Ecuador // The southern sierra //

The Inca Trail to Ingapirca

The Inca Trail to Ingapirca is a three-day hike following a forty-kilometre stretch of the route – and in some parts the original path – of the Inca Royal Road that once linked Cuzco, the Inca capital, with Tomebamba (where Cuenca now stands) and Quito. The hike begins in the tiny village of Achupallas, which is an hour’s drive along a vertiginous road from the small railway town of Alausí. Colectivo trucks leave Alausí for Achupallas between 11am and noon daily except Saturdays, and there’s one daily bus at around 1–2pm. Your surest bet is to hire a camioneta to take you there from opposite the Panamericano hotel in Alausí, at the corner of 5 de Junio and 9 de Octubre; if there’s none there, just ask around and someone will offer to take you.

Most hikers set off from Alausí between 5–6am. Alternatively, you could turn up in Achupallas the day before you want to start walking – there’s a simple little hostel here called Ingañán (t03/2930652; $11–15), where you can also get meals. If you’re hiking it independently, it’s essential to take the IGM maps of Alausí, Juncal and Cañar, as well as full camping equipment and warm, waterproof clothing. Rubber boots or gaiters will also come in handy, as there are some extremely boggy spots to negotiate. Try to take as light a pack as possible, though, as you’ll be hiking between 3100m and 4400m, which can be quite hard going. The terrain you’ll cover is mainly wild, open páramo, with some beautiful ridge walks giving fantastic views. Most of it is uninhabited, but the final 8km or so is quite populated with campesinos, and you’ll probably get a lot of attention from kids asking for sweets, pencils or money.

The hike is commonly divided as follows: day one takes you from Achupallas up the Tres Cruces valley to the Laguna Las Tres Cruces (6–8hr), though you may want to cut this hard day short and pitch your tent in the páramo a couple of hours short of the lakes; day two takes you from Laguna Las Tres Cruces to a small collection of Inca ruins known as Paredones, by the shore of Laguna Culebrillas (6–7hr); and day three goes from the Paredones ruins to the Ingapirca ruins (4–5hr).