Trekking (or hiking) is a deeply rewarding way to travel. Daniela Baker has compiled a list of a few of the most beautiful treks in the world that are accessible to almost anyone. Most of these treks can be done in sections, so that beginners don’t have to take on the whole trek at once. Many have guide services and porters available as well as re-supply stops along the way.
1. Inca Trail, Andes.
The Inca Trail winds its way through the Peruvian Andes, from the sacred valley of the Urubamba river to the magnificent citadel Machu Picchu, rediscovered by real-life Indiana Jones (and Yale professor of anthropology) Hiram Bingham.
The classic route follows ancient trails built by Incan kings and peaks at 13,000 feet at Dead Woman’s pass. Trekkers will pass by abandoned Incan settlements before crossing the Sun Gate and descending to Machu Picchu at dawn of the fifth day.
Trekkers are obliged to hire a native guide and pay a trekking fee to hike the trail. Depending on budgetary constraints and style preferences, trekkers can choose guide services that provide full services, including porters, meals, and camp setup or choose to hire only a guide, carrying their own gear and cooking their own meals.
2. Compostela Pilgrimage/Way of St James, Pyrenees.
This famous trek to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Galicia Spain follows ancient Christian pilgrim routes that date back to the 9th century. The cathedral, part of a UNESCO world heritage site, is believed to be the resting place of the apostle James. Throughout the middle ages, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would set out from their doorsteps and travel to Compostela as penance or to seek indulgences.
Modern day pilgrims and travelers can choose to begin at their doorsteps or from any of a dozen popular points in France, Italy, the UK, and even Jerusalem. However, for the full experience, hikers should meet up with the popular French way as it crosses the Pyrenees into Spain or the Northern route, which traces Spain’s northern coast against a backdrop of mountains.
Pilgrims following these popular routes can find accommodations in roadside pilgrim’s hostels (known as refugios), costing between 5 and 9 euros per night. The route follows many local roads and passes through towns, making it easy for weary trekkers to replenish supplies and take a break. All trekkers should purchase a credencial or pilgrim’s passport, available at all pilgrim’s refuges and churches in order to qualify for low-cost accommodation. Those completing a minimum of 100km by foot or 200km by bike are eligible for a compostela, or certificate of completion at the Cathedral in Compostela.
3. Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Himalayas.
This beautiful trek deep into Nepal takes hikers into the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Visitors will follow a route from Pokhara Nepal, through the Annapurna Conservation area, and into glaciated valleys. Treks usually take between 10 and 19 days, and resupply is relatively easy in the tiny Buddhist villages perched along the way.
Along with spectacular scenery, rare flora and fauna, hikers may see mountaineers, Maoists, Buddhist monks, and other trekkers on the trail. The Sanctuary trek is known as a teahouse trek in that trekkers will be able to find accommodations in teahouses (similar to hostels and guesthouses) on the trail. Budget or outdoor-minded hikers can also opt to wild camp along the trail.
There are literally hundreds of outfitters and guide services in Kathmandu and Pokhara who can arrange for a guided trek with porters and teahouse stays. However, the Sanctuary trek is fairly well marked and guidebooks are available for those who prefer to make their own trail.
4. Colorado Trail, Rocky Mountains.
The Colorado trail is a 483 mile trail winding through the Rockies between Denver and Durango. This alpine trail takes trekkers through pristine wilderness as well as old timber towns in the interior.
Prospective trekkers should be careful to research trail conditions before an attempt, as snow can linger as late as July and August in some areas.
Although the trail never officially closes, snow depths can reach 20 feet in some sections and winter weather can make attempts prohibitively difficult. The practical season is roughly between June and October.
Although there are no guide services for the entire trail, there are many outfitters that offer multi-day hikes and hut-to-hut treks along portions of the trail. The CT starts just a few miles outside Denver, making it an easy trail to get to and several outfitters offer pick ups and drop offs at each end.
5. Goldsworthy Trail/ Refuge D’Arts, French Alps.
This cultural trail in France takes hikers around a 100km loop through the sub-Alpine foothills of Haute Provence. The trail was designed in cooperation with American artist Andy Goldsworthy and features 10 of his haunting art installations against the natural backdrop of the hills.
Goldsworthy was commissioned to design installations based on the land and history of the area. Several art pieces are built into restored churches, farmhouses, and ancient forest villages. Trekkers are encouraged to stay overnight in several of the buildings to fully appreciate the art.
The trail winds between tiny hamlets, with accommodations in gites d’etapes (similar to hostels) possible in several places. Maps of the trail are available, however the trail is not very well marked. A single guide service in Dignes Les Bains books English language multi-day treks along the trail, and lucky hikers may chance upon Goldsworthy himself working on new installations.
While some of these treks are in far-off locales, Daniela (from CreditDonkey) recommends, “thrifty travelers make their budget go farther by booking with a travel credit card. Some key perks to consider are cards with no foreign transaction fees, airline miles and baggage insurance.”
Daniela also recommends trekkers prepare for their trail by:
- Training for at least 3 months before the trip: hill climbing, overnight camping, stair climbing, and other cardio activities are best.
- Getting required/recommended gear lists.
- Purchasing a pack and hiking boots well in advance to break them in.
- Training with a loaded pack to get used to the weight.
- Getting any necessary vaccines or inoculations at least several weeks in advance to get over any reactions.
Do you know a trek or have suggestions that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.