Everybody has heard of the Inca trail in Peru, and for many, it’s a bucket list item for when they finally plan a trip to Peru and visit the infamous Machu Picchu. My husband and I were firmly in this boat when we booked our Peru intrepid tour.
But when we were asked what hiking option we wished to do: Inca trail or quarry trail, we were intrigued. What was this quarry trail trek option?
The quarry trail is another hiking option for those wanting to see the Peruvian landscape and Machu Picchu and in our opinion, turned out to be our best option! Keep reading to see why 🙂
How can you visit Machu Picchu?
There are various itineraries for Machu Picchu, but generally, the three most common options for visiting Machu Picchu are:
- No hiking, you catch a train to the town Aguas Caliente and from there, hop on one of the many regular buses from the town up to Machu Picchu. This is ideal for visitors who don’t wish to trek or have limited time visiting this wonder of the world.
- Hike the very well known 4D/3N Inca trail and on the last day, enter Machu Picchu at sunrise through the sun gate.
- Hike alternative trails, including the 3D/2N Quarry Trail. At the end of the 3rd day after trekking, check into a hotel in Aguas Caliente and on the following morning (4th day), catch a bus from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu.
For options 1 and 2 there is a wealth of information out there already, particularly from people who have hiked the Inca trail and lived to tell the tale.
Below we would like to share our experience of choosing option 3 where we hiked the Quarry Trail and why we chose it over the classic Inca Trail.
What is the Quarry Trail?
This 26km 3 day, 2 night hike takes you through gorgeous Peruvian landscapes, ascending to a maximum altitude of 4,450m (14,599ft) – slightly higher than the classic Inca Trail. Permits are not required to hike this trail, and while you think that may mean more hikers, it’s the opposite!
Day 1: Beginning at 9 am, you first drive to Choquequilla, a ceremonial place for the Inca for a ‘test run’ mini hike. After the visit, you’re driven to the starting point at Rafq’a where you begin the 7km ascent from 3,600m up to your campsite at 3,750m.
Day 2: From here, you’ll trek for 14km through two passes, reaching your highest elevation of 4,450m at Kuychicassa pass. You’ll see sacred sites including Intipunku (‘Sun gate’, though not to be confused with the Machu Picchu sungate!) and camp at Choquetacarpo at 3,750m.
Day 3: Another early morning wake up, but with a more leisurely 7km hike back down to Ollantaytambo, with stops including Kachiqata quarry for which the trek gets its name. You’ll arrive back in Ollantaytambo town around midday and catch a train back to Aguas Caliente and spend the night in a hotel there.
Day 4: After yesterdays shower and good night rest in a comfortable bed, take a bus from the town up to Machu Picchu at 6 am and catch the sun hitting Machu Picchu first thing in the morning. You’ll spend the day in Machu Picchu with a guided tour from 9 am – 11 am.
Why choose the Quarry Trail over the Inca Trail?
While we didn’t do the Inca Trail, we were part of a group where fellow group members did do the classic route, and of course, we couldn’t help but compare notes. Keep in mind though our observations are based on what we experienced and what we factually know about both the Inca Trail and Quarry Trail.
Below are some of our thoughts on why the Quarry Trail was an excellent fit for us and why it could be a better alternative for you too:
1) You won’t be hiking with 499 of your closest friends
Perhaps the best differentiator between the Quarry Trail and Inca Trail is the number of other tourist hikers you’ll encounter along your trek. On the Inca Trail, permits for 500 hikers are issued each day and sell out months in advance. This means that throughout your 4 days, you’ll be hiking alongside many other tourist groups, tour guides and their porters.
In contrast, you are virtually hiking alone with your group on the Quarry Trail. During our 3 days, we encountered one other hiking group briefly on our second day; otherwise, it was all locals going about their daily lives. You truly feel you are trekking off the beaten path in the serene Peruvian wilderness!
2) Be treated to unbeatable views
Every day during our 3-day hike brought the most incredible views of Peruvian mountains and valleys. The scenery from start to finish was spectacular, with a particular highlight waking up on the 3rd day in the clouds as you looked out to views of Nevado Veronica mountain.
3) No dreaded stairs
If you’ve read up on the Inca Trek, you’ll know the second day of the trek is essentially a giant stair master session at altitude. On the Quarry Trail however, there are virtually no stairs! It is predominantly meandering paths through the Peruvian landscape, and while there are definite inclines or steep parts, there is no full day dedicated to feeling the burn like in the Inca Trail. So, if you suffer from bad knees or ankles, this could be a key difference.
4) Stress less with emergency horses!
If you are worried about fitness levels or injuries, a bonus aspect of the Quarry Trail is it comes with emergency horses. Due to the terrain, pack horses are used to carry all bags, food and equipment (as opposed to the traditional porters on the Inca trail). Included in this team of horses are two horses designated “emergency horses”, which as the name implies, can be used in the case of any individuals falling ill or injured.
On our trek, we had one lady fall ill with the flu on the first day, and two others suffer more severe altitude sickness. So for some parts of the trek, under the request of our guide they were popped up onto these horses. If these individuals had on the Inca Trail, they would have been forced to ‘tough it out’ or likely be turned back to town by their guides.
Another minor side benefit of having horses as opposed to porters is the weight limit for your packed duffel is a little bit more lax. On the Inca Trail bags are weighed precisely to ensure Porters are not carrying additional weight, however, on the Quarry Trail this didn’t happen. That’s not to say you can bring your whole suitcase though as the duffel bags provided are limited in size anyways.
5) Still physically challenging
Although emergency horses are provided, they are just that – only for emergencies and when needed. You are still climbing to elevations of 4,450m, and as two relatively fit and young people, we found the Quarry Trail physically demanding without being overwhelming.
6) Meet locals and experience their way of life
A wonderful aspect of the Quarry Trek is passing through small local towns and having many opportunities to meet locals and see their way of life.
Before embarking on our tour, our group leader took us to the farmer markets where we were able to purchase fresh fruits or biscuits to distribute to families we met along the way.
On the morning of our second day, our guide provided wonderful insight into the lives of local Peruvians, with one family kindly inviting us into their homes and allowing us to see firsthand how they lived.
7) Only 3 days and 2 nights camping
Another benefit of the Quarry Trail for us was the length of the trek. At 3 days and 2 nights, it is 1 night shorter than the Inca Trail and we felt it was the perfect amount of time for us.
8) You’ll be clean and well-rested for your visit to Machu Picchu
When you finish trekking on the 3rd day and return to a hotel in Aguas Caliente, you’ll be rewarded with the best hot shower of your life. You’ll be able to sleep in a comfortable bed the night before and be well-rested (not to mention clean!) when you enter Machu Picchu. That simple luxury should not be discounted!
9) See Machu Picchu without the hordes of tourists & still visit the famous Sungate
As you catch a bus up to Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day, you can be one of the first people to enter Machu Picchu. You’ll be able to experience the site people-free. As we arrived in the first wave of buses, we were also treated to seeing the first rays of sunlight hit the Incan site.
A common misconception is that the Inca Trail allows you to be amongst the first people entering Machu Picchu. Whilst it does allow you a magical sight of seeing Machu Picchu through the Sungate at sunrise (albeit at a distance), you’ll need time to hike back down to the site. In contrast, those visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliente by bus will enter the grounds well before the hikers get there.
10) You’ll still be able to see the famous Intipunku Sungate
After entering Machu Picchu by the main gates and snapping a few hundred photos, there is still the opportunity to hike up to the famous Intipuku Sungate. And the best part? By the time you arrive all the Inca Trek hikers will have started their descent down – so there won’t be a huge crowd!
Also, whilst not the Machu Picchu Sungate, there is also a sun gate to be seen on the Quarry Trail. The vista from this viewpoint simply took our breath away. Emerging from the mist, it offered incredible views over the valley and was well worth the slight detour! This sun gate is located just before you reach the camp on the 2nd day and only adds an extra 15-20 minutes of walking time.
11) No 3 am wake-up call!
On the 4th and last day of the Inca Trail, hikers experience a 3 am wake up call and approx 1.5-hour wait in the cold outside the gates of Machu Picchu. While the gates only open at 5:30 am, many groups get up early to be the first ones in. This early wake up is also necessitated by the fact that porters need to pack up campsites by 4 am to be able to catch their early train back to town. If they miss the early morning one, their next train isn’t till nightfall!
In contrast, if you are travelling to Machu Pichu by bus from Aguas Caliente, you can head down to the bus stop at any time you wish. If you do want to be one of the first ones in, however, you may need to start lining up from 4:30/5am. Being said, we only arrived at the bus stop at 5:50 am but through our wonderful guide, were able to jump straight onto a bus and bypass the queue. We’re still not quite sure how he managed it, so definitely don’t bank on your guide being able to do it too!
Are you interested in booking the Quarry Trail?
We booked our Quarry Trail trek as part of our Peru/Bolivia intrepid tour here. [https://www.intrepidtravel.com/en/peru/explore-peru-bolivia-116640]
Just some final bits and pieces:
- Keep an eye out for travel expos or sign up to Intrepid sale updates as you can easily get this tour at a discount.
- Remember to check your insurance covers activities at altitude!
- Remember to check the weather at that time of year and bring layers. You get pretty hot trekking during the day but at night, temperatures are cold.
- If you have them, pack your trekking boots.
Being said, my husband and I completed this Quarry Trek with regular sneakers (and terrible tread!) with no issues. Luckily it didn’t rain during our trek as if it did, I think it may have been a different story…3
Check out some of our tips and tricks when travelling to Peru.
Peru, famous for one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. There are so many ways to see Machu Picchu, some more common than others. The known Inca Trail is one, but have you heard of the Quarry Trail?
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