The Lodge-to-Lodge Hiking Experience
Nestled amid some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Andes are a handful of eco-lodges that bring together traditional Inca building techniques and modern 21st-century comforts. Many were built in remote locations inaccessible by road, with materials brought by mule and packhorse.
Three treks — namely Lares, Salkantay, and Ausangate — give guests the chance to hike along uncrowded trails in spectacular mountainous locations where life has changed little over the last few centuries. The hikes listed below are available in a number of variations, with the possibility of tailoring most with a range of activities, from horseback riding to cycling. You can also add a day to your Macchu Picchu hike for further exploration, or climb Wayna Picchu Mountain (you'll need to purchase a separate ticket in advance).
Scattered here and there in remote mountainous locations are a handful of lodges, some more luxurious than others, that blend in with the natural environment. After a long and arduous day's trekking, you’ll be able to sit back and relax in an open-air whirlpool tub, unwind with a massage, enjoy a hot shower, and indulge in a three-course meal accompanied by top wines. At night you can curl up and sleep under a cozy goose-down duvet to fully rest for the following day of trekking.
As a general rule, the lodges are committed to being socially responsible and supporting the local community where they operate. Food is sourced from farms nearby, and employees are hired locally (a number of lodges are run by the local communities), so you’ll enjoy a genuine welcome as soon as you set foot in the properties.
The Lares Route
The hike crosses the Lares Valley, which sits north of the Sacred Valley. The valley is famous for its hot springs, which are said to have curative properties. The trip passes through majestic Andean scenery sprinkled with remote villages whose inhabitants preserve age-old traditions. You’ll see men and women working on farms and children raising herds of alpacas for wool, giving you an insight into everyday life high up in the Andes.
There are variations on this trek and you can choose different distances depending on how many days you want to spend hiking. If embarking on this five-day program from Cusco, you’ll enjoy a private transfer to Pisac in the Sacred Valley, stopping off at the textile center of Awanacancha. You’ll visit Pisac’s vibrant market and then begin your first trek at the local community of Amaru with a gentle hike to the first lodge. If you have a week, add two days to the beginning of your itinerary to visit the ruins of Chinchero, take a guided tour of the Moray Inca Agricultural Site and the Maras Salt Mines, and enjoy your first trek from Chinchero to Urquillos.
You’ll have the chance to try pachamanca, a traditional Andean meal of meat and vegetables cooked under hot stones. In addition to trekking through age-old villages, you’ll visit beautifully preserved Inca ruins such as the archaeological sites of Pisac, Ancasmarca, and Ollantaytambo, while passing through some of the country’s most dramatic mountainous landscapes of glacial lakes and snow-crowned peaks. At Ollantaytambo, the ending point of this trek, you’ll board the train to Aguas Calientes, and from there enjoy a full day exploring the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. It is possible to extend the trek to reach Machu Picchu.
The total distance traveled on the 5-day trek is 16.7 miles (27 km), while the total distance traveled on the 7-day trek is 27 miles (43 km).
The Salkantay Route
Named after awe-inspiring Mount Salkantay, this route passes through spectacular mountain scenery taking you through fifteen different eco-systems. You’ll traverse the Salkantay Pass (15,213 ft / 4638 m) and will take in impressive views of the snowcapped peaks of the Vilcabamba Range. One of the country’s highest mountains, Salkantay was considered one of the holiest Apus (spirits of the mountains) in Inca mythology.
You’ll begin your seven-day hike at a site called Challacancha. Trek from there along the picturesque Camino Real to Salkantay Lodge, where you will spend your first night. On your first day, you’ll take it easy with an acclimatization trek to Lake Humantay, a spectacular turquoise-colored glacial lake that is undoubtedly a highlight of the trip.
Once you cross Salkantay Pass you’ll descend into the cloud forest along the banks of the Salkantay River, entering a completely new eco-system. You’ll hike through banana and avocado orchards and tour a coffee plantation. You’ll continue to the ruins of Llactapata from where you’ll be able to catch a rare view of the ruins of Machu Picchu. You’ll make your way to the train station at Ollantaytambo from where you’ll hop on the train to Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu.
The total distance traveled on the 7-day trek is 34.5 miles (55.6 km).
The Ausangate Route
Soaring 20,944 feet (6384 m) above sea level, Ausangate is a mountain of the Vilcanota range that is one of the highest in the country. Just like Salkantay, it was considered a holy Apu (spirit of the mountains) and was much revered by the Incas. To this day it attracts Quechua pilgrims who come to worship the earth and the mountains during the Snow Star Festival, an annual festival that combines Catholic and Andean beliefs. Local shepherding communities venerate Apu Ausangage as it provides water and life, as well as shelter to numerous communities.
Four comfortable lodges are dotted around Ausangate, giving trekkers the opportunity to explore different corners of this majestic mountain. Out of the six treks on offer, the Shepherds’ Trail (7 days, 6 nights) offers hikers the chance to experience the very best of Ausangate. From Cusco, you’ll travel along the Vilcanota Valley and up the Pitumarca Valley to the community of Chillca, from where it’s an easy hike to your first lodge.
You’ll enjoy impressive views of the Vilcanota range, trekking along paths where llamas and alpacas roam freely. You’ll reach the base of Apu Ausangate, and will ascend Palomani Pass (17,056 ft / 5200 m) making your way towards the red sandstone formations of the Nevado del Inca.
As you descend further into the valley you’ll notice a change in the landscape. Mountains characterized by red, blue and ochre strata that harbor vicuñas and Andean geese will come into view. You’ll start your descent once you cross Anta Pass, trekking through limestone formations home to vizcachas, sweet-looking rodents of the chinchilla family. When you reach the bottom of the valley you’ll hop onto a private bus for the journey back to Cusco.
The total distance traveled for the 7-day trek is 35.6 miles (57.1 km).