More than Machu Picchu – Alternative Inca trails to try in Peru

While Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail in Peru are on everyone’s bucket list, our guest author Jonathan from Go Andes discovered alternative trails that are  just as stunning and rewarding, as well as far less crowded.

Peru is one of those destinations that is synonymous with travel, and I have always had a passion for a travel, and a desire to travel to Peru. This started when I was a young boy and I had been stupefied by a TV documentary showing the wonder of Machu Picchu. At the time, around about 13 years of age, I don’t think I could admit that I knew where Machu Picchu was, only that it was some mystical ruin in some faraway place!

Fast forward 15 years or so, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Peru, so I jumped at the chance and included plans to visit Machu Picchu during the trip by trekking on the infamous Inca Trail.

Machu Picchu on the Inca trail in Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

Machu Picchu on the Inca trail in Peru

A life changing challenge

The Inca Trail did live up to all expectations: it somehow managed to be amazing and life changing, whilst simultaneously being very tough-going and painful all at the same time! The Inca Trail starts at Ollantaytambo, and is a 4 day trek through rolling hills, that eventually ends up at Machu Picchu early on the morning of the 4th day, just in time to watch the sun rise over the splendid ruin – undoubtedly the best way to experience the site. What a lot of people don’t know (I certainly didn’t, at least before doing the trek) is that the route of the Inca Trail allows you to visit 3 or 4 other impressive Inca ruins that are situated along the route of the trek that can only be visited by doing the trek itself. This alone makes the Inca Trail a very viable option.

Walking the Inca trail in Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

Walking the Inca trail in Peru

Of course, Machu Picchu is a world famous UNESCO Heritage Site, and the most visited tourist destination in South America, which inevitably means that it is very busy. The Inca Trail is also one of the most famous treks on the planet, and one of the problems I had with the trek was simply the sheer number of people that were doing the walk with me. Every day, except February when the trail is closed for repairs, 500 people start the trek, which means there are up to 2000 people per day at some point of the trail. Although the trail was amazing, and an experience I would do again and recommend to others, after I completed the trial I started to wish that I had had the experience “to myself” a little more, to experience trekking in Peru for real, with a little more isolation. I started to research other options for trekking either to Machu Picchu or in and around Cusco and Ollantaytambo in particular.

A few years after completing the Inca Trail I returned to Peru with the aim of doing some more trekking, and I eventually chose to do two of the “alternative” treks to Machu Picchu: the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. I was successful in finding very good alternative options to the Inca Trail, so I want to share my findings with you here.

Horses graze in the Andes, Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

Horses graze in the Andes, Peru

More solitary treks to try

Both the Lares and the Salkantay treks start in Cusco, which is the best place in the area to get a good hotel (and a good nights sleep!) ahead of a hard trek at altitude. I did the Lares trek first and immediately realised that this was exactly what was missing from my Inca Trail experience – there was only a small group of us doing the trek (around 8, including guide and porter) and we hardly saw any other people for the whole of the trip! The route took us through rolling valleys and slowly increased in altitude towards some frightening mountain peaks in the distance.

Inca man in Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

Inca man in Peru

The first night was the best, as the trek stops near an traditional village, so if you want you can head into the village to see a real Andean indigenous community, meet them, try and talk to them, and learn a little about where they live, what they farm, what they wear – I found the whole experience empowering and felt very privileged to have met these wonderful people. The hardest part of the trek was trying to get a good nights sleep, as the campsites on both the first and second nights were at altitude (around 3800 – 4000m), but the views made up for the lack of sleep.

Camping in the Andes, Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

Camping in the Andes, Peru

The Salkantay Trek is a little longer, with 4 full days of trekking against 3 days for the Lares option, and, although longer, I actually found this trek a little easier and more enjoyable. With the exception of the first night of camping, which is at a high altitude of around 3800m, the remaining nights were all lower altitude so I found it easier to sleep which made the trekking experience a whole load more enjoyable. The best thing about the Salkantay trek is the outstanding views along the route – this trek heads deeper into the Vilcabamba mountain range and has some stunning views of snow-capped mountains stretching into the sky over 6000m high (including the famous Mount Salkantay). Although we didn’t get the opportunity to stop at a village for some time and meet people, as I had done on the Lares trek, this route does pass many farming communities and indigenous people so offers opportunities to see how traditional people still live and work in this challenging environment. Probably the best thing about the trip was also being able to visit the Inca ruin of Llactapata on day 4, which I stunning both from afar and close-up.

The inca site of Llactapata in Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

The Inca ruin of Llactapata in Peru

Although there is only one official “Inca Trail”, what I discovered through my love of Peru is that there are more options available. If you want to tick the “Inca Trail” off your travel check-list, then clearly you will need to do the official trek (so make sure when you book that you are on the Camino Inca – as some Peruvian trekking agencies have been known to mislead tourists with alternative treks), but if you only want to experience trekking in Peru but aren’t bothered about the route and want to visit Machu Picchu but don’t care about the official trek, then one of these options is a good idea as it will give you more of an education on the traditional way of life in this part of the world, has similar or arguably better scenery, and will avoid the crowds of people that start the Inca Trail every day.

A view of the Andes in Peru Photo: Jonathan Lillie

A view of the Andes in Peru

Next on my list of treks…? The trek to Choquequirao, the Inca ruin that some people think rivals Machu Picchu – I can’t wait!

My thanks for this guest article to Jonathan who works for the travel company Go Andes. Jonathan has travelled extensively, and lived and travelled throughout most of Peru in 2008 and 2009. Since returning back to normality Jonathan likes nothing more than a bowl of ceviche and a bottle of Peruvian beer to remind him of his travelling days!

More trekking tales

How to choose the perfect hiking boots for the Tour de Mont Blanc (and other mountain trails)
My teenage daughter’s trek in Nepal
South America Backpacking with Indie Travel Podcast

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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Finding Paradise in Ilha Grande, Brazil

In this Guest post, Neil Robertson explores the remote island of Ilha Grande in Brazil, discovering breath-taking beaches, rainforest trails, the deserted ruins of a prison and takes a hike up to the island’s highest peak.

I think that every traveller has their own definition of paradise in mind. If you have ever been to Ilha Grande in Brazil, you might just agree with me when I say that I think I’ve found mine.

I visited the island after a hectic week in Rio de Janeiro, which was an incredible experience in itself but left me desperately yearning an escape from the clamour and din of such an immense metropolis. A three hour trip down the coast and I found exactly what I was looking for.

Looking down over Abraao, Ilha Grande in Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Looking down over Abraao, Ilha Grande in Brazil

Abraao, a quaint coastal village

A bus and a boat later and we arrived at Ilha Grande’s village of Abraao, the main hub (as in a handful of dirt tracks) of what is a surprisingly remote island. Although very much on the rapidly developing Brazilian tourist trail, a short walk of a few minutes in any direction will bring you into solitude and, outside of Abraao, I felt very much alone with nature on the island. Only around 5000 inhabitants and 20 small villages are spread over a huge area. The island is a protected national park and there are barriers to development, including the absence of any roads and cars (officially at least).

Abraao. The parrot shaped rock on the right is the Pico do Papagaeo Photo: Neil Robertson

Abraao. The parrot shaped rock on the right is the Pico do Papagaeo

The image of island tranquillity develops with the beaches, some of the very best I have ever seen. There are well over 100 white sand beaches on the island and almost all are fantastically quiet. Lopes Mendes is the most famous and is absolutely stunning, but through a combination of boat trips from Abraao and some rainforest hiking, you can find breath-taking beaches all to yourself. Depending on the time of year, you may even be joined by passing Southern Right Whales, I’m sure you would not mind their intrusion. Even at night, I remember drifting off to sleep and hearing the waves lapping outside, as much of the available accommodation is right by the shore.

Accommodation by the beach on Ilha Grande in Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Accommodation by the beach on Ilha Grande in Brazil

Take a guided trek to Pico de Papagio

The most memorable day of my stay on the island was spent hiking through the rainforest to the highest peak, Pico do Papagaio, a trek that took most of the day and required the assistance of Joao, a fantastic local guide. There are no paths, just jungle floor and you can no doubt imagine my face when Joao helpfully assures me that snakes are rarely seen, and very rarely are they killers.

Atop the Pico do Papagaeo Photo: Neil Robertson

Atop the Pico do Papagaeo, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Thanks for that Joao, that will do the phobia the world of good! Joao also passes on his scornful amusement when telling us how tourists regularly get lost on hikes (sometimes, terrifyingly, for several days on end), failing to gauge just how vast this green haven is. Imagine being lost in the rainforest, with only the circling snakes and blood-chilling cry of the howler monkeys to keep you company as the sun goes down…..

Monkey in the rainforest, Ilha Grande, Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Monkey in the rainforest, Ilha Grande, Brazil

A notorious history

One of my favourite things about travel is learning about the history of the places I visit. ‘Colourful’ would be the word to describe Ilha Grande’s past I think. Piracy, slave trafficking, smuggling, you name it, it has all passed through here over the centuries. The story I found most enthralling is the history of the notorious Ilha Grande prison. Originally built as a penal colony for the country’s political prisoners in the 1930s, it soon became home to the very worst of Brazil’s offenders. A Brazilian Alcatraz if you like. In a story fit for any Hollywood movie, one of the residents, a legendary drug baron referred to as Escadinha (“The Stepladder”) actually escaped by daring helicopter rescue on New Year’s Eve 1985. While wondering if anyone has the movie rights, you can still visit the prison ruins (it was finally closed in 1994 and yes, they literally blew it up to avoid any ambiguity) to this day on a walking day trip from Abraao.

One of the unmanned docking points around the island Photo: Neil Robertson

One of the unmanned docking points around Ilha Grande, Brazil

Fresh seafood and produce are delectable

Such exertions and learning about the island’s enthralling past works up an appetite and, with fishing so essential to the local economy, the fresh produce is a joy to behold. Most memorable is a melt-in-the-mouth salmon cooked in a passion fruit sauce, with a delectable fresh caipirinha on hand. Needless to say, as hard as I’ve tried in the kitchen since, I have not been able to replicate the experience.

Lopes Mendes beach Photo: Neil Robertson

Lopes Mendes beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Maybe it’s my being British that makes me feel so comfortable and familiar on an island, I don’t know, but there is something very special about being somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Ilha Grande was an incredible experience. As a lover of hillwalking, nature (except snakes), remote but beautiful beaches, some thrilling historical tales and simply delicious seafood, this, for me, is paradise.

NeilMy thanks for this Guest article to Neil Robertson, an avid traveller who in recent years has lived and worked in Italy, China and Belgium. Loving nothing more than to experience different cultures and ways of life, Neil is always planning the next trip. Football, 80s rock and good food are never far from his mind wherever in the world he finds himself. Neil is now primarily based back in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland and is a founder of Locomotion Travel.

More tales from remote locations:

A beach paradise at Cabo Polonio and Valizas in Uruguay
Swimming the turquoise blue at Porto Limnionas – Zakynthos
A snowy break at Laswern Fawr holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home and the original article is here.

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

Be adventurous in Argentina – six of the best regions to explore

When it comes to appreciating the great outdoors, there are a multitude of destinations around the world which fit the bill, however, nowhere does it in quite as much style as Argentina. There’s a huge amount to see in this vast country, from waterfalls to wildlife, city streets to gaucho ranches, wine estates to stunning beaches. Here’s a low-down on the very best places for adventure in Argentina.

Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina Photo: Matito of Flickr

Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina

Patagonia

For some adventurous souls, Argentina’s southern state of Patagonia is the jumping off point for cruises to Antarctica. But there’s a lot more to this beautiful wilderness. Try heading down to the Los Glaciares National Park – filled with lakes, mountains and quaint local townships – for great treks and ice-walking. Crampon your way up the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno glacier and watch as huge blocks of ice falls away into the ocean as the glacier slowly advances into the water.

The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina Photo: Berlotti of Flickr

The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

The Valdes Peninsula

It’s all about the wildlife in the Valdes Peninsula. Go offshore for some staggering whale-watching and feel the thrill as a humpback whale swims beneath your boat. A tour will also introduce you to some of the other residents of the area: orcas, dolphins, penguins, elephant seals and sea lions.

Street Cafes in Mendoza, Argentina Photo: betta design of Flickr

Street Cafes in Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza

The kind of adventure on offer in Argentina is more of a gastronomic kind. Indulge in tours of the various wineries and dine at the indulgent in-house cafes and restaurants. Back in town, you can wander through the colonial plazas and leafy streets for a relaxing few days of fun.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina Photo: Malingering of Flickr

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls is a sight to behold. From the Argentinian side of the falls you can thread your way above, below and through the waters and surrounding jungle on brilliantly designed wooden walkways. Because of this, it is sometimes said that ‘from the Brazilian side you see the falls, and from the Argentinian side you live them’. For a real taste of adventure, take a motorboat up to the very edge of the falling water – be deafened and drenched by the longest stretch of cascading water in the world!

Riding in the hills near Cordoba, Argentina Photo: longhorndave of Flickr

Riding in the hills near Cordoba, Argentina

Cordoba

If you’re a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ kinda gal or guy, you might want to try your hand at dove shooting. Cordoba – Argentina’s second largest city – is one of the best places in the world for this sport. Stay on a ranch for the ultimate experiences and trek, cycle or horse-ride up into the surrounding hills for magnificent views and a lungful of fresh air.

San Carlos de Bariloche Photo: Miradas.com.br of Flickr

San Carlos de Bariloche

The Lake District

From the city of Bariloche travelers can explore the snow-capped Andes and lakes of this stunning part of the country. There’s plenty of hiking, fishing, golf and horse riding on offer in the area, as well as some glorious spas and luxury hotels. Particularly adventurous types might want to attempt the lake crossing from Bariloche across into Chile – but only if you don’t mind leaving Argentina behind!

This article was brought to you by the luxury travel experts at Exsus, specialists in arranging luxury, bespoke holidays in South and Central America as well as other adventurous destinations around the world.

Photo credits: Perito Moreno by Matito, Peninsula Valdes by Berlotti, Peatonal by betta design, Iguazu Falls by Malingering, Dos Lunas Estancia by longhorndave, and San Carlos de Bariloche by Miradas.com.br.

More tales from South America

South America Backpacking with Indie Travel Podcast
Relax and enjoy the cool lifestyle of Bahia in Brazil
Historic cities, natural beauty and a warm welcome in Colombia

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

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