An incredible country with gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, Peru has long been revered as a destination for hikers and adventure-lovers from across the globe. All Peru treks can vary in difficulty, climate, scenery, and sights, so it’s important to find the perfect trek for your travel style and interests. Three of the most popular Peru treks are the Inca Trail, Salkantay, and Choquequirao. Each attracts experienced hikers for a different reason, and whether it’s the archaeological sites, the incredible surroundings while on the journey, or the thrill of a new challenge, they all offer an unforgettable and unique experience.
INSIDER’S TIP: Knowmad always plans any Peru trekking adventure with two nights in the Sacred Valley prior to embarking on the trek so you can properly acclimatize for the best experience possible. Knowmad also recommends adding on a visit to Machu Picchu after your trek, whichever one you choose.
Peru Treks Comparison Guide: Inca Trail, Salkantay + Choquequirao
The Inca Trail leads directly to the archaeological site of Machu Picchu, bringing trekkers over a crest so they can marvel at the site at the end of their trek. Knowmad does the Inca Trail so that you come to the Sun Gate in the afternoon on your last day of hiking, rather than in the morning for three reasons:
- Arriving to Machu Picchu at a different time than most other hikers means that you’ll also be in a different part of the trail, giving your trek experience a more personal feel, using different campsites, and overall having fewer run-ins with other trekkers;
- Most visitors of Machu Picchu will be departing the site close to, or before, the time you’ll be arriving, so it’s a less crowded introduction to Machu Picchu; and
- Rather than waking early to finish hiking to the Sun Gate and spend time in Machu Picchu all in one day, Knowmad plans this trek so that you can take time to enjoy your last day on the trail and then be able to fully explore Machu Picchu the following day well rested.
Following the original path the Incas did, the Inca Trail also takes adventurers past other inspiring ruins and local communities along the way, affording them with a trek full of culture and history, culminating in the majestic Lost City of Machu Picchu as the ultimate achievement at the end.
Horses & Porters: Porters only (no horses or llamas).
Ruins: Multiple sites throughout the trek and the destination is Machu Picchu.
Scenery: Archaeological sites, mountain vistas, and colorful landscapes throughout.
Crowds: While a very popular trek, Knowmad plans the Inca Trail itinerary specifically with crowds in mind, and works to make sure you encounter few other travelers while on it so that the trek and visit to Machu Picchu are as personal as can be.
Permits: Permits are required and sell out 6 to 10 months in advance.
Highest Altitude & Distance: 13,800 ft. & 26 miles total.
Duration: 4 days trekking and 1 day at Machu Picchu.
Why This Trek? If you’re looking for a trek that takes you to — and actually into — Machu Picchu Citadel, this is the one for you!
Salkantay trek takes you up above the cloud forest to where you’re among the alpine scenery as you follow along the magnificent mountain path. Hikers are able to revel in the beauty of the surroundings throughout the trek: from hanging glaciers and peaceful fjords to uncommon foliage, courtesy of the higher altitude and microclimate. Due to its elevation, this pass can be a more challenging one, but there are porters and horses available should your legs need a rest and to help carry items. During the trek, travelers will also be able to visit local communities and farms, making this trek an even more enriching experience, as travelers are able to appreciate Peruvian culture along the way.
There are two options for accommodations on this trek: small, private campsites surrounded by nature, or the incredible services and comforts of mountain lodges after each day of trekking. Those who are camping will have a slightly escalated route schedule. At the end of the Salkantay trek, travelers board a train to Aguas Calientes to spend the night at their leisure before starting their exploration of Machu Picchu the following day.
What makes the Salkantay passage so remarkable is the magnificence of being high up in the Andean peaks and being privy to the awesome sights and wilderness only reached by those who make the trek.
Accommodations: Lodges or Camping.
Horses & Porters: Both are available.
Ruins: No ruin visits once you begin the trek, but Knowmad highly recommends following this trek with an exploration of Machu Picchu!
Scenery: Glaciers, fjords, mountains from up-close, and unique vegetation along the way.
Crowds: Due to the popularity of this trek, and the lodge-to-lodge program especially, most times of year you will see other travelers on the trek.
Permits: Not required.
Duration: If camping, 4 days trekking plus 1 day at Machu Picchu; if lodge-to-lodge, 6 days trekking plus 1 day at Machu Picchu.
Highest Altitude & Distance: 15,213 ft. & 36 – 39 miles, depending on camping or lodge-to-lodge program.
Difficulty: Challenging (mostly due to altitude).
Why This Trek? If you would rather not camp, or are looking for glaciers, high altitude scenery, and authentic culture as part of your trek, this is the one for you!
Choquequirao is certainly a thrilling journey for those passionate about exploration and adventure: the only way to reach the expansive Choquequirao complex is to trek to it, and so it sees only a small handful of visitors each day, while still being such an incredible site to behold. A vast site of ancient Incan ruins, Choquequirao leads travelers on a trail of extremes, going both down to ravines and up along the sides of Andean hills and mountains for a trek that’s as exciting as it is challenging. Examples of rock art can be seen in the fortress walls as well, giving Choquequirao an even more stunning presence.
An air tram will be built in the coming years, which will make this site much more accessible (and likely busier) than it is currently, so Knowmad recommends planning your trek to Choquequirao soon to have a truly original experience.
Horses & Porters: Both are available.
Ruins: Destination is Choquequirao.
Scenery: Mountain views, ravines, and colorful landscapes throughout.
Crowds: Not very busy at the moment, but will likely be much more populated once the tram is built.
Permits: No permits are required to do the trek, but there is a ticket required to enter the ruins once there.
Highest Altitude & Distance: 10,059 ft. & 29.6 miles total.
Duration: 3 days trekking and 1 day hiking & exploring Choquequirao.
Difficulty: Vigorous/Very Challenging.
Why This Trek? If you want to feel like Indiana Jones discovering long-lost ruins and are looking for something that’s almost untouched, this is the one for you!
Choosing the right trek for you is an important piece of planning your trip, and whether you’re interested in ancient ruins, summit views, or something new to explore, hiking in Peru is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. For more information on the different treks that Knowmad Adventures offers, email our Peru Trip Specialist, Renee, at [email protected] or give her a call at 612-315-7682 ext.105 to begin planning your next adventure today!
Carmen is Operations Support at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to crafting specialized custom, private trips to South America. Carmen has lived in three countries, spent some time backpacking in Europe and Central America, and studied Spanish, Italian, and Greek. She loves to explore languages, new places, and all the ways in which people can share their stories, and is excited to help travelers add to their own story with their next adventure!