10 Hiking Trails in Peru for a Great Adventure

#1 Ausangate, Andahuaylillas, Cusco

View full itinerary. Enshrined in Inca mythology, the 6380m peak of Ausangate provides the setting for arguably Peru’s most visually stunning trek. Five-to-seven-day treks completely circle the slopes of this sacred mountain, cresting 5000m ridges renowned for their stark rainbow-coloured rock strata, at points fanning away in ripples ranging from black to copper as far as the eye can see.

#2 Cotahuasi Canyon, Arequipa

View full itinerary. Over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Cotahuasi Canyon cuts between two 6000m+ massifs, three hours’ drive northwest of Arequipa. There are many trekking options, from one-day hikes through four-day predominantly hike-oriented adventures to a six-day trek. Aside from getting the kudos of being the planet’s greatest canyon, the longest trek takes in the 150m-high Cascada de Sipia waterfall, hanging bridges suspended over the churning Cotahuasi river and opportunities to spy the majestic Andean condor. A guide is helpful for explaining the cultural quirks of the region, where isolation has preserved some fascinating customs.

#3 Choquequirao, Abancay, Cusco

View full itinerary. There’s talk of a cable car whooshing you up to the magical Inca ruins of Choquequirao in a mere 15 minutes, but, for now, this four-day out-and-back trek remains the only approach, and will never be usurped as the grandest one. A two-day up-and-down tramp around and across the Apurimac valley transports you from Cachora, north of Abancay, up to this ancient citadel, reckoned to have been the last refuge of the Inca, straddling a verdant ridge at 3050m.

#4 Cordillera Huayhuash, Huaraz

View full itinerary. Hikers bound for the trekking mecca of Huaraz invariably dream of tackling this nine-day, 115 km. circular route, factoring in all the most beguiling aspects of these mountains. The Cordillera Huayhuash is normally less-traipsed than the Cordillera Blanca, due to its distance from Huaraz and its incredible difficulty (it ranks among the most demanding hikes in the Americas).

Glaciers and a glut of peaks above 6000m are on the menu, as are a spattering of sparkling mountain lakes, and there’s the added appeal of its being a round-trip trek, which facilitates planning.

#5 Kuelap, Catarata de Gocta and Vira Vira Trek, Chachapoyas

The northern Peruvian town of Chachapoyas is trying to prove itself a trekking center of the caliber of Huaraz or Cusco. If you crave an adventure to emulate Indiana Jones, trekking out to the myriad archaeological sites littering the cloud forest around town is certainly your answer.

Seven to ten-day treks visit the region’s most famous ruin, Kuelap, but also several others including the almost unknown complex of Vira Vira, comprising some 200 structures. Another highlight (and only discovered in 2006) is the Catarata de Gocta, the world’s third-highest waterfall which careens 770m over cliffs amidst dense jungle.

#6 Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz

Up in the precipitous Cordillera Blanca, most peaks are known as nevados (literally, snow-covereds), and it’s no wonder this trek is so popular: it transports hikers to the very best viewing points of one of the world’s most photogenic expanses of mountains.

This classic, and comparatively well-signed four-day route, threads below summits brushing up to 6400m high, and connects a ream of ice-blue lakes with side trips to glaciers. Rare wildlife inhabits zones close to the path, including the Andean spectacled bear.

#7 Quilcayhuanca & Cojup Valleys, Huaraz

The sublimely beautiful alternative to the Santa Cruz trek makes you work harder than any other hike in the Cordillera Blanca. One challenge is that pack animals can’t make it on a route ascending to 5000m, so you’ll be carrying your own gear: up into severe elevations.

The three-day slog winds through groves of russet-trunked qeňuas, thought to be the trees growing at the highest altitudes of any in the world and passes lakes as lovely as those on the Santa Cruz trek whilst negotiating the tiniest fraction of the crowds. A guide is nigh-on essential to find the way.

#8 Huaytapallana Trek Huaytapallana trek

Wedged between Huaraz (northwest) and Cusco (southeast) are the less-frequented Central Andes. This five-day trek ushers you east from the city of Huancayo up to the startling glacial lakes of Huaytapallana, with a stretch walking along a glacier. Llama shepherds help with the toughest stages of this challenging, often barren hike, mostly in the 4200m-4800m contours, for which you require a guide. You’ll finish by descending into lush jungle at the point where the Amazon basin rushes up to meet the mountains.

#9 Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Cusco

View full itinerary. Perhaps the most fascinating alternative to the Inca Trail, this five-day approach to Machu Picchu has you traversing a 4460m ridge, confronting tangles of cloud forest, stopping off to harvest then drink your own organic coffee whilst meeting the farmers who cultivate the crop and bypassing the ruins of Llactapata. All the while, vistas of the 6272m summit of Salkantay are woven in.

#10 Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

View full itinerary. Inca sites dot the mountains around Cusco and this four-day, seldom-trod hike to Machu Picchu encompasses one of these (Pumahuanca) as well as a 1300m initial ascent, the spectacular mountain lake of Yanacocha and the trek highlight, the inviting thermal springs of Lares. An intriguing aspect to this route can be the stop in a village along the path, Cuncani, where trekkers get the chance to chat to locals.