Hiking and Trekking in Peru: 4 Trails to Check Out

From a day hike to towering Gocta Falls to a multi-day expedition to sacred Ausangate, Fiona Tapp shares her favorite hiking trails in Peru.


Photo © iStock

Half-Day Hike to Cusco’s Ruins

Most people go to Cusco to trek to Machu Picchu, but there are numerous other hikes in the area that offer a glimpse into the history of the ancient Inca capital.

Beginning at the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, you can view the city from above before exploring multiple areas of archaeological interest including Tambomachay (a series of ancient aqueducts) and the Temple of the Moon (caves with stone altars and mysterious carvings). This easy half-day hike provides lots of photo ops. Hire an English-speaking guide to learn about the significance of these ruins.

Best time to go: June- Mid September

Tambomachay. Photo credit: iStock

Day Hike to Gocta Falls

Flights from Lima to Jaen City in northern Peru will get you into the land of the cloud forests, and then a three-hour drive to Cocachimba will see you at the base of your trek. Here you can hire a guide and horses to make your way down to the floor this impressive two-tiered waterfall (2,531ft or 771m high). There’s an alternate route from the village of San Pablo to the upper section of the fall.

The hike takes just over two hours each way, through lush, old-growth forest filled with colorful birds, butterflies, and hidden orchids – the falls provide a stunning backdrop for enjoying a packed lunch.

There are some steep sections, and switchbacks and mud can make parts of the trails slippery. But this is an enjoyable hike for people of most fitness levels, and with horses to handle the toughest parts it’s accessible to a range of walkers. Keep your eyes peeled for the bright red cock-of-the-rock, the national bird of Peru.

Best time to go: During the rainy season November to April, the falls will be at their most impressive, but this might make the trek a little tougher to navigate.

Gocta Falls. Photo credit: iStock

Day Hike to Yumbilla Falls

There’s an even taller waterfall to check out in the area, located in the village of Cuispes, 15 minutes outside of Pedro Ruiz. The falls are 2,936ft (895m) high, with spectacular views on the hike there. In this primary forest, you’ll also pass the waterfalls of Medio Cerro and Cristal before reaching the mighty Yumbilla.

Adventurous travelers can try canyoning here, abseiling down the side of one of the smaller waterfalls. This is an exhilarating activity, but be sure to hire an experienced guide with quality equipment and safety protocols.

Best time to go: Again, the rainy season means more dramatic waterfalls, but it can make more adventurous hikes dangerously unwise.

Multi-Day Ausangate Trek

Also known as the “colorful mountain,” depending on the light this stunning range can appear striped with reds, yellows, and even turquoise hues. It’s located in the Vilcanota mountain range about 62mi (100km) southeast of Cusco.

The high-elevation trek around the sacred mountain covers 33.5 mi (54km) and is usually done over five to six days, beginning in Chillca and finishing in Trapiche. Lodges are available along the route for overnight accommodation – some are quite luxurious. The trek can be done without a guide, but should be attempted by experienced hikers only. Guided treks often have the advantage of horses to carry your gear.

Best time to go: April-October.

Ausangate. Photo credit: iStock

What to Pack for Your Hike in Peru

Day Hikes

For day hikes, be sure to pack: good walking shoes, a rain poncho, layered clothing for changing weather conditions, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen, water bottle, snacks or lunch, insect repellent, and a camera.

Multi-Day Treks

For longer hikes, be sure to pack: A quality daypack with water, extra clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen, compass, water bottle or bladder, knife, first aid kit, and good hiking boots. If you're camping, you may also need a sleeping bag, inflatable mattress or sleeping mat, flashlight, headlamp, swimwear, first aid kit, stove, and cooking supplies.

Want to know more about Peru? Check out our podcast. We chat about alternative treks to Machu Picchu, how Peru is the original home of surfing, and look at what vaccinations do you need when traveling to South America.

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