Peru is an incredibly diverse country which has some of the best hiking and trekking routes in the world. In this post, you’ll find everything you need to know about hiking in Peru, from where to find awe-inspiring multi-day Peru treks, top tips for hikes in Peru, what hiking equipment you might need, the best time to go hiking in Peru and vital information for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Get ready to go trekking in Peru!!
Where to go Hiking in Peru
There are four main areas for hiking in Peru, each of which has its own unique landscape and beautiful treks. Most of the hikes are at high altitude thanks to the ‘backbone’ of the Andes Mountain Range which runs through the country. The scenery is always spectacular, and many of the treks are along ancient trails to magnificent Inca ruins, beautiful lakes or snow-capped peaks. It may be challenging, but hiking in Peru is an adventure you won’t soon forget!
READ MORE: The Best Hikes in Peru
Hiking in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley of the Inca is the most popular place to go hiking in Peru, thanks to the various routes for hiking to Machu Picchu, with Cusco as the typical base for almost all hikes in the Sacred Valley. Hiking the Inca Trail is the traditional 4-day trek to Machu Picchu which is the most famous hike in Peru, but not necessarily the most beautiful. The Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Ausangate are all unique routes in the Andes which are alternatives to the traditional Inca trail. Other day hikes in the Sacred Valley include Rainbow Mountain and Inti Punku in Ollantaytambo. For a totally different Inca experience, consider the 4-day Choquequirao trek to virtually empty ruins.
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Hiking the Cordillera Blanca
The Cordillera Blanca is a stunning mountain range in central Peru. Most people who come hiking in the Cordillera Blanca base themselves in Huaraz, which is a pleasant town within easy reach of several magnificent hikes. Huaraz trekking isn’t for the faint-hearted though, the high altitude means even day hikes from Huaraz can be very challenging. However, the scenery makes it worthwhile, and most of the hikes pass through the beautiful Huascaran National Park. Expect beautiful turquoise blue lakes and incredible mountain scenery. Day hikes from Huaraz include the Laguna 69 hike, and multi-day hikes from Huaraz include challenging hikes like the Huayhuash Trek and Mateo Peak.
Hiking Around Arequipa
Arequipa is positioned on Peru’s ‘Ring of Fire’, surrounded by volcanoes. Hiking El Misti volcano or Nevado Chachani is one Peru trek you won’t forget easily. If you prefer canyons to volcanos, Colca Canyon is a popular trek from Arequipa which you can do as part of a Colca Canyon tour or independently, or hike Cotahuasi Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world.
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Hiking in Northern Peru
The northern regions of Peru are the least visited by foreigners, which is a huge bonus in itself. However, since Lonely Planet named Northern Peru as one of the best places to visit in 2019 the cat is out of the bag. Beautiful hikes here include the Trek Gran Vilaya from Chachapoyas to the ancient ruins of Kuelap, a mystical ruined city in the clouds, and an easy hike to Gocta Waterfall.
Tips for Hiking in Peru
If you are new to hiking or aren’t in great shape, then you had better start practising, especially if you are planning to do any of the more strenuous Peru treks. Go on some hikes at home before you come to Peru, and before attempting a multi-day trek, try one of the day hikes in Peru to see how you cope with the conditions and the altitude.
Acclimatize to the Altitude in Peru
Don’t expect to fly straight into Cusco and begin your Machu Picchu hike the following day. The altitude in Cusco and all the hiking regions in Peru is probably higher than you are used to, so even if the hikes don’t seem that strenuous, bear in mind that your body will find it a lot harder to cope with the lower levels of oxygen. Allow at least a couple of days for your body to acclimatize, and don’t do any strenuous exercise during that time. Keep hydrated, eat light meals and avoid smoking and alcohol to help ease the symptoms.
Altitude sickness can be fatal, so make sure you prepare for your hike as much as possible. Once you are acclimatized to the altitude in Cusco or the town where you are, take a day hike before you attempt a longer multi-day trek to see how you cope. Listen to your body, and if you suffer from any of the more serious symptoms of altitude sickness, descend to a lower altitude and seek medical attention immediately.
The Best Time of Year to go Hiking in Peru
You can hike in Peru all year round, but the potential for very heavy rain during the rainy season means that the dry season is much more enjoyable! For this reason, the dry season also is the most popular time to visit Peru, so try to aim for the shoulder season for a high chance of good weather without the crowds.
December to April: December to April is the rainy season, with January and February usually being the wettest months. The Inca Trail is closed in February so avoid February if you plan to hike the Inca Trail (Machu Picchu itself remains open all year round).
May to June: These months are usually warm and dry, with the landscape lush and green following the wet rainy season.
July to November: These months are dry and cooler than May and June. The landscape starts to brown. You might start getting a bit of rain in November, but then again it might stay dry!
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Reserve an Inca Trail Permit
If you have your heart set on hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you will need to reserve your Inca Trail permits several months in advance, as there are a limited number permitted each day. In peak season, Inca Trails permits sell out six months in advance, however, you may be luckier in quieter times of the year. However, don’t worry if you can’t get an Inca Trail permit, there are lots of different ways to trek to Machu Picchu, and they are all incredible. If you book a trek with a travel company, the Inca Trail permit should be included in the package, but double-check if it is or if you need to apply for the permit separately.
Booking Hikes with Peru Trekking Companies
There are lots of different trekking and hiking agencies who can book the hikes and treks for you in organised groups. As you are undertaking potentially dangerous activities at high altitude, you need to know that you will in safe hands. Read all reviews of any company carefully before you choose to book. Cheapest is not necessarily best when it comes to your safety on a mountain. Check exactly what is included in terms of equipment, food, emergency care and guiding. If you need an English-speaking guide, make sure the guide speaks good English and can explain things to you clearly.
Travel Insurance for High Altitude Trekking
Before taking on any hikes or treks in Peru, make sure your travel insurance covers you for high altitude trekking. Some hikes reach over 4000m in altitude, which usually requires special coverage. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. Get a quote now:
What to Pack for Hiking in Peru
Good footwear is essential for any kind of hiking, and the hikes in Peru are no different. Good hiking boots are the most important piece of hiking kit you will own. Make sure any new hiking boots you buy for the treks in Peru are well worn in and comfortable. Warm, quick-drying hiking socks are a must as well. If your feet are suffering, you will suffer more! I bought some Salomon hiking boots for my trip to Peru and South America and I love them. They are light and comfortable while being very sturdy. They are quite bulky but it made me feel safer to have my feet well protected.
Clothing for Hiking
Layers are the key to hiking in Peru, where you can traverse a range of climates in a few days, from 4000m+ mountain tops to humid rainforest. Light, sweat-wicking material will help to keep you dry and comfortable. Convertible trekking trousers with zip-off legs may not be the trendiest clothing in Peru but they were a godsend for me!
Waterproof Jacket and Trousers
No matter what season you visit, if you plan to do a lot of hiking in Peru you will need a decent waterproof coat. Waterproof trousers are also a good idea for multi-day hikes and in high altitude or cold weather, so you don’t get wet and then get cold.
Most overnight treks will have porters to carry camping equipment, but you will have to carry everything you need during the day so a day pack is essential. Make sure the straps are comfortable, and extra straps across the chest or hips will help take the weight off your shoulders. A waterproof cover or dry bags are very useful in case of rain!
Keeping hydrated is vital for any kind of hiking or trekking. Many of the hikes in Peru will pass by or cross water sources, so bringing a water bottle with a built-in filter like the Water2Go bottle or a LifeStraw bottle will save you having to carry all your water the whole way. Check the route before you set out so you know how much to bring.
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As most of the trekking in Peru involves mountains, hiking poles will take a lot of strain off your knees during your ascent and descent, as well as helping with your balance. If you are hiking the Inca Trail, make sure your trekking poles do not have exposed spikes, the ends must be protected with rubber tips. If you don’t have your own hiking poles, you can often buy or rent them from your trekking company or in cities like Cusco.
A sun hat with a brim and protection for your neck is important for sunny weather. At high altitude, the sun is stronger so you can burn easily. A high factor SPF sun cream and sunglasses are essential too. Lip balm is also very useful, try to get one with SPF to protect your lips from the sun, but even a normal Chapstick with help stop your lips getting dry in the high altitude.
In particular, for overnight treks or mountain trekking with snow, you will be glad of warm layers like thermal underwear, woolly hat and gloves. I also brought a light wool scarf and a thin neck warmer which kept the sun and cold wind off my neck.
For multi-day hikes, bring a torch and extra batteries. A head torch is useful for going to the toilet or setting up your tent so you can keep your hands free. A portable power bank charger is also useful for keeping your phone and camera charged up, there is no electricity in the mountains!
As well as the usual deodorant, soap and toothpaste,eco-friendly baby wipes are useful for quick cleaning, or if you can’t wash properly in the morning. Bring hand sanitizer to use after going to the toilet, and you can never have too much toilet paper! Insect repellent is important for lower altitude hikes, and for Machu Picchu as there are lots of bitey black flies there.
Some people may find Diamox helps with altitude sickness, although check with your doctor if they advise you to take it as it can only be prescribed by a doctor. Most people find paracetamol will help if you have a mild headache. Anti-diarrhoea tablets are useful in emergencies, and if you have any problems with your knees or joints consider getting some anti-inflammatory medication or strapping supports to help ease that. I had never had issues before, but after three days of constant hiking up and down mountains, my knees were really struggling!
Even if most trekking tours include snacks, a couple of cereal bars will work wonders to boost your energy. At high altitude your digestive system is sluggish, so light, high energy snacks and meals are best for your body. Coca sweets may also help with a quick dose of sugar and energy. You’ll find plenty of shops in trekking towns where you can stock up before you go.
If you are trekking overnight, you may also need to bring your own tent and camping equipment if it is not provided by your trekking company so check what is included. If you are bringing your own or doing any hikes independently without a guide, make sure you have the right gear by thoroughly researching your route beforehand and asking for recommendations. For the more extreme treks you may need ice-picks and crampons, so be prepared.
REMEMBER: For hiking to Machu Picchu, you will need to bring your passport with you, as you will not be allowed inside Machu Picchu without it. Keep it in a waterproof bag to protect it from the weather.
Have you been hiking in Peru? Any other tips you would add to this? If you have any questions about an upcoming trip to Peru don’t hesitate to ask, leave your comments & questions below.
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