Thanks to the mountains and forests of Peru, the entire area of the Sacred Valley, from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is surrounded by nature that seems out of a dream. The Inca capital itself, located in such a high valley, invites you to take the same path that the ancient inhabitants of the area took to reach their city.
Hiking is one of the main activities in the Sacred Valley. There are many choices, and you can decide according to the difficulty of the terrain or the experience you have. Each of these hikes is beautiful in one way or another, sometimes making it difficult to choose.
1. Classic Inca Trail
If you don't know which hike to choose, start with the Classic Inca Trail. Although it's the most visited, it's also the oldest and best known. It may be done in different distances and times, the classic and most recommended is four days. During that time, you visit the subtropical mountainous forest, cloud forests, and the inter-Andean valley. This variety of ecosystems is unmatched almost anywhere else in the world.
Along the many miles between Cusco and Machu Picchu, you will visit historic Inca attractions, as well as villages where important ruins still exist. In addition to Machu Picchu itself, towns such as Pisac, Maras, Moray, and Ollantaytambo also have much to see and are full of history, culture, and local food. At the end, you can rest in one of the many beautiful Machu Picchu hotels, make camp on assigned areas, or even start another hike.
2. Huayna Picchu
Another classic hike in Machu Picchu is Huayna Picchu. It's a hike of approximately two hours over about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). This mountain is climbed by stone steps to a height of 300 vertical meters (984 feet). The climb begins in Machu Picchu and is considered one of the most impressive views in the Sacred Valley.
If you hadn't heard the name of this mountain, you've probably seen the pictures. It's in Huayna Picchu where you have the beautiful view of the Inca capital from above. Here you can see the entire valley where the city is located, as well as the surrounding mountains. Although the climb is narrow and steep-almost vertical-, it's one of the most recommended hikes if you visit Machu Picchu. During the climb of the "stairs of death"-so called because of how steep they are, although no tourist has ever died there-is the Temple of the Moon and it's highly recommended to make a detour during the climb to see it.
3. Salkantay Trail
This five-day trek is the most popular alternative to the Classic Inca Trail. On this mountain you will mainly appreciate views of forests and glaciers. Salkantay Mountain is on the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
It's recommended to hike with a guide on any Machu Picchu trek, but especially on Salkantay Mountain. Many of them offer certain benefits, especially when camping, sometimes even in transparent domes where you can see the stars at night.
4. Lares Trek
Starting in the village of Lares, this trek is one of the shortest in the Valley (after the Huayna Picchu climb). In this village there's a famous hot spring and life has continued almost as it did centuries ago. You can do the three-day trek, ending in Aguas Calientes to stay in a Machu Picchu hotel, or the more popular option, ending in Ollantaytambo, where you can take a train to Machu Picchu.
5. Choquequirao Trek
This is one of the most adventurous treks in the Sacred Valley. The curves in the mountain are narrower and more experience is recommended.
One of the main attractions is the Inca citadel located on the slopes of Choquequirao. It's much less known than Machu Picchu, and much less researched and excavated. However, it's believed that it could be even greater and larger. You can walk to reach Machu Picchu through what would be considered the "back door". A lesser known and higher pass, but the hard work will be worth it upon arrival.
6. Vilcabamba Traverse
The Vilcabamba area was one of the last to hold the Inca fort. The jungle remains virtually untouched and is one of the most challenging treks around Machu Picchu. It's a place full of history, where the Incas won many battles against the Spaniards defending their culture and way of life.
Vilcabamba is one of the most off the beaten track and less known hikes. It's mainly composed of several snow-capped peaks and high jungle mountains with constant climatological changes. The region is bounded by two very deep canyons, and impressive views of rivers that form the trail. As in Lares, you can see remote villages that have not changed much in their way of life for centuries. Excellent physical condition is recommended for this particular trek.
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