The Sacred Valley, near Cuzco, is the starting point for the majority of walking trails to Machu Picchu. It’s a huge area and ideal for acclimatising at 2,800m. The classic, five-day Inca Trail trek leads to Machu Picchu via Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4,215m. Higher still is the Ipsaycocha Pass (4,450m) on the Lares Trek that starts from Huarán and finishes 40km north in the village of Lares. The slightly savage Salkantay Trek approaches Machu Picchu from the south via the Vilcabamba Mountains where the highest pass is 4,600m. The Ausangate Trek barely dips below 4,500m as it takes trekkers south of the Sacred Valley, through the multi-coloured Vilcanota Valley and over the Palomani Pass (5,200m), before returning to Cuzco, by bus, five days later.
Ausangate trek

1. Ausangate trek

100km south of Cuzco, the Ausangate Mountain towers above Andean plains where alpaca and llama herds roam and mythical Inca legends swirl across glaciers and frozen lakes. The five day trek around Ausangate’s north face won’t take you to the snow-covered top (6,384m) but it will provide a challenge, as well as nights in community-run lodges with proper beds, bathrooms and hot food.
Cordillera Huayhuash circular

2. Cordillera Huayhuash circular

This 12 day circular trek is for hikers looking for high altitude camping supported by experienced mountain guides, porters, cooks and pack ponies. Although no technical experience is necessary you will be walking in the shadow of seven of Peru’s highest peaks, including Siula Grande, as in, Touching the Void, so an excellent level of fitness is required as well as a super warm sleeping bag.
Inca Trail trek

3. Inca Trail trek

Although hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can be a challenge it’s also achievable at a relaxed pace over five days. Three nights of comfy camping and an afternoon arrival at the Inca ruins – after the crowds have left – makes this world-famous trek from trail head Km82 via Warmihuañusca ‘Dead Woman’s Pass, accessible for walkers who like to take their time on a tailor made or small group tour.
Lares trek

4. Lares trek

From alpaca herders in the Cordillera Urubamba Mountains to hot springs, stone footpaths and luscious lagoons, filled with birds, walking in the Lares Valley, between the villages of Huarán and Lares, is one of the area’s most cultural trails. Camping and walking through Quechua villages creates an authentic Andean experience, topped off with a bus trip to Machu Picchu on day four or five.
Machu Picchu

5. Machu Picchu

One of South America's most iconic tourism destinations, the mysterious Incan citadel of Machu Picchu perches at 2,430m in the Andes. Most visitors take the train from Cusco, but those able to secure a permit and ready for the challenge will take the Inca Trail, a four-day trek that tops many bucket lists. Time it right, and you can arrive just in time for a majestic sunrise.
Sacred Valley

6. Sacred Valley

The Urubamba Valley, which stretches from Pisac to Aguas Calientes, is strewn with ancient Incan ruins, a well-trodden pilgrimage route on the way to Machu Picchu. But steer clear of the tourist traps and there are many small villages where you can enjoy day hikes led by local guides. The Maras salt mines, often overlooked, is as interesting as it is photogenic, and you can easily branch out into the countryside from some of the lesser-known Ican sites.
Salkantay trek

7. Salkantay trek

This alternative Inca Trail trek can be accomplished over four full days of walking and takes travelers along the sub-tropical foothills surrounding Salkantay's summit (6,271m) to approach Machu Picchu from its southern slopes. A train ride or optional walk to Aguas Calientes allows access to thermal springs and a well deserved rest before departing for Machu Picchu by bus on day five.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Peru walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.


Finding your feet

Tom Shearman, from our tour supplier Andean Trails, tells us how to walk the walk in Peru:
“Most people can walk around the Sacred Valley without problems; it’s not too high at 2,800m but almost everyone will notice shortness of breath on arrival for 24 to 48 hours. Cuzco is higher at 3,400m and most people notice the altitude on arrival. Everyone, no matter how fit, should take it easy for two or more days after arriving into Cuzco and the Sacred Valley from sea level. The fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the area. We always advise all travelers to check their travel plans with their doctor before arriving at altitude, as it does put a strain on the body. When gaining altitude the air pressure drops and the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs is reduced. Make sure you build plenty of acclimatisation time into your trip.”

Inca alternatives

“If the Inca Trail is sold out, the Cuzco area is replete with options. For ruins, remoteness and a challenge, take on the full eight-day Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu. The Lares Trail offers a glimpse of Andean Highland life as you walk past mountains, glaciers and the brightly dressed people that live in these weaving communities. For a high mountain experience with comfort, the Ausangate community-run lodges or the Salkantay Mountain lodges are excellent. With guides, mules and muleteers, you can walk to some very distant and hidden corners of Peru.”

Inca trail planning tips

Simon Forster is the co-founder of our supplier, The Beyond Tourism Co. Here are his tips for planning a trek to Machu Picchu:
"Make sure you know if you're getting a private guide or if you're part of a bigger group. People sometimes don't realise they could be added to a bigger group, even if they've booked a tailor made tour. The nature of the trail means you will always end up walking with other people anyway, but it does mean you won't have a guide to yourself."

Inca trail trekking tips

Kathy Jarvis is the director of our supplier, Andean Trails, and has recently updated Bradt's Peru Trekking guide. Here are her Inca Trail tips on preparing for the trek:
"Make sure you acclimatise as much as possible. The more acclimatised you are, the more you'll enjoy it. You can suffer a lot if you try and force your body too high, too soon - as well as it being dangerous. So allow as much time as possible as you can before trekking. And then it's a case of having the right clothes - good kit, jackets, waterproofs, warm gloves, hats... It's also better to bring your own sleeping bag. There are some for hire, but it's quite a personal thing!"


At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.
We have selected some of the most useful Peru walking vacation tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your daypack
There were a large group of porters with us that worked so hard for their wages and tips.
– Keith Charters
“If you are a regular walker the Inca Trail should not be a problem. If you haven't walked for a while get in some training during the two-three months before your vacation, as the altitude takes its toll. The porters that we used were paid well, provided with appropriate clothes and boots, and the weight of what they carried was kept within strict limits. It was more an experience than a vacation, and what a fantastic experience!” – Dave Jackson

“Our guide, Carlos Luchuga, contributed a great deal in the success of my vacations. At the most challenging parts of the trek Carlos encouraged me to continue when I was ready to give up. His knowledge of history and culture of Incas, Peruvian plants, trees and birds is astounding. He always answered our questions patiently and in detail.” – Teresa Trippenbach

“Don't underestimate the altitude: the two and a half days that the operator gives you in Cuzco before starting the trek is really useful time to acclimatise (and easily filled with interesting things to see and do). I would take poles – with plastic tips – even on the Moonstone Trek.” – Paul Brown

“Travel light as there is a lot of packing and re-packing as you leave one place for the next. Have some Peruvian Sol in small denominations as change is very hard to find. There were a large group of porters with us that worked so hard for their wages and tips.” – Keith Charters

Let your guides take you to the markets and try and fit in a stay with a local family to get an idea of life in Peru.
– Chris Simmons
“You have plenty of time to get clothes washed in Cuzco after the rainforest section - so you don't need to take a full fortnight's worth of clothes with you. This will give you a chance to load some kids colouring books and soft toys in your case that you can leave at the Rainbow Centre.” – John Duff

“The Andean explorer train ride from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca was an excellent way to see many aspects of Peru from the city suburbs through the slums then farming communities, through the middle of market towns and past the spectacular backdrop of the Andes. The train ride was a real piece of luxury after the hard work walking on the Inca Trail.” – Jane Lines

“Let your guides take you to the markets and try and fit in a stay with a local family to get an idea of life in Peru. All our guides were both very well informed and passionate about the environment. For our stay on Amantani we were given the option of staying in either slightly more comfortable or basic accommodation. Our particular host had not had a visitor for 3 years and it was good to know she would benefit from our stay.” – Chris Simmons

“So many memorable parts of this adventure but meeting local Andean kids along the Lares trek and the home stay in Titicaca were amazing. Be prepared for some early mornings, learn Spanish and take layers of warm clothes if traveling in June/July.” – Julia Huggett

“Take good rain gear when you travel during wet season. We were there in December and weather was good, but sometimes we got surprises.” - Iwona Warszawska

Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage] [Ausangate Trek: Petr Meissner] [Cordillera Huayhuash: Cristian Ordenes] [Inca trail trek: Ashim D’Silva] [Lares Trek: Andean Trails] [Machu Picchu: Tomas Sobek] [Sacred Valley: Charles Gadbois] [Salkantay trek: Andean Trails] [Advice: Andean Trails] [Tip 1: Andean Trails] [Tip 2: Andean Trails]