What You NEED to Know about Trekking in Peru
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Trekking in Peru is one of the most popular activities for tourists. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of before tackling Peru’s challenging treks including which ones to do, how to prepare, dealing with the altitude, the weather, and so much more! Here’s your ultimate guide to trekking Peru!
Peru, it’s a country filled with history, culture, and some really amazing treks! Little did I know that trekking in Peru would exceed every expectation I ever had. Now, I am writing this blog to guide, help plan, and inspire others to explore Peru’s amazing landscapes and alpine peaks on an epic trekking adventure!
I hadn’t planned to go on many hikes on my trip to South America (not sure why). However, after moving my way through Patagonia with only a backpack and camera I had around 10 multi-day hikes under my belt and it shaped the rest of my trip.
I get tired of being in hostels and visiting cities -sometimes I just want to be away from it all and trekking is my escape.
Heading to Peru I wasn’t aware of the extra challenges that I would face compared to hiking in Patagonia. I hadn’t really prepared, and to be fair, I didn’t know what to prepare for.
Like other travelers out there, you might be thinking the same – that’s why I wrote this post! My goal is the help you plan your trip, talk about things like weather conditions and also list some of the best treks in Peru so you can be totally prepared for trekking in Peru!
For this blog, I’m going to leave out things like… well, exercise or fitness for example, and instead focus challenges specific to trekking in Peru (not overall trekking in general!)
Where to go Trekking in Peru
To keep this simple I’m going to break trekking in Peru into three regions: Cusco, Cordillera Blanca/Huaraz, and Arequipa. These are the regions are the most popular areas for tourists to visit to go on a trekking adventure. These 3 areas offer more than 30 different hiking trail variations between them!
Cusco and Surrounding Area
The city of Cusco is Peru’s most popular tourist destination and is also a great base for trekking in Peru! Cusco is home to all of the Machu Picchu hikes as well as many others.
The combination of amazing hikes near Cusco with the amount of rental shops and tour agencies make it a perfect place to start your adventures.
Oh, and did I mention Cusco sits at 3400m (11,150ft) above sea-level giving you the perfect chance to acclimatize before setting out! Most of the popular hikes out of Cusco don’t go to extreme altitudes (extreme being above 5000m or 16,400ft), most hover around the 3500m (11,500 ft) mark.
Huaraz (The Cordillera Blanca)
This area is my favorite for trekking in Peru! The treks near Huaraz, Peru in the Cordillera Blanca offer a huge variety of difficulty from easy one-day treks to week-long (or longer) expeditions that are rather challenging.
The Cordillera Blanca is the chain of mountains where the hikes are located. Huaraz is the closest town to access the majority of them. The town itself also sits above 3000m (9,850 ft) making acclimatization easy.
You could spend months in Huaraz completing treks and with altitudes over 6000m (19,680ft), you can really challenge yourself! This area is typically for experienced hikers. Between the altitude and extreme weather conditions, it is recommended that beginners use a tour guide.
Arequipa is a beautiful city in Peru’s south and is home to many amazing treks including the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world and is located only a couple hours from Arequipa.
Trekking in the Colca Canyon is a popular thing to do in Peru. You can join a Colca Canyon tour and explore this amazing place in 2 or 3 days. It is one of the easier treks in Peru and for that reason, accessible for most tourists.
Altitudes in this area are quite low and at most hit 3500m. For te majority traveling Peru, this doesn’t prove to be much of a problem, but if you’re not used to it be sure to spend a few days in Arequipa first.
There are many other options for hiking near Arequipa including Chachani Mountain and Misti Volcano, although these hikes are much more difficult and climb above 6000m (19,680ft)! It is recommended to take a tour on these hikes unless you have lots of experience, know the area, and the weather conditions.
7 BEST Treks in Peru
As for the many different treks on offer in Peru, below is a list that comprises some of the best and most famous with their difficulty, duration, best time of year, and location. If you want to go trekking in Peru, you won’t be disappointed with any of these7 treks in Peru!
1. Inca Trail
The most popular hike in all of Peru is the Inca Trail. The classic trail is either 88 km (55 miles) or 82 km (51 miles) depending on the starting location. The trail takes you over 4000m above sea level and the trail rating is moderate.
It is essential to book the Inca Trail at least 8 to 12 months in advance! Only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day and with 300 guides and sherpas, that leaves only 200 spaces for visitors!
The Inca Trail must be completed on a guided tour. Tours depart and return to Cusco and typically take 3-4 days.
2. Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is another amazing way to hike to Machu Picchu. This route is less popular than the Inca Trek but still offers breathtaking views. Plus, it is a great option for those on a budget!
In fact, the Salkantay Trek was named in the “top 25 hikes in the world” by Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.
The hike is 74km done over 4 days (the fifth day at Machu Picchu) and takes you to an altitude of 4580m (15,000ft) above sea level!
Like the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek begins near Cusco.
3. Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Trek really is a beautiful hike. The 4-day 3-night trek takes you to altitudes over 4750m (15,580ft) above sea level so being acclimatized before tackling this hike is very important!
The Santa Cruz Trek is one of the most beautiful treks in Peru and should be on your bucket list! In fact, it is said that the mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo can be seen on this trail!
The Santa Cruz Trek begins near Huaraz. If you plan on doing a lot of trekking in Peru, heading to Huaraz is a must and the Santa Cruz it too!
You can book the Santa Cruz online in advance to secure your departure date with a repuatable tour operator.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Huayhuash. It nearly killed me, but wow, it was stunning!
In terms of trekking in Peru, I dare say the Huayhuash is one of the most challenging trails there is. It climbs to over 5100 m (16,700ft) at several points and is 115 kilometers (71 miles) long.
The Huayhuash is best done with a guide and tours leave from Huaraz. Most tours run from 8 to 12 days long depending on how much distance you hike per day.
Sure, the Huayhuash was a challenge, but it is still to this day the most beautiful trek I’ve ever done.
5. Laguna 69
This short but beautiful one-day hike is simply amazing. It makes for a difficult day, but it’s perfect to acclimatize before tackling the longer hikes in the area (around Huaraz.)
Laguna 69 (the name of the lake) is located at 4650m (15,250ft) above sea level and involves a 17 km (10.5 miles) round trip. Laguna 69 was the bluest lake I saw while trekking Peru and if you’re brave enough, you can swim in it!
If you just arrived in Huaraz then you’re likely to feel a little altitude sickness on this one, however, you will be up and back in under a day. Just be prepared for the headache on the long drive home!
You can book a tour to Laguna 69 online for only $15 USD!
6. Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is a mountain peak covered in different minerals that make its unique color.
This mountain offers a few different trekking options with the most popular being a one-day hike from Cusco. This short day starts at 4200m (13,800 ft) above sea level and ends over 5,000m (16,400 ft) above sea level! Due to the rapid ascent from Cusco (at 3400m or 11,150 ft), minor altitude sickness is just about certain.
Taking a tour is cheap and easy. This has easily become one of the most popular treks in Peru, and if you look at the photos, you’ll likely understand why!
7. Colca Canyon
Trekking in the Colca Canyon really differs from Huaraz and Cusco. Instead of hiking up mountain passes, you hike down the canyon’s steep walls. It is lower in altitude than the others, and in my eyes, it was the easiest.
The canyon can be hiked in many different ways with two-day trips to six-day trips available. The views are amazing but truthfully don’t compare to the other hikes mentioned above!
The Colca Canyon is closest to the city of Arequipa. From here, you can either join a trekking tour or catch public transport to hike the trail on your own!
The BEST Time of Year to Go Trekking in Peru
Trekking Peru during the wrong months can hinder or even ruin your plans.
Unlike some places around the world, Peru experiences most of its rain in the summer. With some trails closed or too dangerous to complete during this time, visiting in the winter months between May and September is very important.
Outside of these months, cloud cover can destroy your amazing views and the heavy downpours of rain can make you feel like your swimming in mud instead of hiking a trail!
High Altitude Trekking in Peru
Let’s talk altitude!
The altitude in Peru varies, however, most of the best treks involve some sort of high altitude trekking. This is the first thing that separates trekking Peru from other mountainous regions in the world.
With treks pushing the 6000 m (20,000 ft) mark, being prepared for the conditions that present themselves at those altitudes is very important!
Here are some things you need to know about high altitude trekking in Peru:
Lack of Apatite
Higher altitudes can significantly lower your apatite even though your body works harder at higher altitude thus burning more calories. It is important that on multi-day hikes to ensure you keep eating high energy meals even if sometimes you don’t feel hungry.
I suffered this on an 8-day trek while hiking in Peru. I had no apatite due to the altitude and a minor stomach bug. If I had stopped eating (like I wanted to) I may not have been able to finish the hike.
So, if you’re trekking in Peru at high altitudes and don’t feel hungry but haven’t eaten in a while, make yourself eat! It’s important to eat enough when trekking and the lack of apatite is just the altitude fooling you!
Altitude sickness is one very important factor to consider because in extreme circumstances it can be life-threatening. There are many ways to avoid or manage altitude sickness when trekking in Peru.
The best method is prevention by acclimatization. This means, allowing your body to get used to the high altitude before doing too much exercise. For example, if you’re going trekking to Machu Picchu on the Salkantay Trek, you should spend a few days just hanging around the city of Cusco to acclimatize before starting your trek.
Taking your time and also being careful not to overexert yourself especially during the first day of hiking is also important. If you do start to feel symptoms of altitude sickness it is important to either lower your altitude or if that is not possible, take altitude sickness medication.
It is very important to monitor anyone feeling the effects of high altitudes. Also, keeping hydrated is also very important!
It sounds obvious, however, trekking in Peru at high altitudes means that the temperature change between night and day is huge. When the sun shines through the thin air in the middle of the day you could strip down to shorts and a t-shirt. But when that sun moves behind the mountains in the afternoon, temperatures plunge (and they do so quickly!)
Being prepared for this temperature change when going trekking in Peru is important as it can be the difference between being cold for the rest of the night or staying warm.
Things like ensuring you are in dry clothes before that sun disappears for the night or choosing the right materials to wear. Materials like wool are very good at whisking away the sweat and make for one of the best underlayers you can choose.
It’s also important to note the weather can change at a moment’s notice. Always have your rain jacket handy and layer up!
Before you go…
Thinking back to my time trekking in Peru brings back some of my fondest travel memories. From freezing in a tent on the Huayhuash to getting covered in mud on the Salkantay, it was all worth it for the incredible views and amazing experience.
I hope this blog has helped plan your trekking adventures in Peru. If you have any questions about preparing for trekking in Peru, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below – we’d love to help the best we can!
Of course, if you’re traveling more in Peru, be sure to check out all of our in-depth and informative Peru travel blogs! You’ll find tons of articles including some of these below:
February 1, 2020