Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu
The original Lost city of the Inca. A great alternative to the Inca Trail.
AT A GLANCE
- Begin in the Vilcabamba Valley
- Walk 5 days to Machu Picchu
- dry months May-September are best
- Perhaps the toughest Inca trek
- Three high passes
- Hike with a guide or independently
Why We Like This Hike
- Finish at one of the world’s most incredible destinations – Machu Picchu
- No permit required
- Peru is one of the world’s best hiking nations
- Very quiet – you won’t see another hiker
- A more authentic Peruvian experience than the crowded Inca Trail
- Trek on well preserved Inca trails
- Visit rarely seen Inca ruins, including Vitcos-Rosaspata and Ñust’a Hisp’ana
- Great challenge for experienced hikers
- Dramatic scenery and snow-capped peaks
- Hot springs near the end of the trek
Vilcabamba is not easy. MachuPicchuTrek.net considers it the toughest of the treks to Machu Picchu.
You will need a good level of fitness and stamina. The route includes passes over 14,000 feet – Tullu Tacanca (4,500m / 14,760ft) & Yanococha (4,420m / 14,501ft).
Like any high altitude trek, altitude sickness can be a real issue and you’ll need to make sure you’re equipped to deal with this. Most Camp sites are situated low, though you may still feel effects of altitude.
- No ‘designated’ campsites and certainly no toilet facilities
- For the first 3 days no opportunity to purchase food or drink
- Small black biting flies are a major pest. They can itch for weeks or months after if getting infected. Bring repellant and cover up as much as possible. (If you get lucky, you might not see any. We’ve been at Machu Picchu with none. And with millions. 😦 )
- Trekking in the dry season is advised for this hike as it’s so difficult
- 7-8 hour drive to get to the trailhead from Cusco
Kandoo Adventures costs about $1300 / person for everything. (food, camping, tour of Machu Picchu, transfers, hotels before and after the trek, etc.)
We’ve seen prices online as low as $200 / day.
You might do it cheaper by arriving in Cusco and shopping the local guiding companies while acclimatizing to altitude. Start by asking at South American Explorers.
It would be very inexpensive to do on your own. But not easy.
- 60km trek
- 5 day itinerary – 3 days spent trekking
- Leave Cusco early by transit bus and drive through the Sacred Valley. You cross the Abra de Malaga (4315 metres) and then descend to Chaullay (1890 metres) where your trek begins. You trek through the Vilcabamba Valley past several archaeological sites, including Vitcos-Rosaspata and the Ñusta Hispana (or White Rock).
- Climb up to the Azotina/Asuntina Pass (3915 metres) before descending back down to a well preserved Inca trail. From the trail you get some great views of the snow-capped peaks of Lasoma.
- The hardest day – ascend and descend over three high Andean passes. The three passes are Yanacocha (4420 metres), Tullu Tacanca (4500 metres) and the well-known Abra Mujun (3340m).
- Trek in the morning through lush jungle, deep canyons and coffee, fruit & granadilla plantations before reaching the village of Yanatile. After lunch you take a car to the hydro-electric station where you trek along the railway tracks to Agua Calientes.
- Early bus to Machu Picchu from where you can either explore or be given a guided tour. You then take the train back to Cusco.
Click PLAY or watch Kandoo Adventures’ itinerary on YouTube.
Although it’s possible to trek Vilcabamba alone, the route is poorly marked and you could lose your way very easily. Stumbling around might cost you an extra day. A GPS is highly recommended for independent trekkers.
If wanting to hire a guide, compare the rest against Kandoo.
Most do Vilcabamba with a guide. They handle all the logistics.
Trying it independently is risky. You should have plenty of experience in the high Andes. Conversational Spanish will help too. 🙂
Vilcabamba … or Espíritu Pampa was a city founded by Manco Inca in 1539 and was the capital of the Neo-Inca State, the last refuge of the Inca Empire until it fell to the Spaniards in 1572, signaling the end of Inca resistance to Spanish rule.
The city was then destroyed and lost, and it is the fabled “Lost city of the Incas”, a title frequently incorrectly applied to the more famous Machu Picchu. …
It is often referred to as Vilcabamba the Old or Old Vilcabamba to distinguish it from the Spanish colonial town of Vilcabamba la Nueva. …
- South American Explorers Cusco is your first and best source of information. It’s our first stop on arriving in town.
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Trailblazer – The Inca Trail, Cusco & Machu Picchu, 4th: includes Santa Teresa Trek, Choquequirao Trek, Vilcabamba Trail & Lima City Guide (Inca Trail, Cusco & Machu Picchu: Includes Santa Teresa Trek) 2011
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes 2003
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Footprint Peru Handbook 2015
- Lonely Planet Peru 2013 (get the most up-to-date edition)
- Footprint Cuzco & Inca Heartland Handbook 2011
- Footprint Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador 2011
- Vincent Lee – Forgotten Vilcabamba: Final Stronghold of the Incas 2013
- Colin Thubron – To the Last City 2012
Mark Whitman feels the maps in Trailblazer – The Inca Trail, Cusco & Machu Picchu are sufficient if guided. Independent hikers should do some research to find GPS tracks. Start by asking at South American Explorers in Cusco.
Best Web Pages
Best Trip Reports
- Megan Malley – Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu – a reflection… 2013 guided
- Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu 2009 guided
We’d love to link to some independent treks. Leave a REPLY on this page if you have one.
Click PLAY or watch Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu Trek 2006 on YouTube.