Inca Trail vs. Salkantay Trek and Lares Trek: Choose the Best Route

Choosing between the Inca Trail vs. Salkantay trek or the Lares trek can be a daunting task. Each route offers unique adventure options with distinct landscapes and difficulty levels. Despite such differences, all of these treks guarantee an equally exhilarating experience, leading to the iconic Machu Picchu. Also known as the Lost City of Incas, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous travel destinations in the world. It features extraordinary architectural marvels and the wonders of the ancient Incan civilization. And most interestingly, it features an array of intriguing trails leading up to this historic natural site.

Overlooking Machu Picchu Valley
Overlooking Machu Picchu Valley

Machu Picchu, situated high in the Peruvian Andes, has more than six different trekking routes. Among them, the Inca, Salkantay, and Lares trails are the most famous among trekkers. The Inca trail is known for its historical importance, Salkantay is best known for its diverse landscape, and Lares is famous for cultural immersion. Likewise, each route has unique attractions which we will discuss in detail in further sections. This in-depth comparison between these routes aims to help you choose the best route for your journey to Machu Picchu. 

What are the Alternative Routes for the Machu Picchu Trek?

While hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu is the famously taken route, there are several other alternative routes to reach there. Each route offers something different, making the trek a unique experience. The table below provides a glimpse into the key characteristics of the Inca trail along with the alternative routes. 

RoutesDurationHiking DistanceMaximum AltitudeDifficulty Level
Inca Trail4 days45 km (27.9 miles)4,200 m (13,779 ft)Moderate
Inca Jungle Trek3 days15 km (9 miles)4,316 m (14,160 ft)Easy
Salkantay Trek5 days55 km (34 miles)4,600 m (15,091 ft)Moderate
Lares Trek4 days33 km (20 miles)4,450 m (14,599 ft)Easy
Choquequirao Trek7-9 days65 km (40 miles)4,670 m (15,321 ft)Difficult
Vilcabamba Trek5 days62 km (38 miles)4,500 m (14,763 ft)Difficult
Huchuy Qosqo Trek3 days20 km (12.4 miles)4,230 m (13,877 ft)Easy

The adventurous Machu Picchu trekking options do not end here. Make sure to check out the combined routes such as the hike to Machu Picchu & Rainbow Mountain and the Salkantay Trek & Inca Trail hike and add thrill to your journey.  

Comparison: Salkantay Trek vs. Inca Trail vs. Lares Trek

Both of these trails are one of the sought-after routes to reach Machu Picchu. Although the ultimate destination led by both paths is the same, the distinct paths make the journey a unique experience. The below comparison, Salkantay Trek vs. Inca Trail provides a detailed understanding of these routes, helping you to make the right choice based on your personal preferences.

During the trail of Salkantay Trek
During the trail of Salkantay Trek

1. Highlights

  • Inca Trail: Its highlights are Inca ruins, an ancient stone-paved route built by Incas, a trail passing through the Sun Gate, and a scenic misty cloud forest.
  • Salkantay Trek: It is best known for its diverse landscape and scenic natural beauty. The sight of Salkantay Mountain, Humantay Lake, and Llactapata ruins makes the route admirable.
  • Lares Trek: Unlike the two routes, it offers a deeper cultural experience as the route passes through remote Andean villages. 

2. Trek Distance and Maximum altitude

  • Inca Trail: The trail covers 45 km (27.9 miles) of hiking distance that generally takes 4 days to finish. You will reach the maximum elevation of 4,200 m (13,779 ft).
  • Salkantay Trek: This 5 days trek will take you through a hiking distance of 55 km (34 miles). The maximum altitude you will cover is 4,600 m (15,091 ft).
  • Lares Trek: This is a 4-day-long trek that covers a total hiking distance of 33 km (20 miles). You will reach 4,450 m (14,599 ft) of maximum altitude via Lares Trek.

3. Trek Difficulty

  • Inca Trail: It is considered a moderately difficult trek. It offers a few challenging ascents and descents but at a lower altitude, making it suitable for beginners.
  • Salkantay Trek: This one is the most challenging of all three trails. The high altitude ascent, especially in the first two days, makes it a relatively challenging endeavor.  
  • Lares Trek: Like the Inca Trail, this one is also moderate in difficulty with some steep terrain. Also, the lower trek altitude makes it less demanding.

4. Crowds and Permits

  • Inca Trail: Most crowded route and requires a permit for entry. Pre-booking of the permit is essential during peak season because it gets quickly sold out. Only 500 people are permitted each day.
  • Salkantay Trek: Less crowded than the Inca Trail but requires a permit to enter Machu Picchu. It has no permit limitations and offers more flexibility.
  • Lares Trek: The trek requires no permit, besides the entrance ticket for Machu Picchu. It is generally less crowded than the Inca trail.

5. Camping and accommodation

  • Inca Trail: Camping tents are the primary accommodations as there are no hotels or lodges available on the trekking trail.
  • Salkantay Trek: Offers both camping tents and lodges for accommodation during the trek.
  • Lares Trek: Camping availability along with the opportunities for homestays and lodges accommodations in local villages.

6. Cost

  • Inca Trail: The standard 4-day package can cost you from $800 to $1,500.
  • Salkantay Trek: The cost of this trek generally starts from $500 for a standard 5-day long trek.
  • Lares Trek: The trek cost can range from $600 to $1,000 for a general 4-day trek.

If you wish to grab more information on the trip expenses, check out the Machu Picchu trek cost and plan a perfect trek within your budget constrain.

Comparing Difficulty Levels: Inca Trails vs. Alternative Treks

The journey to Machu Picchu is a rewarding adventure, however, not all routes to this destination are created equal. The differences in various aspects make each route a unique endeavor. One such difference is the difficulty level. Some routes are most challenging while some are relatively easier. While planning your trek to Machu Picchu, determining which route to take as per your trekking ability is a crucial step towards a successful journey. For an elaborative understanding of the challenges of the Inca Trail vs. Salkantay trek and other alternative treks, follow through the pointers below:

Ancient valley hidden in the Inca Trail
Ancient valley hidden in the Inca Trail
  • Inca Trail: Moderate difficulty with well-maintained trekking trails. Offers gradual ascents and descents. Suitable for beginners as well as avid trekkers.
  • Inca Jungle Trek: Easy trek offering a mix of trekking, biking, and additional activities like zip-line and rafting.
  • Salkantay Trek: Moderate to challenging and can be more physically demanding due to high-altitude trekking.
  • Lares Trek: Moderate trek with a beginner-friendly trekking route.
  • Choquequirao Trek: One of the most challenging treks to Machu Picchu with demanding terrains and remote landscapes. Suitable for avid trekkers.
  • Vilcabamba Trek: Difficult trek with rugged terrain and high altitude trek. Suitable for avid trekkers.
  • Huchuy Qosqo Trek: This is an easy route offering a relatively easier trekking experience. Beginner-friendly.

Best Times to Travel for the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks

For any trekking route to Machu Picchu, the best time to travel is generally the same. The dry season, the months from May to September, is considered the optimal time to trek via Inca Trail or any other alternative route. The weather conditions in Peru are largely categorized into dry and wet. The dry season spans from May to September, while the wet season stretches from October to April. 

Traveling during the best time for Inca Trail

Dry months are the most favorable for trekking to Machu Picchu because of the pleasant weather and no risk of heavy rainfall. On the other hand, the wet months present you with the challenges of heavy downpours. Trekking during heavy rainfall season can lead to unexpected accidents due to muddy and slippery paths. Some regions also witness landslides. However, the dry season can be quite crowded with a large number of tourists. Therefore, if you prefer peaceful exploration, you may choose to trek via some easier routes during the off-season. But, for a safe trekking experience, try to avoid the heavy rainfall months, typically between November to March. If you want to learn more, make sure to go through the best time to visit Machu Picchu for a detailed overview.

Trekking Cost Comparison: Inca Trail vs. Alternate Routes

It’s important to consider the financial aspect of the trek before choosing a trekking route for the journey. The cost generally varies depending on the route and the number of days of your trek. It also depends on the services you prefer during the trek. Taking into consideration the standard trekking days and general services, here are the approximate cost ranges for the trek via the Inca Trail vs. Salkantay Trek and other alternative routes.

  1. Inca Trail: $800 to $1,500
  2. Inca Jungle Trek: $1,000 to $1,500
  3. Salkantay Trek: $500 to $800
  4. Lares Trek: $600 to $1,000 
  5. Choquequirao Trek: $400 to $1,500
  6. Vilcabamba Trek: $700 to $1,500
  7. Huchuy Qosqo Trek: $400 to $1,000

Inca Trail vs. Everest Base Camp vs. Kilimanjaro: Comparison

Inca Trail is among the most famous treks in the world, including Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro Trek. Spread across different continents, these three iconic destinations are unique in many ways and differ in several aspects in comparison. Here are some of the highlights of how the Inca Trail is different from EBC and Kilimanjaro Trek. This comparison table represents factors such as geographical factors, climatic variations, landscape, and trekking experiences.

ComparisonInca TrailEverest Base CampKilimanjaro
LocationPeruvian Andes, leading to Machu PicchuNepal, the Base of Mount EverestTanzania, East Africa
LandscapeLush cloud forests, Inca ruins, mountainsDense forests, Sherpa villages, snow-capped mountain peaksRainforests, savannah, alpine desert
HighlightsMachu Picchu, Inca ruins, Andean sceneryMount Everest, glimpses of mountain peaks throughout the trekUhuru Peak, glaciers, volcanic formation, diverse wildlife
Cultural ExperienceInca history, legacy of Inca civilization, encounter local Andean communitiesSherpa culture, Tibetan BuddhismLocal Chagga culture
Altitude4,200 m (13,779 ft)5,545 m (18,193 ft)5,895 m (19,340 ft)
WeatherTypically predictable seasonal patternsUnpredictable mountain weatherDiffers as per the route and can be unpredictable
Altitude ChallengesModerate altitude, gradual ascent with low risk of altitude sicknessHigh altitude, physically demanding ascent with a high risk of altitude sicknessHigh altitude, challenging ascent with a high risk of altitude sickness
Difficulty LevelModerateChallengingChallenging
Trek Duration and distance4 days, 45 km (27.9 miles)16 days, 130 km (80 miles)5 to 9 days, shortest route (37 km/ 23 miles) and longest route (90 kilometers/56 miles)
Best Time to TravelYear-round, most preferred dry months (May to September)Spring (March to May) and fall (October to November)Dry season (January to February and June to October)

These are some of the general comparisons for your understanding. Also, check out Everest Base Camp Trek and Kilimanjaro Climb for more details on individual treks.


1. What should I pack for the Inca Trail or alternative treks?

Some of the basic packing lists for the Inca Trail trek include weather-based clothes, extra layers, trekking shoes, waterproof outer layers, hats, sunglasses, extra pairs of socks, and so on. Make sure to check out the essential packing list for Machu Picchu for detailed information. 

2. What is the best time of the year to trek to Machu Picchu?

The best time to hike Machu Picchu is during the dry season which stretches from May to September. These months offer pleasant weather conditions and ambient landscape for an enjoyable exploration.

3. Is it necessary to book a tour or can I trek independently?

Although you can trek to Machu Picchu independently, it’s advisable to book a tour with a reliable tour operator. If you are not well-informed about the landscape, it’s best to book a tour and trek with a guide. Booking a tour will save you from the hassle of arranging accommodation, transportation, permits, and other travel necessities. Moreover, trekking with assistance will enrich your travel experience, helping you understand the place and local communities better.

4. How do I obtain permits for the Inca Trail, and are they limited?

To obtain a permit for Inca Trail, you must pick an authorized tour operator. As the trail allows a limited entry of only 500 people per day, the permits can get sold out early, especially during peak season (June to August). Therefore, make sure to obtain the permit prior to the trek and secure it as early as possible.

This Inca trail vs. Salkantay trail along with the comparison with other alternative Machu Picchu routes aims to help you make the right choice for an enjoyable trekking experience. If you are still torn about which route to pick or are looking to join our upcoming travel group, make sure to contact us. Make Himalayan Glacier LLC a part of your journey for an unforgettable and hassle-free adventure. We have organized hundreds of successful trips to Machu Picchu backed up by a team of dedicated staff members and well-experienced Machu Picchu expert guides. With our extensive experience, we assure you a safe and exciting trekking experience through the iconic Peruvian Andes. Contact us via WhatsApp (+1-410-307-0007) for more information.

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