11 Epic Hikes to Sites in Peru That Aren't Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is without doubt the destination everyone Peru-bound talks about and wants to see – and for good reason. That said, the popularity of the famous ruins can overlook other spectacular Peruvian destinations and hikes. Here are the best hikes in Peru that aren’t Machu Picchu.
1. Colca Canyon
This spot is one of the most spectacular canyons in the world and a highlight of anyone’s trip to Peru. There really isn’t one thing that you’re hiking to here, but rather you’re hiking through your destination: the canyon. The canyon is so massive the only way to truly feel like you’ve seen it is to spend at least a couple of days in the area.
It’s commonly said that the Colca Canyon is nearly 11,000 feet deep – more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. The Colca Canyon is surrounded by Andean peaks (and at least one very active volcano), so the measurement is taken from the top of the peaks to the bottom of the canyon which results in 11,000 feet. However, trailheads into the canyon start much, much lower down. Most walks require a more reasonable 4,000 feet of elevation change from trailhead to the canyon floor.
2. El Misti
You’re climbing a volcano – what’s not to be stoked about? With each step up the massive volcano you’ll get a better and better image of the city of Arequipa and the entire valley. The joy is to reach the top and see one of Peru’s most spectacular mirador watchtowers – and, of course, to say that you just conquered a volcano.
The Pisac ruins are both large and stunning. From the bottom, in the city of Pisac, the ruins don’t appear to be much as you look up at the cliff side above you – but don’t be fooled. Even this is one of the best hikes Peru, it is not easy. Once you make your way to the top, the narrow road will expand and you’ll see an entire city constructed by the Incas.
4. Rainbow Mountain
You’ll definitely be panting and cold once you make it to the top – and because it’s so high, make sure to have plenty of coca leaves that will help you fight off the altitude sickness. The long day of hiking will take you to a mountain that is striped with different colors, unlike any mountain you’ve ever seen.
Vinicunca Mountain, also known as Montaña de Siete Colores or Rainbow Mountain, can be visited from Cusco, one of Peru’s most attractive tourist hubs, from where you can also visit Machu Picchu. The top of Rainbow Mountain sits at 5,200m, which is higher than Mont Blanc at 4,810 and nearly as high as Everest Base Camp, at 5,389.
Quietly – well, maybe not so quietly anymore – Huaraz has become the trekking destination in Peru and perhaps the most beautiful. The highlight is trekking up towards the Cordillera mountain range which will offer breath taking views of the snow-capped mountain peaks.
Another seldom visited site that sits atop the Andes mountains near Lima is Markawasi, the mysterious stoned-faced forest. It’ll take a full day from Lima to get there and altitude sickness is more than a likely outcome since you’ll be coming from sea-level, but despite those drawbacks, it’s worth it. The stone forest is eerie and inscrutable and you can understand while people believe aliens carved out the figures.
The famous Inca apu (sacred mountain) is a trek to get to. You’ll most likely be hiking through snow and rain and will be cold and tired by the time you actually make it to the mountain, but the first sight of it will fill you with energy and you’ll forget about how cold your feet are, at least for a moment. It was considered sacred by the Incas for a reason and is sure to inspire and chill your bones.
Salkantay trek is a high altitude 74km/46 miles hike in Cusco region, Peru. The route starts at Mollepata, a small town 100km from Cusco. It takes you through some incredible nature areas of the Andes with breathtaking scenery and amazing wild life. Considere done of the best hikes Peru and the best alternative to Inca Trail, this trekking includes a visit to two Inca sites; Llactapata and Machu Picchu both history and nature lovers will enjoy Salkantay trek. It is considered to be a less touristy alternative to the famous Inca trail though it goes through completely different area and unlike Inca trail Salkantay finishes in Aguas Calientes, from where you walk to Machu Picchu.
8. Gocta Waterfall
In Chachapoyas you’ll find one of Peru’s and the world’s tallest waterfalls. You’ll hike half a day towards the falls, traversing through jungle-ish terrain to reach the site of a staggering waterfall in one of the world’s most unique climates.
Here you’ll hike through Inca land in the high Andes, passing many traditional villages that make Peru’s finest textiles. The highlight of the trek is when you stumble upon the pristine blue lake surrounded by mountains Andes.
The Lares Trek is appealing because it is a short multi-day hike (4 days/3 nights) with only two nights camping and the third night in an Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel. Guys, it gets really cold camping in rural Peru! The route consists of trekking through valleys, mountains, tropical forests, up and down hills, past lakes, waterfalls and towns. Day two is the hardest, although this is not unique to the Lares trail, day two is tough on all Machu Picchu treks.
These ruins are called Machu Picchu’s sacred sister – and you don’t get that title for no reason. Partly it bears that name because the views inspire an overwhelming sense of beauty and amazement. The trek to the top is also one of the more difficult ones to attempt in Peru because the path to the ruins is undeveloped and steep.
When it comes to difficulty, the trek to Choquequirao is hard as hell, but you probably already know that the coolest experiences usually are. The Choquequirao 4-day trek means a 1,500m descent into the valley followed by a 1,800m climb (and back out the same way you came). If you undertake the full 9-day Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu, you’ll make the same plod to the ruins but continue along for several days, climbing high passes and dipping into lowland basins.
11. Devil’s Balcony
Considered between best hikes Peru because of the many Inca ruins throughout the area. The hike will take you through the countryside and lead you to a cave with a creek running through it. Along the way to it you’ll also pass some of Cusco‘s best and most well-known ruins.