Inca Trail Trekking in Ecuador: The Qhapaq Ñan Part 2 Review

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Inca Trail Trekking

What Is Exactly The Qhapaq Ñan?

Maybe this is the first time you are hearing the term Qhapaq Ñan, don’t get lost, the term is used to unify the same idiom among the 6 countries that own parts of the legendary Inca road. Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, all share this common cultural legacy of incomparable value, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014.

Qhapaq Ñan is written in the Quichua language and it means Main Andean Road, but is more commonly known as The Inca Trail. This Main Inca Road created thousands of kilometers of trails to link the Incas important settlements and civilizations. It is an amazing road network through one of the world’s extreme topographies used over many years by caravans, travellers, messengers, armies and whole population groups.

Inca Trail Trekking in Ecuador

As mention previously, in the post The Inca Trail In Ecuador: The Qhapaq Ñan Part 1, there many variants to the Ecuador Inca Trail but here we are going to talk about the most concurred among adventurers, the 3-day, 2-night journey. Here is a detailed overview of what the actual hike is actually like:

First thing is first, you need to find yourself in Achupallas to start this delightful adventure. It’s preferable that you arrived to Achupallas the night before the hike so you can have a good night sleep and you are fresh to start the adventure the next morning.

DAY 1: Starting in Achupallas

Is considered the hardest day of the Ecuador Inca Trail hike because of the steep elevation gain. If you could get through Day 1, the rest of the hike would be easier in comparison.

The alarm will wake you up at 6 a.m. so you have plenty of time to shower, eat breakfast and set up your bags. You will carry your personal stuff such as, water, snacks, sunscreen, jacket, and others, in your hiking bag.

The hike starts gently along a small street that passes through the middle of the town. You will make it outside Achupallas and will find the Qhapaq Ñan sign. There, the Inca Trail starts alongside a little river that you have to cross through a tiny bridge to encounter a steep hill that you will climb in order to connect with a gravel road that takes you to Cuchicorral. The guide will stop at various points along the way to tell you stories about this magnificent place.

After a quick pause at Cuchicorral, the trail starts alongside a small river and meanders through the moors and scrub brush, slowly gaining altitude until you arrive at Tres Cruces Lagoon where the first camp will be set up.

DAY 2: Reaching Ingapirca

As Day 1 is about climbing, Day 2 is about descent — overall you will drop almost 400 meters in less than an hour.

If you wake up to a clear sky, make sure you rush out of your tent to see the magical spectacle when the first sun rays touch the lagoons icy waters while reflecting the vibrant blue sky. This delightful and colorful display will recharge your energy to continue this masterful journey.

After dismantling the tents and the camp site, you will hike up a little steep to summit Yanahurco Hill, from where you will be able to device Sansahuin Lagoon, to the east, and many other little ones. This beautiful landscape will make up for the out-of-breath moment. Keep walking for half hour and will be rewarded with the stunning views of the valley and the Culebrillas Lagoon that would be your companion for the rest of the day.

Then it is down the Yanahurco Hill – a 400-meter drop along a little pathway cutting down into the valley below. If you think this is going to be the easy part then you are wrong. Controlling your already tired legs is an exercise in concentration, and it gets harder if there is rain and mud.

Once you make it to the base of the hill you will have to cross a little valley, filled with cows and bulls. Once you have crossed make sure you find another Qhapaq Ñan sign that will put you on the right track. From here is a straight hike alongside the lagoon all the way to Paredones Ruins and your campsite.

DAY 3: From Paredones to San Jose

This can be considered the easiest part of the trail. Since you have a straight hike from Paredones to the San Jose little town, where you will connect to a gravel road that will take you down hill all the way to Ingapirca. The landscape will turn rural and you will encounter many indigenous people, houses and dogs.

Reaching Ingapirca makes all the difficulties of the trek disappear. Wandering around the archeological site will left you in admiration as to how the Cañaris and Incas could have built such a splendorous city without modern technology. The precision of the buildings is shocking and the level of detail is simply amazing.

How Difficult Is The Ecuador Inca Trail Hike

Trekking the Inca Trail in Ecuador is no easy task, but it is absolutely worth the effort. The well-deserved views you take in as you hike combined with the incredible history of the Incas itself make this a once in a lifetime experience.

Take into consideration that during the entire hike you will find yourself above 3000 meters above sea level so the main concern is altitude sickness.

Day 1: Hike from Achupallas at 3300 mts to Tres Cruces Lagoon at 3800 mts

Elevation gain: 500 meters

Difficulty: Moderate, this is the hardest day of the hike, with 2 steep sections. The hardest part is before arriving to camp site.

Day 2: Hike from Tres Cruces at 3800 mts to Paredones Ruins at 3400 mts

Elevation gain: minus 400 meters

Difficulty: Moderate, the abrupt downhill from Yanahurco Hill, will make your legs tired.

Day 3: Hike from Paredones Ruins at 3400 mts to Ingapirca at 3160 mts

Elevation gain: minus 240 meters

Difficulty: Easy cake, this is the easiest hike since you have to walk a moderate downhill all the way to Ingapirca.

As the above information has hopefully made it clear, the Ecuador Inca Trail is not as difficult as you may think, but every person’s own hike experience will be different based on fitness level, hiking experience, attitude, weather conditions, and other factors. Day one of the hike, which leads you from Achupallas to the Tres Cruces Lagoon, is considered the tricky day of hiking – once you’re passed that, you are set!

Do I need to book a tour in advance?

In short, yes. There are a lot of things that need to be coordinated in a tour such as, phone-calls confirmations, transport organization, meals preparation, and logistic arrangements before any visitors´ arrival.

In order to have all this logistic in perfect coordination and avoid any problems you need to book your tour in advance, at least 5 days notice.

Wanderbus offers amazing 2-days 1 -night tour from Achupallas to Ingapirca. You can check out this specific tour by cliking here. 

How Much Does The Inca Trail Costs

As you can imagine there are a few operators offering the tour so quality, experience, and equipment offered will vary quite a lot. Also depending on your budget you could hire a tour from the main cities, like Cuenca or Guayaquil, with private transportation or you could find your way to Achupallas and hire the tour from there.

Ecuador Inca Trail tours cost from $160 per person up to $500; if you find a price any cheaper than the bottom-end of this range, then be very skeptical.

Wanderbus offers a magical experience for $160 per person, which includes all meals on the Trail, a guided tour around Ingapirca, camping equipment, private transport from Achupallas to Ingapirca, and visits to local community enterprises.

You can find the Wanderbus Inca Trail Tour details and itinerary by clicking here.  

What Do You Need To Pack For Trekking The Inca Trail

Packing light and packing smart for the classic Inca Trail Trekking is key. After all, too much equipment will make the multi-day walk much less enjoyable, whilst forgetting essential items may make the hike memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Pack light, pack smart, and pack for chilly and maybe rainy days – that’s the best advice for this experience. You need to have a small daypack to carry your snacks, camera, water, sun protection, and any medication; this will be carried by you and only you throughout the trip.

The duffel bag is going to be where the majority of the kit + equipment you bring for the Inca Trail will be stored (i.e. clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, toiletries), and this duffel bag will be carried by the mules.

So, when packing for the Inca Trail, you can guarantee that you will not have to carry the majority of items on the Trail itself. Instead, you will just carry the essentials in your own daypack and store everything else in the duffel.  The tour company will provide your tent.

Whether you’re hiking in dry season or wet season, prepare for some rainfall and be comfortable with the idea that you will have to wear various items of clothing more than once.

The following list is our honest recommendation:

  • 1 x Waterproof jacket (with hood)
  • 1 x Lightweight Fleece
  • 2 x t-shirts for hiking. Sports t-shirts, or hi-wicking versions, are the best for hiking rather than cotton ones which grow heavy with sweat.
  • 1 x t-shirts to change into at camp
  • 1 x long-sleeved shirt or t-shirt
  • 1 x warm hat / beanie for the cold nights
  • 1 x cap
  • 1 x pair of lightweight hiking trousers
  • 3 x good hiking socks
  • 2 x sports-bras (ladies only)
  • 1 x set of thermal layers (you’ll probably sleep in these, particularly in dry season when the temperatures are lower at night)
  • 1 x sunglasses
  • 1 x hikking shoes or hikking boots
  • 1 x pair of rainy boots (especially during the wet season where there is a lot of mood along the trail)
  • 1 x headtorch (you absolutely need a headtorch for the trail)

Although is not necessary, we strongly recommend hiking poles. This will come in handy especially while descending the Yanahurco Hill to the Culebrillas valley.

The most important thing to bring for the Ecuador Inca Trail is a positive attitude. When you‘re tired hiking at almost 4,000 meters this will really be the thing that will get you through!

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, then well done! We truly hope that most of your questions about the Inca Trail Trekking have now been answered and you are in the best possible position for your upcoming Ecuadorian adventure.


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