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Backpack the Ancascocha Trail to Machu Picchu

Mollepata District, Anta, Peru



35 miles

Elevation Gain

30000 ft

Route Type



Added by Nate Luebbe

Named after the Quechua word for "Blue Lake", this trail is the forgotten backdoor entrance to Machu Picchu. Considered a trail for the most elite of Inca royalty, it's by far the most demanding of all the hikes in the Cusco region.

Spanning just 4 days, but featuring 7 summits over 15,000 feet (and topping out at nearly 17,000'), this trail is not for the faint of heart.  Since the trail is extremely remote, permission must be attained from the locals. This is most easily done through a local guide company (I went with Killa Expeditions), since the locals generally only speak Quechua and tend to not be overly welcoming to tourists. The pin is currently at the town of Mollepata, which is as far as you’re allowed to go without a guide. If you have a guide, they drive you up a bit further.

Day 1 will lead you from lush grazing fields to a steep ascent through alpine valleys to the base of the mighty mountain Nevado Salkantay (second tallest mountain in the Cusco region at 20,574 feet) . Campsite #1 rests on the shoulder of the mighty mountain, with 360-degree views of surrounding mountains and glistening blue glacial lakes. 

Day 2 begins with a strenuous climb to the highest point of the trek, with stunning views in all directions. There are 4 passes in total this day, which makes for an exhausting day of hiking. Plan ahead with food and water because energy will be a high-value resource! 

Day 3  was perhaps the hardest day of hiking I've ever done. 3 massive mountain passes (plus several smaller ones that "don't count"), and nearly 16 miles of hiking. Staggering views while walking amongst gargantuan mountains is a wonderful motivator, but I still found my tank completely on empty by the time we reached camp. Once again plan ahead with snacks and water because the largest pass of them all (3,500 vertical feet of climbing that begins at 12,500 feet) is only the halfway point for the days trek. 

Day 4 feels easy by comparison, but would be considered a fairly substantial day hike in most other contexts. Roughly 9 miles of hiking descending over 4,000 feet from alpine valley into the high Amazon. Be sure to have your bug-spray for this section because Amazon Rainforest mosquitos are the size of German Shepards and they attack by the millions. 

Note: I listed the appropriate season as winter, but by that I mean southern hemisphere winter. The dry season in Cusco is approximately May-September, while that may be "winter," it's really the only appropriate time to attempt this trek.  

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