The Inca Trail is a system of roads built in the 15th century that connected Quito all the way to Talca in central Chile. Remains of these roads can still be seen today, and are popular hiking routes. In Ecuador the segment that is most well preserved connects a village named Achupallas to the remains of Ingapirca. This route crosses some of the most beautiful areas of the Andean mountains, including lagoons, ancient tambos where messengers took refuge, and a mountain pass at 4200 meters above sea level.
Hiking the Inca Trail usually takes around 3 days, walking a steady 5 to 6 hours a day. The route from Achupallas to Ingapirca is around 45km but at an altitude of over 3000 meters, you won’t be walking as fast as you usually would.
How to get to Achupallas, the starting point of the Inca Trail
Most tours set off from Alausi, the nearest town to the starting point of Achupallas. You can easily catch a bus from Quito (Quitumbe bus terminal) to Riobamba (about 4 hours) and from Riobamba to Alausi (2 hours). If you have arranged a tour that starts from Achupallas, you can get a bus or a pick up truck from Alausi to Achupallas. This will take about 1.5 hours. There is some informal accommodation available, or you can set up your tent at the football field if you ask some of the locals.
Inca Trail Day 1
Your hike on the first day will set off from Achupallas at around 3350m and finish at Cuchicorral. The hike will take you about 4 to 5 hours, and is usually windy in parts. Make sure to take adequate provisions and clothing.
Set off on the main road in Achupallas heading south, as you pass the cemetery on your right you will see the road turns slightly right before crossing a bridge. You will see the foot trail on your left as you head uphill a few minutes after you leave the last little shop on the left side of the road.
Unless you are skilled hiker, this route is best done with a guide. Locals from Achupallas can be hired for a reasonable fee. If you are doing the route alone, you will want to download the specific directions and download an app called Maps.me which shows the trails. Google maps is useless around here and rural Ecuador in general.
After hiking along the Cadrul river, you will head through a narrow pass between 2 mountains; Callana Pucará and Mapahuiña. You will finish the day at Cuchicorral where there are some Incan remains. The grassy area just beyond is usually used as a camp site, as it is flatter.
Inca Trail Day 2
On the second day your hike of around 6 hours will take you from Cuchicorral to Paredones, via the Tres Cruces lake at about 4250m. As the path takes you up the crest of the Tres Cruces ridge, note on a clear day you can see the snowy tops of Chimborazo volcano to the north and El Altar volcano to the northeast.
After descending the crest, you will come to another lake called Laguna Culebrillas located in a rather marshy valley. After crossing some small streams, you will see the Incan ruins of Paredones. This will be the area you camp in for the night.
Inca Trail Day 3
You will want to set off early on the third day, so that you reach the ruins of Ingapirca before they close. The first part of the walk will take about 3 hours, before you reach the village of San Jose. The walk from here to Ingapirca takes about an hour and a half, but you can take a taxi if you’re running behind schedule or just tired! Around Ingapirca there are some local restaurants as well as sites such as the Incans face carved into the rock.
You might be interested in visiting other places in Ecuador after your trip to Ingapirca. We suggest the beautiful city of Cuenca (find out why it’s one of our favorites destinations here, or a relaxing time post-hike at one of many spas in Baños de Agua Santa. Check out our Aguila Pass, which includes both stops!