When people think of trekking destinations, it’s usually the Himalayas or the Alps that immediately spring to mind. Flying somewhat under the radar, the Peruvian Andes attract far fewer hikers but seem to leave every single one with the resounding impression that this is the besttrekking on the planet. Imagine 6,000m snow-capped peaks towering in every direction, the world’s largest canyon, mountains in every colour of the rainbow, and lush cloud forest leading to ancient Incan ruins— Peru is home to wildly diverse landscapes, each more spectacular than the last.
From the well-known Colca Canyon and Inca Trail to the hidden gems of the Ausangate and Huayhuash Circuits, here are my picks for the best treks in Peru, plus lots of handy information about weather, altitude sickness, and safety in the mountains to help you prepare for your adventure!
What's in this travel guide
1 | Inca Trail
“Re-discovered” by archaeologist Hiram Bingham on his famous 1911 expedition, the Inca Trail is only a small section of some 20,000km of trails that were created and traversed by the ancient Incas in the 15th century. This particular trail isthought to have been a pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu, along which walkers performed religious ceremonies and spiritual rituals to honour the towering Apus (mountain gods). Today, it’s still the most popular trekking route to Machu Picchu, and one that winds for several days through lush jungle and impressive Incan ruins to culminate at the magnificent Sun Gate.
The government only allows 200 hikers to depart on the Inca Trail each day, all of whom must be accompanied by a tour guide. As a result of the high demand, Inca Trail tours run anywhere from $500 to $1,000USD, but typically provide a very high standard of food, equipment, and guiding (all camping equipment supplied and assembled for you each afternoon), as well as porters who will carry the bulk of your gear and clothes.
Getting there: Trekking tours along the Inca Trail include transportation from Cusco to the trailhead (van) and then back from Machu Picchu (train and van).
Distance: 43km from KM82 to Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate
Trail time: 4 days
Difficulty: The trek has a few incredibly steep points, but is not overly challenging otherwise— coupled with the altitude, however, it can feel extremely difficult if you’re not properly acclimatised. The highest point on the trail, Warmiwañusqa (very aptly referred to as Dead Woman’s Pass), sits at 4,215m and requires a fair bit of huffing and puffing, not to mention the absolutely brutal descent down the other side.
Salkantay Trek, an increasingly popular but still far less crowded alternative to the Inca Trail, traverses high mountain passes and stunning alpine scenery to reach the incredible ruins of Machu Picchu after 4-5 days. The route itself may not be as historic as the Inca Trail, nor does it arrive directly at Machu Picchu (you’ll trek to Aguas Calientes and then enter through the main gates with everyone else), but the landscape is arguably even more impressive.
The trek takes its name from Salkantay Mountain, which is the highest in the region at 6,271m (the 12th highest in all of Peru). This towering peak also held great spiritual significant for the ancient Incas, who believed that mountain spirits (Apu) inhabit sacred peaks in the Andes, providing protection to the people below. Trekking over Salkantay Pass, where you’re nearly close enough to reach out and touch this legendary mountain, is nothing short of mystical.
Getting there: Trekking tours depart Cusco every day of the year, but it’s also possible to do this trek independently if you organise transport from Cusco to the trailhead in Challacancha.
Trail time: 3-5 days, depending on whether you hike the complete trail or cut out a small section by driving to save some time
Difficulty: For those who aren’t used to multi-day treks, the 70km distance might feel a bit long— but it’s really the altitude that adds a layer of difficulty to this trek. That being said, I still wouldn’t classify Salkantay as a particularly hard hike if you have some trail experience.
Cost: $400USD for a 4-day tour with Salkantay Trekking (which includes entry to Machu Picchu and all transport), but it’s also possible to do this hike independently for less money.
In addition to exploring the breathtaking viewpoints and intriguing ruins within Machu Picchu, there are also two mountains above the archaeological site popular with hikers, both of which offer aerial views of the Incan city. Huayna Picchu, meaning “young peak” in Quechua, is the prominent green mountain rising directly behind the Machu Picchu ruins, visible in every photo you’ve seen of the site. The climb ascends about 290m up a seemingly endless series of steps to eventually reach the summit, from which there are dramatic views of the ruins below.
Only 400 tickets are available for each mountain on any given day, and tickets for Huayna Picchu can sell out 6 months in advance during high season, so you need to plan in advance if you want to climb. And I’d SO recommend it!
Widely considered to be one of Peru’s most stunning glacier lakes, Laguna Parón in Parque Nacional Huascarán is easily accessible as a day trip from Huaraz. And unlike popular Laguna 69, it’s possible to enjoy the impossibly perfect blue water and the surrounding peaks of the Cordillera Blanca all to yourself!
The scramble up to Huandoy Viewpoint is delightfully off-piste and the absolute best way to get panoramic views of this gorgeous area, just be warned that it requires a little bit of expertise. If you’re acclimatising for the nearby Huayhuash Circuit or Santa Cruz treks, I can’t recommend this day hike highly enough, and especially with local company Akilpo.
Getting there: The easiest ways to explore Laguna Parón and Huandoy Viewpoint are either to reserve a private tour in Huaraz or to travel independently from the smaller town of Caraz.
Distance: 5km return, with 300m elevation gain
Trail time: 2.5hrs return, including frequent stops
Difficulty: Although the trek itself is short and not terribly demanding, the Class 2-3 scrambling required to reach Huandoy Viewpoint means that you need a little bit of experience. Most tour companies only offer this trip as a private tour, just because it’s not suitable for everyone, but if you’ve scrambled and hiked before, you’ll find it super fun.
Cost:Akilpo only offers this day hike as a private tour ($237USD for 3 people), which includes transport from Huaraz, a knowledgable guide, and an excellent breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
One of the world’s largest canyons (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!!) is also the site of one of Peru’s classic treks, a 2-3 day journey that takes you from the high-altitude rim of the Colca Canyon down to an oasis on the floor and back up again. What the region lacks in mystical alpine scenery, it more than makes up for in condor sightings, sweeping views, and dramatic landscapes of its own, which is why you absolutely can’t miss the Colca Canyon when in Arequipa.
Getting there: Tours depart Arequipa for the Colca Canyon (about 3hrs away), but if you’re hoping to tackle the trek yourself, it’s also possible to take a series of buses to Cabanaconde (via Chivay).
Trail time: 2-3 days
Difficulty: This is a steep trek with a long descent on the first day and a strenuous climb on the final day, but the reasonably short distance means it’s doable for most hikers as long as they are prepared.
The Ausangate Circuit is a spectacular 70km trek around Nevado Ausangate (pronounced OW-san-got-eh) with some of the best high alpine scenery and most colourful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Unlike other popular treks out of Cusco like the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek, though, Ausangate remains delightfully off the standard tourist track, which means you’ll often enjoy these surreal vistas entirely to yourself (or your trekking group). Coupled with the high altitude (rising up to 5,050m and rarely dipping below 4,000m), this is a journey that will delight keen hikers with its staggering scenery as much as with its physical challenge.
Getting there: Independent hikers will begin the trek in Tinqui, which can be reached by bus from Cusco (2.5hrs; S/10). For those joining a group, you will be picked up at your hotel in Cusco around 4am and driven approximately 3hrs to an alternate trailhead in Alqatari.
Distance: 70km (abridged versions are possible at just 31km)
Trail time: 4-5 days (or 2 days for an abridged trek)
Difficulty: The route is moderately difficult, but suitable to anyone of a reasonable fitness level with hiking experience. The most challenging element is the altitude, which at 5,050m will definitely slow you down (or worse, if you’re not acclimatised). In terms of the trail, it is more or less non-existent, necessitating good navigational skills and the use of a map and GPS if you aren’t with a guide.
Cost: It’s definitely possible to embark on an Ausangate Circuit trek independently, but you can also join a private, high-end trekking tour with Flashpacker Connect for $399-775USD (or find plenty of cheaper group options available in Cusco).
To get your blood pumping in Cusco city, you only need to walk about 1.5km from the Plaza de Armas, uphill through San Blas. A miniature version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer (although still 8m tall, so not that miniature) sits atop Pukamoqo Hill, and from this spot, you can see the entire city stretch out beneath you, flanked by rippling ochre mountains. It is without a doubt the best view in Cusco and an excellent way to acclimatise for other longer treks in the region.
Getting there: It’s super simple to walk to Cristo Blanco from downtown Cusco, no transport needed!
Distance: 3.5km return
Trail time: 30min from Plaza de Armas to Cristo Blanco
Difficulty: This is a short, relatively steep walk that includes a bit of stair climbing. It’s not challenging, but don’t underestimate the altitude, which can make even a gently sloping street feel like a vertical mountain face. Save it for at least your second or third day.
What is now one of Peru’s most popular natural wonders, Vinicunca wasn’t on anyone’s radar until mid-2015, when a massive thaw revealed a rainbow-striped mountain that had been hidden for centuries beneath the ice. Dangerous warning of climate change aside, Rainbow Mountain is one of the most impressive displays of Peru’s geological diversity.
Dozens of travel agencies in Cusco offer day hikes out the famous Rainbow Mountain, but prepare to share your view with heaps of other people. If you’d rather enjoy Rainbow Mountain to yourself, it might be worth considering one of the more expensive tours that will get you there for sunrise, when the mountain is bathed in beautiful golden light and the trail is delightfully empty.
Getting there: Tours depart daily for Rainbow Mountain, which is about 3.5hrs from Cusco.
Distance: 8km return
Trail time: 2-3hrs return
Difficulty: Maxing out at 5,200m, it’s the altitude of this short trek that really knocks people on their ass rather than the ascent itself. Only the final section of the trail is really steep, but if you aren’t acclimatised properly, you’ll find yourself huffy and puffing the whole way.
Cost:Splurge on a tour with Flashpacker Connect (S/500 for a 1-day tour) and be the first ones to the top (you’ll be departing Cusco around 2.15am, but SO worth it). Alternatively, you can find group tours in Cusco for as little as S/50.
If you’re put off by the popularity and bothersome overcrowding at Rainbow Mountain, an excellent alternative is to visit the “other Rainbow Mountains” at Polccoyo. Tours to this area visit a number of different rainbow-hued mountains which, if slightly less spectacular than Vinicunca, completely make up for it in amazing glacier views and a complete lack of tourists.
Getting there: Palccoyo is a 3.5hr drive from Cusco.
Distance: 5km return
Trail time: 1-2hrs, depending on how far you explore
Difficulty: The hike to Palcoyo is at high altitude (4,880m), but lower than Rainbow Mountain and far shorter/less steep, making it an easier option for those who aren’t confident trekkers.
Cost: Tours to Palcoyo can be booked on arrival in Cusco for around S/80, just ask around at tour agencies to find the best deal.
Undeniably one of the best alpine treks in the world, the Huayhuash Circuit is a remote and impossibly scenic high-altitude route in Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced why-wash). The trail circles some of the tallest and most impressive mountains in the Andes, offering surreal vistas of jagged snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes, and even steamy hot springs as it crosses 12 mountain passes over 4,500m.
The feeling of being off-the-beaten-path is one of the best things about trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash, a region perhaps best known as the setting of Joe Simpson’s epic survival following a mountaineering accident on Siula Grande (6,344m). But if one of the best things is the relative remoteness of the trails and the ability to enjoy insane views entirely to yourself, then thebest thing about the Huayhuash Circuit is the scenery itself. “Magical” doesn’t even begin to describe the dramatic peaks or towering glaciers that dominate every angle of this trek. This is the absolute BEST trek I’ve ever done, and I can’t possibly recommend it highly enough to those looking for rugged natural beauty in Peru and a real challenge in the mountains.
Distance: 110-150km, depending on variations and side-trips
Trail time: 8-12 days
Difficulty: This is definitely the hardest trek on this list, and that’s in terms of length, terrain, elevation gain, navigation, altitude… everything. To do the Huayhuash Circuit independently, you really need to be a confident hiker and fully acclimatised.
If you don’t have time for the full Huayhuash Circuit but still want to experience some of its spectacular scenery, a shorter loop over Punta Rondoy is a great option. This is actually a variation from the standard trail that many trekkers miss, which means it’s completely devoid of other people— but it was one of my favourite sections!
There’s a few different ways to do this shortened loop, but the most popular seems to be beginning in Llamac and camping at Incahuain on the first night, then trekking up and over Sambuya and Rondoy Puntas on the second day, and returning to Llamac by the third. The physical and navigational demands are certainly shorter than on the full circuit, which also makes this route more accessible to novice hikers.
Getting there: From Huaraz, take public buses to Llamac or a shuttle to Quartelhuain to begin this loop over Rondoy Pass.
Trail time: 2-4 days
Difficulty: This shortened loop involves a few steep climbs and altitudes up to 5,000m, but is still much easier than the full Huayhuash Circuit.
Laguna Humantay, an impossibly vibrant lake below Humantay Mountain in the Peruvian Andes, has recently gained popularity as an excellent and very accessible day hike from Cusco. Don’t expect to have it all to yourself, but there is plenty to explore around the laguna and, on a clear day, this is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, the blue-green water and imposing glacier providing an insane backdrop to your trek.
Getting there: Tours to Laguna Humantay depart Cusco for the trailhead in Soraypampa. It’s possible to get yourself here, but joining a group is easy and really inexpensive, so it’s a far better option in my opinion.
Distance: 6km return
Trail time: 1hr from Soraypampa to Laguna Humantay and about half as much time on the descent
Difficulty: It’s a steep but short uphill hike to the lake (at 4,200m), so Laguna Humantay is realistic for just about any trekker who has acclimatised to the altitude.
Weather in the Peruvian Andes is typically grouped into two seasons: a cool, dry winter (also referred to as the “Andean Summer” from May to September and a minimally warmer, but much wetter summer from October to April. There really isn’t much difference in terms of temperature throughout the year (nightime lows around -10 to 0C, daytime highs of about 20C), but rainfall and cloud cover fluctuates wildly depending on season.
It’s technically possible to do any of these treks year-round (with the exception of the Inca Trail, which is closed in February due to high rains), but the Andean Summer is almost always a better bet. I’ve trekked in Peru in both December and August/September, and you can typically expect far better weather and more clear days in the middle of the year. That being said, it did snow while I was on the Huayhuash Circuit in August, so anything is possible in the mountains! If your trip is at the end/start of the year, don’t let that deter you from venturing outdoors, just know that you will get rained on (like I did when I hiked the Inca Trail during Christmas).
Everyone reacts differently to trekking at high elevation and, surprisingly, your physical fitness actually has nothing to do with your susceptibility to altitude sickness. The single best thing you can do to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and its more severe consequences (HACE or HAPE) is to spend time in high-altitude towns and go on acclimatisation hikes prior to any big treks. Try to set aside at least a few days to bum around town in Cusco or Huaraz before undertaking any of these treks, as this will also help you acclimatise.
On any of these treks, constantly-changing weather and unpredictable trail conditions can make for a challenging trip. Under no circumstances should you set out independently without a well-stocked first aid kit, a good knowledge of mountain survival, and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Both of my parents have had to be med-evac’d off a summit in recent years, and that means we as a family are really conscious of the fact that, even for experienced mountaineers, accidents can happen.
Particularly in the remote Andes where you can go days without seeing other humans, carrying a PLB could be the difference between life and death. We carried an InReach, but there are cheaper options with fewer features that will do an equally effective job in an emergency. Just make sure your model works in Peru— AND that you have good travel insurance that covers medical evacuation.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to navigate or cope with often challenging conditions in the Andes, there’s always an option to join a guided trek. The standard for trekking groups in Peru is extremely high, typically always including quality gear and porters or animals to carry the bulk of your weight, excellent food, and experienced local guides who know the Andes like the back of their hand.