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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do I pack?
- Money belt and small padlocks
- A small first-aid kit
- 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)
- 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