Peru & The Quarry Trail Trek to Macchu Picchu – Travel Tips & Tricks

Peru, famous for one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. There are so many ways to see Machu Picchu, some more common than others. The known Inca Trail is one, but have you heard of the Quarry Trail?

Everybody has heard of the Inca trail in Peru, and for many, it’s a bucket list item for when they finally plan a trip to Peru and visit the infamous Machu Picchu. My husband and I were firmly in this boat when we booked our Peru intrepid tour. 

But when we were asked what hiking option we wished to do: Inca trail or quarry trail, we were intrigued. What was this quarry trail trek option?

The quarry trail is another hiking option for those wanting to see the Peruvian landscape and Machu Picchu and in our opinion, turned out to be our best option! Keep reading to see why 🙂 

How can you visit Machu Picchu?

There are various itineraries for Machu Picchu, but generally, the three most common options for visiting Machu Picchu are: 

  1. No hiking, you catch a train to the town Aguas Caliente and from there, hop on one of the many regular buses from the town up to Machu Picchu. This is ideal for visitors who don’t wish to trek or have limited time visiting this wonder of the world. 
  2. Hike the very well known 4D/3N Inca trail and on the last day, enter Machu Picchu at sunrise through the sun gate. 
  3. Hike alternative trails, including the 3D/2N Quarry Trail. At the end of the 3rd day after trekking, check into a hotel in Aguas Caliente and on the following morning (4th day), catch a bus from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu. 

For options 1 and 2 there is a wealth of information out there already, particularly from people who have hiked the Inca trail and lived to tell the tale. 

Below we would like to share our experience of choosing option 3 where we hiked the Quarry Trail and why we chose it over the classic Inca Trail. 

What is the Quarry Trail?

This 26km 3 day, 2 night hike takes you through gorgeous Peruvian landscapes, ascending to a maximum altitude of 4,450m (14,599ft) – slightly higher than the classic Inca Trail. Permits are not required to hike this trail, and while you think that may mean more hikers, it’s the opposite! 

Day 1: Beginning at 9 am, you first drive to Choquequilla, a ceremonial place for the Inca for a ‘test run’ mini hike. After the visit, you’re driven to the starting point at Rafq’a where you begin the 7km ascent from 3,600m up to your campsite at 3,750m. 

Day 2: From here, you’ll trek for 14km through two passes, reaching your highest elevation of 4,450m at Kuychicassa pass. You’ll see sacred sites including Intipunku (‘Sun gate’, though not to be confused with the Machu Picchu sungate!) and camp at Choquetacarpo at 3,750m.  

Day 3: Another early morning wake up, but with a more leisurely 7km hike back down to Ollantaytambo, with stops including Kachiqata quarry for which the trek gets its name. You’ll arrive back in Ollantaytambo town around midday and catch a train back to Aguas Caliente and spend the night in a hotel there. 

Day 4: After yesterdays shower and good night rest in a comfortable bed, take a bus from the town up to Machu Picchu at 6 am and catch the sun hitting Machu Picchu first thing in the morning. You’ll spend the day in Machu Picchu with a guided tour from 9 am – 11 am. 

Why choose the Quarry Trail over the Inca Trail?

While we didn’t do the Inca Trail, we were part of a group where fellow group members did do the classic route, and of course, we couldn’t help but compare notes. Keep in mind though our observations are based on what we experienced and what we factually know about both the Inca Trail and Quarry Trail. 

Below are some of our thoughts on why the Quarry Trail was an excellent fit for us and why it could be a better alternative for you too:

1)    You won’t be hiking with 499 of your closest friends 

Perhaps the best differentiator between the Quarry Trail and Inca Trail is the number of other tourist hikers you’ll encounter along your trek. On the Inca Trail, permits for 500 hikers are issued each day and sell out months in advance. This means that throughout your 4 days, you’ll be hiking alongside many other tourist groups, tour guides and their porters. 

In contrast, you are virtually hiking alone with your group on the Quarry Trail. During our 3 days, we encountered one other hiking group briefly on our second day; otherwise, it was all locals going about their daily lives. You truly feel you are trekking off the beaten path in the serene Peruvian wilderness! 

2) Be treated to unbeatable views 

Every day during our 3-day hike brought the most incredible views of Peruvian mountains and valleys. The scenery from start to finish was spectacular, with a particular highlight waking up on the 3rd day in the clouds as you looked out to views of Nevado Veronica mountain.   

3) No dreaded stairs

If you’ve read up on the Inca Trek, you’ll know the second day of the trek is essentially a giant stair master session at altitude. On the Quarry Trail however, there are virtually no stairs! It is predominantly meandering paths through the Peruvian landscape, and while there are definite inclines or steep parts, there is no full day dedicated to feeling the burn like in the Inca Trail. So, if you suffer from bad knees or ankles, this could be a key difference. 

4) Stress less with emergency horses! 

If you are worried about fitness levels or injuries, a bonus aspect of the Quarry Trail is it comes with emergency horses. Due to the terrain, pack horses are used to carry all bags, food and equipment (as opposed to the traditional porters on the Inca trail). Included in this team of horses are two horses designated “emergency horses”, which as the name implies, can be used in the case of any individuals falling ill or injured. 

On our trek, we had one lady fall ill with the flu on the first day, and two others suffer more severe altitude sickness. So for some parts of the trek, under the request of our guide they were popped up onto these horses. If these individuals had on the Inca Trail, they would have been forced to ‘tough it out’ or likely be turned back to town by their guides. 

Another minor side benefit of having horses as opposed to porters is the weight limit for your packed duffel is a little bit more lax. On the Inca Trail bags are weighed precisely to ensure Porters are not carrying additional weight, however, on the Quarry Trail this didn’t happen. That’s not to say you can bring your whole suitcase though as the duffel bags provided are limited in size anyways. 

5) Still physically challenging

Although emergency horses are provided, they are just that – only for emergencies and when needed. You are still climbing to elevations of 4,450m, and as two relatively fit and young people, we found the Quarry Trail physically demanding without being overwhelming. 

6) Meet locals and experience their way of life

A wonderful aspect of the Quarry Trek is passing through small local towns and having many opportunities to meet locals and see their way of life. 

Before embarking on our tour, our group leader took us to the farmer markets where we were able to purchase fresh fruits or biscuits to distribute to families we met along the way. 

On the morning of our second day, our guide provided wonderful insight into the lives of local Peruvians, with one family kindly inviting us into their homes and allowing us to see firsthand how they lived. 

7)    Only 3 days and 2 nights camping

Another benefit of the Quarry Trail for us was the length of the trek. At 3 days and 2 nights, it is 1 night shorter than the Inca Trail and we felt it was the perfect amount of time for us.  

8) You’ll be clean and well-rested for your visit to Machu Picchu

 When you finish trekking on the 3rd day and return to a hotel in Aguas Caliente, you’ll be rewarded with the best hot shower of your life. You’ll be able to sleep in a comfortable bed the night before and be well-rested (not to mention clean!) when you enter Machu Picchu. That simple luxury should not be discounted! 

9) See Machu Picchu without the hordes of tourists & still visit the famous Sungate

As you catch a bus up to Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day, you can be one of the first people to enter Machu Picchu. You’ll be able to experience the site people-free. As we arrived in the first wave of buses, we were also treated to seeing the first rays of sunlight hit the Incan site. 

A common misconception is that the Inca Trail allows you to be amongst the first people entering Machu Picchu. Whilst it does allow you a magical sight of seeing Machu Picchu through the Sungate at sunrise (albeit at a distance), you’ll need time to hike back down to the site. In contrast, those visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliente by bus will enter the grounds well before the hikers get there. 

10) You’ll still be able to see the famous Intipunku Sungate

 After entering Machu Picchu by the main gates and snapping a few hundred photos, there is still the opportunity to hike up to the famous Intipuku Sungate. And the best part? By the time you arrive all the Inca Trek hikers will have started their descent down – so there won’t be a huge crowd! 

Also, whilst not the Machu Picchu Sungate, there is also a sun gate to be seen on the Quarry Trail. The vista from this viewpoint simply took our breath away. Emerging from the mist, it offered incredible views over the valley and was well worth the slight detour! This sun gate is located just before you reach the camp on the 2nd day and only adds an extra 15-20 minutes of walking time.  

11) No 3 am wake-up call! 

On the 4th and last day of the Inca Trail, hikers experience a 3 am wake up call and approx 1.5-hour wait in the cold outside the gates of Machu Picchu. While the gates only open at 5:30 am, many groups get up early to be the first ones in. This early wake up is also necessitated by the fact that porters need to pack up campsites by 4 am to be able to catch their early train back to town. If they miss the early morning one, their next train isn’t till nightfall! 

In contrast, if you are travelling to Machu Pichu by bus from Aguas Caliente, you can head down to the bus stop at any time you wish. If you do want to be one of the first ones in, however, you may need to start lining up from 4:30/5am. Being said, we only arrived at the bus stop at 5:50 am but through our wonderful guide, were able to jump straight onto a bus and bypass the queue. We’re still not quite sure how he managed it, so definitely don’t bank on your guide being able to do it too!  

Are you interested in booking the Quarry Trail?

We booked our Quarry Trail trek as part of our Peru/Bolivia intrepid tour here. [https://www.intrepidtravel.com/en/peru/explore-peru-bolivia-116640]

Just some final bits and pieces:

  • Keep an eye out for travel expos or sign up to Intrepid sale updates as you can easily get this tour at a discount. 
  • Remember to check your insurance covers activities at altitude!
  • Remember to check the weather at that time of year and bring layers. You get pretty hot trekking during the day but at night, temperatures are cold.  
  • If you have them, pack your trekking boots. 

 Being said, my husband and I completed this Quarry Trek with regular sneakers (and terrible tread!) with no issues. Luckily it didn’t rain during our trek as if it did, I think it may have been a different story…3

Check out some of our tips and tricks when travelling to Peru.

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12 Things to Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu: Tips & Tricks

Machu Picchu is one of the most incredible 7 wonders of the world. It’s not surprising given its vast beautiful views and breathtaking old ruins high atop the mountain valley. But you want to make sure you’re prepared before visiting, so here are our top 12 tips and tricks to think about before visiting the famous site.

1. Where to stay

It’s easiest to stay in Aguas Calientes, the closest based town to the infamous site if you’re not hiking into Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. There is a range of accommodation on offer in Aguas Calientes, and from here you can easily catch the regular buses departing every 10 minutes for USD24 return that takes between 25-35 minutes each way. [ https://peruways.com/aguascalientes-bus/ } 

If you’re feeling more active though, you can hike up to the entrance too relatively easily for about 1.5 – 2 hours. There is a clearly signposted trail.

2. Pre-purchase your tickets

Pre-purchase your tickets online via this government website for SOL152 (~AUD68) per adult. [https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio] This is recommended particularly during peak season or if you plan to hike Huayna Picchu as well to make sure you don’t miss out!  Once you purchase your ticket though, write down your reservation number – many people have complained about never receiving a confirmation email, but if you have this number, they can pull it up and re-print the ticket for you.

Looking over the incredible Machu Picchu site.
Looking over the incredible Machu Picchu site.

3. Know your entry time

All tickets are split into hourly entry times now from 6 am, and you are officially given 4 hours to view the site. Being said, there is still much confusion over enforcement of this rule and when we visited in May 2019, people could stay as long as they desired as they have no way of enforcing ticket times and ushering people out yet.

4. You can’t leave and re-enter

You’re not allowed to leave and re-enter the site on a normal Machu Picchu ticket. Once you’re in, you’re in!

5. Toilets!

The only bathrooms at Machu Pichu are located outside the entrance and cost SOL2, so make sure to go before you head inside as you can’t exit and re-enter the site (unless you hold a Huayna Picchu ticket as well). It’s a stupid rule but one they haven’t seemed to address yet!

6. Get a guide

Official no visitors are allowed in without a guide on their first visit. Whilst listed as new regulation, many people have entered without a guide as, like many other regulations, enforcement has been quite lax. We recommend going with a guide to best understand the history and various aspects of the site, and what’s more, they’ll know the best route to take as tourists aren’t allowed to backtrack to certain areas once you’ve passed specific checkpoints. The guards stationed at various points will turn you back around.

7. Visiting Intipuku, the Sun Gate

Your regular ticket to Machu Picchu includes access to Intipuku (the famous sun gate) and the Inca bridge. If you wish to see these, however, make sure you visit them before you descend into the ruins as you aren’t allowed to backtrack up to these two spots!

A quick shot from the Sun Gate, looking back over Machu Picchu.
A quick shot from the Sun Gate, looking back over Machu Picchu.

8. No disposable plastics

Officially, only reusable water bottles are permitted within Machu Picchu; however, we saw many people with one-time plastic bottles, so it looks like this rule is not yet enforced.

9. Take a small backpack only

Other things to leave behind are large backpacks (you could be asked to store it in a locker), food, tripods, selfie-sticks and drones.

10. Best time to go

Our recommendation is going early. This does mean trying to catch one of the first buses from 5:30 am. When we rocked up with our tour guide at 6 am to the bus stop, there was already a considerable line as it’s a first come first serve basis, with many people in queue as early as 4:30am. We were lucky, and thanks to our guide managed to skip the line, but I would recommend going as early as possible if you’re looking to watch the first sun rays hit Machu Picchu.

We can wholeheartedly say it’s magical to watch and so worth going early and getting those first few snaps of the incredible site people-free!ho

The one and only, Machu Picchu.
The one and only, Machu Picchu.

11. A Special Passport Souvenir

Bring your passport and get a souvenir Machu Picchu stamp right outside the exit as a memento!

12. Keep Warm!

Don’t forget to bring layers if you’re heading there early. It was quite chilly early morning, but by 10:30 am and after hiking up and back to the sun gate, it was hot!

Thinking about doing the Inca Trail? Have you thought about the Quarry Trail instead?

We’ll have post up soon giving you all the exciting insights into trekking the hidden gem that is the Quarry Trail.

In the mean time check out our latest post on, tips and tricks when visiting Peru.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Peru: Travel Tips & Tricks

Peru is one of the most beautiful countries, tucked away one the West Coast of South America. Home to one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, Peru is a must see destination for any casual or adventure traveler. But before you go, here are some tips and tricks we picked up on our journey through Peru.

When we visited Peru, we had the luxury of being on an intrepid tour so whilst it generates a different perspective when travelling, there are nevertheless a few travel tips and tricks we picked up along the way.  

1) Yellow fever vaccination 

Per the SmartTraveller website, “You’ll need to present a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate on entry into Australia if you’ve visited Peru in the previous six days.” [https://smartraveller.gov.au/countries/americas/south/pages/peru.aspx#entry_and_exit]

The US CDC also has the recommendation to be vaccinated for any travellers heading to the Amazonas, Cusco or Puno region. To be safe, add yellow fever vaccination to your list of things to do before you leave the country – particularly if you are heading to the Amazon region. Just remember to ideally have your vaccination 10 days before your arrival in the risky areas.

Looking out over the Amazon River, just as the sun sets behind an oncoming storm.
Looking out over the Amazon River, just as the sun sets behind an oncoming storm.

The good news is, the validity of the yellow fever vaccination was also extended in 2016 from 10 years to the duration of a person’s life – so you only need to be vaccinated once for life! If you are ever considering heading to Africa, that’s another incentive to get it as the vaccination is mandatory for travel to most African countries.

Don’t have your yellow fever vaccination or need a prescription but you’re just about to fly out?

If you’re like us and suddenly realise you may need a yellow fever vaccination to enter Bolivia (let alone head back to Australia!), don’t panic. There is a medical clinic at Lima airport who can get you vaccinated in under 5 minutes. Located beneath a set of escalators, next to the women’s bathrooms and directly opposite the gate 11 exit, this little medical clinic is a godsend. For only SOL145 you can get fully vaccinated for yellow fever (or measles, hep b or even the flu if you need!).

2) Don’t fall for tourist trap mobile plans! 

When we arrived in Lima, like most tourists, we checked out the mobile plans available at the airport. USD20 for 2GB by Entel or USD49 for 3 GB and unlimited calls nationally in 30 days seem somewhat reasonable when compared to Australian prices, but felt slightly expensive for Peru. We held off, and we are so glad we did!

A good tip and trick, is to research the best mobile plans before travelling to the country. But I guess that’s why you’re here!

Our tip is to go to the Claro store direct when you arrive. There was no waiting time, and including the SIM activation fee, we ended up only paying SOL35 (~AUD15) for 3.5GB of data over 30 days – much cheaper than any ‘tourist’ package or plan we saw at the airport. 

3) Withdrawing cash fee-free

While Visa is the most accepted card throughout Peru, like many other South American countries, cash is still widely used and convenient, particularly for tipping, paying for local food or souvenirs and entry to local attractions. As such, you might find yourself withdrawing cash quite often.

A couple of tips and tricks so you won’t be hit with local ATM fees? 

Look for Banco de la Nacion, or the “Multi red” red coloured ATM signs. It’s one of the few ATM’s in Peru with no local ATM fees.

 If these are hard to find, the lowest fee-paying ATM is BCP costing SOL13.50 (~AUD6) per withdrawal. 

 Whatever you do though, avoid BBVA which charges SOL25 (~AU11) per withdrawal! 

4) Tips and tricks for purchasing Alpaca products

Peru is famous for its alpaca and baby alpaca wear, however, be warned as every street corner vendor will swear what they’re selling you is “genuine baby alpaca”. If it costs only BOB$50 (~AU$20) for a baby alpaca jumper, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably not what they’re claiming it to be.

Meeting our first Lama up close and personal.  Time for hug!
Meeting our first Lama up close and personal. Time for hug!

Many of the jumpers sold by many stall owners are a synthetic blend, so make sure you know what you’re paying for. The basic test for real alpaca is it should feel cold to the touch – always, even if in sunlight. If you can as well, break off some fibres and light them as real alpaca will burn like hair whereas synthetic will melt. Genuine 100% alpaca jumpers will costs no less than BOB$200 (at a minimum with baby alpaca even more!) but if you’re still unsure head to stores such as Inca Brand or LAM where you’ll pay a bit more but be confident the garments are what they say they are.

Being said, a blend of alpaca and wool still makes a beautiful jumper!

5) Don’t drink the local water 

Unfortunately, all water in Peru is not potable, so you’ll need to purchase large bottles of water if you haven’t invested in a lifestraw. Many hotels will leave you smaller bottles of water for brushing your teeth, but we brushed our teeth using just tap water during our travels with no issues.

6) Allow yourself at least 2 days in Cusco to acclimatise

Cusco is often considered the gateway to Machu Picchu, but in itself is one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. 

 If you are flying into Cusco from Lima, remember to buffer time to acclimatise to the altitude as Cusco sits at 3,400m above sea level. In our opinion, I would allow at least 2 days in Cusco to acclimatise and see the former centre of the Inca Empire. This beautiful city has a lot to offer and is a great place to pick up any last-minute trekking items or shopping!

The one and only, Machu Picchu.
The one and only, Machu Picchu.

We are not doctors by any stretch of the imagination, but some key things to know about altitude sickness are:

  • Altitude sickness unfortunately can affect anyone – it doesn’t matter if you’re the tallest, strongest, most lean or yoga-loving person – there’s no way to predict who and how badly it will impact an individual.
  • There is medication you can take, commonly called Diamox, or Acetazolamide (if you need to buy it in Peru) that can alleviate the symptoms but it’s best to start these 2 days before you arrive at altitude. Be warned though it is a diuretic, so it will make you pee a lot more. It’s almost a glimpse into life at the age of 80+….
  • Stay hydrated and aim to drink 1.5 – 2L of water per day. Hydration plays a crucial role in helping you acclimatise!
  • If you are starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness i.e. headaches, dizziness, nausea or a general feeling of unwellness, rest immediately and if it gets worse, see a doctor. 

 Most hotels also hold oxygen tanks for guests as having 10-15 minutes of oxygen can also help alleviate the symptoms, so ask if you need it! 

7) Make sure to try the local favourite ceviche

Ceviche is fresh, raw fish marinated in citrus juice, typically spiced and is a highly popular dish in Peru, and definite must-try. Throughout Peru ceviche is prepared slightly differently, so why not try it in each region and see which one is your favourite?

8) Don’t flush toilet paper

Alas, like almost every other South American country, flushing toilet paper is a big no-no. Instead, look for the small covered bin in every toilet and kindly dispose of your used papers in there.

9) Try cocoa tea

The famous local cocoa tea is worth trying, if only for the cultural significance the cocoa plant holds in this part of the world. Sworn by locals to combat altitude sickness, it can come in handy those first few days acclimatising in Cusco. If you’re not a tea fan, try chewing it like the locals! (I warn you now though, it gives you a definite buzz if you chew it!) As it is a stimulant, it’s best tried in the morning rather than just before bedtime. 

Having a hot chocolate, looking out over the main square in Cusco, Peru.
Having a hot chocolate, looking out over the main square in Cusco, Peru.

 Also, don’t try and take any back into Australia – I’m 100% sure you’ll be on the next episode of Border Security.

10) Visiting Machu Picchu?

Make sure you’re ready for crowds and entry requirements.

With visitors topping over 5,000 a day in the past, the Peruvian government in 2019 introduced a host of new legislation governing Machu Pichu and restricting the number of visitors to 2,500 per day.

The one and only, Machu Picchu.
The one and only, Machu Picchu.

Check out our post here Machu Picchu tips and tricks, on the top 14 things to know before visiting Macchu Picchu. This will help make sure you’re ready for the best experience.

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