The Great Inca Trail
February 27, 2020

By: SA Explorer

A new way to hike the Inca trails around Machu Picchu

Secondary Categories: Machu Picchu, Dig Deeper

The world-famous Inca Trail is but one tiny section of a vast network of Inca trails which once spanned a continent. Escape the crowds on our all-new Great Inca Trail Day Hikes itinerary which allows you to explore some of the gems of Inca engineering while resting up in a hotel bed every night.

For many people, hiking The Inca Trail is a dream. Thanks to clever marketing, it’s often the only Andean trek that features in World’s Best Hikes anthologies and bucket list features in glossy travel magazines. Granted, the high mountain passes, ancient paved trails winding through steaming cloud forests, and that magical view of Machu Picchu as you finally pass through the Sun Gate to the infamous citadel, are spectacular.

But camping for three nights just isn’t for some people. Some can’t get an Inca Trail permit in time. And for others, the thought of walking with 499 other people – overtaking and being overtaken every few yards and vying for the good views – just isn’t their idea of fun. If any of these apply to you, SA Expeditions has come up with a great alternative…

Hiking through an Inca doorway on the way to Huchuy Qosqo. (Photo: Jenny Byrne)

Spoilt for choice

Once upon a time, a continuous Inca road system connected the many important sites in and around Cusco. (Check out Introducing Qhapaq Ñan: the 25,000 mile Inca road network for more info.) While some sections have disappeared beneath modern roads (and others have been used to build houses), in recent years the Peruvian Ministry of Culture has been working to preserve and restore as much of this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site as they can.

Terraces and a circular ceremonial platform known as an ushnu, on the outskirts of Cusco. (Photo: Jenny Byrne)

Which means that visitors to Cusco have plenty of beautiful stretches of Inca Trail to choose from.

SA Expeditions’ eight-day Great Inca Trail Day Hikes to Machu Picchu itinerary allows you to explore several of these lesser-known (but no less spectacular) trails, accompanied by expert guides and with the comfort of a hotel room greeting you each night.

Having a comfortable hotel room to come back after your day hike is one of the highlights of this adventure. (Photo: Courtesy Image)

What will I see?

The itinerary is focused on exploring ancient Inca trails that will take you off the beaten path to lesser known archaeological sites and small mountain communities – without the need to travel long distances between treks. The itinerary includes four days of hiking, and the option of summitting one of the mountains which overlooks Machu Picchu on the penultimate day. Some of the highlights include:

Extensive terracing on the way into Huchuy Qosqo, with Pitusiray in the background. (Photo: Jenny Byrne)
  • Take in the incredible rock carvings at Templo de la Luna and Inkilltambo as well as some extensive terraces, riverside retention walls, and native Polylepis forest. (Read about our efforts to replant Polylepis here.)
  • Enjoy views of a beautiful mountain lake at 13,400ft above sea level before walking a stunning stretch of Inca trail through a narrow canyon that spills out onto the mountainside above the Sacred Valley. Then, discover the site of Huchuy Qosqo, with beautifully crafted walls, large areas of terracing and a ceremonial fountain.
  • Visit the tiny Andean hamlet of Choquechaca to learn about a way of life that has changed little since Inca times (albeit with a few modern twists). There is not much preserved Inca trail to hike, but the trail follows an Inca canal system and immerses you in one of the few remaining native forests in the area.
  • Avoid the crowds while hiking the Short Inca Trail, but still climbing up through legendary Wiñay Wayna, a set of very steep terraces built into a ravine. Eventually you’ll join the final part of the Classic Inca Trail, through the famous Sun Gate – Inti Punku – to Machu Picchu.
  • No trip to the Cusco region is complete without extensive exploration of Machu Picchu itself. Which is why we give you two bites of the cherry, both on the afternoon you arrive and on a return visit the following day. This second visit is a great chance to hike one of the site’s mountains Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (permit included, depending on availability). Both trails bring you high above the site for spectacular views. If you choose Huayna Picchu, be sure to drop down the back after the summit (your guide will show you how), to the incredible and secluded Temple of the Moon.
First peek of Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. 

Where will I stay?

Each night, you’ll be brought to your comfortable hotel in Cusco, the Sacred Valley or Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town). As in our other itineraries, you can choose what level of hotel you would like to stay in, from three-star boutique properties, to hotels with four-star service and comfort, all the way to the most luxurious five-star offerings. The itinerary has a “lodge-to-lodge” format, to give you the feel of walking from one resting place to another. It’s like a traditional multi-day hike, with no more than a 60-minute drive between the hotels and the starting/finishing points of the trails.

Enjoy a spot of yoga on the banks of the Urubamba River or indulge in the spa facilities at your Sacred Valley hotel. (Photo: Courtesy Image)

What’s different about this trek?

Unlike the Classic Inca Trail and alternative routes such as Salkantay and Lares (which have both become pretty popular too), you’ll see very few other people during your daily hikes. You’ll explore sites and villages that can only be reached on foot, and learn about different aspects of the Inca and pre-Inca cultures, as well as modern-day life in the Andes.

Since many parts of the Inca road system are disappearing through lack of use, increased foot traffic on these trails helps to push the government to preserve them better. So, by participating in this program with us, you’re part of a movement towards the conservation of this incredibly extensive monument. And, of course, you do all this knowing you have a comfortable hotel room, a hot shower, and a tasty restaurant dinner waiting for you at the end of the day!

The ladies of Choquechaca in their traditional dress. (Photo: Jenny Byrne)

From afar, the Cusco region seems to be over-saturated by tourism, but in reality it’s not that hard to get off the beaten path. Take this trip with SA Expeditions to experience the remoteness of the Andes, without compromising on comfort… All the while, still immersing yourself in the mystery of Machu Picchu and the seemingly superhuman feats of engineering achieved by the Inca.

Got itchy feet? Book a spot on our Great Inca Trail Day Hikes to Machu Picchu. Or speak to one of our Destination Experts about working it into the tailor-made Andean adventure of your dreams.

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