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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 on 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 places in Peru that 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!
Related Read: The Torres del Paine W Trek is one of most famous hikes that you can do not just in South American but in the entire world!
Cusco and surrounding area
The combination of amazing hikes near Cusco with the number of rental shops and tour agencies makes it a perfect place to start your adventures.
Oh, and did I mention Cusco sits at 3400 m (11,150 ft) 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 5000 m or 16,400 ft), most hover around the 3500 m (11,500 ft) mark.
Related Read: If you need to know where to stay on a budget check out our list of the best hostels in Cusco.
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 3000 m (9,850 ft) making acclimatization easy.
You could spend months in Huaraz completing treks and with altitudes over 6000 m (19,680 ft), 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 of 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 3,500 m (11,483 ft). For the 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 6,000 m (19,680 ft)! It is recommended to take a tour on these hikes unless you have lots of experience and 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 these seven treks in Peru! Many of these treks are so incredible that they are also a part of our list of the best things to do in Peru!
1. Inca Trail
The most popular hike in all of Peru is the Inca Trail which leads to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.
The classic trail is either 88 km (55 miles) or 82 km (51 miles) depending on the starting location. The trail takes you over 4000 m (12,123 ft) above sea level and the trail rating is moderate.
Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru requires a licensed guide to accompany you on the trek. The Peruvian government has set this regulation to help manage the wear of the trail and ensure the safety of hikers. At the time of updating this blog (July 2023) only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day and with 300 guides and sherpas, that leaves only 200 spaces for visitors!
For this reason, it is essential to book the Inca Trail at least 8 to 12 months in advance! Tours depart and return to Cusco and typically take 3-4 days.
I can personally recommend this particular 4-Day Inca Trail Tour that includes all of your meals, tickets, and transportation. The awesome part about this one is that on the final day of hiking your group will arrive early at Machu Picchu before all of the tourists show up so you will have some uninterrupted time to enjoy this Wonder of the World!
The cost is $880 USD but I can guarantee that it is well worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
2. Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is another amazing way to hike to Machu Picchu. The trek actually takes its name from the Salkantay Mountain, which is one of the highest peaks in the Peruvian Andes, reaching an elevation of 6,271 meters (20,574 feet).
Like the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek begins near Cusco but this route is less popular but still offers breathtaking views. In fact, the Salkantay Trek was named in the “Top 25 Hikes in the World” by Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.
Plus, it is a great option for those on a budget because you can choose to hike it independently or with a guide. If you go with a guided tour the cost will still be an investment but it will be cheaper than one on the Inca Trail.
The hike is 74 km (46 mi) done over 4 days (the fifth day at Machu Picchu) and takes you to an altitude of 4580 m (15,000 ft) above sea level!
The tour that I went on was the Ultimate Salkantay Trek for $695 USD. What makes this experience so easy is that the tour comes with all the inclusions you could ask for including all of your meals, accommodations (3 nights camping and 1 night in a 3-star hotel), transport, a highly-trained mountain guide, and entrance fees.
The only few things you need to bring are a sleeping bag, hiking poles, and air matts but these can all be rented from the tour company itself.
3. Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Trek really is a beautiful hike. The 4-day 3-night trek takes you to altitudes over 4,750 m (15,580 ft) 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 to acclimate first before attempting the Santa Cruz!
I recommend booking this guided tour that departs from Huaraz because it comes with a donkey that will carry all of your heavy gear for you. This will be a literal weight off of your shoulders if you get altitude sickness.
This guided Santa Cruz Trek also includes all of your necessary camping gear, meals, filtered water, and round-trip transport. Expect to pay around $750 USD for all of these inclusions.
You can book the Santa Cruz online in advance to secure your departure date with a reputable tour operator.
If you are on a budget or prefer the freedom that comes with going on your own you don’t have to go with a guide because the trail is well maintained and marked. You would need to bring your own gear or rent it from Huaraz, and pack all of your snacks, meals, and drinks.
To get to the starting point of the Santa Cruz you will take a collectivo from Huaraz to Yungay (1.5 hours) and then from Yungay you’ll take another collectivo to Vaqueria (3 hours). On the last leg be sure to tell your driver your destination and they will drop you at the start of the trailhead.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Huayhuash. I almost didn’t make it, but wow, it was stunning!
The route it follows showcases stunning peaks including Yerupajá, the second-highest mountain in Peru standing at 6,635 m (21,768 ft) tall. The are also several stunning bright blue glacier lakes that reflect all of the rugged mountain peaks.
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 (16,700 ft) at several points and is 115 kilometers (71 miles) long.
Because of how challenging it is there will be a lot less crowds than on other other hikes in the region. This really allows you to connect with nature all around!
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.
The tour I would recommend is this 10 day Huayhuash Trek for $990 USD.
Each day you get clean boiled water to refill your water bottle with, warm water for personal hygiene, and 5 meals including breakfast, lunch, box lunch, tea time, and dinner so you’ll never be running on empty.
A 4-person tent and a donkey to transport your luggage are also included in the price. The only things you are responsible for are bringing your own sleeping bag and paying for the entrance fee.
If you’re going to book this tour you can do so online in advance here.
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 4650 m (15,250 ft) above sea level and involves a 17 km (10.5 miles) round trip that will take most people an average of 3 to 4 hours to get to the lake. 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, it is still possible if you’re on a time crunch as you will be up and back in under a day. Just be prepared for the headache on the long drive home!
You can book this tour to Laguna 69 online for only $40 USD which makes it the best way to go about doing this hike becuase you’ll have a guide and round trip transport is included.
6. Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is a mountain peak covered in different minerals that make its unique color.
Getting to this natural wonder has a few different trekking options with the most popular being a one-day hike from Cusco. This short day starts at 4,200 m (13,800 ft) above sea level and ends over 5,000 m (16,400 ft) above sea level which is actually one of the highest accessible points in the Andes!
Due to the rapid ascent from Cusco (at 3,400 m or 11,150 ft), minor altitude sickness is just about certain.
The journey to Rainbow Mountain is beautiful though and you will see snow-capped peaks, valleys, and herds of alpacas and llamas grazing on the meadowy sides.
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!
The tour I did only cost $49 USD. It included breakfast, lunch, a guide, and transport. Overall I really enjoyed it, but it was a long day! If you’re worried about the hike, you can do an ATV tour instead, which takes the hard work out of the climb and adds a little extra fun! This option will cost you $85 USD.
Note: Due to the high altitude, weather conditions can change rapidly, and temperatures can be chilly even on sunny days. So my biggest tip is to be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear for various weather scenarios.
7. Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is nearly twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon in the United States with a maximum depth of approximately 3,270 meters (10,725 feet)!
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.
In the early mornings, watch for the Andean condors, the largest flying birds in the world. They are particularly known to be spotted at the Cruz del Condor lookout.
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 canyon can be hiked in many different ways with one, two, or three-day trips available.
My top choice and the tour that I went on is this 3-day Colca Canyon tour. It includes all of your meals and very nice accommodations. While it is a hiking tour, the hike is completed over 3 days it is done at a nice slower pace with plenty of time to enjoy views, hot springs, and a pool with drinks!
A lot of people we talked to who had gone on their own said they got lost at least once which is what pushed us to book the guided tour!
If you want more info, our guide on the different Colca Canyon tours breaks down all of the best options in detail.
The views are amazing but truthfully don’t compare to the other hikes mentioned above, yet it is still worth doing if you are in the area!
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 you’re 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 6,000 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 appetite
Higher altitudes can significantly lower your appetite even though your body works harder at higher altitudes thus burning more calories. It is important that on multi-day hikes, 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 appetite 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 appetite 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 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 sweat and make for one of the best underlayers you can choose.
Be sure to layer up too, wearing things like hiking leggings and undershirts will be a lifesaver! The more layers the better!
It’s also important to note the weather can change at a moment’s notice. Always have your rain jacket handy. Knowing what to wear hiking in Peru is essential.
Related Read: Did you know that Puerto Maldonado is Peru’s forgotten gateway to the Amazon?
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
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, check out our in-depth and informative Peru travel blogs! You’ll find tons of articles including some of these below: