per day, so booking 4 – 6 months in advance is highly recommended.
Named after the imposing snow-topped mountain, this five day hike is an excellent adventure that lets you hike some of the best natural scenery in Peru. The Salkantay trek starts in Limatambo, where you set off through some traditional Andean villages of Cruzpata and Challacancha through to the village of Soyrococha. The second day you get to see the main feature of the Salkantay trek – at 4,600 metres/14,000 feet, the famous Salkantay Mountain, part of the Vilcanota mountain range. The third day is downhill (literally) through to a small village which is home to several coffee and cocoa plantations, and the fourth day of hiking on the Salkantay trek takes you through flat terrain, through Lucumabamba, on to Aguas Calientes where you will spend the night in a hostel. Best until last, the next day you head Machu Picchu! Salkantay is more intense than the Inka Trail, but is achievable for those with decent fitness. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay trek doesn’t require a permit to enter, so booking a few days before is possible. Pricewise it is about the same as the Inca Trail (US$ 500 – 600 pp).
The Sun Gate
The Sun Gate trek, or the Lares trek as its also known is one of the most pleasant hikes in the Andes and offers truly breathtaking views of green mountains and typical Andean valleys. The trek starts in Calca where you make your way to Lares, famous for its natural hot springs, where you can soak in the steamy hot water before the hike. Day two of the hike is probably the best for scenery, you get well off the beaten track with a trek rich with the mountain views and clear water lakes, to Ipsay, a small rural village. The third day you pass through the indigenous villages of Willoq and Pumamarca on the way to the famous city Ollantaytambo, and take the train to Aguas Calientes for a hot shower and a warm bed. Then the next day a short 1 hour trek up the mountain to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. The Sun Gate is an easy-going hike, no experience necessary.
One of the few treks that doesn’t visit Machu Picchu, Choquequirao takes you on a five day journey to discover one of Peru’s other lost cities, the Choquequirao ruins, who some argue is even more spectacular than Machu Picchu! Starting out at the small town of Cachora at 2850m/9350 feet, you set out to hike to Capuliyoc. The second day has some challenging trails, like the steep hike to Santa Rosa, but you’ll get some fantastic views of the Choquequirao ruins on the mountainside opposite. An ascent from the Apurimac River brings you to the ruins at 3033m/9951 feet, where you can watch the sun-set in the most spectacular setting – you might even spot a Condor! The next day you go into the valley of Santa Rosa to spend the night, and then embark on the return to Capuliyoc. Choquequirao is a one of the tougher treks, you need to have decent fitness, but the views are worth the effort! Some trekking companies offer this trek as a 4 days trek.
Choosing the right trekking company can be the difference between a great trekking experience in Cusco and a bad one. Talk to your chosen trekking company about what is included within the price and what is not, and also talk to them about the food, cooks, porters and guides etc. to get a good feel for what they offer. Expect to pay good money for any of these best treks in Cusco, shopping around for the cheapest deal is not advised; as they say “you get what you pay for.”