Of all the alternative Peru treks to the Inca Trail, the Ancascocha trek to Machu Picchu is perhaps one of the least known. Located in the Sacred Valley region, this trek will take you far from the beaten track, into a wilderness of snow-capped mountains, shimmering lakes and breathless lofty passes. If you prefer something more original and more authentic, far from the usual crowds, the tough trails and high altitudes of this trek could be the challenge you are looking for.
The Ancascocha trek is a remote and demanding trek, which will take trekkers to seldom visited ancient pathways. It will take them into the high mountains and approaches 5,000 metres in altitude on several occasions. The trek requires good fitness and stamina but the rewards are ample, including views of mighty mountains like Salkantay and Humantay, the chance to trek far off the beaten track, the stupendous views from the many high passes and the chance to spot the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu winding its way through the mountains in the distance. The last section takes in some ancient Inca ruins and passes through a couple of traditional villages. The final day commonly includes a visit to Machu Picchu itself.
- Remote and little-known trek with few other tourists
- Superb views from four high passes, all nearing 5000 m
- Chance to see some of the highest mountains in Peru like Salkantay (6,264 m) and Humantay (5,473 m)
- Great challenge for those in good physical condition
- Easy to combine with a visit to Machu Picchu on the final day
- Very little tourist infrastructure, but trails are there
|Trek difficulty:||Difficult – some very tough sections and high altitudes|
|Trek duration:||5 days|
|Maximum altitude:||4,959 m|
|Best season:||March – November|
|Start / end locations:||Cusco – Soraypampa / Aguas Calientes – Cusco|
|Permits required:||No permit required but ticket necessary to visit Machu Picchu|
|Fitness level required:||Good|
Day 1: Cusco – Soraypampa – Pampa Japonesa (12 km, 6-7 hours)
The first day begins with a transfer from Cusco (3399 m) to Soraypampa by car with a break at Mollepata (4 hours total driving). From the trailhead at Soraypampa, the trek passes through Salkantay Pampa and finishes at the high-altitude campsite of Pampa Japonesa (4,600m), located at the foot of two mighty snow-capped mountains, Salkantay (6,264 m) and Humantay (5,473 m).
Day 2: Pampa Japonesa – Millpo (16 km, 8-9 hours)
The second day of the hike involves crossing four passes of over 4,000 metres. The first pass is the Inca Chiriaska Pass which, at 4,959 metres, is the highest point on the trek. This is followed by the Tocto Pass (4,821m), the Calacocha Pass (4,667m) and the Cruz Casa Pass (4,600m). Following this, the path descends to the campsite at Millpo. Some groups press on to the campsite at Yahuarmaky instead.
Day 3: Millpo (or Yahuarmaky) – Ancascocha (16 km, 8-9 hours)
Day three involves crossing three more high passes, the Chusqenay Pass (4,600m), the Aqocasa Pass (4,686m) and the Huayanay Pass (4,630m). Highlights of the day include views of Salkantay, Humantay and Huayanay mountains as well as being able to make out the Inca Trail in the distance. The trek also passes the archaeological site of Inka Rakay.
Day 4: Ancascocha – Chillca (12 km, 6-7 hours)
The final walk to the end of the trail passes through several attractive traditional villages. From Chillca, transport is organised for the journey to Ollantaytambo from where a train connects to Aguas Calientes. Accommodation is in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu – Cusco
The morning is taken up by a visit to the ruins of Machu Picchu, followed by transport back to Cusco.
Not all Ancascocha Trekking itineraries follow the itinerary as mentioned above and it is possible to do similar versions of this trek but stopping at different places along the way.
An alternative option is to combine this trek with the classic Inca Trail, a trek that would take around seven days. For the first four days, the itinerary is similar to the one outlined above. On the fourth day, the trail joins the classic Inca Trail and continues for another three days, reaching Machu Picchu itself on day seven.
This trek is itself an alternative to the extremely popular – and always crowded – Inca Trail. Other popular alternatives to the Inca Trail include the Salkantay Trek, the only alternative with views of Machu Picchu during the trek, as well as the Choquequirao Trek, the Lares Trek, the Ausangate Trek and the Vilcabamba Trek. It is easy to include a visit to Machu Picchu on the last day of any of these treks.
Altitude sickness can strike at altitudes of above around 2,000 to 2,400 meters and there is no way to tell in advance who will be affected. Since the entirety of this trek is above 2,000 meters and at times considerably higher – including the first night’s campsite (4,600m) – altitude sickness should be taken into account. The only way to prepare for strenuous activity at high altitude is to spend a few days acclimatizing without exerting oneself too much and it is highly recommended to spend three days in Cusco before attempting this trek. While on the trek, please drink enough water, get enough food, bring altitude pills such as Diamox, and don’t exert yourself too much (walk slowly). Please read our article about altitude sickness for further information.
This trek is considered one of the most strenuous of all the alternative treks to the Inca Trail. It should only be attempted by those in good physical shape. If possible, it is advisable to attempt shorter hikes at lower altitudes to build up fitness and conditioning in the months before attempting the Ancascocha Trek.
This trek is in a remote part of rural Peru where medical facilities are rudimentary at best and evacuation to a hospital is problematic. Anybody who takes regular medication should ensure they carry enough supplies with them on the trek.
- Although rain is unlikely during the dry season, the weather is notoriously changeable in the mountains and it is best to be prepared for both bright sunlight and rain in any season while trekking the Ancascocha Trek.
- You may meet locals on the Ancascocha Trek, and indeed this is one of the great pleasures of trekking in the remote Andes, but you are discouraged from handing out sweets to children since they have limited access to dental care and sugary food can rot their teeth. Gifts like pens and books are always greatly appreciated.
- Carry some extra cash for snacks and drinks as you may wish to purchase in Aguas Calientes to celebrate completing the trek!
There are several alternative treks to the classic Inca Trail and some of them have become popular in their own right. However, to truly escape the crowds and branch off into a less explored part of the Sacred Valley to arrive at Machu Picchu, the Ancascocha Trek to Machu Picchu is a path less trodden waiting to be discovered.