Peru’s hiking game is no joke. If you know my love for the mountains and the outdoors, then it should be no surprise that Peru is one of my favorite countries. Peru boasts an insane diversity of epic hikes. On any given day, you can be taking on treks in the Amazon to brutal climbs up to snow-capped summits. There is no shortage of adventures to choose from in this marvelous country.
I’ve been to Peru four times now, with my trips totaling about five months. I’ve visited nearly every corner of the country, and many of those corners two or three times. These are among my favorite day hikes in Peru.
Let’s start with an epic day hike through the Amazonas.
Gocta Waterfalls (Cataratas de Gocta) | Chachapoyas
When these waterfalls were discovered, the Cataratas de Gocta were believed to be the third tallest in the world. They’ve since dipped to fifteenth but that doesn’t make them any less awe-inspiring. Although you can see Gocta Falls right from the trailhead, you’ll want to get up close and personal. The views are ever-changing, giving you a new angle on the waterfalls as you get closer and closer. Once you find yourself at the base of the lower waterfalls, it’s a feeling that’s tough to describe. At 771 meters tall (2,529 feet), you’ll feel like a speck standing next to this waterfall. It’s hard to grasp the size and scope until you actually find yourself gazing upwards in awe. The valley surrounding the waterfall is incredibly lush, and perhaps the greenest place I’d ever seen.
From Chachapoyas, you’ll have to get to Cocachimba to the trailhead for Gocta Falls. The hike to the basin is about 11 kilometers roundtrip. It may not seem that long, but it is a doozy. The hike isn’t too bad if you take your time but it is a lot of uphill and downhill. Seriously, there are very few flat stretches. You are either going downhill or uphill all the time. The journey to the basin of Chachapoyas takes about six hours in total but it is easily one of the best day hikes in all of Peru.
Laguna 69 | Huascaran National Park
One of Northern Peru’s most iconic destinations is Laguna 69. Let me be blunt, this hike is not for the faint of heart. The trek up Laguna 69 will force you to face grueling high altitudes of up to 4,600 meters above sea level, steep and difficult inclines, and an early morning wake up call to the tune of 3 AM-ish. However, it is without a doubt one of the most rewarding views you can get in all of South America, if you can get your dizzied head straight enough to take it all in, that is. To get to Laguna 69, you’ll likely have to go with a trekking agency or somehow hitch a ride to the trailhead. It takes about six hours roundtrip to complete the hike.
Laguna Churup | Huaraz
I had already spent weeks hiking in the Huaraz and Huascaran area before I decided to take on Laguna Churup. You’d think I’d be all laguna-ed out, right? Nah. Laguna Churup turned out to be one of my favorite hikes in the country. It is one of the quicker day trips that you can take from Huaraz, which helped its case since I couldn’t be bothered to spend another six hours in a van to do another hike deep in Huascaran. From Huaraz’s city center, the ride to Laguna Churup’s trailhead only takes about an hour. From the trailhead, you will need about 5 or 6 hours roundtrip to reach Laguna Churup. The altitudes will reach close to 4,500 meters above sea level and can be challenging for the unacclimatized.
Although it is challenging, it is also a good measure of whether or not one is prepared to take on one of the multi-day treks or more difficult day treks like Laguna 69. The waters of Laguna Churup have a mystical aura to them, and even on a cloudy day, the views are magical.
Laguna Humantay | Cusco
Way back on my first trip to Peru, I did the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Despite Machu Picchu being the undisputed star of the show, Laguna Humantay did its best to be a show-stealer. Humantay Lake was the most beautiful thing we saw along the way to Aguas Calientes. These days, you don’t even need to go on a grueling 5-day trek to see it. Many tour companies now offer the option for day trips to Laguna Humantay.
You can see this glacial laguna in all it’s glory and be back in Cusco by the evening. The hike is a little challenging, but clearly very worth it.
Pisac Archaeological Site | Pisac
Aside from Machu Picchu, the ruins of Pisac were my favorite that I visited in Peru. It was also arguably the best experience I had, as there were few tourists in comparison to Machu Picchu. One could roam the vast archaeological site aimlessly for hours and stumble into hardly anyone else. Pisac Archaeological Site is nestled on the mountain overlooking the village of Pisac and the Sacred Valley. If you start hiking from the center of town, it’ll be a little over an hour before you reach the main stretch of ruins.
However, you’ll stumble into plenty of things along the way. Among the sites to see are the Andean terraces, Inca storehouses, and Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun. The hike is almost entirely uphill until you reach the main part of the ruins. There’s no doubt it can be a bit challenging at times, especially with the high altitudes of the Sacred Valley. However, there’s no rush as you could spend hours and hours exploring. All the while, you’ll be surrounded by views of the lush, green Sacred Valley of the Incas. I even ended up visiting Pisaq a second time just because I enjoyed it that much.
Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain | Vinicunca
As far as day treks in Peru go, is there anything more famous than Rainbow Mountain? Doubtful. Vinicunca’s stunning Rainbow Mountain is definitely Cusco’s most popular day trip, and how could it not be? Despite the lengthy, dizzying, high-altitude challenge, hundreds of people undergo the difficult journey every day to see this marvel up close.. And it is 100% vale la pena. Remember, it’s just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Take in all the sights and scenes because the landscapes along the way are almost as rewarding as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The trek is extremely high altitude, reaching heights of 5,000 meters above sea level. It is also long, although the inclines aren’t too severe.I won’t go into too much detail since you’re likely already aware of this one. I struggled mightily with this trek so just make sure you are prepared for the challenge.
Colca Canyon | Arequipa
While most people opt for a two or three day trek through Colca Canyon, for travelers short on time, it is possible to see Colca Canyon in a day. An accelerated day trip to Colca Canyon will take you to the stunning viewpoint where you can hopefully see an Andean Condor. Although you won’t to delve as deep into the canyon as you would on a two or three day trek, you’ll still get a taste of this natural wonder. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world, if not the deepest depending on how you measure.
Chinchero to Urquillos | Cusco
While often overlooked, the ruins of Chinchero are among the best day trips one can take from Cusco. Aside from exploring the village and ruins of Chinchero, one can also round out the day by hiking from Chinchero to Urquillos. The mostly downhill hike boasts absolutely beautiful scenery, making it one of the best hidden gems in the Sacred Valley. On a clear day, this Qhapaq Nan (Inca trail) gives you unbeatable views of the snowy mountains, the Apus that undoubtedly played a part in why the Inca view this region as sacred.
It takes about four hours to get from Chinchero to the small village of Urquillos, depending on how often you get lost. As the trail isn’t well-marked and relatively little-known, I got lost a few times. It often felt like I was trespassing on private property, but everyone I ran into was more than happy to give me directions. The only other travelers I saw along the way were on a private guided tour, a measly group of three in total. This hidden gem of a hike was an adventure throughout, and the finish line of Urquillos is a gem in itself. This quiet town is easily one of the most scenic little villages in the Sacred Valley.
Laguna Paron | Huascaran National Park
Laguna Paron is one of the most beautiful sights you will see in all of South America. It is a color that is so vibrant and blue that you won’t even believe the pictures. It’s like blue Gatorade. What I had initially thought was Instagram magic cranking up the saturation of the water was actually just the color of the water itself. We were blessed with a clear day, giving us unobstructed views of the snow-capped peaks surrounding this glacial lake. Peru’s Cordillera Blanca flanked Paron on both sides, making the scene that much more magnificent.
Laguna Paron is one of those things you can’t miss while in Peru. It is a good day trip to do before taking on some of the more difficult hikes in the area. For people who love nature, hiking, and the great outdoors, Paron is a good choice for the first day hike you do in Huaraz, especially as an acclimatization hike before taking on Laguna 69 or the 8-day Cordillera Huayhuash trek.
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain | Palccoyo
Sure you’ve heard of Rainbow Mountain but have you heard of the other Rainbow Mountain? Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain’s popularity has admittedly been off-putting for travelers who find themselves scrambling amongst hundreds of others for their photo ops. An alternative that not too many people might be aware of is Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain. The best part? Palccoyo is home to not just one but three Rainbow Mountains. While you can’t get too close, they are still beautiful to see from afar if you just wanted to get your Rainbow Mountain fill. The hike is also much easier, so for those who might not be up for the challenging hike to Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, Palccoyo is a good alternative. Compared to the grueling journey up to Vinicunca, the hike to Palccoya will only take around two hours roundtrip.
Aguas Turquesas de Millpu | Ayacucho
Ayacucho is one of the lesser-visited big cities in Peru. Naturally, I decided to go. My first reaction upon walking into a tour agency was similar to when I first walked into one in Cajamarca. Overwhelming. I had known about the Aguas Turquesas of Millpu, but not much else. You’ve likely seen this on your Instagram before, although I wasn’t fortunate enough to go during the right season. Normally, those pools are a glistening and clear turquoise blue. I got muddy brown, although it was still beautiful to see.
These cascading layers of pools are one of the most stunning natural sights that you will see in Peru. Hike a little further on and you’ll stumble into half a dozen waterfalls that stream into the pools of Millpu. Flanked by canyons on both sides, this is truly a destination to reward off-the-beaten-path travelers. Keep an eye out on Ayacucho. I can only imagine it growing in popularity as it moves further and further away from its history as the home base of the Shining Path terrorist organization.
Saqsayhuaman to Tambomachay | Cusco
While you don’t need a full day to explore the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, if you combine it with the other Inca ruins in the area, you could easily fill up a day of exploring. The ruins of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman can be seen right from Cusco and it only takes about 20 minutes to hike up from the city center. Sacsayhuaman is without one of the best things you can do right from Cusco.
If you have the Cusco tourist ticket (boleto turistico), a good way to make a full day trip out of Sacsayhuaman is to go all the way to Tambomachay. Along the way, you will run into some other archaeological sites, although admittedly, none are as impressive as Sacsayhuaman. Q’enqo and Puka Pukara are the other two that you’ll encounter along the way. Along with Sacsayhuaman and Tambomachay, these two are also included on your boleto turistico.
Laguna Kinsa Cocha | Pisac
Peru never ceases to surprise me. Can you believe you can find this view just two hours away from Cusco? The whole time we were hiking, it felt like we had magically been teleported to Iceland. This is easily one of the most mind-blowing hikes in the region. Laguna Kinsa Cocha looks unlike anything else in the area. The cold and moody day only accentuated the steely green landscapes. The flocks of alpaca were the only way I could tell that I was still in Peru.
While the hike will take the better part of a day, the hike itself is relatively easy. If you have yet to acclimatize, the high altitude will potentially play a factor. The hike is a loop around the three lakes of Kinsa Cocha, and is mostly flat. You might find yourself gasping for air at the occasional inclines, though, as the air runs quite thin at 4,200 meters above sea level.
Nevado San Mateo | Huascaran National Park
There are a lot of challenging treks that I’ve listed here, but none did I struggle more with than Nevado San Mateo. It might have been the most difficult day of hiking in my life. The summit of Nevado San Mateo sits at 5,150 meters above sea level. And this is no ordinary hike. I had never hiked in deep snow until Nevado San Mateo. The journey to the summit required crampons, ice axes, ropes, and a lot of perseverance. We were also met with freezing rain before a blizzard engulfed us towards the summit. We were barely granted a view to reward us for our efforts.
Nevado San Mateo was unlike anything I had ever dealt with before. The slippery journey down was almost as punishing as the way up. The snow had melted into icy rain and the rocky surfaces grew slicker and slicker. I fell close to a hundred times on the way down. The final stretch required rappelling down a canyon just to get back to the trailhead as the original path had become washed out and turned into a waterfall.
Like I said, Peru has no shortage of adventures. There’s still hundreds of places out in the country for me to explore, but for now, these are the day hikes that you absolutely cannot miss.
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