Hiking in the Peruvian Andes is like entering a world of breathtaking beauty. The magnificent mountains, crystal-clear blue skies, and exotic wildlife are a sight to behold.
As you ascend the trails, with only the sound of your footsteps and the chirping of the birds for company, you begin to feel a sense of peace and tranquility.
Not only is hiking in the Peruvian Andes a physical challenge, but it is also a spiritual adventure. The ancient Inca trails, the sacred valleys, and the mystical ruins all tell the story of a bygone era. With each step you take and each path you traverse, you are following in the footsteps of the Incas, experiencing a portion of their illustrious history.
However, there are a few things you must know before you embark on this journey. This guide will provide you with comprehensive information about hiking in the Peruvian Andes, including the best time to hike, safety tips, selecting the right trail, and preparing for the journey.
Why Hike the Peruvian Andes?
The Peruvian Andes offer some of the world’s most breathtaking and diverse landscapes. From snow-capped mountains to verdant valleys, arid deserts to tropical rainforests, you will see it all. Each trail has its own special appeal, and each view is more breathtaking than the last.
Hiking in the Peruvian Andes is also an opportunity to immerse oneself in the country’s rich culture and history. The trails pass by Inca ruins, indigenous villages, and colonial settlements. You have the opportunity to interact with locals, learn about their customs, and sample their delectable cuisine.
However, hiking the Andes of Peru is an adventure above all else. It is about pushing one’s limits, testing one’s limits, and discovering one’s strength. It is about the thrill of reaching the peak, the exhilaration of conquering the trail, and the resulting sense of accomplishment.
Preparing for Your Peruvian Andes Hiking Trip
Preparation is essential for a successful hiking excursion in the Andes of Peru. First, you must be in good physical condition. The terrain is challenging, and the altitude can be physically demanding. Therefore, begin your training at least several months prior to your trip. Incorporate cardio, strength training, and altitude acclimatization into your routine.
Next, you must pack the proper equipment. A pair of sturdy hiking boots, a lightweight backpack, weather-appropriate clothing, and essential hiking equipment such as a map, compass, and first-aid kit are required. In addition, do not forget to bring your camera; the scenery is too beautiful not to capture.
Finally, plan your itinerary carefully. Choose the trail that corresponds to your level of fitness and interests, reserve your lodging in advance, and check the weather forecast frequently. Consider also the travel restrictions and guidelines imposed by Covid-19.
READ ALSO: How to Prepare for a Trek in the Andes
Top 5 Hiking Trails in the Peruvian Andes
The Peruvian Andes have a lot of beautiful hiking trails. But some stand out because of their beautiful scenery, interesting history, and tough terrain. Here are our top hiking trails in the Peruvian Andes;
Detailed Guide to the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is probably the most famous hiking path in the Peruvian Andes. It is a 42-kilometer trail that goes through beautiful mountain passes, lush cloud forests, and ancient Inca ruins before ending at Machu Picchu, which is one of the most famous places in the world.
The trail is challenging because it goes up and down steep hills and is at a high altitude. But the beautiful scenery and sense of history make it worth it. It is a 4-day journey that takes you back in time to the time of the Incas.
The trail starts at a place called “Kilometer 82,” which is near the town of Ollantaytambo. It has a challenging mix of uphill and downhill sections, and at some points, the altitude is over 13,000 feet (4000 meters). The trail winds through diverse environments, from cloud forests to alpine tundra, offering stunning views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, and a plethora of Incan ruins.
The best part of the trail is getting to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) on the last day and watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu. The trail ends at this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Inca city are nestled in the Andean mountain range.
Whether you are an avid hiker, a history buff, or simply looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Inca Trail provides a remarkable journey back in time, set against the breathtaking Peruvian landscape.
Exploring Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is a less well-known alternative to the Inca Trail that is just as beautiful. It is a 74-kilometer trail that goes from the snow-capped Salkantay Mountain to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon.
Due to its length and altitude, the trail is challenging, but it is less crowded than the Inca Trail. It is a 5-day trip with beautiful sights and a unique cultural experience.
Depending on the pace, the Salkantay Trek typically spans approximately 46 miles (74 kilometers) and takes about five days to complete. The trail begins in Mollepata or Soraypampa and ascends to the highest point at Salkantay Pass. At its summit, hikers can enjoy breathtaking views of the snow-capped Salkantay peak and the surrounding mountainous landscape.
From the Salkantay Pass, the trail goes down into a beautiful cloud forest, passing through native villages and lush coffee and fruit plantations. At Llactapata, an archaeological site with a unique, faraway view of Machu Picchu, the path meets up with a piece of the original Inca Trail.
On the last day, hikers head to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, where they can rest before climbing to the famous Inca site the next morning.
Like the Inca Trail, you should book your Salkantay Trek through a licensed tour operator, and you must be in good physical shape because the hike is long and hard.
The Adventure of the Choquequirao Trek
The Choquequirao Trek is a thrilling experience. It is a 64-kilometer trail that leads to the remote and mystifying Choquequirao ruins, also known as Machu Picchu’s “sister city.”
The trail is hard because it goes up and down steeply and is in a remote area. But the feeling of being alone and the thrill of finding something new make it a one-of-a-kind adventure. It is a 4-day trip that takes you away from the main roads and into the heart of the Andes.
Most treks begin in the village of Cachora, which is about three hours from the city of Cusco. From here, the trail goes down into the Apurimac Canyon and then up steeply to the ruins of Choquequirao. This round-trip trip usually takes between four and five days. On the second and third days, most of the time is spent exploring the large ruins of Choquequirao.
The trail is well-known for its beautiful scenery, which includes snow-capped mountains, lush cloud forests, and deep canyons. At its highest point, the trail is about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level, where you can see beautiful views of the surrounding Andean mountains.
Even though the trail is less popular than the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek, it is also more difficult because of its steep ups and downs and because it has not been built up as much. So, it is important for trekkers to be in good shape and have everything they need.
The Choquequirao Trek is a unique, off-the-beaten-path experience for people who like both adventure and history. It is a challenging journey, but the “lost city” of Choquequirao and the amazing views make it worth it for those who go on it.
Due to the difficulty of the trek and the need for camping gear and supplies, it is best to go on this trek with a reputable tour company.
The Charm of the Santa Cruz Trek
The Santa Cruz Trek is a classic Andean hike. It is a 50-kilometer trail that takes you through the beautiful Cordillera Blanca, home to some of the highest mountains in Peru.
The trail is moderate in difficulty, making it a good option for beginners. It is a 4-day journey that offers stunning mountain views and a chance to experience the traditional Andean lifestyle.
The Santa Cruz Trek usually takes between three and four days to finish. The trail starts near the town of Caraz or Cashapampa and ends at the Punta Union Pass, which is about 15,580 feet (4,750 meters) above sea level.
From this pass, hikers can see all of the mountain peaks in the area, such as Mount Taulliraju and the Alpamayo, which is often called the most beautiful mountain in the world.
From the pass, the trail goes down through the peaceful Huaripampa Valley, which is full of small towns, until it comes to an end near the town of Vaqueria. The trek offers a mix of natural beauty and local culture, giving you a deep look into the high-altitude wilderness of Peru and the way of life of its rural communities.
The Hidden Gem: The Huayhuash Circuit
The Huayhuash Circuit is a hidden gem in the Peruvian Andes. It is a 130-kilometer trail that passes through some of Peru’s most pristine and breathtaking landscapes.
The trail is hard to follow because it is long and up high. But being alone and seeing such beautiful sights makes it a worthwhile experience. It is a 10-day trip that gets you away from people and into the wilderness.
The trip starts and ends in the small town of Huaraz, and it goes around a series of high mountain passes. The Siula Pass, which is about 16,404 feet (5,000 meters) high, is the highest.
During the whole hike, hikers can see a continuous view of sharp peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, and large high-altitude plateaus. The circuit is also known for having a lot of different kinds of wildlife. You might see condors, vicunas, and maybe even the rare Andean cat.
But the Huayhuash Circuit is not for people who are afraid of heights. It is known for being hard because of the high altitude, the hard trekking each day, and the need to hike from camp to camp.
So, it is best for experienced hikers who are in good shape and have gotten used to the altitude. Most hikers do this trek as part of a guided tour, which usually includes a local guide, pack animals to carry equipment and food, and a cook.
The Best Time to Hike in the Peruvian Andes
The best time for hiking in the Peruvian Andes is between May and September. This is the dry season in Peru, and the weather is great for hiking. There are no clouds in the sky, the trails are dry, and the temperature is just right.
But it is also peak tourist season, so the trails can be crowded. If you prefer solitude, you should consider hiking between April and October. There are fewer hikers on the trails despite the continued good weather.
Avoid hiking from November to March, during the rainy season, as the trails may be slick and hazardous. Additionally, some trails may be closed due to inclement weather.
Safety Tips for Hiking the Peruvian Andes
When hiking in the Peruvian Andes, safety should be your top priority. Always stick to marked trails, and never hike alone. If you do not know the area well, you should hire a local guide.
Altitude sickness is a common issue encountered by hikers. Before beginning your hike, acclimate yourself to the altitude to prevent altitude sickness. Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water.
Have a plan in place in the event of an emergency. Ensure you have a reliable communication device, the location of the nearest medical facilities, and travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation coverage.
The hiking trails in the Peruvian Andes are the gems of Peru. Similarly, hiking in the Andes of Peru is an experience you will never forget.
The beautiful scenery, rich history, variety of trails, and sense of adventure all make it a unique and rewarding journey.
The Peruvian Andes have something for everyone, whether you are an experienced hiker or just starting out.
So, put on your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and go on an adventure you will never forget.