For those who don’t want to book their tour dates six months in advance for the Inca Trail (especially during high season from June through August, when permits sell out quickly), the Salkantay Trail is a great alternative. Not only is it easier to plan because you don’t need to book in advance, it’s more affordable, less touristy and is often said to have a more authentic feel than the classic Inca Trail. Salkantay is a remote and scenic trek located in the same region as the Inca Trail, and immerses you in a world of glaciers, villages, lakes, tropical valleys, mountains, jungle and more, with postcard-worthy views every step of the way.
Keep a lookout for the snow-capped Salkantay Mountain, an impressive peak at 20,570 feet (6,270 meters). On the fourth day of the trek you come to the cloud forest-covered town of Aguas Calientes, named for its hot thermal baths which you can rest your tired muscles in.
Typically hikers spend the night in a hotel before taking an early morning train to Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highlight of the journey. After hiking the challenging Salkantay Trek for four days, you’ll really feel like you earned the right to be there. Keep in mind you’ll be trekking at high altitudes, so make sure to arrive in Cusco a few days early to acclimatize.