Many people don’t realize that the famous Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu make up a small piece of a vast Inca road system that spans from Peru to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Argentina. The roads connected the Inca empire and were used by Chaski’s, or couriers who would run for days to deliver messages or goods between the viceroys.
The Inca civilization was such masters of design that even today, in many areas, the Inca Trails still remain intact and lead to obscure and rarely seen ruins. In the Cusco area, there is an abundance of rarely used Inca Trails that lead to old Inca palaces, small villages, and burial sites. Below we’ve listed our 3 favorites around Cusco.
Outside of the small town of Ollantaytambo, there’s a small dirt road that leads up the Patacancha Valley to the seldom-visited site of Pumamarca. Pumamarca in Quechua means Puma=Puma and Marca=Village, Puma Village.
Pumamarca was a fortress built on a steep slope to control access into The Sacred Valley from the nearby jungle. Upon arrival, you will note the steep Inca terraces, the Inca irrigation systems on the hike up, and the commanding viewpoint the site holds over the valley. Check out our new program for 2021.
Distance: 6 km (3.7 miles) – From the base of the ruins or 8.75 miles from Ollantaytambo
Time: Approx. 3-5 hours (time varies depending on car support to the site or start from Ollantaytambo).
Ascent: 50 meters (164 feet)
Descent: 600 meters (1,969 feet)
Altitude: 2,850 – 3,400 meters (9,350-11,155 feet)
2. Huchuy Qosqo
The Huchy Qosqo trek is within the reach of most people. We recommend using vehicle support to climb the dirt roads above Lamay that were built to maintain the reservoir.
The trailhead starts at Lake Qoricoha at 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) and is mainly downhill, on a restored Inca path. The highlight is when the trail enters a narrow canyon full of flowers and hummingbirds, with steep Inca steps and wooden bridges taking you alongside a gurgling stream. Coming out of the canyon you continue along the Inca path, with the valley dropping down beside you, to eventually pass through the old city gates into the site of Huchuy Qosqo.
It was thought to have been built by the Inca Viracocha around 1420 as a summer retreat. It has a great location, perched high up on the edge of the Sacred Valley, with a view across Lamay to snow-capped peaks. Built around a large ceremonial square, much of the site has been restored, with more in progress. When the Incas left, it was settled by Spanish conquerors, and the difference between their two building styles is notable. After exploring this usually deserted set of ruins, it’s a 2-3-hour hike down to the valley below, where you can either pick up your private vehicle or public transport back to Cusco.
Distance: 9.9 km (6.15 miles) – From Lake Qoricocha back down to Lamay.
Time: Approx. 5-7 hours (time varies depending on time exploring ruins and eating lunch).
Ascent: 200 meters (656 feet)
Descent: 1,300 meters (4,265 feet)
Altitude: 2,850 – 4,200 meters (9,350-13,123 feet)
A mere 3 hours from Cusco lies a stunning, little-known Inca site, perched high above the Apurimac Canyon at 4,100metres/ 13,450 feet.
Its name means “The Horned Fortress”. The Waqrapukara Trek is a must for anyone wanting to visit this stunning archaeological site before it is discovered by the crowds. While you can do this hike in 1-day we recommend taking your time and making it a 2-day adventure. Camping close to the ruins, under the star-filled Andean sky, far from the crowds, is a truly memorable experience.
For the hike, we recommend starting past the small village of Sangarara and climbing further to the road ahead until around 4,000 meters where an Inca Trail begins. A mainly flat trail for around 4 hours will bring you to the site to explore. To return we recommend descending towards the small town of Campi, where you will meet your vehicle support back to Cusco.
Distance: 15 km (9.3 miles) – From the Inca Trail outside of Sangarara to the town of Campi.
Time: Approx. 9-10 hours (time varies depending on time exploring ruins and eating lunch).
Ascent: 100 meters (328 feet)
Descent: 373 meters (1,224 feet)
Altitude: 3,727 – 4,100 meters (9,350-13,123 feet)
With the Classic Inca Trail hike having around 500 people on it per day, it can be crowded and loses that “pristine” feel that many people that enjoy backpacking crave when they go into the mountains. These treks will give you a unique experience, pull you out of the crowds, and make you feel like an explorer. Not to mention, with overcrowding and overuse with the most popular sites, choosing to do something a little less conventional, will be rewarded in a more personalized, authentic, and cultural experience.1