With the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu all but sold out until the end of October 2015 and with the limited spaces it is not uncommon for the classic Inca Trail to be booked up 6 months in advance. The classic Inca Trail gained such popularity thanks to the satisfaction one feels knowing that they have reached the ancient Inca Citadel and World Wonder of Machu Picchu on their own two feet.
Long gone are the glory days of being able to arrive in the Inca Capital of Cusco to then go on the Inca Trail the following day.
Luckily for travelers still looking to reach to Machu Picchu before the end of October 2015, all is not lost! There are a few alternative routes to Machu Picchu and although they aren’t the classic route of the Inca Trail, you will still get the same sense of adventure as you discover these trails.
♦ The Salkantay Trail (Difficulty: Medium to difficult)
When the Peruvian government limited the number of people allowed on the Inca Trail per day to just 500, the Salkantay Trail (Salcantay Trail) began appearing in Peru Guidebooks as the ‘Alternative Inca Trail.’ As spectacular as the scenery and diversity of the Inca Trail, the Salcantay Trail is even more impressive with the 20,500 ft. high Mount Salcantay which was one of the holiest Inca apus (sacred peaks). Throughout the Peruvian Andes, it is still revered today and while walking through the beautiful Mollepata Valley, past Salcantay at an altitude of 15,000ft, you will often see porters and guides paying their respects to the mountain and Mother Nature.
From the chilly heights in the shadow of Salcantay Mountain to a subtropical cloud forest, the Salkantay Trail leads you down an ancient Inca highway to the rediscovered ruins of Llactapata.
Not only are the ruins of Llactapata impressive but they offer a rare side view of the full Machu Picchu complex from below. The Salkantay Route ends at the foot of Machu Picchu in the town of Aguas Calientes where you can spend the night before waking up in time to experience sunrise at Machu Picchu the following day.
♦ The Lares Trail (Difficulty: Medium)
The Sacred Valley of the Inca is irresistibly gorgeous and has in turn become justifiably famous for its spectacular landscapes and Inca history. Lying just beyond the peaks of the Sacred Valley is the charming tranquility of the Lares Valley. A step back in time, the Lares Valley has preserved its authenticity with life continuing as it has for centuries. Locals pass by in their traditional handwoven and colorful Andean ponchos while farmers herd llamas and alpacas.
The Lares Route takes you remote, authentic villages and off the beaten path where instead of seeing ancient Inca ruins along the way you will have more interaction with the local Peruvian culture and people.
The town of Lares is famous for its natural hot springs and this less-traveled trail provides close-up views of 18,000ft Mount Veronica and picturesque high-altitude lakes. Ending in the town of Ollantaytambo, the Lares trail provides you with the opportunity to take the train to Machu Picchu, where you can sit back, relax and admire the Sacred Valley landscape.
♦ Hiking Huayna Picchu (Difficulty: Medium to difficult)
If you’re looking to get active in and around Machu Picchu but don’t have the time in your itinerary to do one of the alternative routes to Machu Picchu, we highly recommend spending a day hiking the mountains surrounding the Inca Citadel.
Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu Mountain (Wayna Picchu) are the two large peaks that you will notice towering over the Machu Picchu site.
Wayna Picchu stands at 679ft. above Machu Picchu providing a wonderful perspective of the ancient citadel and is a thrilling experience. The trail to Wayna Picchu is recommended for adventurous travelers with ropes attached to the rock face to provide some welcoming support along the way. With just 400 people allowed to visit Huayna Picchu per day, tickets sell out quickly and why at Encounter Latin America, we always include its entrance with your Machu Picchu tour.
♦ Machu Picchu Mountain (Difficulty: Medium)
Machu Picchu Mountain is in fact different from where the ruins of Machu Picchu are located. Situated on the opposite side to Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain also has a 400 person daily limit meaning you will have to book in advance. As Machu Picchu Mountain is less well known, it rarely reaches its capacity allowing you to soak up the sublime beauty surrounding you in pure peace and quiet.
Although Machu Picchu Mountain is taller than Huayna Picchu, the climb is less steep and no ropes are need to give you a helping hand making Machu Picchu Mountain ideal for families with active children.
The view from atop Machu Picchu Mountain is equally as magnificent as Huayna Picchu but due to its height, you are rewarded with 360-degree views of the ruins of Machu Picchu, over the summit of Wayna Picchu Mountain and down to the Urubamba River below.