Photo Essay: What I Did Instead of Hiking the Inca Trail

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I’ve never had any ambition to hike the Inca Trail.  There’s little solitude throughout the journey and too much downtime at camp each night, so even though I like hiking and camping, it didn’t make sense to add the iconic trek to my itinerary.  No doubt it’s beautiful, but isn’t all of the Sacred Valley?

ollantaytambo sacred valley scenery (things to do instead of hiking the inca trail)
Overlooking the Sacred Valley.

Plus, let’s be real: most travelers have a finite amount of time and money for their trip.  Given that the Inca Trail takes four days — not including acclimating to the altitude — it wasn’t realistic to squeeze it (or alternative treks) into our trip anyway.

So even though up to 500 hikers per day make their way to Machu Picchu, here are a few things to do instead of hiking the Inca Trail.

Exploring the Ollantaytambo Ruins

ollantaytambo ruins (things to instead of hiking the inca trail)
Hide and seek at Ollantaytambo

These mid-fifteenth century ruins rise high from the town of Ollantaytambo, marking one of the few victories where the Incans beat the Spanish conquistadores in a major battle.

Hint: Tour buses from Cusco all arrive at the ruins in the afternoon, dumping hundreds of visitors in Ollantaytambo.  You’ll have the place to yourself before 8:30am, but don’t stress too much about the exact time of your visit as long as it’s before lunch.

Make a Local Delicacy

cooking class (things to do instead of hiking the inca trail)
Homemade aji de gallina. Yum!

There are a half dozen cooking schools in the area, and Cusco Culinary School wasn’t one of the best I’ve visited worldwide, but I still had a great time learning a few Peruvian recipes.

Eat a Local Delicacy

cuy (things to do other than hiking the inca trail)
Half a cuy, which I further split in half to share. It’s tough, stringy, and mentally hard to overcome.

I didn’t try cuy (guinea pig) when I went to the Andean region of Ecuador and ever since I semi-regretted it.  So, I split a plate in Peru — only to eat about two bites before feeling like I was going to vomit.  They’re such sweet creatures!  Never again.

The Agricultural Terraces of Moray

moray terraces (things to do instead of hiking the inca trail)
The terraces at Moray. Not a must-do.

You’ll see agricultural terraces built into the mountains throughout the Sacred Valley, but in Moray, the circular terraces take it a step further.  The Incans were able to grow a wide variety of produce here, some areas getting more sunshine and rain due to whether the mountains sheltered that part of the circle of not.  Brilliant.

Salineras de Maras: the Salt Mines

salineras de maras - brown muddy pools - sacred valley peru
Up close and personal at the Salineras de Maras

I’m a sucker for interesting landscapes, and I love how the still-in-use salt mines are visually stunning (I hear they’re even prettier in the dry season).  This is a quick stop, but one that’s very unique to other parts of the world and a nice change in pace from Peru’s historical attractions.

Shop Like the Locals

san pedro market cusco peru (things to do other than hiking the inca trail)
Need any chia seeds?

The San Pedro market in Cusco is a massive building filled with everything from freshly butchered meats to prepared meals.  You should peak in to check out all the products on offer and also to pick up a few things to take home.  Superfoods like quinoa and kiwicha are 10% of the cost at home.

Making Chocolate Truffles

chocomuseo (things to do other than hiking the inca trail peru)
Dark chocolate coated milk chocolate & Bailey’s truffles. Mmm…

What does chocolate have to do with Cusco and the Sacred Valley?  Absolutely nothing — except that tourists flock to both.  Still, my sister and I had a lot of fun making our own chocolate truffles at the Chocomuseo on a rainy afternoon.

Meet the Animals

animal sanctuary (things to do other than hiking the inca trail peru)
Closest I’ve been to a spectacled bear.

No one’s heard of the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary, but we went anyway to learn the difference between llamas and alpacas.  It’s totally skippable, but I did enjoy watching a condor fly for about ten seconds.

Hint: Across the street, at Awanacancha, there are very high-quality woven items handmade from real alpaca yarn.  They’re priced accordingly, but they make very nice souvenirs.

Pamper Yourself

massage (things to do other than hiking the inca trail peru)
Well worth the $15.

You’ll find spas offering cheap services throughout the area, particularly in Cusco and Aguas Calientes.  I had an hour-long massage for just 50 soles (about $15).  Just be sure to check out the room’s cleanliness before agreeing to anything!

Horseback Ride Through the Sacred Valley

horseback ride sacred valley (things to do other than hiking the inca trail peru)
Along the ride to the Incan Quarries

The horseback ride itself isn’t that great (the area is known for small, stubborn workhorses), but the scenery is spectacular and I even came across some human ruins from a centuries-past ceremony.

Shop, Shop, Shop in Pisac

pisac market (things to do other than hiking the inca trail peru)
If you’re going to buy souvenirs, you might as well get a good price on a poncho.

Yes, you can visit the ruins in Pisac, but don’t miss the market while you’re there.  In my opinion, they had the best prices out of all the towns we visited in the area and vendors that were just the right combination of being helpful without being pushy.  Yes, a lot of stuff is made in China…but there were also some good bargains to be found.

Make Your Own Pisco Sour

The Pisco Museum in Cusco has really expensive cocktails, but if you go during slow periods, you can also learn to mix your own pisco sour or try a flight of different flavors.

Be Silent for a Moment

cusco cathedral (things to do other than hiking the inca trail)
No photos allowed inside, which is a shame.

Normally, I don’t visit churches and cathedrals, but I’m glad I made an exception for the Cusco cathedral.  It’s beautiful throughout, although it’s best known for it’s rendition of the Last Supper complete with guinea pig as the center dish.

Hint: Bring your passport.  Without it, you won’t be able to get the excellent (free) audioguide.

And of course…we didn’t skip Machu Picchu

machu picchu peru
One of the few photos where it was clear enough (in rainy season!) for a good shot.

We didn’t hike the Inca Trail, but we did climb Huayna Picchu and tour the massive citadel, which was perfect for us.

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If you're heading to Cusco Peru, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu but don't want a 4-day trek, try these things to do instead of hiking the Inca Trail.


9 thoughts on “Photo Essay: What I Did Instead of Hiking the Inca Trail”

  1. Our driver stopped at Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary. I think it’s a well-known stop on the drive from Cusco to the Sacred Valley.

    We too thought that the Inca Trail was not worth the time…too “must-do checklisty”, if you know what I mean. What’s funny to me is that did things that we also did when we went 2 years ago! Which is odd. We thought we were doing unique things, but I guess there is a common set of things that all “more adventurous” travelers do. 🙂

    1. @bluecat, Such a good point. I think a lot of travelers blindly do things that were recommended without taking the time to decide if it’s a good choice for them.

    1. @Harvey, I took the train too and was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the ride was. I know people say it’s “scenic” but I have pretty high expectations and still thought it was lovely!

  2. I did exactly the same thing and explore the sacred valley, Cusco and had a great time.
    Machu Picchu is a magical place and I believe that it would be fun and look great from any angle and any way@ @ knycx.journeying

  3. Wow, I had no idea it took four days! I’ve always been interested in this area, but haven’t really looked into the details yet – that’s a long time! I have a feeling I’d probably go for the same option as you, and just climb Huayna Picchu instead. Horseback riding through the valley sounds fantastic too, it’s such a beautiful area! Thanks for all the tips, Becky.

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