Peru is an incredibly diverse country which has some of the best hiking and trekking routes in the world. Definitely an adventure travel capital! The cities and coastline of Peru offer some great experiences and cultural insights, but it’s out trekking through more remote places where you will really fall in love with Peru, have more meaningful interactions, and gain a deeper insight into how its history has been shaped.
On my recent Peru trip I spent 8 days hiking in Peru with G Adventures. I did quite a bit of preparation in advance and learned more lessons along the way on this epic adventure trip. Based on this, I'm sharing some essential information about hiking in Peru, from where to find awe-inspiring multi-day Peru treks, 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. Hopefully this will make your life easier. Get ready for hiking in Peru!!!
You can choose to hike in Peru all year round. The potential for very heavy rain during the rainy season however, means that the dry season is much more enjoyable! Of course the dry season is also the most popular time to visit Peru. Shoulder season is your best bet with a high chance of good weather without the crowds. I traveled mid-September and recommend that.
December to April: This is the rainy season with January and February typically being the wettest months. The Inca Trail is closed in February so avoid February if you hope to hike the Inca Trail
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 (but is still stunning!). It could go either way in November as far as rain.
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. The majority of the hikes are at high altitude as the Andes Mountain Range which runs through the country. The Sacred Valley of the Inca is the most popular place to go hiking in Peru, because of the various routes for hiking to Machu Picchu, with Cusco as the typical base for almost all hikes in the Sacred Valley. The Cordillera Blanca is a stunning mountain range in central Peru. Most people who come hiking here 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 makes even day hikes quite challenging. There is also Arequipa, positioned in Peru’s ‘Ring of Fire’, surrounded by volcanoes. Hiking El Misti volcano or Nevado Chachani is one Peru trek you won’t forget easily. Most though head to Colca Canyon. The northern regions of Peru are the least visited by foreigners, which is a huge bonus in itself. And you can expect to find both ruins and spectacular scenery here.
Reserve an Inca Trail Permit
If hiking the Inca Tail to Machu Picchu is your dream, then you should do it. 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. What if you can't get a permit? Don't worry, there are lots of different ways to trek to Machu Picchu, and they are all fantastic. In fact I recommend alternate routes if you would prefer more solitude. If you book a trek with a travel company, the Inca Trail permit should be included in the package, but make sure to double check.
Acclimating to the Altitude in Peru
It is a terrible idea to fly into Cusco and begin your hike the next day. The altitude here, and in all the hiking regions of Peru, is most likely higher than you are used. This means that even if the hike doesn't seem strenuous, your body will find it a lot harder to deal with the lower levels of oxygen. You optimally want to allow at least a couple days for your body to acclimatize. We chose to fly to Arequipa, spend a couple days there and then took the overnight bus to Cusco, as part of our strategy to avoid altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be fatal so you want to prepare for your hike as much as possible.
Other things you will want to prioritize: stay hydrated, eat light meals, avoid smoking and alcohol. As an extra precaution, you can choose to see a doctor for a prescription for Diamox. I also chose to do this and take it preventatively. And also be sure to pack your trusted painkillers for any headaches you may get.
Also know that when hiking at higher altitude you need to make certain that your travel insurance will cover you for this activity. Many basic (i.e. cheap) policies will specifically exclude any coverage for hiking above 2,500m-3,000m and you will need to either pay extra or find a provider which includes this. You can find out more information about insurance for adventure travel HERE.
Organized Group Tours vs Independent Hikes
So, many of the best hikes in Peru can be done independently for you DIYers out there. It will require some research and planning for sure. Personally, when I'm hiking in a foreign country, it gives me peace of mind to be led by a guide. If you haven't planned ahead, you shouldn't have any issues finding the right tour for you at any of the main hiking hubs in Peru. I do recommend planning ahead so you can adequately research the various companies and options available. Particularly when it comes to safety, you want to research the company before booking.
If your big ole heart is set on conquering the Inca Trail, it’s important to know that you can only do the hike with an approved tour company and it’s necessary to book months in advance (especially if hiking in Peru’s high season in June - September).
One of the most important things of course is your footwear. Though many recommend waterproof hiking boots, they are not my preference and I did just fine in hiking shoes. Either way, make sure to wear them in properly before you head out. Your other two best friends will be your hiking poles and your bug spray. Do NOT underestimate how much of the latter you will need or you will be sorry. The bugs are vicious! For clothing you want to think layers, and include at least a waterproof jacket. Some warm clothes for the evening will be needed. Warm, quick-drying socks are also vital. A headlamp, water bottles, snacks are other things to include. If you are low on space or weight in your luggage, know that you can rent or buy the rest of the hiking and camping gear easily there.
Poles or no Poles?
As I said above, your walking poles will be your new best friend. I have never used them before, but a tip from a friend motivated me to borrow and pack my own poles. Consider me a convert! Though I did see a few people on the trail without poles, the reality is they do make your hiking life SO much easier. I had anticipated them being useful on the descents, but I found them equally helpful when going up. Others in my group hadn't used poles before and were also converts.
Multi-day Hikes vs Day Hikes
If you don’t have the time or it's just not on your radar to take one of Peru’s famous multi-day treks (which last from 4-8 days and involve camping or basic accommodation), know that you still have choices. A multitude of excellent, accessible, and affordable day-trip hikes are available in both the north and south of the country. If you’ve got a decent level of fitness, have acclimatised to the altitude and have a good sense of adventure, then very few of the day-trip hikes in Peru should cause you any issues. You may find yourself short of breath and tired, but you'll find them manageable.
If you have your heart set on a longer trek, then you will want to train in advance. For some tips on how to do so, head HERE. The hardcore hikes, like Choquequirao which I did, are indeed challenging. They will be difficult for an inexperienced or out-of-shape hiker. Be realistic about where you're at, as you don't want to get in over your head. After a point on the trail there is no going back.
Sustainable Travel Considerations
Appreciate the privilege of being on the trails of Peru. It shouldn't have to be said, but still needs to be unfortunately...leave no trace. Giving back along the way and spending money on handicrafts and supplies in local communities increases the benefits of tourism many times over. Stay away from unsustainable woods and beware of frauds when it comes to Alpaca goods. To minimize having to buy plastic bottles,
*Most likely you will be using the services of a porter to carry supplies such as food, sleeping bags, tents, and so on, on your trek. While porters' rights are now protected by law in Peru, many companies find ways to subvert the law and exploit the locals. Ensure the tour company you book with pays fair wages*
Have a Positive Attitude
As always, the attitude you bring with you is super important to being successful in your hiking endeavors in Peru, or anywhere. Guaranteed there will be moments on a steep incline, or when you head around the corner of the switchback only to see another...and another, where you curse yourself for thinking it was a good idea. But that's all part of the adventure. We need to push our limits. And despite any blisters, or a gazillion bug bites, or not wanting to sleep in a tent another night, it is all worth it in the end!
If you're reading this and worrying that you're not experienced enough, or fit enough...don't immediately rule out the idea of hiking in Peru. Manage your mindset and start training right away! Travel is often an opportunity for us to make changes in our lives, so why not start now. Hiking is addictive and being out in nature is good for our souls.
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