Peru has a knack for luring adventure travelers to its ancient trails and ruins, but what many travelers don’t realize is that there is more than one trek to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail, as some of you may know all to well, sells out quickly. To trek it, you’ll have had to have your permit purchased nearly six months in advance of your travel, and though it’s a popular trek for good reason, these two Inca Trail alternative treks to Machu Picchu are equally as stunning and satisfying. Allow us to introduce you to the Ancascocha Trek and the Salkantay Trek.
The Ancascocha Trek to Machu Picchu
The Ancascocha Trek to Machu Picchu is like every tour operator’s best-kept secret. If you were to ask us, which route to Machu Picchu offers the quietest trails and campsites without skimping on the Andean views and Incan ruins, we’d immediately reveal that it’s the Ancascocha Trek. This four-day trek covers 20 miles (32 km) of trail through the high plateaus, river gorges, and remote villages north of Cusco. Each night’s campsite includes views of snow-capped and glacial peaks that often neighbor small Quechua-speaking communities. The trail ends in the community of Camicancha, just outside of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. From there, you can either combine your trek with the Inca Trail Express, a one-day hike from Km 104 to Machu Picchu Pueblo, or hop aboard the train to Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo.
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu has been the go-to trek for a while now when trekking Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail is out of the question. As a result, this trek is slightly more crowded than what you may find on the Ancascocha Trek to Machu Picchu, but the natural scenes this trek brings are unparalleled. The Salkantay Trek truly is the ultimate way to arrive if challenging adventure is what you’re after. The route traverses 30 miles (50 km) in 5 days and reaches heights of 15,210 ft. (4,636 m.). The ascents are steep and the descents are long and winding. You’ll find yourself repeatedly humbled by the huge expanses and snow-clad mountains before you. The final two days of the trek take you through dense cloud forest, eventually arriving at your first glimpse of Machu Picchu from afar. The trail ends at the hydroelectric station where you’ll board a train for a short ride to Machu Picchu Pueblo.
Ancascocha vs. Salkantay Trek
We know what you’re thinking. How could you ever choose between these two Inca Trail alternative treks? Our advice, as an adventure tour operator who has been doing this for over 40 years now, is to consider your priorities when it comes to trekking Machu Picchu. Are you after the challenge of it (Salkantay) or are you more concerned with the scenery (Ancascocha)? Do you crave to connect with the communities of the Peruvian Andes as you go (Ancascocha) or are your sights set solely on arriving at Machu Picchu (Salkantay)? Do you want to have the trail and campsites to yourself (Ancascocha) or are you okay with sharing the trails and campsites with other trekking groups every step of the way (Salkantay)? One thing is for sure, no matter which trek you go with, you will not be disappointed. The scenery as you approach Machu Picchu from every trail is jaw-droppingly spectacular.