Which trek is for me Inca trail 4D3N, Salkantay 5D 5N, Lares trek 4D3N

Which Trek to Machu Picchu is for Me?
Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or Lares Trek?

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu has been estimated to receive approximately 1 million visitors per year (pre-pandemic). For many, this world wonder is part of their bucket list of places to visit. However, given the numerous tour options and operators available for planning your visit to Machu Picchu, deciding how to reach Machu Picchu can be tough.

One of the most important questions most travelers ask themselves when planning their trip to Peru is, in fact, how to reach Machu Picchu. The two most common ways to get to Machu Picchu are by hiking and by taking the train. Here we highlight the top 3 hiking treks to Machu Picchu for you: 1)  Inca Trail Classic Trek – 4D/3N; 2) Salkantay Classic Trek  – 5D/5N, and 3) Lares Trek – 4D/3N.  These three tours have key differences – read on to learn more!

Want to see a comparison of all your hiking tour options to Machu Picchu?  See trek comparisons here.
Want to learn more about hiking to Machu Picchu? See this handy Guide to Hiking to Machu Picchu.


Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu: 4 day and 2 day Treks

The Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu is by far, the most popular hike option to Machu Picchu. World-renowned for its impressive archaeological sites, this trail is rich in Inca history. The Inca trail is approximately 45 km in length and spans from cloud forest and high mountain passes to warm Andean valleys. Sections of the trail are original Inca stone paths and steep stone steps, which to most travelers feels as if walking in the footsteps of the Incas. Along the Inca Trail, hikers are granted access to some of the most impressive archaeological remains in the region. The most impressive of them all is probably Wiñay Wayna located at 2,680 m.a.s.l. This archaeological site is made up of an intricate system of terraces built seamlessly into the steep hillside and overlooking the Urubamba River. On the final day of the hike, all travelers enter Machu Picchu citadel via the Sun Gate, another highly romanticized highlight of the Inca Trail alone.


  • The Inca Trail grants access to archaeological sites otherwise inaccessible. These sites include Runcu Raccay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, and Wiñay Wayna. During your hike, your Inca trail guide will dedicate enough time to each site to observe and explain its impressive built and historical importance.
  • With only 45 km in length, the Inca Trail is shorter than its counterpart the Salkantay trail. This means your average hiking distance per day is approximately 10 km to 14 km.
  • The Classic Inca Trail Trek is 4 days and 3 nights, with camping every night.
  • There also is a Short (2Day) Inca Trail Hike option for those short on time. It includes 1 day of hiking, and 1 day at Machu Picchu. There are two convenient options: Inca Trail 2 Day Camping, and Inca Trail 2 Day Hotel
  • Nothing beats entering Machu Picchu citadel via the Sun Gate. This unique access is only available when hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The Sun Gate is one of the most prominent structures of Machu Picchu and was used as the last checkpoint to Machu Picchu during the Inca empire. Nowadays, entering the citadel via this access means only one thing: the glorious view of Machu Picchu with the early morning sun rays upon arrival.


  • In an attempt to preserve the trail, its archaeological sites, and the endemic species, the Inca Trail is strictly regulated by the Ministry of Culture. This means that no more than 500 people (non-pandemic times), including travelers and porters, can enter the trail per day. As a result, Inca trail permits have to be booked well in advance and most often sell out within hours for high-season months (April to August).
  • Campsites are pre-determined by the Ministry of Culture and cannot be modified. This applies to all operators and does not allow for private or “one of a kind” camping experiences.
  • Since no cargo animals are allowed on the trail, we rely on the power of our porters – Alpaca´s GREEN MACHINE – for carrying travelers’ gear and campsite equipment. No emergency horses are allowed in the event of extreme fatigue and injuries.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: 5 Days

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is considered to be one of the most beautiful alternative hikes to Machu Picchu, and also one of the most difficult.

The Salkantay Trail is a true nature lover’s dream. This trail passes through one of the most prominent Apus (Sacred Mountain) in the region, Apu Salkantay, and grants access to some of the most mountain scenery to Machu Picchu. Starting at Soraypampa (3,900 m.a.s.l.), the Salkantay trail includes the trail up to the crystalline-blue waters of Humantay Lagoon and its highest point at the Salkantay pass (4,620 m.a.s.l.). As a result of the varying altitudes, hikers pass through several microclimates including high Puna and cloud forest. The flora and fauna are thus ever-changing as a result of the different ecosystems. The total hiking distance of the Salkantay trail is roughly 65 km along trails of varying conditions.


  • The Salkantay trail is not as strictly regulated as the Inca Trail. Thus, travelers can book their Salkantay trail hikes without the pressure of permits selling out. Although the trail is open all year round, the best time to hike this trail is between April to October.
  • The campsites are in spectacular locations and are private. You won’t be camping with many other groups of hikers, like on the Inca Trail. Alpaca Expeditions, we offer private campsites along the trail.  Hikers are amazed at our last campsite near the  Llactapata archaeological site, literally overlooking Machu Picchu!
  • Three nights are not actually camping at all. Hikers enjoy 2 nights of truly unique, comfortable lodging in our Glass Cabins and remarkable Hobbit Houses. The final night you are in a hotel at Aguas Calientes.
  • Horses and muleteers are available for carrying travelers’ gear and campsite equipment. Emergency horses are also available in the event of extreme fatigue and injuries.
  • Although all of our treks include our PORTABLE TOILET service, the Salkantay trail offers a bit more luxury when it comes to facilities. In fact, on our Salkantay trek 5D/5N you will have access to a jacuzzi and hot showers at the Hobbit Houses on day 3 while on the trail!


  • The trail requires travelers to be somewhat fit. It is considered to be a more difficult hike due to its terrain conditions, altitude changes, and total hiking distance each day. Proper acclimating is a must prior to attempting the Salkantay Trail. Plan to spend at least 2 days in Cusco before the trek begins, and 3 is even better.
  • There are not many archaeological sites along the trail, except for Llactapata archaeological site. This can be a deterrent for travelers wishing to have a closer look at Inca history and architecture on their way to Machu Picchu.
  • Since the Salkantay Trail is roughly 65 km, hiking days tend to be longer than those on the Inca Trail and Lares Trek. In fact, some of the longer days will entail hiking a total of 16 km to 22 km. Expect to hike all day, from morning till late afternoon if you are a slow hiker.
  • The entry to Machu Picchu is via the main entrance gates and not the Sun Gate. This means that travelers stay overnight in Aguas Calientes town before visiting Machu Picchu the following morning. Hikers will walk from the last campsite at Llactapata all the way into Aguas Calientes. The last half of the day’s hike is alone the train tracks into town, with the river often in view on the other side of the tracks.
  • Our Salkantay trek includes the bus shuttle from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and vice versa for utmost comfort.  The town is packed with artisan shops, and is on the edge of a gorge. The hotels and restaurants in the town are excellent and offer many budget choices for travelers.

Lares Trail to Machu Picchu

The Lares Trail or sometimes referred to as the ¨Weaver’s Trail,¨ offers a breathtaking combination of hiking along a nature trail and interacting with local villagers. This trail is located along the Lares Valley, and covers a distance of approximately 33 km. It also passes by some of the most colorful and welcoming villages inhabited by modern-day Andean people. Known for its outstanding landscapes, the Lares trail reaches its highest peak at the Condor pass at approximately 4,650 m.a.s.l., and passes through crisp, crystalline lakes of serene beauty.


  • The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu is much easier (hiking-wise) when compared to its counterparts, the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trail. The total hiking distance is roughly 33 km along wide trail, paths. The highest Lares trek elevation is 4,650 m.a.s.l., which is also significantly lower than the highest points found on the Inca and Salkantay trails. This is a really good trek for those who are less fit and/or want an easier trek to Machu Picchu.
  • Aside from its beautiful landscapes, this trail is all about meaningful interactions with local villagers. In fact, during this trail most travelers have the opportunity to interact with locals during their daily activities, partake in the local “llama ceremony” and visit a local elementary school.  The cultural immersion is unique to the Lares Trek.
  • Hiking the Lares Trail also gives you the opportunity to give back. Many travelers bring school supplies, hygiene products and toys to give to the children and their families along the trail. This beautiful act of kindness is only possible on the Lares Trek.


  • Similar to the Salkantay Trek, the Lares Trek does not have many archaeological sites along the way. This trail is solely a nature trail with access to local villages and their inhabitants.
  • The entrance to Machu Picchu is not via the Sun Gate. All travelers will arrive to Aguas Calientes by train the afternoon before their visit to Machu Picchu. Thus, the entry to Machu Picchu Citadel is via its main gates. Again, our Lares trail includes the bus shuttle from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and vice versa for utmost comfort.

Choosing which hike to take to Machu Picchu can be a daunting task. However, there is a trail option for everyone depending on your level of fitness and interest. Regardless of which hike you choose, reaching Machu Picchu will be the most rewarding experience of all. An experience that should not be missed!

Comparison Video


Our goal at Alpaca Expeditions is to create the best experience for all of our clients. We create journeys that are to be remembered for a lifetime. Journeys you can be proud of and can share with everybody around you.

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