Inca Quarries (Las Canteras) and the Sun Gate (Inti Punku)

Inca Quarries (Las Canteras) and the Sun Gate (Inti Punku)

Inca Quarries (Las Canteras) and the Sun Gate (Inti Punku)

This spectacular walk on the other side of the valley from the town of Ollantaytambo takes 4-6 hours round trip to the quarries and a few more to reach the Sun Gate. It begins at the Inca bridge near the entrance of Ollantaytambo over the Urubamba/Vilcanota River and follows a fairly well-preserved Inca trail to Cachiccata, the stone quarry 700-900 meters above the valley floor that is visible from the Ollantaytambo sun temple. It was here that the great stone blocks were slid down the hillside and hauled across the river to Ollantaytambo. There are three separate stone quarries within half a kilometer of one another, littered with massive chiselled blocks and small chullpas, or burial towers. The western and highest quarry contains mysterious needle-shaped blocks that are up to seven meters long.

From Cachiccata, it is possible to see that the terraces below the Ollantaytambo ruins form a pyramid shape, with one 750-meter-long wall aligning with the rays of the winter solstice. New Age theorists Fernando and Edgar Elorieta believe this is the original Pakaritampu, where the four Inca brothers emerged to found Cusco. A few hours’ walk above the Cachiccata is a perfect Inca gate that frames Salcantay in the background. On the trail approaching the quarries, numerous piedras cansadas (tired stones) that never made it to their final destination can be observed. The trail climbs high on the hillside, offering great views of Ollantaytambo and the surrounding peaks. Be prepared; most of the hike is fully exposed to the sun, and the only available water is near the beginning of the hike. If you wish to reach the sun gate we recommend starting very early in the day and can provide an early breakfast if you want to go around sunrise.


Directions to the Quarries and Sun Gate :

Begin the hike by taking a right after the Inca bridge. After about 15-20 minutes take a left at the fork up the hill (a boulder at the fork is labelled “Canteras”). Continue to stay left, following the main path when other trails diverge. In about 20-30 minutes you reach agricultural terraces and stone building foundations. Follow the trail straight past the foundations, not the smaller trail uphill. You arrive at the first quarry 1.5-2 hours after starting. Look for small stone buildings built on top of large boulders beneath you. Just after passing through the quarry, look for a smaller path to the left leading uphill from the large trail. If you choose to filter water, a small switchback to the left immediately after this turn will lead to the last water source.

Follow switchbacks up the hillside past the first quarry for one hour. As the grassy trail starts to level out, watch out for a rounded stone resembling a primitive wheel off the trail to your left. As the trail plateaus you will see a much larger quarry to your left and several small fields. A large boulder in the middle of the quarry has “Instituto Nacional de Cultura” painted in white. Before and to the left of this boulder, a path made of smaller stones leads up though the quarry. Exploring this path, you can find a burial site with skeletons under a large boulder, along with many quarried stones that never made it to Ollantaytambo.

Looking farther ahead on the same trail, you can see Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate, on the ridge ahead. To continue to Inti Punku, pass the large boulder with “I.N.C.” painted on it and head toward the largest boulder you see. Find the trail on the left side of the boulder and follow it uphill, crossing a scree field. After 30-45 minutes the trail comes to a grass field with Inca ruins. The trail continues just beyond and uphill from these. The trail forks once at a small ravine about 10 minutes from the Sun Gate; take a right through the ravine. About 30-45 minutes from the ruins you reach Inti Punku. From Inti Punku, return along same path to the last quarry (about 1 hour).

The return route from the canteras (quarries) should take 1.5-2 hours. Follow the trail down switchbacks to the first quarry. Take a left just past the first quarry on a small path and circle back under the quarry. From here you see two houses with metal roofs on the left hillside. Continue to descend along this ridge toward the houses and the trail improves. From the houses, continue along the trail downhill into the valley. The trail improves and continues downhill through more houses and finally to a bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the railroad tracks on your right. Turn left at a set of stone stairs after 10-15 minutes on tracks and follow the path back to town.

At Apu Lodge, we can provide print-outs of these directions and are happy to organize a guide or horses to make this strenuous but beautiful walk even more enjoyable.

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