You may not have heard of it, but the Ancascocha Trek is a fantastic alternative to the Inca Trail, ranked as one of the top 25 hikes in the world by National Geographic. Latin Excursions is one of the few operators who can take you on the Ancascocha Trek, venturing along the path less visited to reach Machu Picchu. The journey–which feels much more private and exclusive than the Inca Trail–is just as important as the final destination on this Peruvian trek, meandering through verdant valleys and High Andean mountains, encountering rural settlements and ancient ruins along the way. Hike over the course of four days, covering around 36 miles of jaw-dropping Sacred Valley scenery, accompanied all the while by enthusiastic guides who are on-hand to show you the hidden wonders of this lesser-known trek to Machu Picchu.
CUSCO / QEUNAQOCHA
Day one of the Ancascocha Trek starts with several interesting sites being passed on the journey between Cusco, passing the village of Tomacaya to the Hustacancha region, where the trail begins. An early morning departure is the best way to ensure a scenic sunrise along the way, travelling through remote settlements and rolling hills, until reaching the remarkably well-preserved Inca ruins of Tarawasi.
Having then followed the banks of the Apurimac River, arrive in Hustacancha (10,098ft above sea level), before braving your first steps along the Ancascocha Trail itself, with roughly 7.5 miles of trekking ahead. For the initial three hours, take a gradual ascent through native forest and into more open plains, stalking the Lechería River, past Perolniyoq Waterfall and little-visited Inca ruins. Stop for lunch at Yawar Maqi, before continuing the steady climb towards a well-earned camp and warming meal at Qeunaqocha (14,054ft above sea level), surrounded by dramatic landscapes.
Meals L, D
Overnight Qeunaqocha Campsite
QEUNAQOCHA / LAGUNA ANCASCOCHA
Today is a challenging yet rewarding day, with around 7.5 miles of uphill hiking to conquer, though plenty of picturesque mountain views to keep you company throughout. Expect between six and seven hours of trekking, beginning with a three-hour climb towards Accojasa Pass (15,419ft above sea level), the highest point on your Ancascocha Trek. From this vantage point, enjoy panoramic views of Huayanay and the surrounding mountainscape, before an undulating, isolated section of the trail.
Continue on to the Huayanay Pass (15,147ft above sea level) for further spectacular views of the imposing Mount Salkantay, one of the Ancascocha Trek’s many photo-worthy moments, to be admired as you then descend further into the valley, its trickling streams, waterfalls and grassy plains. Finally, a real highlight of this trail comes upon reaching camp at Laguna Ancascocha (13,776ft above sea level); a foreboding high-altitude lake of deep blue waters.
Overnight Overnight Laguna Ancascocha Campsite
LAGUNA ANCASCOCHA / CAMICANCHA / CHILLCA
Day three of the Ancascocha Trek is the longest, with 8.5 scenic miles to cover. However, it’s mostly downhill and passes ancient agricultural plains, so aerial views and steep climbs are exchanged for remote settlements, river gorges and tree-lined trails. Blissfully, even the occasional farmhouse or herdsman does not detract from feeling fully immersed within the remote Andean wilds; only steep mountain ridges, canyons and the green grasslands of Peru’s Sacred Valley in each direction.
This penultimate day takes you initially to the rural community of Ancascocha. A quick stop is in order to meet friendly locals, before descending further into the Urubamba Valley, crossing the Sillque River towards Camicancha; a small collection of farmhouses surrounded by pristine wilderness. Here, take a moment’s rest and push along sloping trails to the traditional village of Chillca (9,069ft above sea level), home for the night and not a fellow tourist in sight!
Overnight Chillca Village
CHILLCA / OLLANTAYTAMBO / SHORT INCA TRAIL TO AGUAS CALIENTES
An early morning start on day four is well worth it, transferring from Chillca to Ollantaytambo, catching a train bound for Machu Picchu. Disembark at the km. 104 railroad stop to complete a section of the Classic Inca Trail, finishing at the Sun Gate for your first glimpse of the Lost City.
A visit to the Chachabamba Archeological Ruins then sets the scene, and from Chachabamba the last leg of your Ancascocha Trek is one to remember; a four-hour hike along the Classic Inca Trail. One of the Inca Trail highlights is Winaywayna, a stunning hillside complex of stepped agricultural terraces and housing, perfectly preserved with unbeatable views of the Sacred Valley too. Next, the Sun Gate and South America’s most iconic site, Machu Picchu. Admire this wonder of the ancient world from afar, before moving down to the citadel, followed by a bus to nearby Aguas Calientes and an evening at leisure, ahead of tomorrow’s fuller exploration.
Overnight Overnight: Overnight Aguas Calientes Hotel
MACHU PICCHU / CUSCO
Wake up in your authentic, charming guestroom and enjoy an early breakfast before venturing back to Machu Picchu. Uncovering the delights of Machu Picchu with a private guided tour is the best way to do it, before some leisure time later this afternoon to explore further and find your own quiet spots.
You might want to climb up Wayna Picchu, the citadel’s distinctive jagged peak which is a vertiginous, exhilarating ascent. Or, discover the Inca Bridge, reached via a 30-minute trek along the cliffside. This bridge is in fact a gap of 20ft, disconnecting the pathway so that had any unwelcome visitors approached the citadel, Incans would raise the wooden planks and thus prevent any possible entry to their sacred home. Take it all in during your tour, enjoying that free time afterwards to contemplate Machu Picchu by yourself, before returning to Aguas Calientes by bus and onward to Cusco.