This Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu begins in the last Incan city of Vilcabamba and ends in the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu. It is a trek where history meets wilderness. We visit three important Incan sites including Vitcos, Ñustrahispana, and Machu Picchu, as well as follow miles of well-preserved Inca roads in the largely unmapped and unexplored Vilcabamba region. In addition to discovering these last refuges of the Incas, we will pass through a variety of spectacular scenery, from sub-tropical rainforests to snow-dusted mountain passes. This is an area that is sparsely visited, providing for a unique and adventurous trip.
The detailed itinerary is an example. Hiking times are averages and will vary depending on the group. Additionally, lunch and camp sites may change to meet the needs of the group and current weather conditions.
The day before the trek, your guide will meet you at your hotel for an in-depth briefing. This provides an opportunity to ask questions and do any last-minute shopping before leaving Cusco.
The day begins very early as we pick you up at your hotel and travel by private bus to the village of Huancacalle. Its a long day of driving, but from the very beginning we are introduced to the history of the last days of the Incas. We travel through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Ollantaytambo, then cross Malaga Pass behind Wacaywillca (Veronica) mountain, following the path Manco Inca took with his warriors to Vilcabamba as he continued his rebellion against the Spanish. We then cross the Rio Urubamba and follow the Rio Vilcabamba, sometimes traversing high on the mountain sides through small towns and coffee and coca fields. After arriving at Huancacalle in the afternoon, we will walk to the ruins of Vitcos, an important Inca center and the stronghold of Manco Inca. We will also see Ñustahispana, the White Rock, which was once the most sacred site in the area. After a tour of these sites, we will camp near the river. 2 hours walking, 3600m
In the morning we begin the trek by climbing a well-preserved Inca road for about four hours out of the high jungle and into mountainous terrain. At the pass (4000m), we can see the snow-capped Pumasillo, and the other mountains of the Vilcabamba range. Descending, we reenter the forest where there are a variety of orchids and other interesting plants. Crossing a stream, we continue to the small settlement of Racachaca, where we camp near the school. 7 hours walking, 3600-4000-3600m
There are more mountains today as we traverse multiple. First we climb past a few farms to the high puna. Here the vegetation is sparse, mostly bunch grass called “ichu,” but you can see Andean geese and other native birds who inhabit the high mountains. After the first pass, we reach four glacier-fed lakes before continuing to our highest pass of the day (4200m) and then onto Mujun pass (4000m). From here, with a good pair of binoculars, you can see the ruins of Machu Picchu. After a long day of mountain vistas, we camp just below the pass. 8 hours walking; 3570-4200-3800m
In comparison to the previous day, today is mostly down hill. After breakfast and watching the sunrise over the mountains we descend into the forest along an Inca trail. We pass through jungle thick with bamboo to plantations of coffee, oranges, bananas, avocados, pineapples, and other fruits to the town of Yanatile. From there we take a bus to our camp near the town of Santa Teresa, where we can visit the hot springs. 6 hours walking, 3800-1550m
There are two option for this day, depending on the weather conditions and the energy of the group.
A we take a short bus ride to the trailhead at a royal Inca road, which we follow uphill. At the pass there is an excellent view of the city of Machu Picchu, and just downhill is the archaeological site of Llactapata. Unlike Machu Picchu, the site is still mostly covered with vegetation, giving you an excellent idea of what Machu Picchu must have looked like when Hiram Bingham first saw it. After exploring the site, we walk downhill for about 3 hours and then catch the afternoon train for Aguas Calientes, where we spend the night in a hotel.
6 hours walking, 1550-2550-1900m
This is a good option if the weather is adverse or the group does not want to climb anymore hills. We take a bus to Hidroelectrica and walk the flat trail from there to Aguas Calientes.
3 hours walking, 1900-1900m
After enjoying the tourist amenities of Aguas Calientes and getting a full night’s sleep at a hotel, we catch one of the first buses to Machu Picchu in order to see the awe-inspiring view of the city at sunrise. After a two-hour guided tour, you will have free time to climb Huayna Picchu, explore the ruins, or simply relax. In the early afternoon we take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes where you catch the train to Cusco.
For more information on trekking with Apu Andino, see Trekking with Apu Andino.
Much of this trek is isolated and rugged. It is advised that trekkers acclimate by spending a few days at Cusco (3400m) or similar before attempting the trek. Trekkers should be in good physical condition and be experienced hikers. Additionally, weather and trail conditions can vary. Temperatures range from warm and humid to below freezing.
Trekkers should be prepared for changes to the itinerary and to meet unexpected challenges with an open-mind and sense of adventure. Climbing Huayna Picchu is an excellent addition to a trip to Machu Picchu.
It offers superlative views, but is a steep climb that can take about three hours. Entrance to Huayna Picchu is limited and at scheduled times; visitors must sign up for a spot in advance. If you would like to consider doing the climb, it is important to book it in advance.