One of the world’s most iconic adventures is the pilgrimage to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, a popular bucket list journey. Visitors planning to make it to the ancient city on foot have a number of routes to choose from—here are your options.
The classic Inca Trail is undoubtedly the most popular route, with thousands taking to the trail each year. The challenging 16-mile (26-km) hike through the Urubamba Valley takes four days and is made all the more breathtaking by the steadily mounting altitude, passing ancient Inca ruins and traditional villages, before finally reaching Machu Picchu.
Short Inca Trail
Travelers who are pressed for time but still want to do some hiking during their Machu Picchu visit can opt for a shorter Inca Trail excursion. The journey begins with a ride on the Machu Picchu train to kilometer marker 104, where a three-hour uphill trek leads to the UNESCO World Heritage site. Some hikers choose to spend a night on the trail so as to enter the Sun Gate at dawn.
A perfect option for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture, the five-day trek through the Lares Valley winds north of the more crowded Sacred Valley. Starting from the town of Lares, the trail passes several villages where local farmers and artisans in Andean dress carry on much as they have for centuries. From the ruins of Ollantaytambo, travelers board a 90-minute train to Machu Picchu.
If you think the scenery along the Inca Trail looks impressive, wait until you see the Salkantay Route. This relatively strenuous option cuts through the Mollepata Valley past 20,500-foot (6,248-meter) Mount Salkantay before descending into a cloud forest and on toward the ruins of Llactapata. From there, hikers get a stellar view of Machu Picchu from a rarely seen angle.
The mother of all Machu Picchu hikes takes travelers on an eight-day adventure down into Apurimac Canyon and up to the remote Incan ruins of Choquequirao before finishing at Machu Picchu. Those who conquer this tough trek are rewarded with visits to two important Incan sites in one trip.