Marcahuasi Peru's most underrated trek Lima Peru

 

We arrived in San Pedro de Casta, unloaded off the bus, and got to work. After the long (and slightly traumatic) journey up to the tiny mountainside town, we were eager to get going. Most people hire donkeys to carry their gear up to the camping area at the top and we were on the hunt. The underlying strategy here is to just walk throughout the tiny streets and look for a donkey, then find the owner somewhere nearby and see if he feels like doing the walk. There are no tour companies or guide book instructions, you just somehow figure it out. I was with Peruvians, very luckily, but as long as you have minimal Spanish you could make it work. Unfortunately, there was meant to be a party in the town that day, and multiple donkey owners told us they wanted to eat or drink and didn’t want to make the journey up the hill. Even though it obviously made our task a little more difficult, we already knew we respected their approach to life.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

Because we couldn’t find a donkey guy willing to go up, we resorted to hiring a man with a car. We had brought ample camping supplies and clothing to keep us warm in the night, but carrying all of it up with us in that altitude (over 13,000ft or 4,000m above sea level) was going to be too difficult without some kind of help. One person went with him and all of our gear in the car and they drove an alternate route that met the trail near the top. We began walking as the dense mountain fog quickly turned to rain. It was surprisingly crowded for this trek, meaning we weren’t the only ones, but it was nice seeing others at certain points along the trail. We passed local women walking down with massive packs of fresh flowers on their backs, or men casually walking in from farms with their tools, dogs or donkeys by their side. Young boys helped their mothers heard their cattle across the farm terraces where they were grazing, and a couple we passed carried buckets of fresh milk and cheese.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

The path wasn’t too steep, but as we slowly got higher and took turns the views just got better and better. A third of the way in, we came to a graffitied little building with ¨Andes¨ spraypainted on it, and a sign pointed directly up for the short path, and to the left for the long one. Being at the back of the group and not too athletically-inclined, we went left (I recommend going long route there, short route when you’re coming down- or vice versa. Both have very different but impressive scenery you won’t want to miss!). As we walked, the rain changed back to bright sun and would dried all of our clothes, then we would see fog move in quickly, it would rain steadily for a bit, and then the sun would appear again and it would all repeat.

 

 

Each time the fog would set in, it was so thick that we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. When we would wait for other members of the group, we’d just stand there, almost blindly, until figures would emerge from the fog just before reaching us. It would chill and we would be soaking wet, but just when we started to actually feel cold, the sky would open again, the fog would drift off, and the sun would warm us. Each time the fog cleared like this, we could see the orange dirt beneath our feet, the contrast of bright green cacti and terraces full of cows, sheep and goats against the orange trails, and sweeping mountains views of the other side of the valley. Even at such a distance we could see more terraces, sporadic little homes on the farmland, and tiny foottrails zigzagging back and forth, all over the steep mountains. As our trail rounded towards our destination, the mountains across from us got higher and higher, and white began to appear on the peaks across from us. We had reached 13,000ft/4,000m above sea level, and I can’t imagine how much higher the other side was. From this vantage point, the other side had turned into a seemingly infinite series of mountain peaks in all shades of blue and purple, with fog swirling between them and white caps peeking out from above.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

 

As we stop and stared, enamored by the view, we finally took enough photos and spent enough time staring to keep moving. We then encountered our friend from the car waiting with all of our stuff jusst one ridge before the top. She had arranged with a passing man and his donkeys to swing back and help us get our stuff the rest of the way. We could see the last ridge at the top and watched for our donkey man hero to appear. We stood in the new chill of the higher altitude and snacked on limes to help with altitude sickness (I just love how there is a natural remedy for everything here).

 

Read more: Marcahuasi (Part 1): An Adventurous Definition of “Getting There”

 

Finally our donkeys appeared, running down the hill with their owner. Apparently a group ahead had stolen ours earlier, so we passive-aggressively talked loudly about “our” donkeys whenever anyone passed. We definitely yelled to greet them a few times. Survival of the fittest.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

The man packed our donkeys, and we made it the final stretch. As you approach the entrance to the plateau where everyone camps (also a sacred ritual ground for the traditional town below), you see a wall of really strangely shaped boulders (there are a lot of UFO rumors around here), with a tiny little arch in the middle where the entrance is. It’s so gratifying to walk through once you reach the top, and you suddenly find yourself in a tiny clearing, surrounded by these strange massive rocks, where all the other campers have set up. There are even some ruins that looked like old houses that people pitch tents in- we were too late and too big of a group, but that looked pretty incredible.

 

 Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

When everything was pitched and put away, we doubled our layers and headed to the back of the camping clearing to see if we could find a spot on the rocks to watch the sunset. All of our phones and cameras were almost dead, and so were we, so we planned to just sit on top for a bit, then come back and make food. Since there couldn’t be much more to see, we weren’t too bothered.

 

Read more: 12 Sights & Sounds of Lima

 

There were two stray dogs running around the campsite, and after someone in our group shared tuna with one, he became our permanent mascot. He ran ahead of us as we tried to find a viewing spot for sunset, and like you always should, we followed the stray dog. We got to the top, were ready to stop, and then the dog darted behind a boulder. One person, The Borderless Project’s very own crazy one, Henry, decided to follow the dog while the rest went on top of the boulder to see where he had gone. As we poked over the top, calling to see where Henry had gone, we were greeted with this:

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

Everything is so overly documented these days, it’s rare to be truly caught off guard. While hardly anything could stop us from traveling, doing it like that takes away the core of what really makes traveling so incredible. You go places and try to retake the photos you’ve seen before. You know what you’re coming for, you see it, and then you check it off the list. None of us knew this was awaiting us behind the campsite, including those who had come to Marcahuasi before. They had visited the various rock formations, lagoons, everything- but this was a first. We thought we had completed the adventure when we arrived at the campsite atop the hill and were fulfilled from the trek. But then, there was this and the great day of trekking we had had simply paled in comparison as we stood in front of the view of our lifetime. A few other campers had found it as well, and everyone sat, perched on insane rock formations sticking out over the vast valley below, just staring. I can’t put it into words…The photos say it all.

And the best part was, every time you moved ten feet in any direction, the view was entirely different. You could play this game forever, moving along the edge and going crazy over the new and improved view.

 

 

 

At a certain point, everyone became silent and just watched the sun burn and the clouds and fog move around it. I know that all social media is over sunsets and all that, but look at these photos and try not to lose words for a minute.  Because there’s no filter here and that’s amazing.

 

Read more: 15 Actually Interesting Facts About Lima, Peru

 

Everyone was calm after this, like we realized that we had just seen something amazing and had no more expectations for the trip. I know that part of why it was incredible was because none of us were expecting it, and but even if I had seen photos like these, nothing can capture how shocking it is in real life. But beyond the photos, it impacted me in a way that wasn’t just about Marcahuasi. It was about realizing that there are still places that aren’t plastered on the cover of a guidebook that are just as incredible as the ones that are. And that there is still plenty that isn’t ¨discovered¨ and documented by everyone in the world, and we don’t have to give up on being surprised once in a while. As we walked to the top of Marcahuasi, we saw countless tiny trails branching off along the way. Any one of them could have led to somewhere even more incredible, and it’s exciting to think that even when this spot becomes more popular, we can just start taking one of the other paths.

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

We spent the night struggling to make fire in the high altitude, finally eating pasta after hours of trying to cook in the dark and taking it all in before going to bed. One campsite was getting very kumbaya with a guitar and harmonica, others were huddling around with food they had equally struggled to make, and our next door neighbors very quickly went through several bottles of rum, vodka and pisco, and realized that life was just amazing and decided to announce it periodically to the rest of us. We had had to use our pisco as lighter fluid, so we all laid frozen in our sleeping bags as our amigos next door drunkenly rambled about life being a miracle and would shout ¨GRACIAS! GRACIAS POR LA VIDA!!!¨ into the night. But, they had a point.

The next day, we woke up to bright sun and crisp cold air. The donkeys arrived for our stuff, and we all packed up and headed down the short path, to maximize the laziness. While I can’t imagine taking the short route up, especially considering the on and off rain that graces Marcahuasi, you should definitely take it one way to see the incredible rock formations that it’s famous for. While the long route offers dramatic sweeping views of layers of snow-peaked mountains and greenery, the shorter route has a lot to explore and see up close and we were so thankful we didn’t miss it. We passed old ruins of massive stone houses, cemeteries, and many unidentifiable piles of rocks on this route, with amazing views of the town of San Pedro de Casta way below. Marcahuasi has such a variety of truly unique things to see, it’s almost unfair that its all in one place. This has got to be the most rewarding trek around, and it’s still wonderfully unspoilt by crowds. A must-see while in Peru.

 

Read more: Sandboarding in the Desert Oasis Town of Huacachina, Peru

 

Marcahuasi Lima Peru

 

Getting There:

Lima > Chosica > San Pedro de Casta > Marcahuasi

In Lima, go to Paseo Cologne in Centro (you can take the Metropolitano from anywhere in the city and get off at Estacion Central to get there), Take a collective car or bus leaving from here (across from MALI museum) to the highland town of Chosica. A collective car will cost you 6 soles each and take 50 minutes, a bus will cost 3.50 soles each and take 1.5 hours.

The bus or collective car will drop you off in Chosica, and directly across the street is where the old-school bus will pick up passengers going to San Pedro de Casta. This bus costs 10 soles and takes 3 hours. When you arrive in San Pedro de Casta, you will see one path leading upwards out of the tiny town (right where the bus drops off and picks up), and this is the path directly to Marcahuasi. When it forks halfway through, there is a choice between the shorter and steeper route, or the longer and easier route.

In San Pedro de Casta, you can find maps or ask for more directions if you need help, everyone is friendly!

 

If you LOVED this post and want to see MORE like it, GO like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or join our latest adventures on Instagram. ¡Muchas gracias!