Moonstone treks, 5 days
Price as of 2019 up to 16 people in the group:
US$ 600 - regular price
US$ 580 - student card
An off the beaten track route to explore the rugged cordillera, the surrounding cliffs dotted with Incan temples. We discover the beauty of tranquil Andean valleys with superb views of the 6,000m – 18,000ft snow peaks of the Urubamba and Huayanay mountain ranges. We also explore amazing Inca stonework in the enormous 15th century quarry site of Cachicata. After dropping down into the Sacred Valley of the Incas we reach the royal Inca town of Ollantaytambo, with its remarkable Sun temple. We travel to Machu Picchu by train for a full exploration of the famous city.
This little-known route is fast becoming one of our favorite alternatives to the better-known traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. During four hiking days you cover 35 km - 22 miles, starting at 3,224m / 10,575ft, and finishing at 2,840m / 9,315ft above sea level. You cross two high passes, with a maximum elevation of 4,625m / 15,170ft. While trail conditions are generally good, some steep trail sections require careful footing and good hiking boots. Nevertheless, thanks to our careful pacing, dedicated guides and professional support staff, the trip is suitable for novices as well as experienced hikers.
Your backpack and the heavy camp gear are carried on horses or mules - you walk carrying only a day-pack. Cooks prepare wholesome meals with fresh ingredients and handle all the kitchen chores. You sleep warm and protected in good quality tents.
This route does not require trek permits, and thus is an excellent choice when trek permits for the Inca Trail are sold out, or if you prefer trekking on a little-used trail.
Day 1: Cusco - Quillarumiyoc - Huata - Chillipahua
We pick you up at your Cusco hotel and transfer by van west across the high Anta plain, following the route of the royal Inca Road which led from the capital toward the northern quarter of the empire. We stop first at the sacred Inca shrine known as Quillarumiyoc (Moonstone in the Quechua language of the Incas), one of the finest of the carved rock “huacas” in the vicinity of Cuzco. We continue to our trailhead by the Huaracondo river where it drains the western edge of the plain, and meet our horseme. We commence trekking on a broad trail northward, above the west bank of the Huaracondo river. After an easy two-hour hike, we reach Huata, a substantial pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge at 3,855m/12,645 ft. Archaeologists currently excavating the site are revealing burials and occupation levels from the Formative Period (2,500 years ago) on through the enormous fortifications of the 4th century Regional development period; a scattering of late-period Inca structures seems like an afterthought on the top of the highest hill. The site is classic: a defensible ridge with dominating three-way views along intersecting valleys. After lunch we continue on our way westward into the range, and camp next to a rural school in the hamlet of Chillipahua at 3,750m / 12,300ft.
Day 2: Chillipahua - Accoccasa pass - Chancachuco
We climb gradually through fields and glades of the indigenous Chachacomo tree, in a landscape of pastures and small fields clinging to the steep mountainsides. Wherever there is water, we find an Andean family compound of adobe and straw. But there is little water in this mountain range, and we are continuously reminded of how precious a commodity water was and is to the Andean people. We climb to a small glade at 4,400m / 14,432ft for a delicious lunch, then continue up to the col at the head of the valley. From our location atop Accoccasa Pass (4,625m / 15,170ft) we enjoy breathtaking views to the immense snow peaks: the Huayanay to our west, the Urubamba range to the north. We enjoy an easy descent, to camp at 4,350 m/14,268 ft in the broad valley of Chancachuco, facing the glaciers of the Huayanay Range.
Day 3: Chancachuco - Huayracpuncu - Llactallactayoq - Inca Quarry (Cachicata).
Toward the western end of the high valley, we follow the contours of a now-abandoned Inca aqueduct which transported water from the Chancachuco valley north to supply the otherwise-arid north-facing slopes above Ollantaytambo. This aqueduct once transported water across a sheer cliff face high above the Silque River. Today, on the mountainside above us we can glimpse traces of the original stonework, testimony to the extraordinary engineering in the project. We reach our final pass (3,940m/12,923 ft) and visit a spectacular ridge-top Inca shrine called Huayracpunku (Gate of the Wind), with an astonishing view towards Nevado Veronica (5,682m/18,637 ft) directly across the valley. The site offers unsurpassed views to the terraces and temple site of the royal town of Ollantaytambo, over 4,000 feet below us. Constructed in the 15th century by the Inca emperor Pachacutec, the town was an important administrative and religious center. We descend, past the curious Inca administrative site of Llaqtallaqtayoq, to our camp on a broad terrace at 3,525m/11,562 ft at the edge of the enormous Cachiccata quarry. In the afternoon we explore the intricate quarry workings. From this steep talus slope beneath the sheer face of Cerro Yanaorcco, immense red granite building stones were carved onsite and then skidded down to the valley floor, across the river, and then up to the sun temple site on the far side of the valley. We explore the ramps and work platforms around the largest of the stones. Orchids and other flowers are abundant in and around the quarry site, set high on the mountainside above the valley floor.
Day 4: Inca Quarry (Cachicata) - Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes
We descend on a broad Inca trail down through the lower quarry zone, and stop at a key hilltop, from where the worked stones were skidded down the steep slope to the Vilcanota River below. On the far bank, between the river and the Sun Temple, we can see several of these "Tired Stones", which were abandoned half-way between quarry and temple. Chroniclers tell us that work on the temple site was suddenly halted when the Colla masons fled back toward their homes in the Lake Tiahuanaco area, just prior to the arrival of the Spanish invaders. We continue down, cross the river, and arrive finally at the famous Sun Temple in Ollantaytambo. We have time to explore the temple and the adjacent village, before catching a late afternoon train to Aguas Calientes. We check into a hotel for the night.
Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco
This day will be worth the early 4.30 am rise! After breakfast we take a bus up to Machu Picchu at 5:30 to arrive at 6:00 am.
Your guide will lead you to the upper part of Machu Picchu to begin the tour through this wonderful archaeological Incan site and learn much about the fascinating culture of the Incas. By 8:30 you will be free to further explore the site on your own until 4:00 pm the latest!
Optional - Huayna Picchu mountain.- If you want to hike up to the popular Huayna Picchu mountain which appears in the background of the classic picture of Machu Picchu, please let us know when booking to check availability - 3 months in advance is necessary. It is about US $35 extra not included in the regular Machu Picchu ticket price. Only 400 people are allowed entry to the Huayna Picchu mountain per day; one group of 200 arrive at 7:00 am and the other 200 at 10:00 am. We recommend the second group as morning clouds may intrude on views of the citadel.
You leave from Machu Picchu at 4:00 the latest to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes, with time for eating and shopping in town, and at 6:35 pm travel 2 hours by train back to Ollantaytambo where a bus will be waiting for you for a two hour trip to Cusco.
You will arrive to Cusco at 10:30 pm (it is a 4 hour trip back to Cusco from Aguas Calientes).
If you prefer to arrive earlier in Cusco, we recommend taking a train at 2:55 pm from Aguas Calientes please let us know your preference.
What is included?
-"Walking tour in Cusco", 1 or 2 days before your departure.
-Pre-departure briefing, 1 or 2 nights before the trek, introduced by your guides.
-Tourist bus from your hotel to the beginning of the trek.
-Professional bilingual guide (English and Spanish).
-Assistant guide (groups of over 8 people).
-Entrance fee for Machu Picchu.
-Boiled-cooled water since day 1 at lunch time
-4 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 3 afternoon snacks (happy hour), 4 dinners, 3 snacks for walking.
-Dining tent, tables and chairs.
-Cook and cooking equipment.
-Four-person tent for two people.
-Horseman or arriero.
-Horses to carry the groceries and camping equipment.
-Emergency horse for riding.
-Bottled oxygen and first aid kit.
-2-Star hotel at Aguas Calientes.
-Bus ticket round trip from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
-Round train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (Expedition service, notice at 19:00 from Ollantaytambo and at 18:20 from Aguas Calientes) and bus from Ollantaytambo to Cusco.
-No extra cost for vegetarian food on request.
Optional services not included:
-Upgrade of train service to Vistadome Class at 16:22, US$35.
-Upgrade of train service to Expedition Class at 14:55 pm, US$20.
-Renting of sleeping bag - 3 seasons, US $20.
-Walking poles – US $20 each pair.
-Single tent supplement – US $30.
-Extra night in Aguas Calientes - US$50 (2-Star hotel).
Ask for discounts:
Discount if you are a student (US$20 - ISIC card only, send a Scanned copy at booking), teenagers up to 15 years old (US$20), children up to 7 years old (US$40).
*Size of the group: Min. 2 people, max. 8 people.
-Shorts (during the day it is normally warm, so take some sun screen).
-Walking poles with rubber tips.
-Plasters and bandages.
-Bathing suit (hot springs at Aguas Calientes).
What do You need to take?
-Original passport (ISIC student card if applicable). You must bring the passport or ID you used for booking. If you get a new one, it is essential to bring a copy of the old one at least or send us an email with a scanned copy of the new one to update the Inca Trail permit. Otherwise, you will not get into the Inca Trail.
-Travel insurance is essential.
-A comfortable backpack (you will carry your personal belongs, sleeping bag and mattress too) or daypack if you hired a porter (we'll provide you with a duffle bag).
-Snacks: biscuits, energy bars, chocolate, raw fruits. Our meals are very complete and well supplied, but you will realize after walking a couple of hours that you need to bite into a cookie!
-Sleeping bag for temperatures of at least -5 C or 20 F (not included - you can rent it from us).
-Waterproof gear, rain poncho (just in case during the dry season too).
-Warm jacket and warm clothes (temperature varies from -5 to 24 C - 20 to 75 F ).
-Hat, gloves, and sunglasses.
-Sun protection cream (35 SF recommended).
-Insect repellent (20% DEET - no malaria has been reported).
-Water purifying pills.
-Personal First Aid kit.
-Camera and charger to use it at 4th night.
-Flashlight and spare alkaline batteries.
-We recommend packing your belongs in plastic bags due the rain and a waterproof cover for your backpack.
-Extra money (300 soles or $100, though it is better to only bring soles. There is an ATM only in Aguas Calientes).
*IMPORTANT: To qualify as a student, you must have a valid ISIC student st card and send a copy at booking.
*Advise us about any allergy or personal health condition (asthma, etc).