Inca Trail vs Alternative Trek to Machu Picchu. What is it?


The Classic Inca Trail Trek is one of the most popular hikes in the world, it leads to the mysterious ancient Inca Citadel Machu Picchu that leads directly into the citadel of Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. It is also known for its high quality spectacular archeological ruins along the Inca trail. Since 2001, the Peruvian government has enforced a quota and permit regulation in order to preserve the over 500 year-old trail. 

Below are all of the Orange Nation Treks that are part of the Inca Trail:


An alternative trek is an alternative option of a trek instead of the Classic Inca Trail, also in the Andes Mountains and Cusco region.  The Classic Inca Trail Trek is one of the most popular and well known, but unfortunately it sells out very quickly and bookings must be made well in advance.

There are some great alternative treks that still lead to Machu Picchu!  These are gaining in more popularity as they become more well known.  These are not restricted by the government so they are available any time of the year.  The two most popular are the Lares trek 4D/3N or the Salkantay trek 5D/4N.  There are others that do not end at Machu Picchu such as Choquequirao 5/4N, a new Lost City of the Incas larger than Machu Picchu.

The actual hiking views on these Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu might be even more spectacular than what you see on the Inca Trail, but instead of hiking directly into the ruins, you end up at Aguas Calientes and spend the night there in a hotel before visiting Machu Picchu the next morning. These treks tend to be less crowded and you still have the Machu Picchu tour the next day and in fact get to the ruins 2 hours before the Inca Trail trekkers and hopefully with views of the sun rising over the mountains.

All Alternative Treks of Orange Nation that end at Machu Picchu are:

What Makes the Inca Trail so Special?

  • It’s one of the most famous treks in the world.
  • It hikes right into Machu Picchu using the Royal Road of the Incas – no other trek does this!
  • You arrive at the Sun Gate with an impressive view over Machu Picchu at dawn.
  • It has a wonderful array of stunning ruins every day.
  • Breathtaking scenery – from snow-capped mountains to dense lush cloud forest and jungle.
  • Good facilities and toilets are available at the campsites.
  • Despite large amounts of people, there are still moments for solitude in the mountains.
  • Sense of completing a very famous trek.
  • Hiking through the ancient path to Machu Picchu.

What are the disadvantages of the Inca Trail?

  • 500 people depart every day, this includes tourists and trekking staff.
  • You need to book about 6 or more months in advance for high season and you MUST make the date you booked for. No changes are allowed. If someone cancels then their permit will not be used. There is no waiting list.
  • Many groups are as large as 25 people. (Orange Nation maximum group size is just 8 people)
  • Campsites are always full, with full facilities – it’s not exactly a wilderness or adventure camping experience.
  • It can feel a bit like a highway with many people on the trek.

Good Aspects of the Alternative Treks

  • Trekking “OFF the beaten track,” exploring new places where no one else goes.
  • On some of the treks you may be the only group departing that day.
  • A sense of adventure and discovering new trails.
  • Real wilderness camping
  • Isolation and remote atmosphere.
  • Incredible mountainous views and lots of wildlife
  • Lots of herds of alpaca, llamas, and if you’re lucky the wild vicuña
  • What is lacking in ruins is usually made up by cultural interaction and the meeting of locals.
  • You still get to trek to Machu Picchu and experience the same tour of Machu Picchu as the Inca Trail
  • You get to be at Machu Picchu in time for sun rise!

Disadvantages of the alternative trails

  • You don’t walk into Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, because you get the shuttle bus up to Machu Picchu.
  • They are not as well known (but are becoming more well known such as the Lares & Salkantay treks) therefore there can be less information available and sometimes less reviews.
  • They do not have the same spectacular ruins along the other treks that you will find along the Inca Trail.
  • You will need to spend the night before your Machu Picchu visit in Aguas Calientes, and then take the shuttle bus up in the morning of your visit.
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