The 5-Day Moonstone Trek is the perfect alternative to The Inca Trail if you are looking for peace, tranquillity, and fewer crowds for a more remote trek through stunning Andean scenery and unique Andean flora and fauna. The Moonstone trek or Inca Quarry Trail, as some people call it, was built by the Incas and used for hundreds of years to access local communities and transport goods. This trail is not as well-known as the Classic Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu and visits Peru's cultural past as well as modern Incan communities and customs. The Moonstone trail takes us to secluded waterfalls, ancient terraces, and fascinating wildlife, all the time accompanied by spectacular views of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Peru's commanding snow-capped mountains.
Quillarumiyoc is a fascinating archaeological site made of a series of water channels following a strait that descends from the mountain, dominating the Anta Valley. These water channels flow through sacred rocks, including the great stone carved with a geometric moon representation, given the site’s name. The whole Valley occupied by Quillarumiyoc is full of calcareous outcrops called “huacas” or sacred stones, some with their bases carved on simple altars and others left entirely in their natural state. For the Incas, these stones were of the utmost religious importance. This massive archaeological center is made up of terraces, water channels, cultivated areas, and an altar. It also contains a small cave inside where you can see ancient petroglyphs. In the center is a massive rock with a semi-circular carving in the shape of a crescent dedicated to Quilla, the moon goddess. This moon-shaped carving is hand carved and represents the mouth of a puma. Quillarumiyoc is a little-known site, so if you are looking to get off the beaten path or have a more mystical experience, this is the site to visit. You can witness payment to the earth ceremonies and offerings to the moon. This site offers impressive views of the Anta pampas, surrounded by colorful flowers and queñua trees as well as the archaeological site, making it the perfect stop-off.
The Moonstone trek is an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail actually one of the most beautiful walks in South America, yet it doesn’t get a fraction of the crowds of the Inca Trail. Plus, you don’t need a permit to hike it! You also still arrive at the incredible citadel of Machu Picchu! Enjoy remote trekking through the best of the Andes, so expect soaring green peaks, granite boulders, isolated villages like Socma, and archaeological sites like the famous Q’orimarca ruins. Many trekkers who’ve done both treks say The Moonstone trek actually beats the Inca for stunning scenery. You will cross high passes like Puccaqasa (4,370m), enjoy views of the Nevado Veronica mountain, and marvel at stunning valleys falling away on all sides.
The overall distance of the Moonstone Trek is about 26km and the maximum altitude is 4,450m above sea level. It is important to spend some time in Cusco to acclimatize before the trek, but altitude sickness can be a problem for some. Our porters and guides are well-trained and know what symptoms to look for. We recommend a minimum of 2 days of acclimatization in Cusco prior to the trek to avoid any altitude symptoms and coca tea can help alleviate any milder symptoms.
After the visit to Qillarumiyoc, we will head to the trailhead at Varpiso where you’ll meet the horsemen and guides that’ll be your best buddies for the next four days and set up the campsite each evening. Just off on the trail and you’ll soon reach the little town of Socma, then it’s on to the stunning Perolniyoc cascade lookout. A good spot for a selfie and a snack. After a rest, push on to the campsite, which sits about 3,700m above sea level.
The second day of the Moonstone Trek is probably the hardest, similar to The Inca Trail. You’ll climb to the Puccagasa Pass (4370m) for some of the best views in the Andes, then hike for about two hours to the highest point on the trek, The Kuychicassa pass (4450m). After this, we have a well-earned downhill section which means two hours of easy walking down to a site the Incas called Inti Punku or Sungate...a different sun gate than the one found in Machu Picchu yet equally, if not more stunning! You can see the Veronica mountain piercing the sky from here, a magical experience. Camp out near Choquetacarpo, about 3,600m above sea level.
On the third day, we will trek mostly downhill. You’ll walk past Cachicata quarry, a rock quarry that the Incas never completed during the Spanish conquest. By midday, you’ll be at Cachicata town, where you will take a train to Aquas Calientes (with a dip in the hot springs on arrival). The next morning it’s a short bus ride up to Machu Picchu in all its glory.