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Although Peru has a lot to offer, including great surfing on the coast and a thriving culinary scene, the country’s most appealing feature is undoubtedly its breathtaking hiking trails. The Andes Mountains, which run the length of the country and divide it in half, have created incredibly varied landscapes that can only be fully appreciated on foot. You’ll see glimpses of cultural history and remnants of former empires along the way, both of which will inspire and impress you.
There are so many amazing trails to choose from in Peru that it can be difficult to decide where to begin hiking, but knowing which city you will be landing in can help narrow down your options. Cities such as Cusco, Arequipa, Huaraz, and Chachapoyas are popular starting points for treks in the Andes, where hikers can acclimate and recover. There are numerous hikes to choose from, depending on how much time and energy you have to devote to the activity.
Journey to Peru
Cusco, the former Inca Empire’s capital, is a magnificent city. This charming city serves as the starting point for several hikes in the Sacred Valley, including the well-known Inca Trail, and it contains remnants of both the Inca and Spanish cultures that once ruled the region. Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, is full of enthralling mysteries that you must see for yourself. There are numerous ancient ruins to be discovered throughout the Sacred Valley, but for good reason, Machu Picchu is at the top of most trekkers’ lists.
The Inca Trail is by far the most popular route to Machu Picchu; however, it can become extremely crowded with tourists during peak travel times, and you will be required to have a permit to enter the site.
The Salkantay Trek is a less-traveled alternative that offers even more breathtaking views of Peru’s diverse ecosystems than the more popular Inca Trail.
The Lares Trek offers a more contemporary glimpse into local life on the way to Machu Picchu, whereas the Ausangate Trek offers a more remote, untouched trek with incredible high-altitude scenery. Both of these treks can be found in the Inca Sacred Valley. You will pass by the lovely Rainbow Mountain, which is a popular day trip destination. Choquequirao, Machu Picchu’s sister city, is also worth a visit because it contains archaeological ruins that are comparable to those found at Machu Picchu but have not yet been fully excavated.
Arequipa Although Cusco is the most enduring city in Peru, Arequipa has an aesthetic that no other city can match. Because of its stunning plazas and ornate cathedrals, both of which have chalky white stone facades, Arequipa is a picture-perfect starting point for several hikes in the surrounding regions.
Explore Colca Canyon for breathtaking views of the canyon’s dramatic depth and soaring Andean condors, or consider climbing El Misti to conquer Arequipa’s towering volcanic peak. Both of these locations are reachable from Arequipa.
The Cotahuasi Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon, is not far from the Colca Canyon; however, trekking through it is more difficult due to its immense depth. There are some fantastic hiking opportunities both around Lake Titicaca and Laguna de Salinas, which are home to chalky salt flats in the dry season and flocks of flamingos in the wet season, and around Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
If you want to hike in the Cordillera Blanca or the Cordillera Negra, Huaraz is the most likely starting point. It is known as Peru’s hiking capital and is located high in the mountains in the north of the country. It is famous for its enthralling blue lagoons and breathtaking alpine scenery.
Huaraz is the place to go if you want an adrenaline-pumping experience, and Huascarán National Park is home to a variety of hiking trails in and of itself. There are numerous hikes to choose from in this region, including day hikes to Lagunas 69, Paron, and Churup, as well as multi-day treks such as the Santa Cruz Trek, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful treks in the world due to its passage through the Cordillera Blanca mountains.
The Huayhuash Trek is a ten-day strenuous hike around the Huayhuash mountain range that is a true test of endurance and level of preparation. This is the trek for you if you want to put your skills to the test.
Chachapoyas is a popular hiking destination in Peru’s northern Andes. It has its own Incan ruins as well as stunning natural scenery, both of which should not be missed. By going to this location, you can get as far away from the touristy trails of Cusco as possible while still having access to outstanding hiking and unique vistas.
Explore the ruins of Kuelap, a Chachapoyan fortress built centuries before Machu Picchu, as well as the roaring Gocta Waterfall, one of the world’s tallest waterfalls. The recently installed Kuelap cable car provides a welcome boost to the ruins, but you can also get to both of these remarkable sights on the Gran Vilaya Trek, which offers panoramic views and friendly encounters with locals. Neither of these attractions should be missed!
Hiking in Peru is not an easy task that requires significant mental and physical preparation, as well as an overwhelming amount of planning. Consider the following tips to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and ensure that it exceeds all of your expectations.
What to Do When
Peru has two distinct seasons: the dry season, which lasts from May to September, and the wet season, which lasts from November to March. There are more people on the trails during the dry season, when the skies are usually clear and the temperature is above average. Hiking during the wet season can be more unpredictable, and the trails can become slippery due to rain, but the hike can still be completed.
Because of the larger crowds and higher prices, some experienced hikers may even prefer it to the dry season. However, keep in mind that certain hikes may be more dangerous during the wet season. Canyon hikes, for example, may be more prone to landslides, and certain passes may be too flooded to cross. Although Machu Picchu is open all year, the Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance and trail recovery. Furthermore, many tour operators in Huaraz do not offer tours during the wet months of February and March due to inclement weather.
Before embarking on a multiday hike, it is critical to pack as little as possible. On guided tours such as the Inca Trail, porters will carry your luggage; however, there is a weight limit on how much luggage you can bring. If you are hiking alone, only bring what you need to keep the burden of carrying that weight under control.
Because the temperature on the trails at altitude can vary dramatically from dawn to dusk, you will need to bring layers with you to keep warm when the sun goes down. When hiking during the wet season, it is even more important to bring some packable rain gear to protect you from any morning showers that may occur.
Camping equipment such as sleeping bags and tents, dependable hiking footwear, sun protection in the form of hats and sunscreen, and a reusable water bottle are all essentials to bring (single-use plastic is banned on Machu Picchu). Because the facilities along the way are often very basic, you should probably bring a roll of toilet paper, as well as some hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer wipes.
It is critical not to underestimate the effects of Peru’s high altitude, as doing so can mean the difference between a fantastic and a disastrous trip. Even the most experienced hikers will find this to be one of the most difficult challenges.
At 2500 meters above sea level, where the air is thinner and your body receives less oxygen, you may begin to experience altitude sickness symptoms such as nausea, headache, and fatigue. The majority of Peru is at an elevation of more than 2500 meters above sea level, and you may feel the effects of the altitude upon arrival.
Before beginning a hike, spend at least 24 to 48 hours in the city that will serve as your base to allow your body to adjust to the higher altitude. Acclimatization is critical for ensuring that your hike does not become ruined. Staying hydrated and ascending slowly can help you avoid the effects of altitude sickness during your ascent.
If you begin to experience symptoms along the way, stop what you’re doing and give your body time to adjust. Coca leaves are a well-known remedy, and studies have shown that chewing them or drinking tea made from them can help protect against the negative effects of high altitude.
When deciding which route to take, you should consider whether or not you want to hire a guide. The vast majority of hikes can be completed without the assistance of a guide; however, if you are a relatively inexperienced hiker, hiring a guide to navigate any difficult sections of a trail can be extremely beneficial.
If you want to hike the Inca trail, you will need a tour from an approved tour company as well as a permit, which you must obtain well in advance because there are only a limited number of permits available to preserve the heritage site. If you are not going to be accompanied by a guide, you must consult with another person about your itinerary.
Hiking in Peru requires a certain level of fitness, so make sure to physically prepare for some challenging altitude hiking before you go. You should probably increase your physical activity in the weeks leading up to your trip, and once there, you should start with some easier day hikes so that you are better prepared for longer multi-day hikes.
Before you leave, you should double-check that you have received all of the necessary immunizations. Furthermore, if you plan to purchase travel insurance, make sure that it covers high-altitude treks, as this type of activity is typically not covered by standard policies.