The Most Amazing Hikes in Peru
Ranging from the rugged canyons of Cotahuasi to the snow-topped heights of the Huayhuash, and imbued with bucket-list-busters like the iconic Inca Trail all the way to Machu Picchu, it's hardly a surprise that Peru is one of the world's hiking meccas. Check out this list of the top walks in the nation, which proves you sure won't have to look far to find somewhere to go off-the-beaten-track!
The Inca Trail…obviously
Topping our list, and pretty much all other lists, of the best hikes in Peru is the bucket-list-busting Inca Trail. Considered the most famous trek in all of South America (sorry Fitz Roy), it can last anything from four full and hamstring-pulling days to just a short day-long jaunt out of the nearby city of Cuzco. With all the late-night Pisco sour sipping and action-packed plans of our Wonders of Peru itinerary, we tend to opt for the shorter version. The pay off at the end of the cloud forest walks and scrambling hill trails through the Sacred Valley is still the same though: Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Just watch out for the photobombing llamas guys!
Cotahuasi Canyon Trek
Giving even the Grand Canyon a run for its money, the mighty Cotahuasi Canyon carves through the foothills of the Andes from the snow-topped volcanic domes of Solimana. At its deepest point, the wonder clocks up a monstrous 3,500 meters, which means you'll be craning the neck to see the soaring, cloud-shrouded summits above you. The environments you'll pass are also pretty darn awesome, looking like something plucked straight from the surface of Mars. And that's not even mentioning those chances to spot the huge Andean condor, roaring waterfalls and hidden hot springs along the way!
The Huayhuash Circuit
Anyone who's seen the uber-tense mountain odyssey Touching the Void will know the famous Ancash Highlands all too well. It was here, back in 1985, that two young British climbers did battle with the elements after one of them fell over a ridge on the hulking Siula Grande mountain. Don't worry though, not all treks in the region just north of Lima need to be as hard as that! You can undertake a seven-day circuit of the whole Cordillera Huayhuash to wonder at the snow-capped peaks and the rugged scree slopes, encountering shimmering glaciers and massive snowdrifts as you go.
Running for 33 kilometers as it weaves into the highlands just outside of Cuzco, the Lares Trek is one of the more accessible and achievable hikes on the menu in Peru. While not difficult in terms of terrain – you'll largely be crossing undulating hills and grass-topped mountain ridges as you flit between the earthy Quechua villages – it can be tricky on account of the high altitude. A few days acclimatization should do the trick though, and then it's out to see the weaving workshops of Huacahuasi and the 4,450-meter-high Ipsaycocha Pass.
Ausangate Summit Trek
Not for the faint-hearted, the Ausangate Summit Trek is arguably the most difficult mountain route in the whole of the Cuzco region – and that's really saying something. It takes around five days in total, and is reserved solely for the confident mountaineer. The journey flits from traditional tambos hut to traditional tambos hut in the surrounding foothills, before heading straight upwards to the 6,384-meter Apu peak (that's something sacred to the local Quechua folk here). Along the way, you'll get to glimpse curious colored rock falls (named the Painted Mountains), leather-faced local peoples in the hill towns, and the ice-carved glacier top of Ausangate itself.
Perhaps the only trek on this list that could give the Inca Trail a run for its money on the fame front is the Salkantay Trek. With its trailheads in the Sacred Valley and its backdrop in the high Peruvian Andes close to Cuzco, this one's packed with awesome sights, sounds and wildlife. As you scale the craggy mountains, glimmering high-altitude lakes sparkle in the crevices, tarantulas scurry over the stones and the occasional pre-Columbian ruin hides amidst the yungas. What's more, the Salkantay Trek can culminate at the lost city of Machu Picchu, adding even more wonders to the menu.
Santa Cruz Trek
Slowly becoming one of the top alpine hikes in all of South America, the Santa Cruz Trek is known for its accessibility and breathtaking scenery. You'll start in the hiking mecca of Huaraz, hop a minibus to nearby Vaquería, and then hit the trails proper. Soon, the air starts to thin and you scramble over plateaus of grass-clad knolls, ancient stones and mirror-like lakes, all before hitting the higher reaches of Punta Union, where glacial summits glow on the horizon and the trek finally turns back into a descent. In all, the route takes around three days from beginning to end, and is considered a great choice if you need to get on with your acclimatization.
Perfect if you've already conquered the heights of Machu Picchu and want to encounter some of the other mystical, mysterious ruins of Peru's highlands, the Choquequirao Trek weaves into the peaks between the Wayna Cachora and Padrayoc ranges. Hair-pinning bends shoot this way and that up and down the valley sides as you climb and scale the ancient paths, all of which lead to the eponymous Incan settlement of Choquequirao itself. This is one of the lesser-known pre-Columbian ruins in the Sacred Valley region, and offers a totally different glimpse of the old civilisations of Peru than the lost city and its tourist hordes might.
Of course, in such a mountain-studded, wild and wonderful country there are oodles more treks and hikes to add to this list. So, if you can think of any more, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you waxed down the walking boots and hit the Peruvian trails, be sure to check out our range of itineraries in South America!