The road less travelled: check out this epic Inca Trail alternative

written by Taryn Stenvei December 30, 2022

This year, we’re encouraging travellers to chase new perspectives on an active adventure. Check out our Travel Goals for 2023 for more inspiration. 

You’ve heard of the Inca Trail – but what about the Great Inca Road? Here are five reasons why this raw and remote trek is the ideal adventure for travellers who want to see more, delve deeper and tread new paths in Peru.

Peru is paradise if you love a long walk. From the world-famous Inca Trail, finishing at the (now not-so) lost citadel of Machu Picchu, to the hike into Colca Canyon, one of the world’s largest continental crevices, there’s a good reason Peru tops the ‘must travel’ lists of many trekkers. 

But did you know the Inca Trail is only a tiny fraction of the vast system of ancient roads travelled by the Incas that spans from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south? This 30,000 km feat of engineering, known as Qhapaq Ñan, was a significant communication, trade and defence route that was constructed by the Incas over centuries. It linked cities, settlements and sites of religious significance and helped the Inca Empire create and consolidate its power.

Today, the path is a string of pearls dotted with beautiful wild places, historic ruins and welcoming village communities. In 2023, Intrepid is launching a Great Inca Road trekking expedition, which includes five days of hiking along the Great Inca Road near the adventure hub of Huaraz, plus some other spectacular nearby day trips. 

Maritza Chacacanta, Intrepid’s Peruvian operations manager, recently tried out the route. She has walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu more than 500 times, but there’s something special about this new route for her. “As a Quechua descendant and trekking adventure guide, I’ve always dreamed of walking some of Qhapaq Nañ,” she says. “Walking alongside llamas (considered sacred by the Incas) and resting in tambos (traditional resting places), the same places where my ancestors would have slept, made me feel privileged, blessed and proud of my culture. I’m so excited to show the world the Great Inca Road and help preserve it for future generations.”

Here are five reasons this expedition should shoot to the top of your trekking to-do list next year and beyond.

Avoid the crowds

Whether it’s your first time in Peru or you’re keen for a closer look after ticking off one of the country’s more popular hikes, this trip is a great alternative if you like your adventures with elbow room. Take home the stories (and bragging rights) that come with treading ancient paths few travellers have seen. In fact, there may be days on your journey where your group won’t see any other people at all – a rare and special treat.

Walk through an open-air museum

Unsurprisingly, the stretch of the Great Inca Road explored on this itinerary is strewn with evidence of very old (and very amazing) cities and outposts. Highlights include the ancient ruins of the Solidad de Tambo archaeological site, and the vast, well-preserved Huánuco Pampa, with the remains of over 1000 bygone buildings and storehouses. Off the trail, you’ll visit the Caral-Supe archaeological site, an enormous complex built by a civilisation pre-dating the Incas. Intrepid’s local guides and experts provide all the history and context you need to understand why these sites are so impressive – and so important to preserve. 

Marvel at natural wonders

Along with the mountainous green scenery of the Great Inca Road, this expedition folds in day trips to some of the Andes’ finest hits. Huaraz rests within the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range with 17 peaks exceeding 6000 metres, and over 500 lagoons and 700 glaciers. The included Laguna 69 hike takes you to the bluest, clearest and brightest lake you’ll likely ever see, and you’ll trek to the Pastoruri Glacier, a stunning body of ice that’s sadly predicted to disappear in the next decade.

Immerse yourself in Peruvian culture

Intrepid’s style of travel is all about experiencing life on the ground. Under the guidance of your local leader, you’ll learn about (and tread lightly through) ancient landscapes, visiting small Andean villages to hear the stories of families with generational ties to the Great Inca Road. Your bags will even be carried by a traditional llama caravan (which is exactly what it sounds like).

Practise sustainable travel

While we adore Machu Picchu (and the thousands of travellers we’ve had the privilege of taking there over the years), we’re also big on easing the strain on uber-popular spots by diversifying travel to lesser-known – but no less spectacular – destinations. Peru is home to so many incredible sights and scenes, and sometimes the path to a more sustainable future of tourism is taking the (Great Inca) Road less travelled.

Be one of the first to explore Peru’s Great Inca Road with Intrepid on our brand-new 12-day Peru Expedition.

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