The Inca Trail is a famous trekking route located in Peru that leads to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The 26-mile trail winds through the Andes Mountains, passing high-altitude cloud forests, alpine tundra, and subtropical jungle.
Built by the Incas in the 15th century, it served as a major transportation route for the Inca Empire. It is believed that the trail was also used as a pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu, which was a sacred site for the Incas.
Today, the Inca Trail is a popular trekking route for tourists from all over the world. It takes around four days, and along the trail, hikers can see various Inca ruins and stunning views of the Andes Mountains and the ultimate highlight of the trek is reaching Machu Picchu sun gate at sunrise on the final day.
The Inca Trail makes it to every bucket list out there – so why in the world would you want an alternative?
Whilst the Inca Trail has the distinguished title, it also has a very strict permit system making it quite difficult to book onto, particularly during the peak season of May to September. In order to maintain the quality of the trail, protect its fragile ecosystem and cultural heritage, only 500 people are allowed on it daily, including porters, guides and tourists, proving quite difficult to land yourself a place on it. Due to the hype surrounding it, you’ll find this to be one of the busiest treks on offer – and with very narrow cliff-side paths, you might want to take it at a more laid back pace…
There are so many other options for trekking in the Peruvian Andes, from the Lares to Salkantay and even the Geckos Adventures exclusive option, The Quarry Trek. I was insanely lucky to have won this trip (including my flights to Peru thanks to Intrepid Travel and Tourradar) and to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. I originally wanted to book the Inca Trail, which was sold out, but after speaking to the team, they assured the Quarry Trek would be an incredible experience – and they weren’t wrong!
What is the Quarry Trek?
The Quarry Trek spans a distance of 16 miles (26 kilometres) and takes around 3 days to complete. Starting from the town of Ollantaytambo, the trek leads through the picturesque Vilcanota River Valley, passing by charming local villages and breathtaking landscapes. En route, hikers can discover Inca ruins and terraces, as well as the magnificent Perolniyoc Falls.
While the Quarry Trek is less well-known and less challenging compared to other alternative trekking routes in Peru, it still provides a distinct and captivating trekking adventure, with stunning scenery and cultural insights.
This trek is exclusive to Intrepid Travel – meaning you’re not going to get hordes of tourists clogging up your scenery.
I joined it as part of a 7-day tour, 3 of which were spent hiking. This trip is called the Inca Trail Express. Starting in Cusco, you get to meet your group and tour leaders who take you on an orientation walk through the wonderful city before enjoying a group dinner. The restaurant chosen was awesome, offering Peruvian classics such as Lomo Saltado and quinoa soups and even breaking the ice between us by getting us to make our own Pisco Sours!
The hike itself is a distance of around 16 miles and ascends to heights of up to 4,450 metres metres above sea level, taking you over beautiful green mountains, historic Incan ruins, past thundering waterfalls and through the misty clouds.
Our trip began with an early bus from Cusco to Ollaytaytambo, where we enjoyed breakfast with the mountains we were about to climb surrounding us. From here, we drove to our starting point. The group was small and intimate, with only 7 of us on the trip, along with our 2 guides, 4 horses and 4 horsemen.
Where the Inca Trail is a 4 day, 3 night camping experience, the Quarry Trail is a day shorter and rather than getting up at 2am to hike into the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu on day 4, instead the trek finishes on day 3, where you have a night to rejuvenate in Aguas Calientes before catching the early train to Machu Picchu the next morning.
The Sun Gate can be a huge selling point for some people when choosing a trek but be warned that you are not guaranteed to actually see the sunrise due to heavily foggy weather conditions. If you go during peak season (ew, more tourists) you might be lucky enough to catch the sunrise but don’t be let down if you don’t! The fog creates a pretty mystical atmosphere and the sun is most likely to make an appearance later on in the day. You have to take into consideration the time of year you want to travel as well, as the Inca Trail is closed throughout the month of February for restoration so don’t rush to book any time off work if you were planning to do it then!
On the first night you meet your Intrepid guide, who hosts the introductory talk and joins you for dinner. They’re so helpful at welcoming you into the city. At the orientation, you are then joined by 1 of 2 local guides who accompany you on the trek and are great for advice on the trek or answering any general Quarry related questions. On the first trekking day, you then meet the second guide, who is also there for further support and trekking knowledge. You then meet your horsemen and chefs who will hike a bit further ahead of you to get your meals prepped and set up camp for you – a godsend when you’ve been hiking uphill for 7-8 hours!
Our local guides were absolutely incredible! Jose was our main guide and Michael was our secondary guide, who was in training to be a primary but was still working on his English skills. It was great having two guides to keep an eye on you and having one at the front and another at the back (where I usually was) meant you could really take it at your own pace. Jose was so informative and really professional and Michael brought a real energy to the group – he’d been trekking since he was 7 so he was more than accustomed to the journey.
Not only were the horsemen awesome, I much preferred the idea of a horse carrying the small weight of our sleeping bags and essentials rather than a person (the Inca trail uses porters).
We’d all stocked up on sweets and snacks the night before our trek started, thinking we’d need it…absolutely not! I’ve never been so well fed before! With 3 course meals for dinner, including evening snacks we were always full!
Breakfast would consist of breads and spreads as well as porridge and alternating between eggs and pancakes. Lunch was always a warming soup before a hearty meal of rice, veggies and protein. Dishes like delicious chicken, lomo saltado and trout were served – I don’t normally like fish but I still think about how good this trout was! After the day’s trek, we’d arrive back and enjoy some card games in the dining tent with snacks such as popcorn, cheese and crackers or local snack cancha, always accompanied by coca tea (this really helps with any altitude sickness!) and coffee. Dinner was very similar to lunch but with a dessert to end!
Overall, I was so impressed with the tour and was so glad that the Inca Trail was sold out in the end. Everything was well planned, the guides were wonderful throughout and even though the hike was challenging, it was so rewarding. The moment we hit the summit, I was over the moon! Overlooking the snow capped mountains on one side of the cliff and seeing a small isolated village on the other side was just incredible.