A far less busy alternative to the Inca Trail, the Quarry Trail is a 26km, two and a half day walk that is effectively a loop from Ollantaytambo, a popular hub for visiting Machu Picchu.
I’ve not done the classic Inca Trail, it was full when I booked six months before travelling, but from what I understand it is tougher (though the highest point on the Quarry Trail is 250m higher than the highest on the Inca Trail), and more historic, but is incredibly busy, even with limit of 500 people a day. The Quarry Trail is pretty much exclusively walked by Intrepid Travel tour groups. When I walked it in mid October there was only one other group around, who we barely saw.
Starting 20 minutes drive from Ollantaytambo day one was only 8km, and we finished by lunchtime, but it involved 800m of ascent to the campsite at 3,750m. This was the highest I’ve walked, and I could certainly feel the altitude. Thankfully I didn’t get a headache (though others in the group did) but I was certainly short of breadth heading up the steeper parts. The guides took it slowly though, taking just over five hours to make sure everyone could make it up.
We passed through the village of Socma, one of the largest in the area with around 200 people and a small primary school.
The reward for a steep section of ascent was the Pilcbamba waterfall.
Which looked even more stunning when put in the context of it being below the hilltop Perolniyoc archaeological site. This predates Incas but is mostly their work, with a restoration two years ago bringing it to life, if removing some of the magic of hilltop ruins.
This was definitely glamping compared to my usual camping, with spacious tents already set up in the field of a local farmer, a great way to support the local community, from which most of our support team of porters (using horses) and cooks came from. We had a food tent with great two and three course meals served, and a handy toilet tent, thankfully securely fastened.
We were lucky with the morning weather given the forecast, but the rain and cold arrived over lunchtime. I was very glad of bringing many warm layers, it’s cold at altitude.
The second day was the toughest of the walk, 15km and heading over the 4,450m high pass at Kuychicassa, only a few hundred metres lower than the submit of Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe. The morning is all uphill up to and over the 4,370m pass at Puccaqasa, before an early lunch, another hundred metres up and then downhill to camp at the same height of 3,750m as the first night. It’s a very scenic day though, with the 5,800m Mt Veronica coming into view at the first pass.
After the highest pass it’s a steep descent to the campsite but the views were pretty stunning. The weather wasn’t ideal, but compared to the forecast three days of rain we were very lucky, with generally good mornings, and the rain coming in the afternoon.
Finished with shortest and easiest day, just 5km downhill. On the way we stopped at the Kachiqata Inca Quarry, home to a bone filled cave, and close by some interesting funeral towers.
We finished by walking into Ollantaytambo, which had some wonderful terracing along by the river.