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Moonstone Trek

Written by:
Claire Dean

Published: 26-08-2022

The Moonstone Trek is an alternative trekking route to Machu Picchu. The trek starts in a quiet, rural valley between Cusco and the Sacred Valley and finishes in Ollantaytambo, only seven miles upstream from the start of the Inca Trail. It passes through seldom-visited Andean villages, Inca and pre-Inca ruins and heads onto a beautiful altiplano plateau surrounded by glaciated peaks. You won’t encounter any other tourists for the entire trek, and the combination of stunning mountain scenery and wildlife, fascinating archaeological sites, and real isolation is truly rewarding. Those looking for a genuinely authentic Peruvian experience that is just as beautiful yet far less traveled than the Inca Trail may want to sign up for the Moonstone trail hike, named for the moonstone carvings found near the beginning of the trailhead. If you would like to know more about the processes that led to the development of various architectural designs of Inca cities like Watta, Cachiccata and Ollantaytambo, or visit Andean communities that still use the Inca customs, such as using an Inca calendar, used to determine periods of harvests of several crops. This hike passes through impressive landscapes and climatic diversity and ends at Peru´s signature sight, Machu Picchu.






First, we will leave Cusco and head to Quillarumiyoc, after which the trek was named. Quilla is “moon” in the ancient language Quechua, and this was a significant religious ceremonial center in the Pampa of Anta, where the Andean priests worshipped their gods. The temple of the moon of Quillarumiyoc is a one-hour drive north of Cusco. Within the archaeological group, we find different temples, such as the inter-dimensional meditation portals. This ceremonial archaeological center is dedicated to the woman, mother Quilla (Luna), and is full of feminine symbolism. The site consists of terraces, water channels, platforms, cultivation areas, and a small cave with petroglyphs. In the middle is a massive rock with a unique engraving in the form of a throne dedicated to Quilla, the moon goddess. This 3200-year-old gigantic temple honors feminine energy.





We will then head to the trailhead at Varpiso, found at 3,257 m / 10, 682 ft. Here, our horses and horse riders will be waiting for us; pack all the gear, and begin our trek. We cross a bridge over the Huaracondo River and then hike into this incredible, rarely-visited region. We will trek for approximately 3 hours uphill until we arrive at Huatta (3,924 m / 12 870 ft), a pre-Inca site. Huatta is a pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge. Archaeologists excavating the area have discovered burial sites and occupation levels from the Formative Period (2,500 years ago). There is a scattering of late-period Inca structures on the top of the highest hill. There is a defensive ridge with dominating three-way views along intersecting valleys. We will have lunch and a tour here. Following lunch, the remainder of the day´s trek is 3 ½ hours of up and down sections. We will arrive at our camp for the night at the village of Chillipawa (3,750 m/12,300 ft).  


Trekking Terrain


Chillipawa - Chancachuco


Today we begin our trek with a beginning of the trek is uphill for 3 ½ hours. We will stop at a small open space for lunch at 4,438 m/14,557 ft elevation. Following lunch, we have one more hour to go uphill to the trek's highest point, the Puccacasa pass at   4,643 m/15,229 ft.  On one side, you see Cusco and Mt Ausangate (6.372 m/20,900 ft), the tallest peak in the region. On the other side, you have an impressive view of Mount Veronica (5,882 m/19,096 ft). Mt Veronica represents the end of the Urubamba Mountain range, and its pyramidal shape makes it particularly impressive. We start our trek descending to the camp. During this 2 ½ hour stretch, we will see abundant llamas, alpacas and potato farms. We will arrive at our campsite, Chancachuco (4,177 m/13,700 ft), with impressive views of the Huaynay Glaciers.


Mount Veronica


Chancachuco – Punkuyuc – Inca Canal – Inca Quarry

This is the most beautiful section of the Moonstone Trek to Machu Picchu, featuring a breathtaking canyon Moonstone Trek to Machu Picchu. Additionally, this portion is part of an original Inca Trail. After breakfast, we start our journey through the canyon. We will be surrounded by lush green vegetation and polylepis trees while following a lovely, flowing stream. The beginning of our trip through the Puncuyoc canyon and the Silque Valley is an easy 2-hour downhill stretch. We will then head back uphill for 2 hours. We will stop at Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) and tour the Inca Quarry. We can see Mount Veronica and parts of the Sacred Valley. This is a site where history is frozen in time. You will see the Inca constructions where the stone masons lived. You will see the “tired stones” that were ready to be skidded down the steep slope to the Vilcanota River below but abandoned before that was possible. These stones were the pink stones that were used to build Ollantaytambo. You will see an early wheel design. Finally, there is a rare mummy at this site.


Inti Punku


Inca Quarry – Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes

After breakfast, we begin a relaxed day where we will have ample opportunity to enjoy the sites between the Inca Quarry and Ollantaytambo. This is a rarely visited region, and we will likely not encounter other trekkers. This is an exceptional opportunity to see sites that others never have the chance to see. The hike is 3 ½ hours downhill until we reach Ollantaytambo. Town, where we will have lunch. After lunch, we will catch the train to Aguas Calientes. Upon arrival to Aguas Calientes, you will check into your hotel room. Since we will get to Aguas Calientes in the early afternoon, you will have plenty of time to relax, enjoy the town and visit the hot springs. Dinner will be at a local restaurant.




Machu Picchu

Our tour of Machu Picchu will last about two hours and take you to all the most famous and spectacular parts of the extensive archaeological complex. These include the House of the Guardian, Intihuatana, Temple of the Sun, Sacred Plaza and other key locations. And as we walk around, we’ll have spectacular views across the agricultural terraces of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains and plunging gorges.  Once we’ve finished our tour of Machu Picchu, we’ll take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, where you can relax and have lunch before we board the train back to Poroy and Cusco. 



Machu Picchu

Book the magnificent Moonstone trek here