Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu

(An Off-The-Beaten Path Experience)

The Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu is a hidden treasure that has yet to be heavily impacted by tourism. The trail is remote, very beautiful and super quiet. Trekkers get to pass through snow-capped mountains on a number of original and well-preserved Inca trails.

The trek is typically completed on a 5-day itinerary, although there are variations, particularly on the route out to the trailhead.

Prior to the hike most trekkers will spend two days in Cusco acclimatising. If you have booked with a tour operator they will likely have organised your hotel and scheduled some city tours.

Remember, Cusco is situated at 3,400m / 11,150ft and you might start feeling the effects of the altitude as soon as you arrive. Try to remain well hydrated and don’t over-exert yourself by traipsing across the city – see information on acclimatisation below.

We are big fans of the Vilcabamba trek but should point out that it is one of the more challenging trails to Machu Picchu. There are a number of tough ascents and descents that require a good level of fitness, and trekking days are long and tiresome.

On this page you will find all the information you need to prepare for an amazing Vilcabamba trek experience, including a detailed overview on all route and itinerary options for the trek.

You will also find useful information on acclimatisation and altitude sickness, guidance on what to pack and when to book your trek, information on tour operators and other frequently asked questions.

We recommend bookmarking this page for future reference. Please feel free to share this page with friends and family, link to it from your blog or give us a shout out on your social media page!

Vilcabamba Treks

Created with Sketch. Choquequirao, Yanama, Vilcabamba, Machupicchu, Cusco, Peru.

Choquequirao Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu 10 Days


Created with Sketch. Vilcabamba, Machu Picchu, Peru

Vilcabamba Trek to Machu Picchu 5D / 4N


Created with Sketch. Vilcabamba, Espiritu Pampa, Cusco

Vilcabamba Trek to Espiritu Pampa 7D / 6N



This tour is an excellent trip to have a descend expedition on bicycle.



Our rafting trip starts in the town of Santa Maria at 2:45 pm, starting point is the bridge at Chaullay.



Impress the majesty of the area and that constant variety that accompanies you from sun to rain and vice versa in an area considered ¨Ceja de Selva¨.



A wonderful tour and a different way of living, trained and warm staff. They made me feel safe all the time.

Route and Altitude Map

Good trekking maps are actually quite hard to come by for quiet routes like the Vilcabamba trek. The one below is from the Trailblazer Guidebook, mentioned in our library, and recommend as the leading guidebook for alternative Machu Picchu treks.

Ignoring the map key and the scale, this map provides the geographic position of the Vilcabamba trek and its general route.

If you trace your eyes from Cusco in the Southeast up to Ollantaytambo you will see the route a car / train follows into the Sacred Valley.

Just North of Ollantaytambo you can see Mount Veronica (5,860m) which sits adjacent to the Abra Malaga Pass (4,316m).

From here you will drive along the Rio Vilcabamba through Chaullay and onto Huancacalle in the Northeast. This entire section between Cusco and Huancacalle takes between 8-9 hours driving.

Although not perfectly correct, from here the route bassically follows the green line and then the dark blue line all the way up to the Hydroelectric Station (labelled as La Hidroelectrica on the map) – approx. 60km and 3 days trekking, with a hour long drive between Yanatile (not shown on the map) and the Hydroelectric Station.

Vilcabamba Trek Alternatives

As you can see from the map above there are two interesting variations on the Vilcabamba Trek.

Vilcabamba and Choquequirao Trek

The first is a combination of the Vilcabamba and the Choquequirao trek. This route is ideal for trekkers who have already seen Machu Picchu and are looking for a challenging adventure to Choquequirao, the site of another well-preserved Inca site.

The route typically starts in Huancacalle and follows the green line south to Cachora, although it is possible to do the trek the other way round. The route takes between 7 or 8 days to complete. The trek is not widely offered.

Vilcabamba Trek, Espiritu Pampa and Machu Picchu

This is the ultimate Machu Picchu Alternative trek. It combines the Vilcabamba and Choquequirao trek (the green line above) as well as the Espiritu Pampa (another Inca archelogical site) – seen as the light blue line above Huancacalle on the map above.

The route typically traverses South to North, from Cachora to Espiritu Pampa and onto Chaunquiri (approx. 11-12 days trekking).

From here trekkers are transported by vehicle to Quillabamba where most overnight and then take a bus to the Hydroelectric Station via Santa Theresa, and onto Aguas Calientes. The trek culminates with a full day at Machu Picchu.

Again, this route is very rare (only a handful of operators offer it).

Best Time For A Vilcabamba Trek

The Vilcabamba trek is best done during the dry season (May-September). This is the peak time on the Classic Inca Trail, but on the Vilcabamba you will be lucky to see more a handful of trekkers (bliss!!).

We do not recommend doing the Vilcabamba during the wet season (October-April) as rain and foggy weather is common, and obstructs the incredible views along the trail.

At a push you could get away with a trek during the dry season shoulder months (October and April), but we generally recommend sticking to the dry season.

Full historical details on weather patterns in and around Machu Picchu can be seen. Please note, micro-climates predominate in the Andes. Plan for hot afternoons and cool to cold nights, with the possibility of encountering some rain all-year-round.

Acclimatisation and Altitude Sickness

Proper acclimatisation is a critical element of any Machu Picchu trek. Unfortunately, Cusco town, the main hub that trekkers fly into is already at high altitude (3,400 meters).

From Cusco visitors or trekkers to Machu Picchu have two options: 1) either spend a few days (minimum 2) acclimatising in Cusco, or descend immediately to Ollantaytambo, a quaint town 60km northwest of Cusco in the Sacred Valley (2,792 meters) to acclimatise.

If you are doing a trek with an agency it is likely that you will do option 2, as agencies usually book two acclimatisation days in Cusco at a hotel, as part of their tour package.

The benefit of this is that you acclimatise to high altitude very early in your tour, which makes going over the 4,500 meter passes easier. The downside is that it is common to experience mild to moderate altitude sickness in Cusco.

It is impossible to predict whether you will experience altitude sickness as there is little correlation to factors of age, gender, fitness etc.

What is important is that you understand the process of acclimatisation, the symptoms of altitude sickness, and the best practice methods you can should follow to prevent any serious health complications. We recommend reading our detailed guide on acclimatisation and altitude sickness.

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