The Inca Quarry Trail to Machu Picchu
4 days/3 nights
From the Sacred Valley to the Inca Quarries of Cachicata and then Machu Picchu.
Set Departures or Private Treks. All camping.
This short route across the mountains south of Ollantaytambo takes us through an astonishing variety of scenery and ecological zones, over a high pass with views of all the major snow-capped peaks of the Cusco region. We visit Inca ruins on our way to Abra de Chancachucu. The final day we descend via stunning panoramas of the Camicancha and Urubamba valleys to the Inca mountain-worship site of Intipunku, the well-preserved élite residential site of Choquetacarpo, and the impressive ramps and abandoned stone blocks of the Inca quarries at Cachicata. Then transfer to Ollantaytambo where we take the train to visit the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
DAY 1: Cusco / Raphcca / Corimarca
We drive to Pachar in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and follow the Huarocondo gorge a short way upstream to our trailhead at the village of Raphcca, 2900m/9510ft. From here we hike up a lush side valley of scattered farmhouses and crop terraces, where Andean bird species such as the giant hummingbird and golden-billed saltator flit among abundant native trees and shrubs. We eat a picnic lunch by a rushing mountain stream, before deciding whether to take an easier route, or an optional steep trail via a tall waterfall where we can pause to refresh ourselves amidst the cool spray, or enjoy an alfresco shower and dip beneath the falls.
Climbing further, we visit the little-known Inca ruin of Corimarca, perched at mid-altitude on a shelf high above the Soccma valley. An Inca-built channel still carries water rushing past this small, elegantly designed settlement, which was probably built by the Incas to collect and control the agricultural production of the surrounding valley. We camp here, or at a spacious set of Inca terraces a short distance upvalley.
Day 2: Corimarca Pucapugio / Charcahuaylla Pass / Chancachuco
We climb across open meadows, before reaching a zone of high altitude shrubland, which in turn gives way to treeless grasslands known as puna as our trail winds gently around mountain spurs following an undulating approach to the pass of Chancachucu (4,400m/14,430ft). In clear weather this section of our journey offers dramatic panoramas of every major snowpeak in the region. We gaze east across the distant town of Chinchero toward mighty snowcapped Ausangate and the Qoyllur Rit’i range, while the jagged peaks of the Cordillera Urubamba rear across the Sacred Valley to the north. The scenic drama reaches new heights as we cross the pass and confront the glaciers of Verónica (5,750m/18,850ft),looming vastly in the near-distance to the north-west.
Our route continues across a rolling, sparsely inhabited plateau with views of the tip of Salcantay and the Huayanays. We pass mountain lakes where we may see wetland birds such as Andean geese, crested ducks and puna ibis, before we descend to our second camp at Q’euñacancha (4080m/13,380ft).
DAY 3: Chancachuco / Punkuyoc / Cachicata
With luck we may see Andean condors today. We set off on one of two routes. Fitter, more experienced groups will follow the Chancachucu valley downstream, following the broken remains of an Inca water channel that once carried water to the ancient quarries. The stream plunges through Punkuyoc, a narrow ravine enclosed by vertical cliffs draped in ferns and orchids, and emerges amidst a small woods of native Q’euña trees. A narrow trail zig-zags steeply down open, grassy slopes, offering spectacular views of the Camicancha valley, its river a silver ribbon far below us. We climb once more, and again pick up the Inca water channel, which has traversed a near-vertical cliff far above us. Now we follow the channel on a gentler path, enountering stunning views of Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley as we reach the imposing gateway of Intipunku, an Inca temple apparently dedicated to worship of snowcapped Verónica.
The alternative, easier route for this day climbs gently from our second camp across rolling grassland to the south flank of Yana Orco, a rocky crag high above the Sacred Valley and the Inca quarries. Viewpoints allow us to look straight down on Ollantaytambo and its valleys 1,400m/4600ft below us, as if from an airplane. We wind our way along the rim of the valley, reaching a pass where we descend a steep draw through native Q’euna woodland, leveling off as we approach the Inca site of Intipunku.
We lunch facing a breathtaking mountain and valley panorama, near the well-preserved Inca complex of Choquetacarpo. This site was most likely the residence of architects, masons and visiting dignitaries who managed the Inca quarries and performed ceremonies at Intipunku.
After lunch we wend our way downward, exploring different sectors of the Inca quarries, a natural rockfall, where massive carved blocks of pink rhyolite lie scattered in disarray. The quarried stones, testimony to a great building project that was never finished, were destined for the Inca temple at Ollantaytambo, (6km/4 miles) away on the north bank of the Urubamba river.
We descend to our third and last camp, located on Inca terraces topped by small burial towers known as chullpas, near the village of Cachicata. Here we enjoy hot showers and a warmer climate, as we relax in preparation for our train ride and visit to Machu Picchu the next morning.
DAY 4: Ollantaytambo / Machu Picchu / Cusco
We catch the earliest train to Aguas Calientes station, and take a bus to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu at mid-morning, spending most of the day at this bewitching place, with both a guided experience of the highlights and then time to explore the ruins on our own. In the afternoon we complete our journey, traveling by train to Cusco. (Optional overnight and additional day at Machu Picchu is available.)
|The Inca Quarry Trail to Machu Picchu
|4 days/3 nights All camping|
Wednesday, all months except February.
|Minimum 2 people||Single Supl.|
|Price per person:||$ 1191||$ 71|
|Does NOT require an Inca Trail Permit|
Daily all year-round.
|2||3||4 - 6||7 - 9||10 +||Single Supl.|
|$ 1371||$ 1021||$ 853||$ 674||$ 615||$ 71|