Moonstone to Sun Temple

11birdMoonstone to Sun Temple

Explore the spectacular eastern extension of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This little-known route is our favorite alternative to the better-known traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We follow the footsteps of the Incas who built a high route from their capital city of Cuzco westward through the rugged cordillera, and filled their empire with amazing temples and royal residences. We camp high, and discover the beauty of tranquil Andean valleys with sublime views toward the 18,000-foot snow peaks of the Urubamba and Huayanay Ranges. We also explore amazing Inca stone works in an enormous 15th century quarry site of Cachiqata. After descending 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 our favorite alternative to the better known traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. During four hiking days you cover 39 km/24 miles, starting at 3,224m/10,575', and finishing at 2,840m/9,315' above sea level. You cross two high passes, with a maximum elevation of 4,625m/15,170'. While trail conditions are generally good, some steep trail sections require careful footing, good hiking boots with lug soles, and trekking poles. Nevertheless, thanks to our careful pacing, dedicated guides and professional support staff, the trip is suitable for novices as well as experienced hikers.

Your trail duffel and the camp gear is carried by packhorses; you walk carrying only a day-pack. Cooks prepare wholesome meals from fresh ingredients and handle all the kitchen chores. You sleep warm and protected in high 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..

What's included at a glance

  • indicated meals
  • transport by train and bus
  • porterage of up to 10 kg personal gear
  • communal camp gear including tables and camp chairs
  • heated dining tent
  • spacious sleeping tents
  • Thermarest sleeping pad
  • water filter and other amenities.

What's excluded:

  • Machu Picchu citadel fee with Huayna Picchu: 75 USD Payable in advance with trek cost
  • personal trekking gear and sleeping bag (can be hired for 80 USD)
  • tips to guides and porters


Day 1: Quillarumiyoq to Chillipahua We pick you up at your Cuzco 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 town of Izcuchaca, a bustling market center. We venture into the market building to enjoy the colorful scene. A few minutes drive beyond Izcuchaca, we reach the sacred Inca shrine known as Quillarumiyoq ("Moonstone" in the Quechua language of the Incas), one of the finest of the carved rock huacas (sacred places) in the vicinity of Cuzco. Archeologists working at this site are revealing extensive terracing of a major ritual center. We continue to our trailhead by the Huaracondo River where it drains the western edge of the plain, and meet our trail crew, who arrive from a nearby community. We commence trekking following a broad trail northward, above the west bank of the Huaracondo River. After an easy two-hour hike, we reach Huatta, a substantial pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge at 3,855 m/12,645'. Archeological excavations have revealed 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 on the top of the highest hill seems like an historical afterthought. The site is classic: a defensible ridge with dominating three-way views along converging valleys. After lunch we continue on our way westward into the range, and camp at3,750m/12,300' next to a rural school in the hamlet of Chillipahua. 10.5km/6.5 miles (L,D)

Day 2: Chancachuco We climb gradually through fields and glades of the indigenous Chachacomo tree, in a landscape of sparse pastures and small fields supported by terraced walls on 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 - we are reminded hour by hour of how precious a commodity water was and is to the Andean people. We climb to a small knoll at 4,400 m/14,432' for delicious hot lunch, then continue up to the col. From our location atop Accoccasa Pass (4,625m/15,170' - the highest point on the trek) we enjoy breathtaking views to immense snowpeaks: the Huaynays to our west, the Urubamba range to the north. We enjoy an easy descent, to camp at 4,350 m/14,268' in the broad valley of Chancachuco, facing the glaciers of the Huaynay Range. 8.8 km/5.5 miles (B,L,D)

Day 3: Huayrapunku/Cachiqata Quarry We trek westward, gradually descending the high valley, to the headworks of a now-abandoned Inca aqueduct which transported water from the Chancachuco valley north to supply the otherwise-arid north-facing slopes above Ollantaytambo. Inca engineers built this aqueduct across a sheer cliff face high above the Silque River. After we descend through a flower-filled slot canyon in the valley wall, we enjoy views north towards Nevado Veronica (5,682m/18,637') directly across the valley. 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') and visit a spectacular ridge-top Inca shrine called Huayrapunku (Gate of the Wind), with more great panoramas. 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 curiously arid and abandoned Inca administrative site of Llaqtallaqtayoq, to our camp on a broad terrace at 3,525m/11,562'at the edge of the enormous Cachiqata quarry. In the afternoon we visit a cave to make coca-leaf offerings to mummified human remains considered ancestors by the wranglers and trek crew. We also explore the intricate quarry workings. From this steep talus slope beneath the sheer face of Cerro Yanaorco, 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. 11.8 km/7.4 miles to camp, plus optional additional walking in the Inca quarry. (B,L,D)
Day 4: Ollantaytambo/Machu Picchu We descend on a broad Inca road 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 us. On the far bank, between the river and the Sun Temple, we can see several of these piedras cansadas ("Tired Stones"), which were abandoned half-way between quarry and temple construction zone. 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 to the village by the river, and visit a local chicheria, where you may sample chicha, the delicious lightly-fermented corn beverage which is an integral part of every Andean festival and social gathering. After crossing the river, we walk into the village of Ollantaytambo. We have time to explore the temple and the adjacent village, and enjoy lunch at the home of a local family. In late afternoon we catch a train down the valley to Aguas Calientes. We check into a hotel for the night. 8 km./5 miles. (B,L are included; dinner in Aguas Calientes is on your own).
Day 5: Machu Picchu We enter the famous "Lost City of the Incas" early in the morning for an in-depth guided tour of the ridge-top citadel of Machu Picchu. Those who wish to witness sunrise over Machu Picchu go up on the early shuttle bus and enter the site at daybreak. You have time for a thorough exploration of the remarkable site. We descend to Aguas Calientes for return to Ollantaytambo, continuing by chartered bus to Cuzco, arriving around 9.30 PM. Transfer to your hotel. (B)

Know what you are buying

There are many trek outfitters in Cuzco, offering trekking packages in a considerable range in quality, reliability, and price. As one of the pioneers of commercial adventure travel in Peru, we are very proud of our record of environmental and social leadership. We set the standard of quality among full-service outfitters. The award recognizes the high standards that our guides, cooks, porters and other employees consistently attain. When purchasing your Trek services from overseas agents, be certain you are buying the services provided by Manu Expeditions. Accept no substitutes!

Environmental Policy

We apply a policy of 100% carry in/carry out. We were the first outfitter to introduce a system whereby all the camp waste is hauled out. Our system includes portable chemical (biodegradable) toilets, with no holes in the ground and no solid waste left behind.