Peru is one of the richest countries in the world for so many reasons that have nothing to do with money – the kindness of its people, the culture, traditions, impressive landscapes, and its yummy cuisine are just a few of the things that make this country what it is. This is a place that inspires you to go out and experience everything it has to offer, and you’ll find the best opportunities to do this in places you may never have heard of before.
Here are 3 hikes off the beaten path that will change everything you think you know about Peru:
- Salkantay/Savage Trek to KM 82 – The Salkantay “Savage” Mountain stands in the heart of the Mollepata district – 3 hours south of Cusco by car. The trail head in Soraypampa offers a spectacular view of the Salkantay and Humantay mountains and the sleepy Humantay glacial lake below. From there, the similarities to the Classic Salkantay Trek end though. This hike takes you to the northwest towards the Incachiriasqa Mountain – the highest peak of the hike standing at about 4900m/16000ft – and is more often used by local ranchers rather than hikers. The trail offers 360-degree views of the region with its incredible snow-capped peaks and grassy slopes. It takes 7-8 hours of hiking to get to each campsite, but you’re rewarded with a quiet night and starry sky.
- Lares Trek plus Short Inca Trail– This trek is one of the few places in the Cusco region where the Inca descendants are still alive, pasturing their llamas, plowing the soil, and keeping their Inca textile practices to create fully self-sustaining communities. The trail begins from the heart of the foothills in the Sacred Valley of the Incas – Huaran. It will take 7 to 8 hours to hike between campsites, but you will pass several villages and meet many local people who will come to say hello, share their stories, and sell their textiles. With the blessing of Pacha Mama, you may be able to see the Milky Way on the first night and take a dip in the natural hot springs by day two. This trek immerses you in the living Inca culture the whole way before you ride the Iron Horse (train) to the cherry on top of the cake – the last leg of the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
- Ancascocha – While the Inca trail may be well-known by outdoor adventurers and covers the front page of all kinds of magazines, the Ancascocha Trek is the complete opposite. You may never have heard of this trail, but it’s strikingly similar to the Inca Trail with one added bonus – it’s one of the few places in the northwest of Cusco where the Inca ruins were not touched by archeologists since the Incas left the area. The trail is rated as “challenging” but the views in each stop are extraordinary and you’re likely to have those views all to yourself. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen because there is not much shade along the route which means your views from the top will be unobstructed by tall trees. You’ll be able to enjoy the impressive flora and fauna along the way too while getting up close to llamas and alpacas who roam freely along the hillside before eventually hopping on the train along the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu.
These are just a few of the many trails that lead to Machu Picchu and other destinations in the Inca Trail network, but they offer some of the best opportunities to experience living Inca culture along the way. If you really want to avoid the crowds and discover the riches of Peru, get off the beaten path and live it.