Mountain Top Goat

The Best Hikes in Peru: Top 8 Epic Trails

by Mountain Top Goat
Choquequirao the lost city

Peru is a country with rich history and equally vibrant people, but one of the first things that spring to mind when I think of this iconic country is hiking! Unfortunately, most people who don’t want to venture off the beaten track miss out on some of the best hikes in Peru.

Look, the truth is, if you want to discover something you’ve never seen before, you’re going to have to get a whole lot more ambitious with your hikes and maybe a little dirty too. Ok, probably really dirty. But isn’t that the fun of it all? We’re going to be exploring some of the most incredible hiking trails in Peru – and yes, I have actually hiked some of these trails.

So, grab your hiking poles and your hiking pack and get ready for some immersive Peruvian hiking exploration!

A Brief History of Hiking in the Peru Region

Due to its incredible beauty and exhilarating trails, Peru has long been a bucket list destination for hikers. In 1981, when UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, tourists began flocking to the area in their numbers.

Traditionally used as a religious pilgrimage to perform ceremonies at Machu Picchu, the Inca trail holds a special place in Peruvian hearts. While locals had been using trails in and around the area for eons before this, this newfound fame made the site even more popular.

As many of us avid hikers know, where there is challenging topography and a chance to take in the best that mother nature has to offer, you’ll surely find us!

Now, not only is Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, but as of 2007, it’s also one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. As a result, the glorious Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is now one of the most widely-recognized hiking trails in the world. With not much more than a handful of snacks and a couple of water bottles, touring hikers brave the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu.

Statistics Retrieved from Macro Trends

Hiking has provided the area with welcomed economic activity due to inbound tourism. As you can see from the chart above, there was an increase in tourism around 2007. Countless hikers traveled to Peru to take on the Inca Trail specifically. Ok, enough with the history lesson. You get the picture. Peru is awesome!

There is a lot more to this gorgeous country than the Inca Trail, and I had the fantastic opportunity to explore some of the lesser-known trails around the region. 

Getting To and From Peru

Peru has a whopping 234 airports, 5 of which are fully-fledged international airports! Depending on where you’re flying in from, you’ll most likely touch down at Jorge Chávez International Airport. It’s one of Peru’s busiest airports in the capital of Lima.

My top recommendation is that you plan your airport transfer in advance. Communicate with your accommodation provider by telling them your intention to backpack hike some of the local trails. They might just have an airport transfer mode of transportation that is far more affordable than a Taxi. Or a driving guide that will not only get you from the airport and to your lodgings but also to and from your planned hikes.

lima

Pack for Peruvian Weather

For starters, Peru is located in the tropics but has mountain and desert climates as well as tropical rainforests. Whew! It’s a lot to take in. There is a desert climate along the Pacific Coast and the mountain climate in the Andean Highlands. Then there is the Peruvian Amazon to the east. I’ve got to tell you – if you have the time to explore this country – you will be spoilt with some of the most incredible hikes across an array of terrains and climates. 

Ultimately, Peruvian weather is moderate to warm for most of the year, so pack for summer weather. Just be sure to pack a few winter items for colder nights, a sweater or two, and one rain jacket. Depending on the hike – or hikes you’ll be attempting, you’ll also want to take:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Warm hat and gloves for chilly nights
  • Sun hat for that strong, high-UV Andean sun (if you’re headed that route)
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable hiking boots (do NOT hike in sneakers – trust me on this one)
  • Waterproof backpack
  • Hiking poles
  • Rain poncho

It Sounds Like a Hiker’s Dream! When Do We Leave?

It certainly is, and, as they say, there is no better time than the present. So I will run down eight of the best hikes in Peru, starting with the Lost City of Choquequirao. It’s one of my absolute favorites, and I just know you’re going to love it too.

Peru’s Breathtaking Hike to the Lost City of Choquequirao

Endurance Level: High

Duration: 5 days

While Machu Picchu can be reached by road, and there are tons of tour buses that you will most likely run into as you end the Inca Trail, the trail to the Lost City of Choquequirao is carried out 100% on foot. Seriously, you can’t get there any other way. It’s often overlooked as a tourist destination because of this fact, and this is why I have a soft spot for it. Other than a peppering of other hikers, it feels so isolated (and yes, it’s totally safe).

It gives you the opportunity to connect to nature, ending your 5-day expedition with the sight of the Lost City, which – if you didn’t already know this – is about 3 or 4 times bigger than Machu Picchu! Known as the last Incan Refuge, the Lost City of Choquequirao will take your breath away. 

It’s about 16 hours from Lima to Cachora – where the trailhead is found. This would run you about US$47 with a local bus service. Just be aware of the fact that this is not a hike for newbies and novices. It is incredibly strenuous, and you need time to train for something like this if you’re not an already-keen hiker. 

For more information on this hidden gem, head to the information center on the official Peruvian Tourism Authority’s website

The Iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Endurance Level: Intermediate

Duration: 3-4 days

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has come up a million and one times in this blog, and there is no wonder why. The scenery is truly something to behold, and the terrain gets harder gradually. You’d be starting your trek on flat ground and climbing into the mountains, making for an easier endurance level. 

Trek difficulty aside, who wouldn’t want an opportunity to stand at the foothills of the (not so) Lost City of the Incas. As it is known amongst the locals, Huayna Picchu is an awe-inspiring end to an adrenaline-packed hike. 

The Inca Trail hike is usually booked out months in advance. For this epic Peru hike, you will need to plan ahead. You might also be required to walk the trail in a group with an official guide. If you’re an intermediate hiker, this is a perfect option for you. Plan your trip and book your spot 6-12 months ahead of time. 

Click here for more information on what to see and do at Machu Picchu. 

The Marcahuasi Overnight Trail

Endurance Level: High

Duration: 8 hours

If you’re not up for sitting on a bus with many other tourists for hours on end and you want to experience one of the best hikes Peru has on offer, the Marcahuasi will tick all your boxes. To get to the spectacular rock formations that make up Marchuasi Overnight Trail, it takes 5 to 6 hours by car from Lima. 

At approximately 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) above sea level, even those of you who are used to living in high altitudes will need time to acclimate properly. Read more about how to acclimate to high altitude in my blog post on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro here.

Once your body has become accustomed to the elevation, you’ll get to take in the fantastic sights of rock formations and carvings that resemble all manner of shapes. Some even look like faces and animals (which can be a little scary as night falls!)

Camp out under the crystal-clear skies and drink in the stillness of this unique region. To plan your other day activities around your Marcahuasi adventure, use the Peruvian Tourism Authority trip planner

The Laguna 69 Trek in Huascarán National Park

laguna trek sixty-nine best hikes in peru

Endurance Level: Intermediate 

Duration: 6 hours

If you pick up a dictionary and look for the terms “stunning,” “gorgeous,” or “unparalleled beauty,” you might just find a picture of Laguna 69. It’s another one of the lesser-known hikes in Peru that not many tourists visit because of its mammoth elevation above sea level. (Yeah, if you thought Marcahuasi was high, wait ‘til you read about the elevation of Laguna 69). 

At 4,600 meters (15,090 feet) above sea level, you might want to plan a few extra days in neighboring Huaraz – the jewel of the northern Callejón de Huaylas valley – to get your body acclimated. Stay warm and grab a delicious breakfast at Café California. At the same time, take in the dramatic scenery or walk around town and relish the sights of Cordillera Blanca in the distance. 

To find out more about the region, click on this link

The Sangalle Trail to Cañon del Colca

one of the best hikes in peru Sangalle Trail to Cañon del Colca

Endurance Level: Intermediate

Trip Duration: 1 day

This is another world-famous mountainous beauty. Known to you and me as the Colca Canyon, the Cañon del Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and there are many lodges and campsites that you can choose from on your Peru hiking expedition.

To get to the canyon, you can arrange to have a taxi take you to Arequipa before boarding a tour bus. The tour bus will take you through 160 kilometers (100 miles) of pristine wilderness. The Sangalle Trail is about 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) and provides many opportunities to stop and capture the various landscapes you’ll be treated to.

The valley is lush, and it owes this to its subtropical climate, so bring lots of water with you! The relaxing Colca Hot Springs is a must-visit if you head out this way and if you really want to get the full experience. Extend your trip by an extra day to enjoy an overnight camp at one of the many sites in the valley. 

To run through a list of activities in the Colca Canyon area, click on this link

The 8-Hour Peru Hike to Gocta Waterfalls

Gocta Waterfalls hike in peru

Endurance Level: Intermediate

Duration: 8 hours

Like a scene out of an internationally-acclaimed movie, the meandering Cocahuayco River is fed by these towering, majestic falls. If you are touching down in Lima, you’ll need to make the 650-kilometer (404-mile) trip to Chachapoyas.

If time isn’t on your side, I suggest using the Cocachimba route to get to the waterfall. This route is only about 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) in total. 

However, if you want to see the falls in all their glory – both the upper and lower sides of Gocta – you should ideally begin your adventure at the San Pablo trailhead. This will take you all the way to upper falls and past a plethora of quaint villages. 

To navigate to the Gocta Falls information page on the official Peruvian Tourism Authority’s website, click on this link

The Deep-Blue Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail peru hiking

Endurance Level: Moderate to High

Duration: 5 days

There is nothing like this hike. From the moment you set foot into the Huascarán National Park, you will be blown away by its exquisiteness. The vegetation is out of this world, perfectly framed against the backdrop of glaciers that command your attention. If you’re wondering why Huascarán National Park features more than once on this list, wonder no more. It would be hard not to feature the park because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to dozens of trails – if not more! 

As with most hikes in Peru, the elevation here will make this moderate to highly difficult – depending on your hiking prowess. Like the Marcahuasi Overnight Trail, the Santa Cruz Trail stands at 4,000 (13,100 feet) meters above sea level. If you can, get a porter donkey to carry your pack and other essentials for you. 

Consider yourself a tough outdoorswoman (or outdoorsman)? Then give the Huayhash Trail a try. It’s a 10-day long trek through the very same national park, and, believe me, it takes it out of you!

Click on the link to navigate to the official Santa Cruz tourism page. 

Peru Hike through Cusco to Montaña de Siete Colores

rainbow mountain hike in peru

Endurance Level: High

Duration: 1 day

These mountains’ colors were formed when layers of minerals such as copper, iron, manganese, and more were pushed through the earth’s surface due to tectonic activity in the area. The glaciers that once sat within this mountain range and the occurrence of natural weathering refined the surface, smoothing it even further as the glaciers receded.

With this natural recession of these ice giants in the last few decades, the area is now left with a kaleidoscopic array of colors that stain the mountains. It almost appears as though a rainbow had fallen over the hills and bathed them in these awe-inspiring shades. 

This particular area has an elevation of 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), and you will have to – well, you already know what to do at this point. I think I’ve said it enough. 

…ok, just in case you forgot – acclimate.

Try one of the low-endurance Peru hikes before attempting something like this. If you don’t want to do that, then at least take in a few other biking and sporting activities in Cusco (that aren’t too strenuous on your legs) before your hike date. 

 For more information on the region and complementary activities, click on this link

Remember: Peru is a country with diverse terrains and various climates. Be sure to research what the weather is like during the time of year that you’re eyeing out for your trip. Always get your information from reputable tourism authorities. Additionally, if you’re unsure of the endurance level of any hike, go in a group or with a guide. 

Happy traveling!


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