There's more than one road to this historic site.
Since word of Machu Picchu spread around the world in the early 1900s, the sacred site has been visited in just about every manner—from cable car to helicopter. While visitors were once allowed to explore the area freely, Peru has added several tourist restrictions in recent years, and for good reason. With over a million people making the trip each year, Machu Picchu is on the brink of joining other world sites, such as Timbuktu and the city of Potosí, on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. If added to the list, it could mean anything from stricter entry rules to closing the site to the public—not to mention it’s a step closer to the destruction of an ancient archeological site of the Inca Empire.
The most recent developments towards sustainable tourism at Machu Picchu include requiring all foreign visitors to hire a professional guide, and encouraging alternative routes to the site. It’s a change we can get behind as it means a more conscious trek deeper into the Andean Mountains—who likes a crowd, anyway?
While the Inca Trail remains the most popular way to access Machu Picchu, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite lesser-known treks, which include everything from zip lines and hot springs to morning coffee with the people who call these extraordinary mountains home. It’s a chance to leave Machu Picchu with more than a selfie and the memory of waiting in line.
1. For the Solo Backpacker
The Vilcabamba Trek with Kandoo Adventures
In case you haven’t heard, Machu Picchu is not actually the “lost city.” When America scholar Hiram Bingham III and a team of Peruvian explorers stumbled upon Machu Picchu they were actually looking for the city of Vilcabamba. With Kandoo Adventures hikers will spend two days in Cusco, then head out on a five-day trek into the Sacred Valley. One of the most scenic and remote trails, The Vilcabamba Trek follows the Cordillera Mountain Range and promises solitude and a serious workout.
2. For the Challenge Seeker
The Choquekiraw & Machu Picchu Route with Alpaca Expeditions
This trek is no joke. If you’re not afraid of sore legs or elevations as high as 4500m, try the eight-day adventure with Alpaca Expeditions. The route includes several stops at different Inca sites, including Pinchauniyoc and Choquekiraw (known as “the other Machu Picchu”)—and small villages throughout the mountains.
3. For the Adventure Seeker
The Inca Jungle Trail with Inca Jungle Trail
Want a little adventure with your hike? The crew at Inca Jungle Trail has your back. This four-day trip includes daily options for biking, zip-lining, and soaking in hot springs—that being said, this is still a hike.
4. For When the Destination is the Goal
The Huchuy Qosqo Trek with Llama Path
The first two days of this three-day trip that begins in Cusco are dedicated to visiting historic Inca site, Huchuy Qosco, and to getting to know the history and some of the people who live in the area. The last night is spent in the town of Aguas Calientes—make sure you check out The Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon before the Llama Path team takes you up to Machu Picchu.
5. For the Luxury Traveler
Lodge to Lodge Treks with Alpine Ascents and Mountain Travel Sobek
When it comes to the increasingly popular Lodge to Lodge Treks, the term “luxury” is open for interpretation. Involving a mix of hiking and travel by bus and car, each route covers a range of trails—including Salkantay, Vilcabamba and Santa Teresa River Valley—all of which lead to Machu Picchu. Mountain Travel Sobek has a great 10-day trip, or if that feels like forever to be without Wi-Fi, check out Alpine Ascents six-day trek. Where’s the luxury, you ask? Each day ends in a comfortable lodge with dinner, and more often than not, a soak in a Jacuzzi and a glass of wine.
This video from our friends at GLP Films gives you a sense of how quiet, remote, and beautiful the Salkantay Inca Trail is. The lodge to lodge treks here are all run by Mountain Lodges of Peru, who offer their own seven-day trek as well as working with other tour companies.