Our travelers love the little-known Moonstone Trek to Machu Picchu Trek (formerly called Moonstone to Sun Temple Trek), a superb alternative to the traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Trek. On this remote route you see few if any other trekkers, so you have this spectacular eastern extension of the Inca Trail all to yourself. No permits are necessary. You follow the footsteps of the Incas who built a high route from their capital city Cuzco westward through the rugged cordillera and filled their empire with amazing temples and royal residences.
You camp high and discover the beauty of tranquil Andean valleys with sublime views toward the 18,000-foot snowpeaks of the Urubamba and Huayanay Ranges. You also explore amazing Inca stonework in an enormous 15th-century quarry site of Cachiqata. After descending into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, you reach the royal Inca town of Ollantaytambo, with its remarkable sun temple. From here, we take the train to Machu Picchu and overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes, the town just below the site. Next day you have a Machu Picchu tour and a full day’s exploration of the legendary city before returning by train back to Cuzco.
Day 1 – Quillarumiyoq to Chiripahua: 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 sacred Inca shrine known as Quillarumi (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 trail crew, who arrive from nearby communities. We commence trekking on 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 3,855m/12,645’. Archeologists 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 at 3,750m/12,300’ next to a rural school in the hamlet of Chiripahua. 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 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 – 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 lunch, then continue up to the col. From our location atop Accoccasa Pass (4,625m/15,170’) 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. This aqueduct once transported water across a sheer cliff face high above the Silque River. While we descend through a flower-filled notch in the valley wall, 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 an astonishing view towards Nevado Veronica (5,682m/18,637’) 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’at the edge of the enormous Cachiqata quarry. In the afternoon we 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.
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. 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. 8 km./5 miles. B,L are included; dinner in Aguas Calientes is on your own).
Day 5 – Machu Picchu: We enter the site early in the morning for an in-depth guided tour of the ridge-top citadel of Machu Picchu. We descend to Aguas Calientes for return to Ollantaytambo, continuing by chartered bus to Cuzco in late afternoon, arriving around 9.30PM. Transfer to your hotel. (B)
Included: indicated meals, transport by train and bus, porterage of up to 10 kg personal gear, communal camp gear including tables and camp chairs, dining tent, spacious sleeping tents, Thermarest sleeping pad, water filter and other amenities.
Additional Fee: Machu Picchu Citadel Site Entrance fee: $75, payable with the trek cost. The rate is subject to change without prior notice by order of park authorities.
- personal trekking gear and sleeping bag
- tips to guide and trek staff
- city services before and after trek program
- dinner and lunch in Aguas Calientes
- air Lima/Cuzco/Lima (currently $330 and subject to change).
Rental sleeping bag: $36 (2012) $40 (2013). We provide mummy-style, winter-weight synthetic-fill sleeping bags, with sheet liners. We launder the liners between each trek. Rental sleeping bags should be requested well in advance of your departure. If you are taller than 6 feet, please request an extra-long bag.
If you are traveling alone and are willing to share a tent and hotel, we will pair you with another trekker of the same gender and you pay no supplementary charge. If you prefer single occupancy, the surcharge is US$90 (2012) $94 (2013).
What are your recommendations for acclimatization?
So that you have sufficient time to acclimate prior to starting the Moonstone trek, we strongly recommend that you arrive in Cuzco or similar elevation a minimum of two days prior to the trek. This is a 45-km/28-mile trek with a maximum elevation close to 4,600 m/15,100 ft.
How do I meet the group?
Once we receive your final payment, we will send a Confirmation of Service voucher with your prepaid travel details. At 10:30 AM on the day prior to the Moonstone trek, there is an important orientation meeting with your guide and other participants in Cuzco. We review trek arrangements, trail gear and packing strategies, health and dietary matters, tipping and other cash needs, and trail documentation requirements. We also distribute your trail duffel and sleeping pad. If you’ve rented a sleeping bag from us, we give it to you now so you can pack your duffel, ready for the departure early next morning.
Do I have to bring my own sleeping bag and pad?
You can bring your own sleeping bag, but if you prefer, you can rent one from us. We provide Thermarest sleeping pads.