Hiking in Peru
By Martha Hales
For trekkers headed to South America, Peru should be top of the list, with some of the world’s best routes including the epic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - the ultimate trail for adventurous hikers. The obvious draw is the mountainous spine which runs through Peru - the Andes. Characterised by spectacular scenery and traces of the Inca civilization, this awe inspiring range of mountains is home to many of Peru’s most exciting treks, but don’t underestimate the altitude involved; always ensure adequate time for acclimatisation. Also worth considering is the weather - many of Peru’s finest hikes are more enjoyable without the mud and slippery stones of the wet season, so May to November are the optimum months to avoid the worst of the wet weather.
Wherever you decide to hike in Peru, you can be sure that you will enjoy the amazing landscapes and distinctive culture, not to mention the historic remnants of the pre-Colombian era. We’ve rounded up some ideas for walking in Peru, from short jaunts to multi-day treks, but if you don’t see your favourite here don’t worry - the beauty of tailor made holidays means our local experts can personalise your itinerary to include them.
The beauty of hiking in the Amazon region lies not in the distances covered but instead in the discoveries you make. Hikes from your jungle base could involve visiting a Brazil nut plantation, or a clay lick known to attract a huge variety of colourful birds each day - best in the morning. Hikes to canopy viewing platforms and and waterways equipped with kayaks gives you a unique chance to view wildlife in a variety of ecosystems and appreciate the different perspectives on this most biodiverse of regions.
A short but moderately tricky hike out of Ollantaytambo takes you to the ruined Inca granaries which are visible on the hillside above town. The path is mostly stone steps, and takes you to see the ancient storehouses close up, and also provides access to various viewpoints over the town and its fortress. Allow around two hours in total. Other hikes from here include a six hour round trip to the beautiful Perolniyoc Waterfall, a fairly strenuous walk but worth the trek; and a 4-5 hour round trip to the hillside ruins of Pumamarca with views over the confluence of two rivers.
Whether you are warming up for the main event - the Inca Trail - or just after something different, there are plenty of other hikes of various lengths in and around the Sacred Valley. One of the most impressive one or two day hikes around Cusco which encompasses a smattering of Inca ruins, sweeping mountain views, and local culture in rustic villages is the trek to Little Cusco. The archeological site itself is sizeable and is only accessible to visitors arriving under their own steam, so it never gets crowded, and the location allows incredible views. To do this six hour hike in a single day, use the local knowledge of our Peru experts to organise transport back to the point of origin.
Only revealed a few years ago by receding ice, Vinicunca - otherwise known as Rainbow Mountain - is a perennial Instagram favourite which, in the right weather conditions, is stunning. With its multicoloured layers of deposits and beautiful setting among the high peaks all around, it's a tempting prospect. It does, however, take some perseverance to get there from Cusco, where tours begin. There’s a long drive and a two hour high altitude hike to reach the summit viewpoint, and the altitude is not to be sniffed at - the walk starts at 4,600 metres and takes you up to 5,200 metres - do not attempt this before you are fully acclimatised to the altitude of Cusco.
Peru’s capital city is known for its architecture, culture and fine food, not for its hiking possibilities, but not far from the city there are some wonderful trails to enjoy. The dramatic ravines and peaks of Lomas de Lucumo are often shrouded in mist but this means that the area is jewel bright with greenery - a fabulous contrast to the urban jungle of Lima just 35 kilometres away. The Lomas de Lucumo park has a network of walking trails suitable for day hikes taking in abandoned mines, Inca relics and cave paintings.
The classic approach to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail, which is usually tackled in a 4 day trek ending with the spectacular finale at the Inca’s greatest mountain citadel, testament to the incredible engineering skills of the Inca civilization. This is one of the world’s best known and most popular treks, but that doesn't diminish its iconic status - it certainly lives up to the hype. It is a pretty tough hike at altitude, so a decent level of fitness and adequate acclimatisation are essential. Tickets are issued on a limited basis and sell out months in advance so early planning is essential. Note that the Inca Trail is closed for the month of February for maintenance.
This stunning lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia at an altitude of 3,800 metres, and it is known for having thin air, so major hikes are hard work. There are, however, some great shorter hikes on the shores of the lake and on the islands. From Puno an interesting and accessible area for walking is the Sillustani archeological site, with relics dating back to pre-Incan times. Explore the circular funerary towers left behind by the Qulla civilisation while hiking in the area and enjoying the amazing views of the lake.
One of the most spectacular areas to hike in the whole country is located a couple of hours drive from Arequipa: the Cotahuasi Canyon, a majestic gorge which cuts down to double the depth of the Grand Canyon. Between Cotahuasi Canyon and neighbouring Colca Canyon there are plenty of hikes to choose from, including shorter day hikes right through to multi-day treks. Highlights include the awe-inspiring scenery, the local culture, river views, waterfalls and for lucky hikers, the mighty Andean Condor.
Make it happen
If, like many hiking enthusiasts, you have your sights set on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or any of the other incredible treks that lead you there, look no further. With up to the minute local expertise on your side, TravelLocal’s handpicked partners are the perfect people to get your hiking trip to Peru organised. Send them a few details and they will create a bespoke itinerary around your requirements. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.