Looking For An Alternative Trail To Machu Picchu?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Has anyone else noticed how it seems like more and more people they know have just traveled to or are planning to visit Machu Picchu? Not that I don’t understand why — it’s indisputably one of the great sights to see on Earth, and pretty much on everyone’s “bucket list” — but usually these types of surges are predated by some sort of cultural event (like being depicted in a movie/book — Angkor Wat and Tomb Raider or Bali and Eat Pray Love). But in this instance, it seems that Machu Picchu’s been the beneficiary of the best kind of advertising: word of mouth.

But I digress. For those of you planning on a visit, what you may not be aware of is the fact that there’s not just one way to get to the 15th-century ruins built for the once mighty Inca emperor Pachacuti.

There’s the so-called “Classic Inca Trail,” a 42-kilometer trek that takes about 3 or 4 days, and which entrance is limited by permits issued by the country. Though most tour operators and visitors end up on this path, there are also many other alternative routes, many of which are described in this helpful guide from Globetrooper, including the Salkantay Trek — a 7-day trek that allows you to avoid the crowds on the main trail — as well as the more adventurous, make-your-quads-work-like-they’ve-never-worked-before, Choquequirao Trek (a trail we explored here at The Expeditioner last summer).

The UK Guardian recently visited another one of these alternative treks, one that snakes through the Lares Valley and which the operators make sure helps give back to the community along its path. It’s also crowd-free, sometimes a rarity there.

We aren’t following the 200 tourists who embark on the classic Inca Trail each day, through the Machu Picchu national park. Instead we are taking a remote 40km trail through the Lares Valley, tailormade by UK adventure specialist Dragoman and local tour operator Andina Travel. Having flown into Cusco, we’ve driven 83km north, via the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán and Pisac, to Quishuarani, where we camped overnight in the school field.

And it’s quiet; there’s not a soul around. Since Dragoman and Andina launched the first organised “alternative” Inca trail through the Lares Valley in 2004, hundreds of other companies have followed suit, offering more than a dozen routes – a handful of which have grown to be almost as popular at the classic trail. But not this one. “With our help, the Quishuarani community established this area as a private reserve two years ago,” Smithy explains. “Most companies try to operate these alternative trails on the cheap. They don’t want to pay the five nuevos soles [around £1.20] per person to pass through, and for extra llamas to carry their rubbish, so we basically have it to ourselves now.”

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