Trekking Peru: The Best Unknown Hikes
Machu Picchu is alright, but Peru has so much more to offer than the over-crowded, over-advertised, overrated tourist attraction. From gargantuan, glittering white mountains, to stretching plains empty but for herds of alpacas, to seldom-visited Incan ruins that top Machu Picchu in magnificence- the average tourist barely scratches the surface of this country.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience where the scenery isn’t littered with selfie sticks and hoards of fanny-pack-clad tourists clicking away on their phones and cameras, then take a look at the best little-known hikes in Peru.
Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash in the north of Peru takes 8 days, 120 km, and a strong will. But the reward for the motivated traveler is unparalleled views of this gorgeous mountain range, where brilliant turquoise lagoons await you at every corner like sparkling gemstones, and every day is like being inside of a screensaver. It’s often listed as one of the most beautiful treks in the world, and based on our travels so far, we wholeheartedly agree.
Most of the trek is above 4,000 m, so it’s a good idea to spend a few days doing some acclimatization hikes around Huaraz. If you’re extremely adventurous, you can go it alone (not alone alone- always hike with at least one other person), otherwise most people go in small groups with tour agencies from Huaraz. Here is our complete guide to the trek.
The Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca is another stunning trek in the Huaraz area. Unlike the more intense, 8-10 days of Huayhuash, Santa Cruz is only 3-4 days and is undertaken by many more travelers due to its relative ease. Although we didn’t do it, we met many backpackers who said it was well worth it.
The trek goes through the Huascarán National Park, which many people visit to do day hikes (like Laguna 69). The Santa Cruz trek leads you to many other gorgeous locations inside the park that are inaccessible with day tours. Even if for some reason you can’t do the trek, the national park is one of the most beautiful in the world and is a must-see.
Known as the “next Machu Picchu,” the Incan ruins at Choquequirao are still relatively unvisited thanks to their remote location. It’s a difficult two-day hike to the site from the village of Cachora outside of Cusco, and then you have to trek the two days back, but if you want to experience the real magic of the Incas, Machu Picchu is nothing compared to these sprawling ruins.
With twelve separate sectors, it’s more difficult to fit the grandeur of Choquequirao into one neat picture, but it makes for a much more interesting visit. You can spend hours wandering through the stone structures, and probably running into very few- if any- people along the way. The solitude allows your mind to picture the water that once flowed through the aqueducts, the farmers cultivating the terraces that you walk on, the Incas worshipping the gods of nature in the ritual places that you stand in. This surreal feeling of being in an ancient, lost city is not one that you could have amidst the railings and umbrella-waving tour guides of Machu Picchu.
In 2013, the number of visitors to Choquequirao was around 5,000, as opposed to the 1.2 million at Machu Picchu. Rumor has it that they’re building a cable car to the site, so you’d better go before the tourists come piling in. Here is everything you need to know before you go.
The Ausangate trek is another beautiful trek outside of Cusco. The nice thing about this circuit is that you can tailor it to your itinerary- you can go for just a couple days, a full week, or anything in between. You can even add in the famous (but very touristic) Rainbow Mountain.
The trek goes through the Cordillera Vilcanota and takes you past the base of the 6,384 m Ausangate mountain, considered holy to locals. As you trek (or horseback ride) past bird-filled lagoons and white mountain ranges, you’ll run into more alpacas and vicunas than humans, who almost always stop grazing to follow you with their curious gazes.
A peaceful trek through a spectacular Andean landscape, the Ausangate trek should be on your list if you’re in the Cusco area. Here’s what you should know before you start.
We won’t lie, these treks weren’t easy. But we’ll give you our secret to how we got through them: we had to. We weren’t in shape. Neither one of us had been to a gym in years. We simply decided that we wanted our trip to be different and more interesting than the regular tourist beat. Once we started a trek, we had no choice but to finish it, no matter how difficult it got (and it got difficult- there were tears and pain and fevers and dehydration and freezing and getting lost and more tears). But yeah, if you have to ask, it was absolutely worth it.
– Iris & Roi