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Ssome of the best hiking in Peru is beyond the Inca Trail, like the Ausangate Circuit.

The Best Hiking in Peru beyond the Inca Trail

When asked about our favorite country from our travels, it’s difficult to pick just one. Each place had its own unique draw. However, if we could pick one country to explore deeper, it would be Peru.

The food is some of the best we’ve ever had, with all of my favorite superfoods available at a fraction of what I pay elsewhere and plenty of vegan options. We enjoyed learning of the different indigenous cultures, which are prevalent throughout the country. Mainly though, we feel that we missed out on some serious connection with nature. Traveling by bicycle didn’t allow us to do as much hiking in Peru as we would have liked. The country is packed with unbelievable beauty and we were fortunate enough to get a snippet when we backpacked the Ausangate trek.

Most people head straight the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and perhaps Rainbow Mountain, and miss out on what lies beyond these two over-populated treks. Here’s a few ideas to include in your itinerary to  entice you to trade the iconic treks of Peru and instead opt for a more thrilling adventure.

Some of the most beautiful hiking in Peru lies beyond the Inca Trail. Consider the incredible Ausangate Circuit during your Peru visit.

Ausangate Cicruit + Rainbow Mountain

  • Duration: 6 days
  • Total distance: 95 km/59 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Maximum Elevation: 5200 m/16,404 feet
  • Crowds: Minimal
  • When to Visit: May through September, though April and October often have good weather and even fewer crowds.

Why am I starting this list with treks we’ve already done? Two reasons: 1) It’s that beautiful, and 2) with bad weather, poor equipment, and not enough time, we had to cut our trip short and absolutely want to return to this place of unequivocal beauty.

The Ausangate Circuit is one of the most beautiful treks in Perú and yet, the trails are practically devoid of people, since everyone is doing the Inca Trail in nearby Cusco or opting only for Rainbow Mountain, which you’ll still visit on this trek. We did Rainbow Mountain as a separate day hike from a tiny village we were visiting to help a friend rescue a street puppy.Rainbow Mountain is an iconic site for hiking in Peru, combine it with the Ausangate Circuit for an unbelievable trekking adventure.

One of the last remaining pastoralist societies in the world, the region is inhabited by llama and alpaca herding communities. Ausangate Mountain, the peak that bears the name of this trek, stands at a towering 6,384 masl (20,926 feet). It is the fifth tallest mountain in Peru. The journey is typically done as a six-day 95+ kilometer trek with three challenging mountain passes, including two over 5,000 meters (16.400 feet).

While you can certainly attempt to do this trek on your own, we recommended going with a company, like RunnaTrip. With unpredictable weather, demanding passes, a good chance of altitude sickness, and unmarked trails, you’ll want an arriero and his mule to escort you and your gear along the trail.

We lucked out on our second day, when, during a freak snowstorm, an arriero named Juvenal appeared from the clouds and offered to guide us to his home, his mule carrying our load. RunnaTrip just happens to work with Juvenal’s family on their Ausangate tour. We can’t speak highly enough of the hospitality, knowledge, generosity, and guiding abilities of the Mandura family. Plus, their home is located just steps away from the hot springs.

Choquequirao offers a great alternative to the Inca Trail and Machu PIcchu, without forgoing ancient Inca ruins.

Choquequirao

  • Duration: 4 days
  • Total distance: 95 kilometers/59 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Crowds: Minimal
  • When to visit: May-October

For those seeking a true adventure, the challenging Choquequirao trek is for you. Known as Machu Picchu’s sister, Choquequirao is a great alternative to the Inca Trail. The trek takes you to visit the lesser known (and therefore far less populated) ruins in the Sacred Valley.

The 4-day trek winds though the Apurimac River and plunges into the Apurimac Canyon before a steep ascent to reach Choquequirao.

Apparently detailed documents that once existed were destroyed when the Spanish conquistadors took over, therefore little is known about the archaeological site. What archaeologists have determined is that fossils found at the site indicate that Choquequirao existed long before the Incas arrived.

With the high altitude, steep terrain, and ups and downs, those considering the Choquequirao trek must be in good shape. This is one of the most difficult treks in Peru given the fact that it has yet to be completely excavated and is only accessible by foot. The longer you are able to acclimate and train beforehand, the better you’ll be able to handle the hike.

While it is entirely possible to do this trek on your own, it is highly advisable to go with a tour operator that will provide support carrying your gear, knowledgeable certified guides and take care of the food. All you’ll have to worry about is taking good photos and climbing that next hill.

Head north for some more great hiking in Peru, like the Gran Vilaya Trek.

Gran Vilaya Trek

  • Duration: 4 days
  • Total distance: TBD
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Crowds: Minimal
  • When to visit: May-October

Referred to the Inca Trail of the North, the Gran Vilaya Trek includes many of the same features you’ll see at Machu Picchu, like ancient ruins and high altitude trekking, without all the crowds.

Located in the Amazonas department of northern Peru, the Gran Vilaya starts in the city of Chachapoyas. This is the same name as the pre-Inca civilization who inhabited this area, meaning “Land of the Cloud People.” The Chachapoyas constructed a number of archaeological sites, 5,000 to be exact. The most famous of which is Kuelap, a walled settlement that sits at 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) and overlooks the Utcubamba River. The walls range from 10-20 meters high and are made with limestone blocks that weigh up to 3 tons. Archaeologists consider Kuelap the largest stone ruin in South America.

Similarly to Choquiquerao, little is known about the Chachapoyan culture and the sites along the Gran Vilaya, and thus remains a mystery. Nevertheless, this stunning trek takes you through cloud forests, through lush valleys, and among endless ancient ruins.

It's important to acclimate fully before hiking in high altitude, staying in Cusco or Chachacoya before your hike to acclimate will make your hike more enjoyable.

Where to Stay

Cusco

Cusco is the best place to acclimate and serves as the launching point for both the Ausangate and Choquequirao treks. There are endless hotel options, and here are a few that we recommend. All hotels listed allow pets.

Budget: Inkas Garden Suites

Gabriel, the owner of Inkas Garden Suites is super friendly, as are the resident animals. The rooms are spacious and clean with comfortable beds and the WiFi is quite fast outside of mass evening usage. Breakfast includes a large buffet of toast, fresh juice, fruit salad, and cereals.

See our review here.

Mid Range: Yanuy Culinary Guest House

Just a short distance from the Central Market Yanuy Culinary Guest House is centrally-located, with clean rooms adorned with beautiful artwork. The English-speaking owner Michael is a delight and the WiFi is reportedly lighting fast.

Mid Range: Nao Victoria Hostel

Located just 100 meters from the Plaza de Armas, you can’t get a much better location than at Nao Victoria Hostel. Accommodation also includes a continental buffet breakfast, with vegetarian options, served daily.

For a guide to find the best vegan food in Cusco, look no further.

Chachapoyas

Chachapoyas is the capital of the Amazonas department and a good launching point for the Gran Vilaya Trek, among other outdoor adventures. The isolated town of 20,000 can be reached by bus service from Chiclayo or Cajamarca or by plane. Both hotels listed allow dogs.

Budget: Casona del Rosario

Facilities at Casona del Rosario include a restaurant on premise, 24-hour front desk staff, room service, and continental breakfast. Each of the clean rooms comes with a private bathroom, WiFi,  and some include balconies.

Mid Range: Ekokuelap Hospedaje Ecologico

Located an hour outside of Chachapoyas, I’ve included Ekokuelap Hospedaje Ecologico simply because of its location and features. In addition to the regular amenities, the hotel also has access to hiking and cycling, with bicycles available for rent on site. Guests can also take guided tours of the conservation areas to see endemic species.

This post is sponsored by RunnaTrip, a hiking outfitter run by Peruvians to help travelers plan the logistics of their hike. They use certified guides with extensive knowledge of their country. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own.

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Ssome of the best hiking in Peru is beyond the Inca Trail. Read more to help plan your Peru itinerary.

Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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