The Inca Trail is one of the most famous treks in the world. But there other similarly beautifully, equally challenging routes that lead to the magnificent Machu Picchu. If you don't know about them, read on to see 5 alternative ways to reach the enchanted 15th-century Sacred Valley of the Incas.
1| Salcantay Route
The Salcantay Route (also spelled Salkantay) may be a lesser known trail than the Inca Trail but it boasts just as much significance with the Inca Pantheon of Gods. In fact, Mount Salcantay is one of the most religious peaks to the Inca people and is the heart of Andean civilisation. Named as one of the 'Top 25 Treks in the World' by National Geographic, this route is a popular alternative because it has no space limitations or permits like the Inca Trail. Starting from the quiet mountain town of Mollepata and leading through historic Cusco and a subtropical cloud forest at 15,000 feet, Salcantay is open to everybody. To many, Salcantay isn't just any alternative route to Machu Picchu, but the alternative route - and the views are just as magical.
"Salkantay Trek" by Felipe Ernesto is licensed under CC BY 2.0
2| Lares Route
Another great route is the Lares Trail, with some truly spectacular sights such as the high alpine lakes and valleys. In a similar price range to the Inca Trail or the Salcantay Route, a hike to the Lares Valley boasts just as much beauty and culture but without the crowds. Life hasn't changed much here in this part of the Urupampa mountain range so trekking the Lares Route will bring you a sense of true history and tradition. And you really will be off the beaten path in this untouched part of Peru. This is a 2 or 3 day hike; it usually starts from the village Lares where you will find relaxing natural hot springs and it ends at the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. From there you can catch a train to Machu Picchu which takes around 90 minutes.
"Highest Point of the Lares Trek (15k)" by Joshua Eckert is licensed under CC BY 2.0
3| Vilcabamba Traverse Route
For a serious challenge with breath-taking panoramas, take the extended Vilcabamba Traverse Route which is anything between 5 to 13 days depending where you decide to begin and end your journey. One of the newest routes in the Inca circuit, a typical hike takes you from Huancacelle and the remote region inhabited by Incas until 1572, the beautiful canyon of the Apurimac River, the famous "Cradle of Gold" ruins of Choquequirao, the original stone highways of Cordillera Vilcabamba and some beautiful cloud forests. This is a high difficulty trail and best suited to experienced trekkers with good fitness levels.
"Choquequirao" by Danielle Pereira is licensed under CC BY 2.0
4| Cachicata Trail
The Cachicata Trail (also spelled Chaski) is a medium difficulty trek which gives you somewhere between 3 to 5 days to explore the Cusco region. Based in the area near Ollantaytambo, this exciting trail will take you past some of the most stunning waterfalls and Inca ruins. The most memorable and scenic section of this journey is possibly the Inca Canyon - which is sometimes referred to as "the Grand Canyon of Peru". Compared to some of the other routes (such as Vilcabamba Traverse), it's slightly easier so it can be suited to less experienced hikers.
"Wendy's Garden, Ollantaytambo, Peru" by Rod Waddington is licensed under CC BY 2.0
5| One Day Inca Trail
As travellers in the western world become more adventurous, trekking the Inca Trail has become hugely popular and is no longer just reserved for the intrepid or experienced outdoor enthusiast. These days, anyone can take part (as long as they have the determination) and one of the newest options is to take a one day tour of the Inca Trail. Designed for people like this who want to experience the magnificent sites of Machu Picchu and the Andean lands without the gruelling length of the trek, the one day Inca Trail will cover sites such as the Winay Wayna ruins and the Urumbamba River. Although the duration is shorter, the difficulty levels are still medium as much of the trail is an uphill ascend. Camping is usually optional with many operators - but be sure to book in advance to get an Inca Trail permit.
"Machu Picchu" by Carlos Ebert is licensed under CC BY 2.0