Machu Picchu Trail Options

Most travelers to Peru think there is just one option for trekking to Machu Picchu—the four-day Inca Trail hike—but now there are at least four ways to hike to the Inca citadel. The following Machu Picchu trail options offer the best ways to make a pilgrimage to the lost city of the Inca.

Incline of Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Trekking the Inca Trail tests endurance. Photo © Ralf Broskvar/123rf.

The Inca Trail

Though at times crowded, the hike to Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experience—both a backpacking trip and a religious pilgrimage. There are lots of ways to do it, with or without a pack on your back. All hikers on the actual Inca Trail must go with an agency to ensure everyone’s safety and keep trash off the trail. The Inca Trail is part of the Santuario Histórico de Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary), administered by the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (National Institute of Culture). There is a wide range in price and quality among Inca Trail agencies, and reservations should be made at least six months in advance.

Color travel map of Machu Picchu Hikes and Treks in Peru
Machu Picchu Hikes and Treks
The two- or even one-day option begins at kilometer 104 of the railroad line and includes a steep hike to reach the final stretch of the Inca Trail, including the ruins at Wiñay Wayna. Some agencies continue the same day to Machu Picchu and stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, while others camp near Wiñay Wayna to enter Machu Picchu the following morning.

The full four-day trip passes more than 30 Inca sites along the way and includes the most spectacular scenery, but it is arduous at times—day two especially—if you aren’t a seasoned trekker. For a lighter experience, the two-day Inca Trail is also very good.

3 hikers on the Salcantay trail to Machu Picchu
The Salcantay Trek. Photo © holgs/istock.

The Salcantay Trek

The five-day Sancantay trek, which includes one day in Machu Picchu, is one of the latest alternatives in the area and is becoming increasingly popular. As there are no restrictions, unlike on the Inca Trail, you can do this trek on your own or with a guide or agency. If you don’t like camping, there are now high-quality lodges along the route operated by Mountain Lodges of Peru (Av. El Sol 948, Centro Commercial Cusco Sol Plaza, tel. 084/262-640).

Inca Jungle Trail carved into the mountainside
Inca Jungle Trail carved into the mountainside. Photo © Matyas Rehak/123rf.

The Inca Jungle Trail

This multi-activity option is a good choice for backpackers on a budget. What it lacks in Inca ruins, it makes up for with wonderful cloud forest scenery. The Inca Jungle Trail enters Machu Picchu from the high mountains and cloud forests on its downstream side. Participants are first transported to Abra Málaga (4,300 meters), a high pass into the jungle, for a stunning mountain bike descent from the alpine zone to lush cloud forest nearly 3,000 meters below. From here, trekkers camp and then head out the second day on a cloud forest trek to Santa Teresa, a riverside village. On the third day, hikers head up the Río Urubamba to Aguas Calientes.

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Woman descending steep, rocky trail towards Machu Picchu ruins. Pinterest graphic.