This is a great trek, a wonderful upland walk with great views and lots of birds and flowers to see along the way. There is easy access from Cusco but you only have to walk for a few hours before you are in an isolated wilderness. We did this independently over two days, carrying our own tent, food and cooking equipment. We also have a water filter, there is very little water on this route and you have to take it where you can.
If you have a very early start and travel light who could do this trek in a day, it´s about 25km in total, but a tough day out.
We took Oats for breakfast and instant noodles and a package sauce for dinner, plus bread and canned fish for the lunches.
You need to take lots of woolies for this walk as it’s very high and exposed, when the sun goes down, it’s cold.
We worked off the description in the book `Exploring Cusco´ by Peter Frost, which is reasonable and took the 1:100 000 map (Calca) which topographically is very good. A compass is also very useful.
We found this walk quite easy navigation wise, OK we did it on bright, clear days, but the path/track is well defined the whole way and there are cairns marking prominent features. The landscape features and large and obvious and all of them are mapped. Note this is a very lonely walk, we saw almost no one the whole way, so don’t rely on being able to ask for directions.
The start of this walk is just beyond the fort at Qenco. If you proceed up the road to Pisac from the fort you will come to a junction on the right hand side of the road which is signposted to Saqsaywaman. From here if you look North, which is parallel with the Pisac road you will see a ridge ahead of you with some Inca stonework at it’s foot. Start walking here with the road on your right hand side. Soon you will come to a track, this then heads uphill and you will soon leave the road behind. You are aiming for a valley which you can see as a cleft in the hills ahead of you. The path will take you into the narrow valley; keep on the right hand side of it. Keep ascending until you reach a ridge with a large cairn (mound of earth and rock) on top of it. This is the first ‘pass’ at 4200 meters. In front of you is a large, spectacular valley (which Frost neglects to mention). Look to the left and you should be able to see your route which goes around the head of the valley. Turn left from the cairn and follow the route down. At the head of the valley you will cross a stream where there is a path leading off to the left, ignore this and head North East, you will ascend up into a shallow valley (with some rock sheep pens at the end) keep going North East and follow the track up to a ridge between two low hills with a cairn on top.
This is the second pass at 4300 meters. You should now be looking down on Lake Quellacocha (actually a reservoir) which is at the bottom of a shallow valley. On the other side of the valley is a road which is not marked on the Calca map. Turn left (Heading North) and contour around the side of the hill. You will reach a pass between two hills where there is a track off to the left, ignore this, keeping contouring around the hills, you are aiming for the cairn which you can see on the ridge at the Northern most end of the Lake Quellachocha valley. Ascend up to the ridge; this is the third pass at 4250 meters. On the northern side you should be looking down to Lake Coricocha and on the south side, back to Lake Quellacocha. Below you is a shallow valley with the road in it. Turn left and follow the track down to the road at the head of the valley. You only walk along the road for a few meters before heading up the side of the hill in front of you. The track is prominent and you should be heading North East. You will ascend to a ridge, in front of you will be a valley in between the hill you are on and one in front of you. In the valley are power lines which are not marked on the map. To your left you will have a great view of Lake Piuray, which is just to the south of Chinchero. In the far distance you will see a ridge with three cairns on it, you are aiming for these. The trail now descends into the valley and up the side of the ridge in front of you, ascending and contouring on the eastern side. As you reach the top of the ridge you should see some ponds on your right hand side (not marked on the map). You then descend to a stream before climbing up to the ridge with the three cairns. (We camped in the dry stream bed here as it was a little less exposed, and we found water in a steam hollow, although we filtered it and chlorinated it. The water in the ponds was too difficult to get at as their sides are covered in weed.) From the Three Cairn ridge (at 4300 meters) you follow the track north down the prominent valley towards the village of Pucamarca, with potato fields on each side of you. As you reach the top of the village you will see a path that braches to your right and which contours around the hillside above the village. If you go into the village you’ve missed the path. The correct path takes you around the village to a rock promontory with Inca stone work around it. Looking North you will see a narrow ravine. Descend down to valley bottom and along the path to the ravine. Just before you enter it there is a path off to your left (the path you are on continues into the ravine, don’t take it). The path to the left will take you down to a wooden bridge. This is a good place to take water as there is none ahead. You then cross and re-cross the ravine (very exciting) on two other wooden bridges before emerging into the wider valley, you should be on the left hand side. Walk along the path until you come to a junction with a path on your left hand side heading uphill. Just before this junction, black and white arrows are painted on a rock face, indicating you should go uphill. Take the left hand path and climb for a short distance before continuing to contour around the side of the valley. You should now see Lamay down in the Sacred Valley below you. Continue around the spur of the hillside until you are on the other side of it, you should now be able to see the Inca terraces of Hunchuy Cusco. Follow the path around until you reach the Inca gateway. At the moment there is no entry charge to the site, in fact no one else at all was there on the day we visited.
Getting from Hunchuy Cusco to Lamay is probably the toughest part of the walk. It’s a steep slow descent for which you should allow plenty of time. You will have to cast around for the path below Hunchuy Cusco but it’s pretty obvious when you find it. This path is now under some threat as a new road is being built up from Lamay to Hunchuy Cusco. This shouldn’t affect the upper reaches of the path as they are in a narrow re-entrant but further down the road has cut across the path, and at one point spoil from the road has covered the route, which forced us to make a long detour on the new road. A new path has been made from Lamay which joins the original path about two thirds of the way down. We tried this path but it is very steep and slippery and we though descending it was too dangerous.
As the road heads upwards it no doubt make further changes, perhaps it’s time for a revival of the alternative descent which went from Hunchuy Cusco to Calca. At the bottom of the track is a village (name unknown, it’s not marked on the map) walk through it to the suspension bridge that will take you to the main road in Lamay.