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Exploring the Andes on Dragoman's alternative to the Inca Trail

Dragoman's Operations Manager Helen walked the Wild Andes Trek to Machu Picchu, Dragoman's alternative to the overcrowded thoroughfares of the Classic Inca Trail. Read all about it below.

A visit to the mysterious citadel of Machu Picchu is the highlight of most people’s visit to Peru, but with so many travellers visiting the area, sometimes it can be a challenge to get away from the crowds and Dragoman's ethos is to get off the beaten track.  In 2013, together with our local partners, Dragoman designed and launched a new trek travelling on the old Inca trails, through a remote region of the Andes.  The hope of developing the new route was to provide the indigenous community, the Ancascocha, with financial and practical support. The first initiative was to reintroduce a herd of Alpacas, which would provide an income from selling wool and woollen products.  

I trekked Dragoman’s original Community Trek between Huaran and Lares in 2012 and loved the Andes, so when the opportunity arose to try out the new route I jumped at the chance. This route follows a section of an old Inca trail between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the section closest to Machu Picchu forms the Classic trek, which is regulated by the Ministry of Tourism and requires permits to trek it. We trekked what would essentially be the next section, characterised by vast mountain scenery, glacial rivers, lush canyons and a lack of foreign travellers.

We began our 5 day adventure with a visit to the small village of Chinchero, in the Sacred Pampa. The locals here speak Quechua, the language of the Inca. We watch whilst a lady from the village gives us a weaving demonstration, showing us the natural dyes used and how to wash the wool, spin and weave. Everyone is really friendly, the village is colourful, lively and even more hectic as there was a wedding going on at the church the in the Plaza. The church was built by the Spanish in 1607 on top of the remains of an Incan place, believed to be that of Inca Tupac Tupanui.

After lunch we drive to the Temple of the Moon, and after a look around the rest of the afternoon is spent hiking to a small village called Zurite. It’s a fairly easy trek through villages, farm land and fields and takes us about 3 ½ hours. This somewhat relaxed start to the trek was a good introduction to the altitude and a chance to get comfortable with our gear. In Zurite we stayed in a big white washed colonial house, with a large dining room filled with local art works. In many ways this was a much easier start to our trek than we’d all envisioned and it was really nice to enjoy a hot meal and chat with our guides about the days to come.

Our second day was not so easy. We walked from a big rock formation, known as Qenteqentiyoc or the hummingbird temple, all the way up to the first pass at 4,450 metres. It certainly took our breath away and all thoughts of our trek being a breeze were fading. Fortunately our guides took us very steady as we zig zagged our way up to the pass. At the top we had amazing views all around us of the Vilcabamba and Vilcanota mountain ranges.  Fortunately for us, the rest of the day was all downhill and we arrived to find our camp already set up and hot drinks at the ready – our porters were amazing and our camp in the Sambor valley was really beautiful, by a river and surrounded by mountains.

We awoke to a hot cuppa brought to our tents by the porters and warm water to wash with. This was such a treat considering the grim weather; the clouds had rolled in overnight and it was drizzly & cold reminding me of home. The trek today started with a climb up to our second pass at 4700m, but getting there felt easier than yesterday, probably because of the undulating terrain, following rivers with some gentle sections uphill.  The final uphill section was a bit of a slog, but I think we were all quite excited to reach the summit, so it went quite quickly. To be fair I’m sure the views would have been much better had the weather been clearly, but we still felt amazing standing on top of the pass. We could see the rocky mountain-sides disappearing into the clouds and the trail we were to follow leading us back down the pass and into the highland valley beyond.

I’m told this area is great for spotting wildlife such as eagles and foxes but we weren’t so lucky today. Our lunch stop was just magic, right beside a fast flowing glacial river; our pack mules were grazing peacefully beside the cook tents and we hurried inside to enjoy a hot soup and get warmed up. After lunch the trail was easy, the sun had come out and the group all chatted as we walked along the valley. There was a sense of ease that the toughest part of our trek was behind us and we could relax and enjoy being out in the mountains. We camped nearby the Ancascocha community building, where the herd of Alpacas that had been sponsored by Dragoman were kept grazing. The man looking after them came to see us and that evening we played a game of cards and enjoyed an evening under cover.

The final day of trekking took us through the Silque Canyon which was stunning and probably my favourite part of the trek. We were walking through cloud forest surrounded by tall granite walls, the canyon was full of orchids and bromeliads and we had to keep crossing the river over little wooden bridges. Finally we reached a small community with views of the snow capped Mount Veronica to meet our transfer vehicle who would take us onwards to Ollantaytambo and of course Machu Picchu!

Overall we trekked 46.5km over 4 days.

Learn more about Dragoman's Wild Andes Trek to Machu Picchu

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