Although not nearly as visited as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, in Ecuador, you can hike the Inca Trail to Ingapirca (Ecuador’s most preserved archaeological site). In lieu of doing the full 3-day trek from Achupallas, we decided to do a day hike. We took an afternoon bus from Cuenca to Ingapirca, and upon arriving asked about hiking the Inca Trail. We found out it’s even more difficult to do solo than we had thought. We were introduced to a guide named Segundo Flores. He said he could hire a driver to take us to a starting point where we would hike along the best section of trail, and then tour the ruins after (he’s an official guide at Ingapirca). The price was much less than anything we could have arranged with a travel agency. We were in. He would pick us up the next morning at 5:30AM.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Ingapirca, then enjoyed a nice dinner at Posada Ingapirca.
The next morning, a 4×4 truck was waiting for us at 5:30AM to take us to the start of the hike. The drive took about an hour. Along the way, we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.
The hike started at Laguna Culebrillas in Parque Nacional Sangay, which sits at an elevation of about 12,000 feet. We arrived at Laguna Culebrillas about 6:30AM. It was a cool, clear morning.
The sun was behind the mountains the first hour or so of the hike, so it was chilly. Our guide told us it is normally colder, and can be rainy, so we definitely got lucky with the weather. We walked along the lake, then up to a viewpoint (that small white structure in the upper right-hand corner of the following picture).
A short while after leaving the viewpoint, we were on the Inca Trail. This section of the trail is the original Ingañan Incan royal road. Back in its prime, this transportation and communication network rivaled that of the Roman Empire.
We walked on the Inca Trail and reached a large structure at Paredones. Segundo explained that it was used as a place to stay by runners, who would deliver messages across the Incan Empire in a relay style…with a message attached to their wrist and passed along to the next runner.
We continued along the Inca Trail. Although this section is the most intact, there were still stretches where the trail wasn’t clear. Even with GPS and a map, I imagine we would have gotten lost if we have tried to do this without a guide. Plus, Segundo gave us a lot of insight into the history of the place, and how the road was built and used by the people. He pointed out the aqueducts, built by the Incas, which are still in use today.
Did you know the Inca Trail spans six countries? It’s fascinating to think about what it must have been like.
At one point, an eagle was soaring above us in circles, obviously on the prowl.
Toward the end of our hike, we were walking through beautiful farms. The indigenous people who make their living farming were very friendly, always smiling and waving.
Segundo explained that the farmers used to grow more crops, but now they mostly have cows, as their milk is more profitable. The farmers sell the milk for $0.40 a liter. We saw many trucks carrying huge milk tanks.
When we reached a road, our driver was waiting to take us the rest of the way back to Ingapirca. The views along the way were stunning.
Next, we visited the ruins. Ingapirca means “Inca Wall”. The Inca’s over took it from the local Canari tribe.
Ingapirca was excavated in the 1970’s to 1990’s. A big farm was on top of it for many years before the ruins were discovered and unburied. In 1966, it was declared a cultural site by the government, and at that time, they started recovering 400 large stones that had been taken from the site and were at various farms in the area.
The location of the ruins was chosen because it sits in a pristine valley, surrounded by mountains used as watch towers to protect the area.
The structures were built based on three principles: symmetry, security, and solitude. Segundo said the people live by 3 main principles: don’t be lazy, don’t lie, don’t steal. Sounds reasonable.
The focal point of the ruins is the Temple of the Sun. The structure was built so that the sun would shine onto the different openings of the structure at the different times of year (based on the lunar calendar). On June 21, the sun shines directly into the middle of the temple and on that day they would have a big festival.
We really enjoyed our time in Ingapirca! We are glad we decided to hire Segundo as our guide and would recommend him. You can find him on Facebook “Inca Trekking Ingapirca Sflores”. If we are ever back this way, I want to do the entire 3-day trek from Achupallas to Ingapirca!