Inca Trail Alternate Route

September 11, 2014 22 Comments »

Alternate Sungate
Hiking to the ‘other’ Sun Gate along the Quarry Trail. The Incas had many built all over sacred sites in the Andes. This one looks over Mt. Veronica.

Taking the Inca Trail through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu seems to be on everyone’s bucket list these days. The problem is that not everyone can go on the Inca Trail (even if you plan it months in advance) as there are only 200 tourist permits given out a day for the trail. If you get turned away like my niece and I did, don’t panic; there are alternatives to the Inca Trail that are just as impressive and oftentimes more challenging!  In fact, they even have a Sun Gate! The Incas built Sun Gates all over the Andes. Sun Gates, called Inti Punku, are structures built to honor the sun, usually at such an angle that they frame a distant mountain and welcome the first rays of the winter solstice.

Need an Alternative to the Inca Trail?  Try the Quarry Trail

My niece and I decided to do the Inca Trail alternative, the Quarry Trail offered by Intrepid instead. The Quarry trail was near the Inca Trail as both departed out of the little town of Ollantaytambo. The Quarry trail takes you through a few ruins, but it also has some things that are different than the beloved Inca Trail such as hiking through townships, it’s slightly shorter, and slightly higher in altitude (14,700 ft). And the best part – it was not crowded!

Check out my hiking packing list – essential hiking gear for any hike

In fact, we never saw any other hikers during our three days of hiking the Quarry Trail. In addition, the trail could be traversed by horse – therefore, it left a smaller footprint as it took fewer porters, and the supplies and camping gear were carried by horseback. However, you still had a beautiful camp setting with loads of delicious food.  Overall – this Intrepid Travel hike was a well-supported trip that provided a great alternative to the Inca Trail.

Learn more about Intrepid’s Quarry Trail Hike here!

Quarry Trail Facts

Distance: 16 miles
Duration: 2 nights camping, three days hiking
Altitude: 2 passes, the highest being 14,600 ft. (this is serious altitude – it’s not a walk in the park)
Organization: You are assigned a complete crew of horsemen and porters who put up the camp and maintain it, chefs, and one to two guides. Camping gear is furnished and food is included.

Day 1 – The starting point of our trek was Rafq’a and where we meet the horsemen and porters. After an approx. 1hr walk we arrived at the small community of Socma. We rested there by the school house and had a snack trying to catch our breath after our first hour hiking up in altitude. A further 60min walk took us to the Perolniyoc cascade lookout. From there we continued on to the campsite, at 12,139 feet above sea level.

Socma Peru Quarry Trail
Our first stop is the Community of Socma.
Inca Trail alternative
The longer, more gradual route up was still not easy. I was huffing & puffing.
Inca Trail alternative
Ruins along the Quarry Trail
Perolniyoc lookout Quarry Trail
Perolniyoc cascade lookout
Alternative to Inca Trail
Our campsite at 12,139 feet
Hiking Peru
Our hiking crew

See my Essential Hiking Gear List

Now that you’ve chosen a hike, you need to know what gear to take with you! Don’t leave on your hike without these hiking gear essentials!

Day 2 – A 3-hour walk takes us to the top of the first pass, Puccaqasa (approx 14,340 feet). The snow-capped peaks were gorgeous as we rose over the pass – well worth the slow effort of getting up there! The views of the valley below are spectacular – the whole day I felt small among giant moutnains and wide open spaces. We walked down for 30 min to our lunch spot and then continued on to Kuychicassa (14,600 feet). From there, we went down steep scree-filled switchbacks for two hours to a site the Incas called Inti Punku (Sun Gate), with stunning views over the valley below and the Veronica mountain rising over the horizon. We camped that night near Choquetacarpo (11800 ft).

Quarry Trail Andes Peru
Our view we woke up to – not too shabby
Puccaqasa pass peru
Climbing slowly to the first pass. Puccaqasa (approx 14,340 feet)
Inca Trail alternative Hiking in Peru
First glance at the snowy peaks!
Hiking Peru
A local girl along the way comes out and greets us
Inca Trail alternative
Hiking between the two passes was my favorite part!
Supported Hiking Peru
Our lunch stop – between the two passes
Descent Andes
Heading down the steep decline towards the Sun Gate and our camp
camp food peru
It’s amazing what the chef can whip up on a single burner

Day 3 – Day three is all downhill hiking, with a stop at the Kachiqata quarry (from where the trek gets its name), where we learned about the masonry of the Incas. The Incas worked the rocks up here and then dragged the rocks down into town across the river. Some of the boulders were huge – the size of cars! The Incas were so industrious and ingenious. We finished in Ollantaytambo again. From there, we had a quick snack in town and rode the train to Aguas Calientes Town that afternoon. Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, which we tackled the next morning by bus.

Campsite Quarry Trail
Waking up on Day 3 to a beautiful view
Hiking Quarry Trail
Sheep aren’t phased by us in their grazing area
Hiking Peru
An old home in the valley
Andes Hiking
Cows at lower altitudes…
Intrpid Travel Quarry Trail
Our fabulous Intrepid Travel Crew!

What You Miss By Not Taking the Inca Trail

The Quarry Trail is a nice alternative to the Inca Trail – yes – I’ve done both. The main thing you miss by doing the Quarry Trail is hiking through the rainforest, as the Quarry Trail doesn’t go through different micro-climates. In addition, you don’t enter Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate.   But both trails are challenging and have gorgeous views and an Inca history.  With the Quarry Trail, you arrive at Machu Picchu by bus, but then you can easily hike up to the Sun Gate once inside Machu Picchu if you want that famous Sun Gate experience.  However, if you are someone who has a driving desire to cross the Inca Trail off your bucket list – then just plan early so you get one of those 200 permits!  They go fast!

There are plenty of other alternatives to the Inca Trail – so don’t despair if the permits are gone. The Andes are vast and offer many challenges!

How to Visit Machuu Picchu and do the Quarry Trail

We did this hike as part of the bigger Intrepid Inca Trail and Amazon Trip we did.  Read about the full Inca Trail and Amazon itinerary and learn more about the alternative Quarry Trail here.

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Intrepid Travel as part of the Niece Project, however all opinions expressed here are my own. Some of these links contain affiliate links.

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