To help you decide whether the alternative Quarry trail is right for you, here are some of the main things to consider:
Crowds: Everyone is looking for an ‘authentic’ experience, and an alternative trek is one of your best chances of experiencing Inca life. The only other people we met on our three-day hike were farmers with no electricity, no plumbing, and no idea what we were doing there. In contrast, the Inca trail might be capped at 200 hikers but that doesn’t include the 300 guides and porters – so it’s still really busy.
Site spotting: Hands down you’ll see a greater variety of Inca ruins on the Inca trail where ruins generally crop up every few miles. Having said that you are en-route to Machu Picchu and will inevitably explore Inca ruins in Cusco – so don’t dismiss the alternative routes so easily. On the Quarry trail, we passed one or two sites per day ranging from a lesser-known sun gate to burial chambers. Being part of a much smaller group meant we could channel our inner India Jones and get exploring without the crowds!
Sanitation: The Quarry trail is a loop which starts and finishes at Ollantaytambo. You arrive back into town early afternoon, catch the train up to Aguas Calientes and take a much-needed wash before departing for Machu Picchu at 5am the next day. In comparison hikers on THE Inca trail arrive slightly worse for wear and rather fragrant!
Fitness levels: I’m reasonably fit (workout 2-3 times per week) and I found the Quarry trail tough. It goes higher than the Inca trail and involves a ten-hour walk on the second day, so altitude sickness is a problem. In contrast, The Inca trail is slightly lower, and generally, people from that group seemed less affected by altitude. Support horses are allowed on the alternative trek if its gets too much.
Sun Gate: This is a big one. The Inca trail takes you directly to Machu Picchu, and you’ll arrive on the last day through the famous sun gate before descending into the ancient town. No other route can offer this, and the sense of achievement amongst hikers is pretty irreplaceable.
Verdict: I have no regrets about doing the Quarry trail and would certainly recommend it to others – particularly if you are craving a break from the modern world. It offers up a more serene experience with a small group, breath-taking scenery and lesser-known ruins. Admittedly, I did feel a pang of jealousy when the other hikers arrived at Machu Picchu through the sun gate - but as we swapped stories, it was clear all routes offered an unforgettable experience.
If you want to know more about Machu Picchu then you really should go.
I booked my hike with Intrepid who offer a wide range of trek and tour options across Peru: www.intrepidtravel.com/peru