Vilcabamba - The last refuge of the Incas

From the last capital to the lost city of the Incas!
Walk through the valleys, jungles and Vilcambamba mountain range in just one trek! An amazing hike along part of an original Inca trail.

Note: Trek difficulty generally depends on your level of fitness and acclimatization (highly recommended).

On this truly outstanding hike, enjoy a wealth of flora and fauna, snow peaks, lush valleys and beautiful landscapes while at the same time visiting the ruins of the last refuge of the Incas.
After we leave the charming village of Huancacalle, we trek along some excellent examples of the Qhapaq Ñan – or royal roads of the Incas, before heading off into “unknown territory”. We cross three consecutive mountain passes–often covered in snow–before descending to the humid, warm jungle. Crossing a great mountain chain we finally arrive to Machu Picchu. The Vilcabamba trek is one of the hidden treasures in Peru!


Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu – Itinerary
Route and Altitude Map
Vilcabamba Trek Alternatives
Best time for a Vilcabamba Trek
Vilcabamba Trek Packing List
Tour Recommendations

Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu – Itinerary

Day 1: Cusco – Quillabamba

At 1pm we pick you up from your hotel and transfer you on to a public taxi that will take you to Quillabamba – a five hour drive. You pass through the beautiful Sacred Valley before ascending the Abra Malaga – a spectacular and extremely windy road! The pass (at 4316m) is often covered in snow. You then begin to descend into high jungle land; the more humid air holding rich smells coming from the diverse Flora. We arrive to Quillabamba at about 7pm where you will be transferred to a 2 star hotel. We have dinner in a typical Quillabamba restaurant before enjoying a good night´s sleep.

Day 2: Quillabamba – Puma Chaca

After breakfast in your hotel, from Quillabamba we take another taxi over winding back roads till Huancacalle (Approx 2.5 hours travel). You will have a guided tour of the archaeological sites of Vitcos-Rosaspata and the Ñustahispana (or White Rock). From there we will hike for approximately 3-4 hours, walking on an impressive Inca trail that was part of the Qhapaq Ñan (Network of Inca Trails that criss- crossed the Inca Empire).
Then we set up camp at Pumachaca (3630m).

Day 3: Puma Chaca – Racachaca

After an early breakfast we begin our expedition with a mild ascent with a rich flora and fauna around us. After 3.5 hours we will arrive to the Azotina/Asuntina Pass (3915m) before a steep descent that takes us to Pillaukasa (3860m).
It´s a spectacular walk as you leave the high jungle and arrive in the Andes, walking aside crystal clear rivers and admiring a variety of snowcapped peaks overhead. After passing through Racachaca (3570m) we climb to Hatun Pampa (3860m) where we will camp for the night. Approximately 7 – 8 hours hiking this day.

Day 4: Racachaca – Mutuypata

From Hatun Pampa we climb for 2.5 hours to Yanococha Pass before (3320m) descending to Yanacocha Lake, and then climbing again to the second pass of the day at Tullu Tacanca (3340m). Another 2 hrs will take us to the well known third pass of Abra Mujun (3340m). From Abra Mujun, we pass by S’aqra Cocha and descend for another 2hrs to arrive to LacoCocha. From LacoCocha to Mutuypata it´s another hour till this days camping spot at Mutuypata.
This is a difficult day with many changes in altitude, but rewarded with beautiful high alpine lakes and snowcapped mountains. This is the most difficult day of the hike with around 8 hours of walking.

Day 5: Mutuypata – Aguas Calientes

After breakfast our hike is all downhill as we enter once again the high jungle where the climate becomes temperate. We pass by a canyon filled with roaring waters and continue along coffee, fruit and granadilla plantations, before arriving at the village of Yanatile (approx 4-5 hours walking). From there, we will take transport to the town of Hydroelectrica where we will have lunch. We then walk for two and a half hours following the railway tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes.
You have the option of taking the train from the Hydroelectrica station to Aguas Calientes for $8 per person.
Hiking time this day: 7-8 hours. It is recommended to bath in the famous medicinal baths when you arrive to Aguas Calientes.
Accommodation: In Tourist Hostel with hot water and private toilet

Day 6: Machu Picchu – Cusco

Breakfast is included at the hostel. Early in the morning (before dawn) we will take a bus (fee included) up to the ruins of Machu Picchu so that you can appreciate the sunrise from Inti Punku (or the watchman’s hut). You will then have a three hour guided tour of Machu Picchu with your bilingual guide. After your tour you can further explore the ruins by yourself or climb Huayna Picchu (the famous peak in the background of most images of Machu Picchu). This hike takes about 1 hour and offers awesome views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley. Please note that you need to start climbing Huayna Picchu by 12 noon. Also, try to fit in a visit to the Temple of the Moon or the fabulous Inca Bridge. We highly recommend walking down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (1 – 2 hours) to get a feel for the vegetation of these beautiful temperate jungle lands. Alternatively, you can take the bus ($7 – not included). We return to Cusco in the afternoon by the backpacker train (leaves either at 2.30pm or 6pm) and are met by a driver at Ollantaytambo who will transfer you directly back to your hotel in Cusco. You will arrive approximately 4 hours after your train’s departure from Aguas Calientes.

Vilcabamba Trek Alternatives

As you can see from the map above there are two interesting variations on the Vilcabamba Trek.

Vilcabamba and Choquequirao Trek

The first is a combination of the Vilcabamba and the Choquequirao trek. This route is ideal for trekkers who have already seen Machu Picchu and are looking for a challenging adventure to Choquequirao, the site of another well-preserved Inca site. The route typically starts in Huancacalle and follows the green line south to Cachora, although it is possible to do the trek the other way round. The route takes between 7 or 8 days to complete. The trek is not widely offered so if you are interested in giving it a go please contact us and we will put you in touch with a relevant operator. Please mention ‘Vilcabamba and Choquequirao Trek‘ in your message subject.

Vilcabamba Trek, Espiritu Pampa and Machu Picchu

This is the ultimate Machu Picchu Alternative trek. It combines the Vilcabamba and Choquequirao trek (the green line above) as well as the Espiritu Pampa (another Inca archelogical site) – seen as the light blue line above Huancacalle on the map above. The route typically traverses South to North, from Cachora to Espiritu Pampa and onto Chaunquiri (approx. 11-12 days trekking). From here trekkers are transported by vehicle to Quillabamba where most overnight and then take a bus to the Hydroelectric Station via Santa Theresa, and onto Aguas Calientes. The trek culminates with a full day at Machu Picchu. Again, this route is very rare (only a handful of operators offer it). Please contact us with the message subject ‘Vilcabamba Trek, Espiritu Pampa and Machu Picchu trek‘ if you are interested and would like to be connected with a relevant operator.

Best time for a Vilcabamba Trek

The Vilcabamba trek is best done during the dry season (May-September). This is the peak time on the Classic Inca Trail, but on the Vilcabamba you will be lucky to see more a handful of trekkers (bliss!!).

We do not recommend doing the Vilcabamba during the wet season (October-April) as rain and foggy weather is common, and obstructs the incredible views along the trail. At a push you could get away with a trek during the dry season shoulder months (October and April), but we generally recommend sticking to the dry season.

Full historical details on weather patterns in and around Machu Picchu can be seen here. Please note, micro-climates predominate in the Andes. Plan for hot afternoons and cool to cold nights, with the possibility of encountering some rain all-year-round.

Vilcabamba Trek Packing List

  • A light day pack with a change of clothes for the whole period of the trek – prepare for a vast range of changes in temperature
  • Rain gear (jacket and pants if available) or rain poncho. Plastic ponchos can be bought for about $1 in Cusco.
  • Strong footwear, waterproof trekking boots recommended. Extra socks are a must.
  • Sandals or plastic slip on thongs are also good to give your feet a chance to breath in the evenings if you wish to carry them.
  • Warm clothes, including jacket, fleeces, gloves, scarf and beanie/touk.Thermal clothing is also recommended, especially for sleeping.
  • Sleeping bag (we can hire these to you)
  • Torch/ Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Camera, films and batteries (batteries consume more quickly under cold conditions)
  • Hat or cap to protect you from the sun, rain and cold
  • Sun block
  • After-sun cream or hydrating cream for face and body
  • Insect repellent – minimum recommended 20% DEET – although no malaria risk has been reported
  • Toilet paper, pack in & pack out
  • Snacks: biscuits, energy bars, chocolate, raw fruits, muesli, etc.
  • Non-disposable canteen (Nalgene type) and water for the first morning.
  • We advise you to bring water sterilizing tablets in case you collect water from streams.
  • Your own medical kit with any special medications that you might require, paracetamol etc.
  • Small towel or sarong
  • Bathers/swimsuit (if you intend on swimming in hot springs)
  • Cash – sufficient for your final lunch in Aguas Calientes, tips and souvenirs.
  • Original passport & ISIC card (if you have one).
  • Walking sticks or poles (we can hire these to you. Please note poles with metal tips cannot be carried into Machu Picchu and should be left at your hotel on the final day)
  • Binoculars (if you have them)