Bikepacking Ecuador: The Inca Trail

  • Distance

    55 Mi.

    (89 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    100%

  • % Singletrack

    30%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • Total Ascent

    11,048'

    (3,367 M)
  • High Point

    14,430'

    (4,398 M)

Contributed By

Joe Cruz - Pedaling in Place

Joe Cruz

Pedaling in Place
The famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is only the slightest fragment of the full network of roads used during pre-Colombian times to link parts of the Incan empire.
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Another of the best intact and continuous sections is in Ecuador from Achupallas to Ingapirca. The route passes through a serene and rugged canyon, and includes the romance of riding over ancient cobbles as well as overland pedaling through marshy grasses at high altitude. This is a track still in occasional use by lone gauchos on horseback who are likely to share their home-brewed alcohol and a story or two of the landscape.

Three topographic quadrants are relevant for this part of the Inca Trail, the Alausi, Canar, and Juncal. These are available in Quito from the Instituto Geográphico Militar, near the center of the city at Seniergues E4-676 y Gral. Telmo Paz y Miño. El Dorado (http://www.igm.gob.ec/work/index.php). Take a taxi there or walk (keeping your wits about you). The staff is friendly and helpful. Bring your passport to get through security, as the map library is on an active military base. Having the maps is reassuring but not necessary. They are a few US dollars each.
  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Passing through the friendly traditional small town of Achupallas. It is worth getting there early enough to spend a half day.
  • A sense of the enduring pastoral life of sheepherders and gauchos.
  • High altitude remoteness in the canyon.
  • Fun few hour descent into Ingapirca on a rock strewn and slightly technical bit of the Inca Trail.
  • Get to the start of this route as part of a southward journey through South America. If you have stayed high, descend to the start of the trip from Riobamba. If you have dropped down to the jungle, ascend to the start through Parque Nacional Sangay from Macas.
  • Navigation on this route is fairly straightforward. The section from Atillo to Totoras can become muddy after rain, but the wettest sections only last a few miles. The only serious obstacle on the route is a cliff ascent near the entrance to the canyon after leaving Achupallas. Trekkers readily climb this section but it would be difficult to scale with a bicycle. Instead, look to the right along the hillside for a series of switchbacks (which will require pushing) to get higher than the top of the obstacle, and then follow the wide babyhead then black-dirt track into the canyon along the same direction you were heading down below. There will likely be sheepherders to direct you.
  • Once in the canyon, the singletrack braids southward. Follow any of the paths that seem easily navigable without going too high up either side of the canyon. It is important that you exit the canyon on the southeast side so as to continue to Ingapirca.
  • This trip can be done on any dirt-capable bicycle, but wide mountain bike tires or a fat bike will do better in the marshy sections. Expect to do some pushing as part of the experience.
  • Basic accommodation is available in Atillo, Achupallas, and Ingapirca. For lodging in Achupallas, look for a guesthouse run by Ines Velez called Posada El Inganan (033012525). Great food and homey atmosphere with hot showers.
  • Wild camping is straightforward along this route, especially in the canyon.
  • Supplies are readily available in Atillo, Achupallas, and Ingapirca. There is water along the route; it should be treated.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Scott Pauker

    First of all, thanks to Joe for all his awesome route contributions in South America. I’m excited to encounter more as I enter Peru in a couple of days!

    So, I just “biked” through this route following the Trans Ecuador route developed by the Dammers, Cass and Nick Gault, comparing with Joe’s route. It was absolutely gorgeous. And I had lots of time to appreciate the beauty — due to how much time I spent hiking my bike.

    Just to be clear, the hikeabike section is between Achupallas to Ingapirca. You leave Achupallas on a lovely dirt road, off of which the route cuts off. Stay high and to the right out of the two trail options in order to avoid the aforementioned cliff ascent, but be prepared to climb a 200+ meter rock garden staircase out of town. Once entering the long canyon, it’s a pretty smooth single track trail for a little while (like 2-3km) then it gets very narrow with big plumes of grass everywhere. The trail is very easy to follow but becomes unrideable here. Walking is tough as the trail is often very narrow and deeply in ruts, causing pedal drag regularly. It’s also pretty marshy so be prepared to get your feet wet. Once you reach the top of the big climb (Going Southward that is, you’d be my hero if you could possibly travel this route Northward), it’s about 2km of really fun Moab-style rock riding on a high windy ridge until you begin the steep descent into the valley of Laguna Culebrilla. That descent is also unrideable with big rocks, 2-10′ ruts and lots of mud. In the valley you cross a river a couple times wandering through marsh before you reconnect with the trail. It’s very wet and muddy here with more deep ruts and grass plumes. After you get over the last climb after Laguna Culebrilla it’s a rocky or grassy descent (you choose) toward Ingapirca, which in my experience was about 1/2 rideable.

    All in all it was a gorgeous route but very slow going. I’m really glad I saw it all but honestly, I believe it’d be a better hike without the bike in the future. Just my 2 cents, likely worth far less!

  • Joe Cruz

    Thanks, Scott, for this very detailed update! Fantastic. My recollection is of less mud that you’ve reported and that is likely the main factor in my experience of it as more rideable. I was also on a fat bike. Yeah, those ruts were terrible!

    I’m definitely *not* trying to contradict your report and it’s super helpful to have people who try this route to describe their experience.

    Joe

  • Scott Pauker

    Hey Joe, yeah you probably hit the trail in a drier season. The shit I was in you could’ve had 10″ wide tires and it wouldn’t have made one difference!

    I’m now riding the trails around the Sacred Valley near Cusco. Currently just landed in Ollantaytambo. If you have suggestions for badass routes not to be missed from here South, please let me know! I”m hoping to hit the Ausagate traverse on the way to Titicaca, but don’t have much else planned yet. For now just exploring the local single track…

    Hit me up on FB (Scott Pauker) or email me (hicamos@gmail.com) if you get the chance!