When I was told the Inca Trail was fully booked, I was pretty disappointed.
Hiking to Machu Picchu was the main reason I’d booked a trip to Peru. Then someone suggested an alternative I’d never heard of before: The Quarry Trail. Turns out there’s another way to Machu Picchu. Who knew?
We had a really nice small group – only 8 travellers. There was a 20 year-old couple from the US, a Canadian girl, a dad and his teenage daughter (who loved camping), two of us Aussie girls travelling on our own, and Judy, a 64 year-old woman from the UK (who was a dead set legend).
This is what the route looks like, and how it compares with the Inca Trail:
First things first, we made sure all our gear was working, met our wonderful porters and cooks who would be with us for the next few days, then started off (feeling very awkward with my walking poles). Day 1 is the steepest part of the Quarry Trail, but we walked through Socma, a local village where we got to say hello to some locals, stopping at some ancient Incan ruins, right up to the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen: the Perolniyoc Cascade. There’s a lookout here where we had a very welcome rest stop, before finally pushing on to our destination.
Looking back down to where we had started was truly an incredible experience!
Our tents had already been set up by the porters, and the cooks had gotten some food ready for our arrival. We had time to freshen up, relax a bit, then head up to the little farm houses near our camp to meet the neighbours. It was so great to see the inside of these houses, meet the families and see how they lived. I couldn’t believe their kids trekked up and down those mountains to school every day! Then the grandfather treated us to some traditional music. After that, it was back to camp for a well-earned dinner.
I woke up to the smell of fresh coca tea. Our cook had placed a cuppa outside my tent. I opened the flap and saw a sunrise over the valley below. Incredible.
After an awesome breakfast, we carried on.. Day 2 wasn’t as steep, but there were plenty of undulating hills and ridges. One of the girls seemed to find today quite difficult, so our guide popped her on the horse for some of the distance (she had good fun mocking our walking efforts from horseback). We spotted some hawks and other small wildlife, with a couple of locals offering cold drinks along the way, but other than that, we were the only ones on the trail.
We reached our highest point of the trek at 4500m above sea level, turned around and took in what seemed like the entire Sacred Valley.
The last part of the Day 2 had us walking down steep, rocky trails, which were quite slippery. Given my lack of coordination, it was a wonder I didn’t end up on the ground. One girl did roll her ankle, so they sent one of the mules up to bring her down the rest of the way.
We came across the side of a mountain, with wild horses running across the fields, to a fantastic Sungate overlooking snow-capped peaks. This is Inti Punku, one of the famous sun gates that dot the Andes. What a great way to end a long day of trekking. Dinner that night was exceptional again. The cooks even whipped up a birthday cake for one of the passengers.
We woke up on Day 3 in the clouds – seriously. Looking across the valley, we were above the clouds, and as we sat there chewing breakfast, the mist lifted and we saw the Sacred Valley come alive. We spent the morning walking back to town via the famous Quarry site (the place where the Incas mined their stones to build the town of Ollantaytambo.)
Then it was time to farewell our porters and cooks and head to Machu Picchu! We reached Ollantaytambo around lunchtime and took the train to Aguas Calientes, where we checked into our hotel. I have to admit I was relieved: my legs and ankles had had enough of walking up and down Andean peaks. It was also fantastic to have a shower and wash our travel-stained clothes (it’s the little things). We had a bit of time to explore Aguas Calientes and enjoy a meal, the it was early to bed as we had a 4:30am start.
Useful blog posts to read:
-What I wish I knew before hiking to Machu Picchu
-What hiking to Machu Picchu as a solo traveler is really like
Up early for some breakfast, then we headed out to the transfer point to be one of the first in line to get up to Machu Picchu. The transfer buses were fantastic, smooth and efficient. We cruised up the windy roads, taking in the gorgeous views at every bend.
Then we were there – Machu Picchu!!! We were one of the first groups to arrive, so it was relatively uncrowded as we got our photo’s in front on THAT view, and got a tour around the site. We actually beat many Inca trail trekkers – another point in the Quarry Trail’s favour.
We had a few hours of free time at Machu Picchu to explore. Some chose to walk up to the Sun Gate at the end of the Inca Trail (only about 45mins round trip). It was truly an amazing experience, one I never regret doing in any way.
Downsides of the Quarry Trail? Well, it’s not the Inca Trail (despite being an Incan trail). You don’t get to do the final part of the classic trek, finishing through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu.
Upsides of the Quarry Trail? Where do I start? The big one is you have it all to yourself. There’s basically no-one else on the trail (compared to 500 at a time on the Inca Trail). I’ve spoken to people that have done both, and they agree that the Quarry involves more local interaction, plus perks like having horses and mules on standby in case of injury. You also technically trek higher than the Inca Trail, there are no permits required and Intrepid are the only company that visits it.
It’s also nice to have a sleep in a hotel bed (and a hot shower) before visiting Machu Picchu – it means you’re not too tired to explore the site, and you tend to look better in your pics…
Want to trek the Quarry Trail with Intrepid? Here’s everything you need to know.