OK, you won’t find true solitude at Machu Picchu itself, so the best way to see Peru's 15th-century Incan ruins without the crowds is on a four-day out-and-back to the Choquequirao settlement, an old Incan bastion of stone temples and structures atop a truncated hilltop. But there’s a catch: You have to do it within the next year or so. Officials are planning to install a tramway to the ruins; once the tram is in place, Choquequirao will be almost as bustling as its more popular alternative.
From Cachora, my guided group followed the Apurímac River gorge, which is up to 9,800 feet deep in spots—nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Despite hiking in August (prime trekking season in Peru), we encountered only a handful of locals on the path, including a corn farmer and a cowboy. After tent-camping by the river on night one, we spent the second night just a 45-minute walk from the Choquequirao ruins, allowing plenty of time to explore. While the ancient relics aren’t as dramatic as those at Machu Picchu, you can only access them on foot, so we had the stone-ringed settlement to ourselves.
Neither this trek nor the Salkantay Trek require a guide, but we recommend using one; the author used Adventure Life Guides (adventure-life.com). Expect to pay roughly $1,535 for a five-day Choquequirao Trek and $2,285 for a seven-day Salkantay Trek.
Season: For the best weather (but more people), go May through August; for guaranteed solitude, pack rain and snow gear and aim for December through April.
To see photo's from Peru's mountainous Alto Route, click here.