The Inca Trail is a one of the world’s classic backpacking trips. Due to the popularity and trail overuse, the Peruvian government has had to implement strict quota and rules. This means people have to do it with a guide.
Fortunately, for the adventurous folks out there, there is a way to still hike the Inca Trail without jumping through so many hoops. 3000 miles to the north of Cusco in Ecuador, there is a section of the Inca Trail that travels through the Andes to the ruins of Ingapirca. This is a great backpacking trip that is possible for most experienced hikers without the need of a guide.
Ecuadorian Inca Trail Overview
The Ecuadorian Inca Trail follows the remains of the Chapaq Nan, an ancient highway system constructed by the Inca. At it’s peak, the trail system covered nearly 30,000 Kilometers. After the conquest of the Inca by the Spanish, the route fell into disrepair.
The section of the trail you can hike stretches roughly 24 miles from the town of Achupallas to the ruins at Ingapirca. Usually, this trip is done over 3 days, but can be done in 2 if you are fit and acclimatized. The highest point on the trail is about half a mile passed the Tres Cruces pass at 14,500 feet.
How to get there
This is a point to point hike and starts in a very remote part of Ecuador. The trailhead is in the town of Achupallas. Achupallas is far off the Pan-Americana and not easily reachable by public transportation.
The closest major town to Achupallas is Alausi – a very cute town right at the edge of a deep river gorge. Alausi is famous for the Nariz Del Diablo Train. If you have time, it is worth spending a day in Alausi before you begin hiking.
From Alausi, there is a cooperativo that will leave once a day for Achupallas. It is basically just a pickup truck and should cost about $1-$2. If you are a bit shorter on time, you can take a taxi for $20.
The hike ends in the town of Ingapirca. Public transit is much more regular here. There are very frequent busses headed to Canar which cost about $1-$2 and from Canar you can get a bus headed North or South very easily.
Navigating The Ecuadorian Inca Trail
It’s always a good idea to have a gps track with you while navigating, but in case your phone dies and your map gets lost, the trail is relatively straight forward to navigate.
The trail starts from the end of Achupallas. There is a stairway that will take you up the mountain from town. From here, you will be led to a very wide footpath that is also used for livestock farming. The next 8 miles will have you walk up a river valley. Even if you lose the trail, just keep heading up the direction of the valley!
Once you pass Tres Cruces, the trail gets a little bit confusing. You want to get on top of the ridge that is on your left. Once you are on top, the trail should reappear and help you get down to the valley. In the Valley, the trail gets a little confusing again, just be sure to head to the left of the lake and the trail should become obvious again.
As you approach the town of San Jose the Culebrillas, the trail will become faint again. In the town you leave the trail and start hiking on the road. From here, you just follow the road to Ingapirca. It is about 8 km and rather boring, but its mostly down hill and very fast.
Things to Know
This is most commonly done as a 3 day and 2 night trip. The best places to set up camp are at the Tres Cruces Camp area and at Paradones ruins. Do note that there is no water source next to Paradones so if you plan on camping here prepare water ahead of time.
The valleys on both sides of Tres Cruces are used by local farmers for livestock grazing. There are many cows who use the area and as a result there is a lot of cow poop.
Going with a guide
If you do not feel comfortable going by yourself, it is possible to get a local guide in Achupallas. The approximate cost is $50/day, and if you are charged more than this you should be able to negotiate the cost down. Just note that the local guide will not be able to speak English.
If you do not want to carry your stuff, you can also hire a horse or mule to carry things. This will cost $25/day. If you want any of these services, you can arrange them in Alausi with AlausiTours.
When To Go
Ecuador sits on the equator, so the weather is going to be ok pretty much all year round. For equatorial regions, there are two seasons: Rainy and Dry. The rainiest time of year is going to by March and April. The dryest will be July and August.
If you are not comfortable with navigation in tough climates, then you should plan on doing this hike in the dry season. The top of Tres Cruces is extremely high and visibility can be very poor in bad weather.
What to Bring
Since the weather can change extremely quickly, it is good to be prepared. In particular, it is a good idea to be ready for very wet conditions! This is the gear that I brought during my trip. I used every single thing except for the snow pants.
- Gossamer Gear 50 Litre
- Gossamer Gear the One
- ground tarp
- Montem Trekking Poles
- REI Sleeping Bag
- Nemo Sleeping Pad
- Thermal pants and shirt
- Base layer shirt
- Snow Pants
- Ski Jacket
- Baseball Cap
- wool gloves
- Gas (bought in Cuenca)
- Sawyer Squeeze
- Cnoc bladder
- water bottle
- Trail runners
- 2 pairs of socks
- Bag cover and trash bag
- sun screen
- garmin in reach mini
- battery pack
What to do Next
If you haven’t had your fill of hiking after doing the Ecuador Inca Trail, be sure to head down to Cuenca and spend a couple days hiking in Cajas National Park!
Cajas National Park was my absolute favorite part of Ecuador, and also some of my favorite backpacking ever!