Walking in Peru travel guide

Although the ruined Inca citadel of Machu Picchu isn’t necessarily the be-all-and-end-all of walking holidays in Peru it's certainly a great place to start – or finish, as it’s the spectacular reward at the end of the five day Inca Trail trek. This is one of many trails starting out from the Sacred Valley, close to the city of Cuzco, where acclimatising to the altitude is always best advice during the first couple of days in the Andes.
Walking holidays in Peru can take you over Andean mountain passes at 4,000m, put you on a paved path to Machu Picchu, but only after acclimatising for at least a couple of days.
Alternative routes to Machu Picchu, such as the four day Salkantay Trek, or lesser-known high-altitude routes: the Lares Trek or Ausangate Trek, for example, provide Peru with plenty of walking options. Tailor made or small group tours also encourage friends to find their feet together or solo travellers to walk with newfound companions. Wild camping, luxury lodges and basic hostels present a plethora of Peruvian perspectives, whilst hot springs, rainforest canopies and highland village communities offer walkers plenty more.


Responsibly run walking holidays in Peru will include plenty of time for acclimatising to Andean altitudes. Cuzco, for instance, is the gateway to the Inca Trail, and it’s a convenient place to catch your breath at 3,400m. A couple of days, or more, in Cuzco before you embark on a high altitude trek is highly recommended. The Sacred Valley, about an hour’s drive from Cuzco, is also an ideal setting for finding your feet at around 2,800m. Sacred Valley locations, like the town of Ollantaytambo and the Pisac ruins, are often included during the first few days of an itinerary as they allow travellers to experience walking at altitude – as well as learn more about indigenous Inca and Peruvian heritage.

Inca Trail options

The classic Inca Trail starts from 82km outside Cuzco and features the Dead Woman’s Pass (4,215m) and the Wiñay Wayna ruins before entering Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate. But there are a number of alternative routes – the best known being the Salkantay and Lares treks, which are much quieter but equally as beautiful as the classic trail. They also don’t require permits , so if you’ve left your holiday planning a little late, you haven’t missed out on your chance to trek towards Machu Picchu.

All these main routes take about four or five days to walk. You’ll trek with guides, and porters will carry your main backpack. They’ll trek ahead, to ensure your camp is set up when you arrive, and food is prepared for you. Camping turns the Inca trail into a real adventure but there are other forms of accommodation for long-distance hikers. For instance, you can stay with local families in small villages on the Lares Trek or stay in mountain lodges on both the Salkantay and Ausangate routes.

Will I be walking every day?

Walking holidays in Peru are not just about marching on to Machu Picchu; there are loads of adventures to be had away from the Inca Trail. The Ballestas Islands, Nazca Lines, Puno and Lake Titicaca are all included within several of our walking holidays, although you won’t necessarily be walking for any great length of time in these locations. There are also more remote and challenging walking itineraries around the Cordillera Huayhuash, Ausangate and Cordillera Urubamba Mountains. For a real contrast to the Andean scenery, stay in an Amazon jungle lodge in the protected Tambopata National Reserve. All of these experiences combine wonderfully well for first-time travellers in Peru – it's up to you how high and how far you're willing to walk and how you make the most of your time.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Peru walking or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Small group or tailor made?

Tailor made tours are perfect for groups of friends or family members that know their own pace or perhaps have something specific they want to dedicate more time to whilst walking in Peru. This could include regular stops to take photographs or visit Inca ruins that are slightly more out of the way. Tailor made walking tours in Peru are also great for special celebrations and for those travellers looking for a bonding experience in an amazing destination. You'll be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and porters who will carry the kit along the Inca Trail – pack ponies and mules are not permitted on the main trail, but are often used on alternative routes. Some tours require you to join up with other walkers while on the trail, so as to form a small group. But for the rest of the holiday you’re free to choose where you go and where you stay, and your operator can offer plenty of suggestions to help you decide what to see and do as you acclimatise.
Small group walking holidays are often more affordable than tailor made equivalents; you’ll be sharing your adventures with other travellers, often from all over the world. They are ideal for solo travellers who’d like to join a group, too. Sharing the highs, and the lows, make a small group walking holiday all the more memorable. From camping on the Inca Trail to a couple of nights in an Amazon rainforest lodge in Tambopata National Reserve, the camaraderie of a small group walking holiday is worth its weight in Inca gold.
Whether you’re on a small group or tailor made trip, your tour operator will help you with every aspect of life in the Andes, including packing tips, accommodation advice and how to adjust to the altitude. Inca Trail permits will also be taken care of by tour operators; however, due to limited numbers, they will get booked out months in advance. Permits are not needed on walking routes other than the classic Inca Trail, though. Planning for Peru, well in advance, is a great way to ensure permits, fitness levels and Andean expectations are all managed so as to ensure an enjoyable, safe and successful trip.

How long, how fit, how high?

The various Inca Trails usually involve walking over at least one high mountain pass each day. Altitude will vary but it’s common to negotiate heights between 3,000 to 5,000m. You’ll be hiking for five or more hours on consecutive days, and with some steep steps, so you’ll need to prepare physically and mentally prior to departure. Practise camping in cold weather and hiking at night; get used to walking long distances, preferably up hills or mountains; strengthen core muscles and build on general fitness levels, including swimming and extended gym sessions. Getting fit means you can enjoy the experience rather than endure it.


Walk the trails stemming from the Sacred Valley outside of the dry winter season and you’ll find far fewer trekkers, plus Inca Trail permits aren’t snapped up quite so quickly.
The best time to go on a walking holiday in Peru is May-Sep. Days will usually be dry, cool and sunny; nights can drop to freezing. Only 500 trekking permits are issued daily for the Inca Trail – around 300 of which are used for porters and guides – so these sell out incredibly fast we recommend booking at least a year in advance. Outside of the dry season, permits may sell out a little slower and March/April and Oct/Nov are a good choice as although the Inca Trail will be busy, the rest of Peru may be a little quieter. Alternative walking routes, such as the Salkantay Trail, do not require permits.

peru Weather Chart

RAIN (mm)


The classic Inca Trail is closed for maintenance throughout February, although you can still hike the alternative routes at this time. January to March are some of the wettest months in the Andes, however. Despite damp conditions, March and April are good months to walk on the trails around Cuzco and there aren’t as many travellers in towns like Aguas Calientes. Please be aware that, even in April, Inca Trail permits can still sell out extremely quickly. Best advice is to book with a tour operator at least a year in advance to avoid disappointment. May is the best time to walk in Peru as sub-tropical vegetation is at its most verdant and the rains have all but dried up. End of June will get busy in Cuzco as sun worshippers celebrate the Inca festival, Inti Raymi, on and around the 24th. End of July is also another peak period in the Peruvian calendar as local people celebrate the nation’s independence from the Spanish – Fiestas Patrias – around the 28th and 29th. September is still popular with travellers heading to Machu Picchu. As you move into October and early November, you’ll find drier conditions in comparison to the deluge that you can expect in December.
Tom Shearman from our supplier Andean Trails:
“The best weather conditions to trek the Inca Trail are from May to September. Expect dry, sunny days and cold, clear nights. This is the busiest season and demand for places means the Inca Trail can sell out six to nine months in advance. Shoulder months like late March/April and October/November are becoming more popular as permits are usually more readily available than peak months.”
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage] [What does it entail: Andean Trails] [Small group: Andean Trails] [Best time to go: Karl Norling]