Hiking Peru- more than The Inca Trail

Ausangate trek Peru
Amazing views of the Ausangate in Peru.

Peru is a dream destination for trekking with a staggering array of trails winding through Inca ruins, lost cities, impossibly perfect lakes and imposing peaks. The impressive Andes mountains cut by footpaths left by ancient civilizations shape dramatic landscapes that can only be explored on foot. With over 25 000 km of trails that traverse massive mountains the country is perfect to discover while camping during multi day hikes.  Prepare yourself to experience breathtaking glacial lakes, snow-topped peaks and ancient ruins on the rugged paths.

In the south of Peru the main trekking centers are Cuzco and Arequipa, while most trekking in the north is done around Huaraz. The Inca Trail is the country’s most recognized trail, but is certainly not the most spectacular or challenging. In this post we discuss some of our favorite trails in this wondrous country.

Hiking is not the only activity you can do here, Peru offers a great range of experiences e.g. exploring Inca ruins and colonial towns, tasting local food, venturing on an tour in the Amazon jungle or relaxing on the beach – whichever activity you prefer traveling to Peru will be an amazing  cultural experience.

Trekking around Cusco (The South of Peru)

The city Cusco in southeast Peru was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site draws about  1.2 million tourists per year, the main draw cards being the city itself and the nearby Inca ruins of Macchu Picchu. Located at an altitude of 3400m and surrounded by mountains over 6000m Cusco serves as base camp for the departure of many amazing trekking routes. Add to this plenty of ancient Inca ruins scattered through the surrounding peaks and valleys creating one of the trekking capitals of the world.

Ausangate Trek – the most beautiful scenery

  • Duration:            5 days
  • Max Altitude:    5200m
  • Difficulty:           8 – Challenging, high altitude
  • Crowds:              0 – (might see nobody)


Ausangate-trek-scenery stingy nomads
Colorful lakes and snow capped peaks are just some of the treats in the high altitude Andean landscapes around Ausangate mountain.

The Landscape – In six years of traveling around the world, doing a lot of hiking, we still have to find a trail with views to match, Ausangate is breathtaking. Diverse landscapes ranging from colorful to snow capped mountains, lakes of different colors and amazing high altitude Andean landscapes. The unreal rainbow mountain is on the Ausangate route.This is the sort of trek that  thousands of people on more popular hiking tours dream about when they buy plane tickets to Peru; a remote trail, magnificent views, a physical challenge and a real adventure. The trek is a circuit around Ausangate mountain (6,384 m) the highest mountain in the Cusco region  from the town Tinki.

Difficulty – Ausangate is a challenging trek walking through rough terrain, with climbs at altitude. The standard itinerary to hike the route is 6 days, 5 nights camping along the way. This is a real high altitude trek, the whole route is above 4000m crossing three passes above 5000m, Palomino pass is the highest point at 5200m. This trek is best suited for experienced trekkers with a good fitness level, it is very important to be properly acclimatized.

Remote Trail – It is unreal that such a beautiful place is still so untouched. In our 5 day trek the only people we saw were 2  local people that look after alpacas.

If you want to do a tough trek with amazing scenery this is the route for you. It is possible to do this hike independent, but loosing the trail and altitude sickness are real considerations.

Choquequirao Trek – discover ancient Inca Ruins

  • Duration:            4 days
  • Max Altitude:    3050 m
  • Difficulty:           7 – Moderate, steep climbs
  • Crowds:              3 – season dependent, small groups do show up
Watching the sunrise at Upper Choquequirao ruins. What a privilage to have this amazing view to have all to yourself!
Watching the sunrise at Upper Choquequirao ruins. What a privilage to have this amazing view to have all to yourself!

Machu Picchu must be the greatest man made sight that I have ever seen, but with about 3000 tourists visiting every day it feels more like Disney World than Indiana Jones. Choquequirao is a huge site of ancient ruins similar in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu. Less than 40% of these ruins have been excavated! The site is located in the jungle with magnificent views of the valleys; seeing the sun rise over the ruins with condors soaring in the valley without a tourist in sight is an experience I will treasure for ever.

Camping is possible very close to the ruins and you will probably share this massive site with only a hand full of people, there were 3 or 4 others camping during the 2 days we spent at the ruins. Why is ‘lost city’ still deserted? ‘Machu Picchu’s little sister’ is some of the most remote ruins in the Andes taking 2 to 3 days of tough trekking to get to.  It is a 60-kilometer round trip traversing a canyon and crossing the Apurimac River.

The trek is fantastic with beautiful views of the Apurimac Canyon. This is one of the tougher hikes in the area with some steep climbs.  The trail is well marked, your main consideration if you want to trek this on your own should be if you are fit and strong enough to do the steep climbs with a full backpack carrying all your food and gear.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

  • Duration:            5 days
  • Max Altitude:    4460m
  • Difficulty:           6 – Moderate – altitude and climbs
  • Crowds:              6 – (medium sized groups on the trail)
Salkantay Lake, Peru,
Humantay Lake, Peru, we passed this beautiful lake on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Pichu.

Machu Picchu might be super touristy, but it is still breathtakingly beautiful and belongs high up on any bucket list. The iconic Inca ruins is an unreal destination following 4 amazing days of hiking through the Andes mountains. The Salkantay trek is the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail. It is less busy, cheaper and tougher than it’s more famous counter part.

It is important to acclimatize, trekking as high as 4600m through the Salkantay pass. The route is 70km long going around the base of the famous Salkantay mountain passing through different scenery every day, varying from cloud forests to snowy passes. There are some supreme views on this trek that will stay with me forever; Machu Picchu and the valley from Machu Picchu mountain is incredible and Salkantay lake is so beautiful it is difficult to believe it is real!

Accommodation in Cusco

  • Backpacker – Sungate Backpackers is an awesome deal $10 for a dorm bed, best location for the price. Comfy beds, nice and accommodating staff. Perfect location off of Plaza de Armas still not too noisy.
  • Medium budget – Tierra Viva Cusco Plaza Great location, friendly helpful staff speaking good English, neat, clean, very nice place, excellent breakfast $89 for a double room
  • Upmarket – Antigua Casona San Blas Want to stay in a beautiful, comfortable place? This hotel is pretty amazing! Nice rooms, comfortable bed, excellent bathrooms, ambiance in court yard great with a fire. Breakfast is top quality with a big variety. Staff friendly and helpful. Good value for money $149 double room

Huaraz Trekking (North-central Peru)

Located at 3000 m above sea level looking over Cordillera Blanca, one of the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges, Huaraz is a favorite destination for mountain adventures. With some of the continents best hikes starting just outside the town, home to Andean condors, jaguars and Peru’s tallest mountain, Huarascán, this is the mecca of hiking in the north of Peru.

Huayhuash Circuit Trek – The Route Less Explored

  • Duration:            8 to 10 days
  • Max Altitude:    5465m
  • Difficulty:           8 – Challenging, high altitude
  • Crowds:               1 – very little
Glacial Lakes in Cordillera Huayhuash.
Glacial Lakes in Cordillera Huayhuash.
The Huayhuash trekking route is a challenging, remote trek at high altitude. The circular route in the Cordillera Huayhuash region takes 8 to 10 days to complete meandering through some of the most spectacular peaks in the Peruvian Andes. This is a high altitude trek staying above 4000m for most of the route, climbing passes almost everyday and is one of the toughest treks out of Huaraz reaching corners of Peru seen by few. The route takes you close to the gigantic snowcovered peaks Yerupajá (6,617 m) and Siula Grande (6,344 m).
This is a long demanding hike at high altitude, a good level of fitness and proper acclimatization is required. You camp in designated camping areas along the way all located in beautiful spots such as lakes, rivers or spectacular peaks.
It is possible to do this hike independent, challenges will be carrying a tent, food and equipment sufficient for 8 days. Since it is remote with few trekkers a GPS is a good instrument to carry. The majority of trekkers are more comfortable to leave planning, logistics and navigation up to an experienced company that knows the area.

The Santa Cruz trek

  • Duration:            3 to 4 days
  • Max Altitude:    4750m
  • Difficulty:           6
  • Crowds:              3- some other groups
Punta Union pass

The most popular multi day, high altitude hike in Cordillera Blanca mountains. The spectacular Santa Cruz trek takes you through a variety of landscapes with amazing views. If you are a photographer you will love this route showing you a variety of breathtaking high mountain views including valleys, forests, glaciers, steep passes and ice blue lakes. The trek up Punta Union  is tough, but would be a fantastic introduction to hiking high altitude passes!

There are groups on the trail, but it is not overly crowded, a very possible hike to attempt solo, an economic option if you want to do one of the best hikes in the area with a group.

Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys

  • Duration:            3 to 4 days
  • Max Altitude:    5100m
  • Difficulty:           7 – moderate to challenging
  • Crowds:              1- not crowded

A spectacular 3 day hike through the little-walked valleys of the Cordillera Blanca Mountain range through alpine forest past unreal glacial lakes with condors souring overhead in the trekking season. Hiking up the 5100m Chocu Pass makes for great views of the big mountains of the Cordillera Blanca range. Donkeys can not ascend this steep pass so carrying your gear is the only way, hard work at this altitude. This astoundingly beautiful walk is made is even more special by the remoteness, not another person in sight.

Accommodation in Huaraz

  • Backpacker – Artesonraju Hostel Huaraz is a good deal $12 for a double/twin room, good location, equipped kitchen, basic rooms, good accommodation for the price. Very helpful and accommodating staff.
  • Medium budget – La Aurora Amazing value, very comfortable, clean, modern hotel right in the center of town. The room nice and well-lit, nice new crisp beds, flat screen tv, nice bathroom with complementary toiletries. Great breakfast
  • Upmarket –San Sebastian Hotel Boutique Nice rooms, comfortable bed, nice bathrooms, beautiful place, very nice atmosphere. Breakfast is top. Staff friendly and helpful. Excellent value for money $80 double room

Chachapoyas – home to ‘the cloud people’  (Northern Peru)

Similar to other hiking centers in Peru the town of Chachapoyas is located in the mountains at a high altitude (2335m).  This affable town located in the high altitude cloud forest of the Amazonas region of Peru is a popular base for exploring the ruins left by the pre-Inca civilization of the Chachapoyas, ‘the people of the clouds’. Kuelap is the best known site in Northern Peru, the ancient stone city with 12 m high walls is  the largest pre-Inca ruins in South America. The cloud warrior fortress is now easily accessible thanks to a cable car built on the edge of the Peruvian Amazon.

The Gran Vilaya Trek

  • Duration:            3 to 4 days
  • Max Altitude:    5100m
  • Difficulty:           7 – moderate to challenging
  • Crowds:              1- not crowded

This incredible hike will take you on some  exiting trekking through beautiful cloud forests and tough climbs crossing impressive valleys to discover thousands of stone structures covered with bromeliads and orchids left by ‘the cloud people’. Experience amazing caverns, archeological sites and cross grandiose valleys. End your trek at at the famous ‘lost city of the cloud people’, Kuelap, comprising over 400 buildings inside 3 levels of walls, the largest stone structure found in the Americas.

The landscapes of this hike is breathtaking, long climbs through some of the valleys make the hiking hard but rewarding

Accommodation in Chachapoyas

  • Backpacker –Chacha International comfortable clean, good location near the center, excellent budget spot, helpful staff. $6.50 dorm bed, $13 for a twin room
  • Upmarket – La Casa de Los Balcones Amazing value, very comfortable, clean, modern, flat screen and cable tv. Extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff; very comfy beds; great location Great breakfast $40

Trekking Peru independent or with a group

All the treks discussed in this post are possible to do on your own or as a guided hike. It is high altitude treks and loosing the trail or altitude sickness are real possibilities. You have to consider if you are able to navigate the route, do you have a plan if there is a problem and can you ascend the steep climbs with a full backpack carrying a tent, food, gear and utensils. We love hiking independent, but we are two and have a lot of experience

You might be more comfortable to leave planning and logistics to an experienced company and a guide that knows the area. Runnatrip is a group of professional trekkers that want everyone to be able to experience the beauty of these amazing treks regardless of prior experience, they do guided treks on all these routes.

Gear needed

Buying gear to hike in Peru changed our whole South America trip, we started hiking and camping everywhere! Having good quality equipment is important on these hikes, being cold or wet in the Andes is terrible and can be dangerous!

Waterproof Jacket

  • A good waterproof, windproof jacket should be the first thing you pack for a multi day hike. This one is quite warm and ventilated.
  • If it is really cold I start the day with a fleece under neath. The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Jacket

Water sterilizing device

Water is not alway drinkable and getting drinkable water can be a problem, solve this with a water sterilizing device, you have three options to sterilize  water and drink

  • chlorine pills (works but your water taste like swimming pool water)
  • Steri Pen  UV sterilize device. Used by couple of other trekkers on route.
  • Life Straw filter, very efficient, cheap, can also buy life straw in a bottle

Check out this test of lifestraw, you can find many funny ones on Youtube, the point is this is a cheap, safe way to get good quality water out of taps and streams on the hike.

A Good, light, waterproof tent

  • Naturehike Backpacking Tent a good quality cheaper alternitave to MSR –  4 Season 2 Person Hiking Camping Tent Lightweight Waterproof 

A light weight, durable sleeping mat

Down sleeping bag

Good reliable headlamp

  • Petzl is the way to go, these things last forever, splash proof I find 100 lumens more than bright enough, but if you are going to hike at night 200+ lumens will be handy!
  •   Petzl – ACTIK Headlamp, 300 Lumens

A microfibre towel

Light, save space, quick dry. We recommend you pack the   Active Roots Microfiber Travel Towel

Swiss Army Knife

  • Invaluable, this Swiss spartan is light and has all the functions we need.
  • Remember to put it in your check in luggage, we  lost one confiscated by airport security that I forgot in my handluggage!  Victorinox Swiss Army Spartan Pocket Knife

Camping stove and utensils

  • The screw in gas canisters for these stoves are available in Peru and all over South America
  • If you are going to camp and hike independent it is very important to have a stove and a pot
  • We bought a cheap set ‘made in China’ looks just like this hoping that it would last for one multi day hike, it has been 3 years and many treks later and we are still using it.

Complete packing list for hiking in Peru you’ll find in this post

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PIN IT FOR LATER!Best hikes in Peru - top best multi-day treks from all over the country. #peru #hiking #besthikes

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