The Four-Day Inca Trail Hike
This hike, which threads two 4,000-meter passes on the way from the high Andes to the cloud forest, has become a signature experience for arriving at Machu Picchu. The first and third days contain moderate hikes, while the second day is the toughest and the fourth day is a short hike to Machu Picchu followed by the full ruins tour.
The Two-Day Inca Trail Hike
If camping is not for you, or you are short on time, try the abbreviated version of the Inca Tail. Trekkers start farther down the trail in order to take in the final set of spectacular ruins at Wiñay Wayna and enter Machu Picchu at dawn and through the Sun Gate. You spend your first day hiking the Inca Trail and seeing ruins and your first night sleeping in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. The second day is spent exploring Machu Picchu.
The Salcantay Five-Day Trek
While the trek past sacred Nevado Salcantay, a 6,000-meter-plus peak, does not contain the stone paths and ruins of the Inca Trail, this five-day trek offers a wilderness experience and spectacular views of the surrounding snow-covered peaks. It’s also far less expensive than the Inca Trail, and trekkers are free to trek independently (unlike on the Inca Trail, where all hikers must sign up with a licensed agency). The trek is longer and higher than the Inca Trail, but new sustainable eco-lodges have been built along the Salcantay route to allow trekkers to travel fast and light and stay in relative comfort.
Inca Jungle Trail
This multi-activity option is a good choice for backpackers on a budget. What it lacks in Inca ruins, it makes up for with wonderful cloud forest scenery. The route enters Machu Picchu from the high mountains and cloud forests on its downstream side. Participants are first transported to Abra Málaga (4,300 meters), a high pass into the jungle, for a stunning mountain bike descent from the alpine zone to lush cloud forest nearly 3,000 meters below. From here, trekkers camp and then head out the second day on a cloud forest trek to Santa Teresa, a riverside village. On the third day, hikers head up the Río Urubamba to Aguas Calientes.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Machu Picchu.