Guidebooks for walkers, mountaineers, trekkers, climbers and cyclists

Hike or bike in Peru's Sacred Valley with a Cicerone guidebook

Cover of Hiking and Biking Peru's Inca Trails
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Published
10 Jul 2013
ISBN
9781852846312
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First
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17.2 x 11.6 x 1.6cm
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320g
Pages
288
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Hiking and Biking Peru's Inca Trails

40 trekking and mountain biking routes in the Sacred Valley

by William Janecek
Published by Cicerone Press

Hiking and Biking Peru's Inca Trail describing a range of half, full and multi-day mountain bike and trekking routes, including 7 different routes to Machu Picchu on quiet Inca roads and trails. This guidebook reveals the spectacular scenery and archaeological richness of the Sacred Valley. Includes many previously unpublished routes.

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Description

The eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes is one of the most dramatic and diverse places on the planet, dropping from over 6000m (20,000ft) to just 200m above sea level. This dramatic drop in elevation produces a wide range of constantly changing climactic and vegetative zones – it is often possible to hike from the base of a glacier down to the jungle in just a day or two. Combined with the countless Inca sites and ubiquitous Inca roads, this makes the Sacred Valley one of the best trekking and mountain biking destinations in the world.

Machu Picchu is well known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the Inca Trail trek that leads there is nearly as famous. What is less known, however, is the vast choice of other epic adventure trips that exist in the region – treks through soaring Andean glaciers and Incan ruins, bike rides through stunning alpine and jungle scenery. Nearly every route in this book uses an Inca road or visits an Inca ruin – and most do both. The majority of the Inca roads can also be biked as well as hiked, so there is plenty of scope for both activities.

There are several bases to choose from for a Sacred Valley visit:
Ollantaytambo is perhaps the best base, as from here you can trek or mountain bike to Machu Picchu, Quillabamba, Choquequirao and nearly every other major site in the Sacred Valley. The town itself retains its original layout, Inca architecture and culture, and small village charm.
Cusco is the largest Inca city, with attractions including museums and restaurants as well as Inca sites. It is the starting point of only a few treks, but those include the iconic routes to Machu Picchu and Choquequirao.
Ausangate is the highest peak in the Cusco area, at a staggering 6270m. The region is home to some excellent hot springs, as well as various outstanding treks, and is usually accessed from the village of Tinqui.

The Andes are a formidable trekking and biking destination however. The altitude is often 3-4000m, so you will need time to acclimatise, even for the more moderate routes. The terrain is steep and rocky, which is particularly important to know for bikers when hiring a bike. Author Will Janecek has taken care to explain what to look out for when choosing your bike rental, to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.

The routes in this guide describe the very best day and multi-day, walks and MTB routes, many previously unpublished, right across the Valley.

  • 40 routes illustrated with custom mapping
  • includes many alternative routes to Machu Picchu, off the main tourist trail, which don't require a licensed guide or Incan trail permit
  • full background information on visiting the area, including how to hire bikes, guides and mules
     
  • Activities
    mountainbiking, hiking, trekking
  • Seasons
    best months to visit are May to September, when the weather is virtually guaranteed to be dry; the other months fall in the rainy season but there will also be plenty of sunshine.
  • Centres
    Agua Calientes, Cusco, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Huancancalle, Ausangate
  • Difficulty
    the trekking and mountainbiking in the Sacred Valley is often strenuous and difficult; all routes are graded for difficulty and terrain indicated and also whether it is better to go with a trekking agency or hire a local guide; a few glacier climbs are outlined which require the correct expertise and equipment but most routes require no special equipment or skills and can be accomplished by anyone of average fitness.
  • Must See
    the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but also many other routes to many other Incan sites such as Choquechirau, Espiritu Pampa; spectacular Mt. Ausangate.

Contents

Contents
Introduction
The story of the Incas
The Sacred Valley
History in the making
Don’t miss…
Exploring by bike or on foot
Centres and bases
Getting there
Getting around
When to go
Accommodation
Food
Health matters
Safety
Language
Money
Communications
Trekking
Mountain biking
What to take
Cultural impact
Maps and waymarking
Using this guide
1 Tourist Trails to Machu Picchu
Route 1 Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu
Route 2 The Classic Inca Trail
2 Around Cusco
Route 3 To Calca via H’uchuy Cusco
Route 4 The back way to Ollantaytambo
Route 5 To Urubamba via ‘44’
Route 6 Urquillos Canyon
3 Around Urubamba
Route 7 Salt Mines of Maras and Moray
Route 8 Moray to Paucarbamba
Route 9 Abra Azulcocha to Calca
Route 10 Calca to Lares
Route 11 Chicón summit
Route 12 To Lares via the Pumahuanka valley
4 Around Ollantaytambo
Route 13 Pumamarca
Route 14 Choquechaca
Route 15 To Lares via Abra Wakawasi
Route 16 To Lares via Patacancha
Route 17 The Weaver’s Trek
Route 18 Inca Raccay and Q’orimarca
Route 19 Ñaupa Iglesia (Pachar Caves)
Route 20 Las Canterras quarries and Inti Punku
Route 21 The Veronica glacier
Route 22 Patacancha valley
Route 23 To Quillabamba via Abra Yanamayu
Route 24 To Quillabamba via Abra Malaga
Route 25 To Ivochote and Pongo de Manique
Route 26 Machu Picchu ‘back door’ route
Route 27 To Huayllabamba and the start of the Inca Trail
Route 28 Ollantaytambo to Soraypampa via Salkantay
5 South and West of Machu Picchu
Route 29 Mollepata to Huayllabamba
Route 30 Soraypampa to Machu Picchu via Salkantay
Route 31 Soraypampa to Machu Picchu via Hydroelectric
Route 32 Choquequirao from Cachora
Route 33 Inca Wasi from Yupanqua
Route 34 Huancancalle to Choquequirao
Route 35 Huancancalle to St. Theresa via Yanama
Route 36 Huancancalle to St. Theresa via Abra Mojón
Route 37 Mollepata to Choquequirao
Route 38 Espiritu Pampa (Vilcabamba)
6 Ausangate
Route 39 Tinqui to Pitumarca via Ausangate
Route 40 Tinqui to Pitumarca via Puca Punta
 
Appendix A Route summary table
Appendix B Glossary of Spanish and Quechan words
Appendix C Useful contacts
Appendix D Further reading

Introduction

Climbing down a ridgeline of Mt. Veronica with Ollantaytambo in the background (Route 21)

Peru… Even the name sounds exotic, and this incredible country certainly won’t disappoint. With its majestic snow-capped peaks, Incan ruins, roaring rivers and Amazon jungle resorts, Peru seems to be a country created for adventure lovers.

Peru is a country of extremes: it has the driest desert, longest river and biggest snakes, and the geography is no exception. The eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes is one of the most dramatic and biologically diverse places on the planet, dropping from over 6000m (20,000ft) of altitude to just 200m above sea level, all in less than a few hundred kilometres. This dramatic drop in elevation produces a wide range of constantly changing climactic and vegetative zones, and one can often hike from the base of a glacier down to the jungle in just a day or two. The beautiful terrain, combined with the countless number of Inca archaeological sites along the way, are just two reasons why the trekking and mountain biking in Peru are among the best in the world.

Sample Route

ROUTE 7
Salt Mines of Maras and Moray
StartMoray (3560m)
FinishPinchingoto (2890m)
Distance14km
Total ascent110m
Total descent780m
DifficultyEasy hiking, moderate mountain biking
Time3–4hrs hiking, 2–3hrs biking (including time to visit both sites)
Trail typeWide singletrack
High point3560m (Moray)
Bike or hike?both
Agency/guide?no

This is a very popular route for both mountain biking and hiking, as it visits two interesting Inca sites: the Salt Mines of Maras and the site of Moray, both of which are unique and fantastic to visit. They do get a lot of visitors but most arrive and depart by bus or taxi and thus the trail linking the two attractions is little used and wonderful to walk or bike along. This route is almost entirely downhill, and so perfect for intermediate mountain bikers and almost any type of hiker. Either prearrange for a taxi to wait here, or else there is regular public transport to either Ollantaytambo or Urubamba and on to Cusco.

There are many different ways to do this trip but the best way is to first take a taxi directly to the site of Moray, as this is the high point, and there currently is no public transport of any kind to get there. The turnoff to Maras and Moray is located 12km above Urubamba on the main Cusco–Urubamba highway. It is not well marked but there is a small bus stop type of shelter as well as a forlorn old building across the street that apparently sells gasoline. There are private taxis waiting at this turnoff, so it is possible to arrive from Cusco or Urubamba by bus and go on to Moray from here in a taxi, which will cost about 20 soles. Pass through Maras and take the road all the way to Moray.

The visit to Moray is a very enjoyable one. A series of elaborate concentric circular terraces, it is claimed to have been a site for the Incas to experiment with growing crops at different altitudes, a sort of agricultural research centre. There are, apparently, significant differences in climatic conditions between the terraces, and seeds have been found from the time of the Incas. It seems more likely, however, that it was constructed as a ceremonial place to grow sacred crops, built long after the Quechuan people had perfected growing their crops at whichever altitude in their vast empire they wished. Certainly the construction is quite elaborate and extensive, containing hundreds of thousands of hand-placed stones. In any event, entrance costs 10 soles for adults or 3 soles for students; however the entrance fee is included in the Boleto Turistico.

The enigmatic circular terraces of Moray

After visiting the site, walk or ride back out 0.5km along the same road you came in on. The road drops into a small drainage, climbs back up, and after going east 100m there is a sharp right-hand bend in the road. At this spot there is a well-worn double-track trail going straight ahead, and this is the trail that leads to Maras. After a few hundred meters, there is a faint track leading off to the right side. It goes a short distance to a pile of rocks that was likely an Incan building of some short. This is not the correct route, but if you are in no hurry it is worth checking out. From here, there are no more turns as the route traverses the altiplano via a maze of different single-track trails, all which go in the same direction towards Maras. There are a few small drainages to cross, and various foot trails going down and to the left, but do not follow them. Stay on the high (right) side of any trail junctions. There are excellent photo opportunities at all points along this route, and the trail is outstanding for walking and especially mountain biking.

After 7km of winding trail, and after the last small climb out of the final drainage, the trail returns to the main road just above Maras. Follow it down five blocks, then take a left towards the plaza, currently marked by a green house with an arrow on it pointing left. Be sure to note the doorways of the houses along this street – most of them date from Colonial times and contain the original, massive stone doorway headers with elaborate carvings.

Upon entering the main plaza of Maras, continue straight and downhill, towards the northwest corner of the plaza and take the short, interestingly cobbled paved walkway to enter the grounds of the church. Cross the small lawn in front of the church heading south (downhill, towards the river). The lawn drops off steeply and here the trail begins – be sure not to take the wider dirt road that goes to the left, but the narrower footpath that descends directly downhill, in the direction of the massive Chicón glacier in the background.

From here, the trail heads down towards the river and Urubamba, into the canyon. The trail winds along the left (west) side of the canyon a few kilometres down to the Salt Mines of Maras.

The Salt Mines of Maras

The Salt Mines is another interesting Inca site. It features a naturally salinated stream that has been diverted into hundreds of small, gravity-fed evaporation pools. The pools are individually owned and worked by families in the community and passed down to the next generation. These pools produce massive amounts of salt every month during the dry season from May to September, and have provided salt for the kitchen tables of Cusco, as well as an income for the local community of Maras, for hundreds of years. It is said that in Incan times, salt would be brought to the Peruvian coast and used to pack and preserve freshly caught fish from the ocean. This would then be run over the mountains by Inca chasquis (messengers/runners) using a relay system and taking advantage of the tambos (Inca relay stations and rest huts) in order to bring the Inca royalty fresh fish less than 48hrs after it was removed from the Pacific Ocean. These days, however, the community probably earns more from the entrance fees than from salt sales. This site is a must-see and there is only a 7 soles charge to enter.

To avoid the crowds, pay the fee but then continue through the gate instead of going down the main way. Go down the trail another 0.5km to the sharp ‘S’ curve in the trail. From there, you can access the pans just a few metres from the trail and get a close and upfront look at this ancient marvel. After visiting the salt pans, the trail continues down the canyon, crossing the Rio Vilcanota and exiting onto the main highway at Pinchingoto. Arrange to have a taxi waiting here, or else just simpy catch a passing combi to go to either Ollantaytambo or Cusco.

Maps

The Salt Mines of Maras Trekkers enjoying the sun on the pass The enigmatic circular terraces of Moray Llamas Locals in Ccachin showing off their textiles Trekking in the Andes is always visually rewarding Machu Picchu, with Huayana Picchu in the background (Route 1)

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Reviews

'The author, reassuringly, is a north American - 'gringo' in local Peruvian parlance - who's settled in Ollantaytambo where he runs a hotel and adventure tour business - see www.kbperu.com - so should know what he's talking about and we reckon the book is potentially indispensible for anyone heading off on a trekking or biking holiday to one the most popular areas of Peru.'

Read the full article

Jon, Outdoors Magic, August 2013

 

...'The book is incredibly comprehensive, with detailed directions, maps and photos that direct hikers to some amazing, but surprisingly little visited, Incan sites.
My wife and I were so inspired by the book that we changed our plans and decided to spend several days in Ollantaytambo hiking to these hidden gems.'...

Extract from Trip advisor review of Hiking and Biking Peru's Inca Trails. May 2014. Our thanks to Trip advisor, and to their contributor for the review.

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