Taking the Inca Trail through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu seems to be on everyone’s bucket list these days. The problem – 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 often times more challenging! In fact they even have a Sun Gate too! 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. Above – 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.
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 nearby the Inca Trail as both depart 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! In fact, we never saw any other hikers during our 3 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.
Quarry Trail Facts:
Distance: 16 miles
Duration: 2 nights camping, 3 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.
Our first stop at the Community of Socma.
The longer more gradual route up was still not easy. I was huffing & puffing.
Ruins along the Quarry Trail
Perolniyoc cascade lookout
Our campsite at 12,139 feet
Day 2 – A 3hr 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 2hrs to a site the Incas called Inti Punku, (Sun Gate) with stunning views over the valley bellow and the Veronica mountain raising over the horizon. We camped that night near Choquetacarpo (11800 ft).
Our view we woke up to – not too shabby
Climbing slowly to the first pass. Puccaqasa (approx 14,340 feet)
First glance at the snowy peaks!
A local girl along the way comes out and greets us
Hiking between the two passes was my favorite part!
Our lunch stop – between the two passes
Heading down the steep decline towards the Sun Gate and our camp
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 it’s 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 then rode the train to Aguas Calientes Town that afternoon. Aguas Calientes is gateway to Machu Picchu which we tackled the next morning by bus.
Waking up on Day 3 to a beautiful view
Sheep aren’t phased by us in their grazing area
An old home in the valley
Cows at lower altitude…
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!