The Inca had a knack for pinpointing South America’s most dumbfoundingly beautiful places, unlike Western explorers. A case in point: Machu Picchu, a lost city tucked deep in Peru’s tropical mountain forests that wasn’t “discovered” by Hiram Bingham until 1911.
Thousands of trekkers go on pilgrimage along the Inca Trail every year to witness the mountaintop ruins enshrouded in mists, but only a few choose the newer alternative trail: the Salcantay Route. Winding around 20,000-foot (6,096-meter) peaks, along verdant riversides, and through bucolic coffee plantations, orchards, and thatched-hut villages, the 39-mile (63-kilometer) route traverses 15 ecosystems and tops out at over 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
The grand finale is a view of Machu Picchu from the southwest, one that few tourists see. Many backpackers camp along the way, but for those who prefer to travel like Inca royalty, there are remote luxe ecolodges along the trail. There, the answer to sore legs is a hot tub, a goose-down bed, a hearty organic cuisine, and a stupefying view of the Inca’s sacred snow-crowned peaks.
Mountain Lodges of Peru runs seven-day trips between four ecolodges along the Salcantay Route, including guides, pack horses, food, and lodging ($2,850;