13 Unmissable Hikes in Peru

13 Unmissable Hikes in Peru

There are so many breathtaking hikes in Peru that the biggest challenge you’ll face is deciding which ones to do! 

With the Andes rising like a spine through the West of the country, the scenery is incredible and the views are arguably some of the best on the continent. If you plan to pack your hiking boots, then you’ll want to check out the following epic Peru hikes… 

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13 Top Hikes in Peru

1. Laguna 69 

  • Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Maximum elevation: 4,604 m.a.s.l.
Laguna 69
The beautiful Laguna 69.

This is one of Peru’s most famous hikes and for good reason.  When it comes to day hikes, you rarely get views as impressive as this. One of over 200 in Huascarán National Park, Laguna 69 is a dazzling turquoise lake that is overlooked by a mammoth glacier. 

The hike isn’t easy but it’s extremely rewarding. The 6km trip ascends at a rate of 100m every kilometre, eventually depositing you at the dizzying height of 4,604 metres above sea level. With this in mind, you should make sure that you have allowed yourself time to acclimatise to the altitude!

The round trip takes around 6 or 7 hours in total including transport from the city of Huaraz. Tours to Laguna 69 can be booked anywhere in the city, however, the trail is also easy to walk independently. 

The walk to Laguna 69
Laguna 69 is one of Peru’s best day hikes!

2. Santa Cruz Trek 

  • Distance: 50 km (31 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 3-4 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
  • Maximum elevation: 4,750 m.a.s.l.
Santa Cruz trek
Huaraz is the jumping off point for the Santa Cruz trek.

If you want more of a challenge, try the Santa Cruz trek which covers 50km. It doesn’t sound like a lot but the altitude is a killer! The trek to Laguna 69 is a great way to prepare and acclimatise for this trek, as the highest elevation you’ll reach is only a little higher than at Lake 69. 

You’ll be hiking for about 6-8 hours per day, passing a number of the other 200 lakes in the national park and taking in the incredible scenery. The highest point on the trek, the Punta Unión pass, is sure to take your breath away. Provided the weather plays ball, you’ll have great views of the mountains and the opportunity to see some truly amazing South American animals in their natural habitat.

Guided treks are available and can be arranged in Huaraz. They tend to cost around $150USD but can get considerably more expensive. Always make sure you check what is included. The Santa Cruz trek can also be done independently, however, we recommend only attempting this if you are familiar with solo hikes at high altitudes. 

Santa Cruz - Punta Union
Hikers at the Punta Unión pass.

3. Huayhuash trek 

  • Distance: 130 km (81 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 8-13 days
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Maximum elevation: 5,490 m.a.s.l.
Huayhuash, Peru
The Huayhuash trek may well be the best alpine hike in the world!

If you’re a real masochist, there’s the Huayhuash trek. It takes between 8 and 13 days to complete and is regarded by many as the best alpine trek in the world. However, before you get excited about this, make sure that you are prepared. 

The 130km trek takes you up to a mindblowing 5,490 metres above sea level. Extreme altitude can cause many medical issues such as nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, and even hypothermia. Therefore, even experienced hikers should consider doing this trek with a guide. If you want to attempt this trek, you should definitely speak to your doctor about altitude sickness medication before you travel. 

The rewards of tackling the Huayhuash trek are infinite. There are natural hot springs on the route, which offer awesome panoramic views of the Cordillera Huayhuash. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain wildlife too, there are vicuñas, condors, pumas and viscachas (chinchilla/rabbit-like creatures) which inhabit the Cordillera. 

4. The Inca Trail

  • Distance: 40km (25 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 4-5 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 4,215 m.a.s.l.
Inca Trail, Peru
The Inca Trail is one of Peru’s most popular hikes.

Of course, we can’t talk about hiking in Peru without mentioning the world-class Inca Trail! Regarded by many as one of the top treks on the planet, the Camino Inca ends at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, a site of mystery, wonder and intrigue. 

Along the hike, you’ll pass through lush jungles, mountain scenery, magical cloud forests, and of course, spot plenty of Inca ruins along the way! There are several variations of the trail and the classic trek takes between four and five days, depending on which version you decide to do. If you’re short on time, one and two-day treks are also possible.

You’ll need to be prepared when it comes to your fitness level, but also pay attention to the administration requirements. The Inca trail is understandably extremely popular, and a restricted number of tourists are allowed on the trail at one time. You may need to book up to six months in advance to reserve your spot on this hike. 

Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail finishes at Machu Picchu.

5. La Laguna de los Condores

  • Distance: 45km (28 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 3 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 3,700 m.a.s.l.

Until 1996, Laguna de los Condores was completely unknown to the outside world. That all changed when a group of local workers, searching for precious metals, unearthed 219 mummies from the Chachapoyas people in mausoleums around the lake. 

The mummies are now housed in the museum of Leymebamba, the town closest to the lake. This is where the 3-day trek begins, spanning a total of 45km. Aside from the burial sites, the lake is beautiful, especially in the morning when it seems to reflect the mountains on its surface. 

You can’t do the trip solo and must go with a guide. Doing this will make you part of a very exclusive club as most travellers have never even heard of the trek, let alone attempted it. Each year, only 150 hikers complete it! The best place to book a trek is in Chachapoyas

6. Salkantay Trek

  • Distance: 72km (45 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 5 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 4,630 m.a.s.l.
59 Best Mountain Quotes
The Salkantay Trek is popular with travellers heading to Machu Picchu.

Another of the treks to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay trek is an excellent option for those who are looking for incredible natural vistas or who haven’t been organised enough to get their spot on the Inca trail. 

As with the Inca trail, there are many variations on the route, but the ‘classic’ Salkantay trek spans five days. During this time, you’ll pass through lowland jungles, glaciers, and alpine landscapes, before the trail deposits you at Machu Picchu. 

Unlike on the Inca trail, there are no visitor caps on the Salkantay trek, and it’s also fairly easy to reach the trailhead from Cusco. According to National Geographic magazine, it’s one of the top 25 hikes in the world.

Salkantay Pass
For an added dose of adventure, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is a great choice.

7. Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain

  • Distance: 3km (1.8 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 5,000 m.a.s.l.
Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain
No trip to Peru is complete without a trip to one of the rainbow mountains!

Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain, also referred to as Peru’s ‘alternative’ Rainbow Mountain, offers views just as impressive as the more famous Vinicunca. Even though this trek is short in length, the extreme altitude can make it very challenging so don’t underestimate the challenge and keep your coca leaves at the ready!

Once you’ve reached the viewpoint, a valley of red opens up and you’ll see not one but three rainbow mountains. Take in the views of the sprawling landscape or if you’re still craving adventure, hike up to the stone forest for even better views. This short but mighty trek is definitely one of the best day hikes Peru has to offer!

Fancy a more challenging hike? Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain might be more up your street… Check out this comparison article on Palccoyo and Vinicunca to help you choose.

The Mountains of Colour
The Red Valley.

8. Gocta Falls

  • Distance: 11km (6.8 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Maximum elevation: 1,832 m.a.s.l.
Gocta Falls
Gocta Falls stands at 771 metres high!

The jungle town of Chachapoyas is a gateway to a number of hidden gems including the mountaintop citadel of Kuélap and Gocta Falls. The latter is one of South America’s most impressive waterfalls, standing at 771 metres high!

There are a few routes you can take on foot to the waterfall but the most popular trail begins in Cocachimba. It is possible to get here independently but tours are also on offer from Chachapoyas. 

This out and back trail will take you to the base of the falls, where you can marvel at the power of the cascading water. The hike is relatively easy but the climate can be very humid so make sure you stay hydrated. 

Gocta Falls
The mighty Gocta Falls.

9. Ausangate 

  • Distance: 70km (44 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 4-6 days
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Maximum elevation: 5,265 m.a.s.l.
Ausangate trek
The Ausangate trail is tough but worth it! Photo credit: Alexander Christiaens.

One of the highest altitude treks in Peru, this trail is all about the scenery. Spanning between 4-6 days, the Ausangate trek showcases snowy summits, alpine lakes and rainbow mountains. And the best thing? It is one of the least foot-trafficked of all of the trails listed. 

Be under no illusion, the Ausangate trek is tough. The extreme altitude and challenging terrain combine to make this one of the hardest, yet most rewarding hikes on this list. Limited tour companies offer this hike but it is also possible to do it self-guided. 

If you are going to take on the trail independently, make sure your camping gear is up to scratch. The temperatures in the mountains can drop below freezing. 

10. Humantay Lake

  • Distance: 3km (1.8 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 4,200 m.a.s.l.
Humantay Lake hike
Humantay Lake is often done as a day trip from Cusco.

When it comes to the effort-reward ratio, the hike to Humantay Lake sits at the top of the list. This short trek can be challenging due to the altitude but the expansive scenery of the lake offers one of the best vistas you’ll see anywhere in Peru. 

Brilliant turquoise waters and sparkling glaciers await you at this sacred lake which is as magical as it is mysterious. Traditionally, travellers will bring an offering to Apu (the spirit of the mountain) as this is a revered site. As tempting as it is, this also means you should not swim in the lake.   

This hike is often included as an additional extra of the Salkantay trek so bear this in mind if the Salkantay is included in your Peru itinerary. Alternatively, Humantay Lake can be done as a day trip from Cusco.

Cairn at Laguna Humantay
Just look at the colour of that water!

11. Salinas Salt Lagoon

  • Distance: 4km (2.5 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 4,300 m.a.s.l.
Salinas Salt Lagon, Peru
The wilderness of Salinas Salt Lagoon outside Arequipa, Peru.

Salinas Salt Lagoon is an isolated salt lake that offers some of Peru’s most wild scenery. Situated just outside of Arequipa, it is the perfect escape from the city. There is no official trail here (yet!) but most visitors choose to hike around the lake’s perimeter. There are also many hikes nearby that pass through small towns. 

Wildlife lovers will adore the chance to spot vicuñas, flamingos and Andean geese in their natural habitat, whilst at the same time taking in the wilderness of this little-visited spot. 

The area is notoriously difficult to get to independently as it is not serviced by public transport. The roads are also narrow and very bumpy – it is best to make the journey in a 4×4 if you can!

Vicuna at Salinas Salt Lagoon
It is not unusual to spot vicuñas around Salinas Salt Lagoon.

12. Colca Canyon

  • Distance: 20km (12 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 3 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum elevation: 3,300 m.a.s.l.
Colca Canyon
Keep an eye out for a condor flying overhead!

When you consider that Colca Canyon is the world’s second deepest canyon, it is no wonder that so many travellers flock here. This spot is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the mighty condor and is also one of the best trekking destinations in the country. 

There are several hikes on offer around Colca Canyon, with everything from day trips to multi-day trekking tours. We recommend the Cabanaconde – San Juan de Chuccho – Sangalle Oasis – Cabanaconde three day route. It is challenging whilst not being too hard and offers incredible views. Though to be honest, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad hike in this area.!

 It is easy to visit Colca Canyon independently if that is your jam but many travellers opt for a tour as they are cheap and accessible. 

Colca Canyon hiking
The scenery around Colca Canyon is breathtaking.

13. Choquequirao

  • Distance: 64km (40 miles)
  • Estimated duration: 4 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult 
  • Maximum elevation: 4,660 m.a.s.l.

Much like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is an ancient Inca ruin. Nestled in dense cloud forest, this secluded Inca city sees far fewer tourists than its competition but offers arguably an even better experience.

Choquequirao is remarkably in-tact and astonishingly, only 40% of the site has been excavated so there are even more secrets lying in wait! At present, Choquequirao sees less than a dozen visitors every day, although this is likely to change with the introduction of a cable car. 

The return trek to the site of Choquequirao tends to take around 4 days but if you plan to head all the way to Machu Picchu, you will need to budget around 8 days to complete this hike. 

Hiking in Peru – FAQs

How can I acclimatise to the altitude?

When hiking in the mountains of Peru, you should take a few precautions to deal with altitude. Spend a few days in a high altitude city or town (such as Cusco or Arequipa) acclimatising before tackling any big hikes, and consider some less strenuous day treks at 3,000-3,500m altitude to get you started. 

Peru hiking
A group of backpackers hiking on the Santa Cruz trek.

When on the trek, do not overexert yourself. Altitude sickness can make you really sick. Take plenty of water, sugary snacks and fruit, and coca leaves. Coca leaves are from the cocaine plant, but they are not a drug, and they’re perfectly safe. Chewing them helps with altitude sickness. And if you feel like you need a rest, take one. 

Should I take a tour or hike independently?

That’s down to you and your level of experience, however, tours are generally safer as you’ll be with a guide. Plus, if you’re a solo traveller, treks are a great way to meet lots of new people!

While it may be tempting to do everything on a shoestring, Peru is one of the cheapest countries in South America and you don’t need to splash a huge amount of money to get a great experience. In many instances, a guided trek will often cost the same as going it alone!

When is the best time to trek in Peru?

The best time to trek here is between May and September.

Steps up Huayna Picchu
Favourable hiking conditions make a good hike great!

What will I need to bring?

Take plenty of warm clothing and don’t forget to layer up. You will need a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes. If you are camping, make sure you invest in a good sleeping bag as temperatures plunge below zero at night.

What travel insurance do I need?

If you are planning to take on some of these hikes, you will need to make sure that you are covered by travel insurance. Many insurers will not automatically cover you for hikes at altitudes above 3,000 metres so you will need to check your policy details. It is usually possible to get add-ons to cover these kinds of hikes. We have used both World Nomads and SafetyWing in the past for our South American adventures, which are consistent favourites with our community.

What are your favourite hikes in Peru? Let us know in the comments or our South America Backpacker Facebook community!

Header photo credit: Ernestas Ziutelis.

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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