Home » Quarry Trail FAQ: The ‘other’ route to Machu Picchu

Quarry Trail FAQ: The ‘other’ route to Machu Picchu

written by Intrepid Travel January 28, 2016

Okay, so you want to make the trek to Machu Picchu. Nice one. But did you know there is more than one way to do that?

There’s the Inca Trail, the classic route, which is justifiably famous and everything, but there’s also the Quarry Trail. Heard of it? That’s okay, not many people have. It’s actually one of the most beautiful walks in South America, at least among those in the know, but it doesn’t get a fraction of the crowds on the Inca Trail. It doesn’t lead right to the Sun Gate, but you can still reach Machu Picchu via a short bus and train ride. Win.

Interested? Here’s all you need to know:

How long does it take?

It’s a four-day trek, about the same amount of time as the Inca Trail, but the final morning is just a transfer from Kachiqata to Aguas Calientes. You’ll only be walking for around three days.

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Image c/o Rafael Lopez, Flickr

And we still see Machu Picchu?

You sure do. The only difference is you’ll make the very last leg from Kachiqata to Ollantaytambo by bus, then a train to Aguas Calientes. If all goes according to plan, you should still get there around sunrise.

READ MORE: WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE HIKING THE QUARRY TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU

What’s the scenery like?

Same same, but different. You’re still trekking through the best of the Andes, so expect soaring green peaks, granite boulders, isolated villages like Socma and archaeological sites like the famous Q’orimarca ruins. Many trekkers who’ve done both say The Quarry trail actually beats the Inca for pure scenery: you’ve got high passes like Puccaqasa (4,370m), views of the Nevado Veronica mountain and stunning valleys falling away on all sides.

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The Sun Gate at Inti Punku. Image c/o McKay Savage, Flickr

When should I go?

If you want to beat most of the crowds (not that the Quarry Trail ever gets really busy), pick a shoulder season. May or October are good months. Peak time is the same as the Inca Trail, June, July and August. Weather here will be great, but you will be fighting for photo space at Machu Picchu. The difference is, you will have had the Andes to yourself for the last few days.

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Is it crowded?

75,000 people a year trek the Inca, but the Quarry Trail doesn’t even come close. You’ll get all that beautiful Andean scenery more or less to yourself (apart from the odd Quechan village or friendly llama).

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The vital stats

The overall distance of the Quarry Trail is about 26km (the Inca Trail is 43km) and the maximum altitude is 4,450m above sea level (the Inca Trail’s highest point is Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,215m). We’ll give you time in Cusco to acclimatize before the trek, but altitude sickness can be a problem for some. Our porters and guides are well trained and know what symptoms to look for. If you do feels the effects, they’ll get you off the mountains pronto.

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Image c/o Diego Barra, Flickr

Horses, not porters

On the Inca Trail your main luggage is carried by porters. On the quarry trail it’s carried by horses. This has the added benefit of walking through the Andes with freaking horses alongside you. Not to be sniffed at. Of course you’ll still have trained guides to help you along and set up camp each night.

CHECK OUT ALL OF INTREPID’S TRIPS THAT VISIT MAGICAL MACHU PICCHU

The route

You’ll set off from Raf’q, where you’ll meet the horsemen and guides that’ll be your best buddies for the next four days. Set off on the trail and you’ll soon hit the little town of Socma, then it’s on to the stunning Perolniyoc cascade lookout. A good spot for a selfie and a snack. After a rest, push on to the campsite, which sits about 3,700m above sea level.

The second day of the Quarry Trail is probably the toughest. You’ll climb to the pass of Puccagasa (4370m) for some of the best views in the Andes, then hike for about two hours to the highest point on the trek: the mammoth Kuychicassa pass (4450m). After that it’s downhill for a while (phew), two hours of easy walking down to a site the Incas called Inti Punku (which means the Sun Gate, although it’s not THE Sun Gate). You can see the Veronica mountain shooting into the sky from here. It’s magic. Camp out near Choquetacarpo, about 3,600m above sea level.

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The ruins at Inti Punku. Image c/o Shubhika Bharathwaj, Flickr

On the third day it’s mostly downhill (yay!). You’ll walk past Kachiqata quarry (hence the Quarry Trail). This is a rock quarry that the Incas never completed during the Spanish conquest. By midday you’ll be at Kachiqata town, where you’ll take a train to Aquas Calientes (with a dip in the hot springs on arrival). The next morning it’s a short bus ride and all the glory of Machu Picchu.

LOOKING FOR A DIFFERENT ROUTE TO MACHU PICCHU? CONSIDER TAKING THE TRAIN

How fit do I need to be?

Anyone trekking for three solid days over 3,500m above sea level needs a reasonable level of fitness. Altitude sickness is a real risk, but we’ll try to acclimatize you with some time in Cusco before the trip. Most people complete the Quarry Trail without any problems. Drink lots of water as you go, pace yourself, wear polarized sunglasses and appropriate boots. For a full guide to trek preparation, check out our blog here.

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Walking to Socma. Image c/o Diego Barra, Flickr

 What do I pack?

  • Money belt and small padlocks
  • A small first-aid kit
  • Daypack
  • Watch/alarm clock and torch/flashlight (and spare batteries)
  • Travel documents: passport, visa (if required), travel insurance, air tickets or e-ticket receipt and your Intrepid itinerary.
  • Photocopy of main passport pages, visa (if required), travel insurance and air tickets
  • Spare passport photos
  • Electrical adapter plug
  • Toiletries/roll of toilet paper/travel wipes/ tissues
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, sunhat and sunglasses
  • Earplugs and eye mask (for light sleepers)
  • Warm clothes – when travelling in cooler climates
  • Wind and waterproof rain jacket
  • Comfortable and sturdy walking shoes with good walking socks
  • Camera and spare film (or recharge for digital cameras)
  • Binoculars
  • Extra pair of prescription glasses (if required)
  • 2 strong plastic garbage bags (for laundry and in case of rain) and dry bags
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Phrase book

You can choose to hike either the Inca or Quarry Trail with Intrepid. Check out one of our most popular itineraries here. 

Feature image c/o Diego Barra, Flickr

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6 comments

Julie Curran November 25, 2018 - 1:22 pm

My sister and I did this after we missed out on a spot on the Inca trail. Our own fault.,we didn t get our permits in on time. While initially gutted that we missed out on doing the Inca, that feeling quickly passed once we did the Quarry trail. You will not be disappointed trust me.The scenery is simply breathtaking. At times I felt we were completely enveloped by the stunning mountains. A major bonus of the Quarry is the solitude and the break from the crowds that you get on the Inca trail. I loved the remoteness. During the 3 days we saw only 3 other people apart from our group, it was bliss. You are truly part of nature at its finest. The Quarry trail is absolutely wonderful and I can t recommend it highly enough.

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Shelly March 12, 2019 - 7:12 am

We’re hiking the Quarry Trail in May and are preparing our packing list. Would you suggest bringing a water filtration system? I know they boil the water before giving it to us, but I drink water like a camel and thought I might need more than they give us while hiking.

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Rosie October 23, 2017 - 2:58 pm

This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the stunning views were so worth it. Not very fit, had done some prep work at the gym, but found the altitude was a great equaliser, and those of us that ran marathons at home were often far at the back. Didn’t find we were too exhausted to enjoy Machu Picchu, as a night in the hotel before hand meant a decent nights sleep. Def recommend this trail.

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Andy October 9, 2018 - 1:19 am

This trail kicked the crap out of me, but I had a great time and the scenery is supremely lovely.

My two caveats are as follows:
1) this is not a hike to Machu Picchu. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing if you are worried you miight not be able to complete it and might have to leave the mountain. If so, no big deal! They’ll just cart you back to Ollantaytambo, and you can meet the group when they finish! It’s a bad thing if you were expecting to confidently stride through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu as a reward for your three days of hard work. Me, I didn’t care too much, but your mileage may vary.

2) The downhill portion of the involves a series of extremely steep switchbacks covered in scree, and can take some time to navigate safely if you can’t just simply bound down it.

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Linda February 19, 2016 - 1:19 am

Traditional trek allows you to climitize gradually. Quarry is steep from the get go however there’s virtually no one on it except villagers. If you love hiking then do a trek or save your strength and take the train. Often Trekkers are too exhausted to enjoy Machu. Use the money you saved to do Nazca or Huacachina

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jacquie January 29, 2016 - 12:58 pm

This is a wonderful hike, but it is not a route to Machu Picchu. It’s an alternative hike in the Sacred Valley. Followed by a train trip to Machu Picchu. On Day 3 after reaching Kachiqata, you must have transportation to Ollantaytambo where you board the train to Aguas Calientes. There is no train service from Kachiqata town. Great hike. But it is not a new route to Machu Picchu.

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