Peru is a land of varied geography and climates, making it one of the best countries in the world for hiking. The country offers hikers the opportunity to explore ancient Inca ruins along trails to remote alpine lakes and the opportunity to chat with locals herding their llamas or tending their fields on the way up a mountain pass. There is no better place than Cusco and the Sacred Valley to experience ancient history, local culture, and epic landscapes. Here are our top hikes in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, any of which can be added to your next trip to Peru.
Cusco's Backyard Hike
Duration transportation: 25 min
Hiking distance: 3 mi (5 km)
Head to the Huayllarcocha wetlands above Cusco, where you can observe the abundant birdlife in this bountiful marshland. At the highest point in the hike (12,467 ft), it is all a fairly easy downhill walk towards the city. After about one hour you will come upon Cara del Inca (Inca ́s face), a rock formation that has the uncannily resemblance of a man's face in profile. Take some time to relax at this tranquil spot, before continuing to the Temple of the Moon, an ancient Huaca (ceremonial site), consisting of two caves in the hillside. Inside the cave are altars and mysterious carvings of animals and unidentified objects. The openings to the caves allow moonlight to touch the altar on certain nights of the year. Hike a short way down a grassy path, you'll come to Cusilluchayoc, the Temple of the Monkeys, with ancient stone carvings in the form of monkeys and other animals. Continue descending until arriving at the main plaza of the artist's district of San Blas, where you will meet your vehicle to head to the hotel or onto another excursion.
Unknown Ruins of Cusco
Duration transportation: 40 min
Hiking distance: 4.5 mi (7.2 km)
Your hike starts at Cusco's lively main square, the Plaza de Armas, with a climb up the stone staircase to the colorful artist's district of San Blas. From there, head up for about 20 minutes to Cusilluchayoc, the Temple of the Monkeys, full of ancient carvings of monkeys and other animals. Just a short walk from there you'll find the Temple of the Moon, with its two caves, ceremonial altars, and mysterious carvings, including a giant being resembling an elephant near one of the entrances. From there hike on to the Inkilltambo Bridge (12,087 ft) to see quintessential Inca structures, from stone walls and platforms to agricultural terracing. Take some time to explore the grounds before returning back to bustling Cusco.
Rainbow Mountain & Red Canyon
Duration transportation: 6:30 hours
Hiking distance: 10 mi (16 km)
Duration of the hike: 7 hours
With an early start, drive from Cusco to Pampachiri, to begin our trek along a challenging ascending trail that brings us to an elevation of 15,715 ft. In the refreshing and rarefied mountain air, trek to Vinicunca (16,306 ft), now known as Rainbow Mountain because of the vibrantly hued striations, caused by various layers of mineral sediment. Take some time to enjoy the surrounding panoramic landscape before crossing over the valley to the brilliantly colored Red Canyon. It is aptly named with its scarlet hues that contrast beautifully with the vibrant green of the Andean wetlands sprinkled throughout the terrain. As if the local color wasn't spectacular enough, Apu Ausangate's bright white glacier provides a majestic backdrop to the north. This glacier is one of the three most important Apus (sacred peaks) in Incan culture. You may also spot some herds of llamas and alpacas, perhaps some local villagers, and if you are extremely lucky, elusive golden vicuñas, wild ancestors of the alpaca, that run free in this area. If you're interested in this hike check out our Ausangate Lodge to Lodge Trek
Duration transportation: 6:15 hours
Hiking distance: 2.1 mi (3.3 km)
Duration of the hike: 3:30 hours
This hike is an alternative to the popular Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) hike. It is in the same general area but on a less-traveled route. The hike begins on a scenic stone path that stretches for a little less than 1 mile and takes approximately 45 minutes up to an hour to traverse at approx (15,745 ft). Along the way, you'll pass two viewpoints, each one offering a slightly different view of the entire shimmering Rainbow Mountain Range. The colorful mountains set against the stone forests make for a spectacular, almost surreal scene. Once at the main viewpoint (16,312 ft), you'll be able to view the entire Vilcanota Mountain Range, with the snow-capped, majestic Ausangate glacier rising to the north. From this viewpoint, you have the option of hiking up to the elevated rock forest, past impressive rock formations and panoramic views of the Rainbow Mountains and Vilcanota Mountain Range. The terrain of vibrant colors is formed by striated layers of minerals, which give the land a colorful striped appearance.
Patacancha Valley Hike
Duration transportation: 1 hour
Hiking distance: 4.5 mi (7.2 km)
Drive through the Urubamba Valley past the town of Ollantaytambo to a narrow dirt road leading up the Patacancha Valley until reaching the community of Pallata (12,000 ft). Observe the local Quechua way of life in the high Andes where crops are sown and textiles woven with simple hand tools that have been in use for centuries. A short, steep ascent to the road head brings you to the small archaeological complex at Pumamarca, a former Inca settlement that managed the irrigation system of the Inca terracing below. After visiting this site, begin hiking down. This is a favorite hike of our travelers and is included in our Best of Peru Adventure
Chinchero to Urquillos
Duration transportation from Cusco: 2:30 hours
Hiking distance: 5.7 mi (9.2 km)
This lesser-known hike brings you from Chinchero to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It's both an easy and a picturesque hiking option, with stunning views along the way. The trek is mostly downhill, with many stone steps, on a reconstructed portion of the original Inca Trail. Drive to Chinchero (12,343 ft), a traditional Inca town located between Cusco and the heart of the Sacred Valley. The village of Chinchero is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture and highly skilled traditional weavers. After a visit to its archaeological complex, you'll start your downhill walk over the cobble-stoned Inca Trail, enjoying the scenery as you descend. After about one hour of hiking, stop for some gorgeous views at the Inca Trail vista point. Hiking onward, reach a zigzag portion of the trail and the starting point of the Urquillos Canal. As you descend into the protection of the valley, you will notice how the ecosystem changes and the temperature rises. The hike ends at the Urquillos Bridge (9,465 ft), spanning the rolling Urubamba River, where you will hop in a private vehicle to return to Cusco or onward to the Sacred Valley.
Let us know if you're planning a trip to Peru, we can add any of these hikes to your adventure and customize an itinerary to fit your style and budget of travel.
Your friendly hiking buddy,
Wildland South America Program Director