Machu Picchu |  <i>Drew Collins</i> Salkantay Pass, Peru |  <i>Mark Tipple</i> Panoramic view of the 'lost' Inca ruins of Choquequirao |  <i>Yuri Zvezdny</i> Making short work of the descent from 4800m on the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu |  <i>Maria Tran</i>

Best alternative Inca Trail treks

Ways to see Machu Picchu without a 4-day Inca Trail permit

Visit the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu via these lesser-trekked paths that offer an even wilder and more varied route than the famous Inca Trail.

The Inca trail to the historic Machu Picchu is one of the world's most iconic trekking routes, making it no surprise that the 500 permits allocated a day to explore this classic route sell out very fast. 

Your best bet is to book now in advance for the 2020 season to secure a permit, or you can enjoy equally spectacular routes, like the Salcantay trek which culminate at the phenomenal Machu Picchu sanctuary.

Check out these Inca Trail hiking alternatives that are no less remarkable with an array of breathtaking scenery. You'll still visit Machu Picchu, but just along quieter trails that encapsulate Peru's cultural heart.

1. Salcantay Trail

As the Inca Trail becomes busier and permits difficult to get for the most popular dates (between May and August), the Salcantay trail is definitely the route to take with a stunning pass and an Inca ruin site along this quieter trail. Commencing in Callacancha, the trail takes travellers to Soraypampa, Andenes and Lucmabamba to the road head for our short train journey to Aguas Calientes and the gateway to the 'lost city'.

World Expeditions' Salcantay trek offers travellers a striking landscape of contrasts and many compelling advantages over the Inca Trail:

  • You can trek near the Machu Picchu sanctuary without having to worrying about permits
  • Experience lush cloud forests, alpine lakes, majestic valleys and snow-capped muntains, including the dramatic peaks of Salcantay and Humantay
  • Enjoy incredible alpine scenery as you cross the Salcantay Pass at 4640m (only 440m higher than the highest point on the Inca Trail)

The Salcantay trek to Machu Picchu is giving the Inca Trail a run for its money with its spectacular close up views of Mount Salcantay and challenging yet rewarding hike over the Salcantay Pass (4640m). The trail has far less trekkers than its famous friend and does not require the same, and often sold out, trekking permits.   Witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the Salcantay, high in the mystical Andes Mountains, a sight which often evokes a deep emotional connection between you and your natural surroundings.   Learn more at worldexpeditions.com

As you explore the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes, you’ll come across spectacular vistas at Humantay Lake and camp beneath the sacred peak of Mount Salcantay, located south of the Machu Picchu ruins and west of the city of Cusco. 

While other hikers on this route typically go to Santa Teresa and stay in hostel accommodation close to activities like zip-lining and hot springs, our trekkers stay at our Lucmabamba campsite where you are immersed in coffee plantations with a local family.

This additional hike from Lucmabamba, exclusive to World Expeditions' Salcantay trek, takes you to the mysterious ruins of Llactapata, where Hiram Bingham first sighted the backside of the Machu Picchu structures located across the valley, so trekkers see more elements of the area before hitting the finale at Machu Picchu for vistas of the enigmatic Inca Empire ruins and surrounding mountains.

2. Inca Rivers Trek

You'll notice significantly lesser crowds on this remote adventure that treks along the spectacular Vilcabamba Mountain Range between two sacred Inca rivers before reaching rare views of Machu Picchu against dramatic mountains at sunrise.

Experience scenically located wilderness camps, stunning snow-covered Andean peak views, ancient cloud forest, abundant wildflowers and an enigmatic exploration of the magnificent ‘lost’ Inca ruins of Choquequirao, which can only be reached by foot. It was built by the Incas in the 15th century and, like Machu Picchu, it became lost in high jungle which engulfed the ruins until being rediscovered in the early 20th century.

You’ll skip the need for Inca Trail permits on this trek and instead explore the impressive Choquequirao ruins, as well as the Patallacta site which afford an exceptional view of your final destination – Machu Picchu.

The editor of Outdoor magazine, Justin Walker, has a few world class treks under his belt. So for Justin to declare that his most recent trekking experience with World Expeditions is ‘one of the Top 10 best treks in the world’ you can be confident that it’s one to consider adding to the bucket list!  Featured on the cover of the March/April 2015 edition of Outdoor magazine, the Inca Rivers Trek has it all...pristine campsites, snow covered peaks, cloud forest, wildflowers and ancient Inca Ruins. You’ll explore one of Peru’s spectacular ancient secrets, Choquequiro, before walking into the ‘Lost City’ of Machu Picchu from the rarely seen ‘other side’. The most exciting part is feeling like Hiram Bingham discovering the ruins for yourself, without the usual crowds buzzing that walk the popular Inca Trail.   The Inca Rivers Trek departs March – July and Sept – Oct.   Learn more at worldexpeditions.com

3. Sacred Valley of the Incas Walk

Submerge yourself in the Peruvian culture as you take a gentle walk to the sacred Inca ruins. Exploring the beautiful Sacred Valley on foot, view ancient ruins, spectacular Inca terraces and the famous Inca salt pans.

Many of the day walks afford superb views of snow-capped peaks across the Urubamba Range, including a scenic foray along a rarely walked path that takes you to a spectacular stand points that soak up the incredible setting of the Sacred Valley.

Home to enchanting villages, colourful markets and welcoming locals, this compact region of Peru is a must visit. Travel to lesser-visited Inca ruins without the crowds before taking the train to KM104 join the last, and perhaps most beautiful section, of the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Note that you will need a 1-day permit, as you will trek the final section of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu, however you will visit the enigmatic sanctuary on two occasions and at the best times of day.

The Sacred Valley connects Cusco to the Amazon and Machu Picchu. The area has many ancient archaeological Inca sites to discover. Spectacular highlights also include the local markets, the Inca cities of Ollantaytambo and Pisac as well as rafting the Urubamba River.   Learn more at worldexpeditions.com  

4. Mount Salcantay Trek

Enjoy the lesser-trekked route to the base of Mount Salcantay (6220m) before joining up with the classic Inca Trail on the final day for an unforgettable sight of Machu Picchu from the legendary Sun Gate.

While you will only need a 1-day Inca Trail KM 104 permit, this trek takes in the more dramatic scenery of the valleys between Salcantay and Humantay and panoramaic snow-capped peaks. Admire an enormous glacial moraine, hike across one of Salcantay’s ridges and over the mountain pass of Incachiriasca (4870m) – the highest point of the trek, pass beautiful alpine lakes and visit the extensive Incan ruins of Paucarcancha.

This base camp trek explores Peru's remote communities, camping just above the small village of Q’esca, home to shepherds and potato farmers, as well as savouring a special ‘Pachamanca’ – a traditional Peruvian feast of meat and vegetables cooked in the ground using hot stones.

Hiking along the flanks of Mount Salcantay |  <i>Mark Tipple</i> A meal with a view, spectacular views surround our campsite dining tent |  <i>Mark Tipple</i> The sacred Humantay Lake, Peru |  <i>Donna Lawrence</i> Blue skies overhead as we trek the iconic Salkantay Trail Happy trekkers enjoying the views of Salcantay, Peru |  <i>Jeanette Kuoni</i>
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