Cordillera Vilcabamba

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 13.31078°S / 72.78992°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing
Additional Information Elevation: 20574 ft / 6271 m
Sign the Climber's Log


The Cordillera Vilcabamba is a vast mountain chain of striking beauty. It belongs to the longest mountain range in the world - The Andes. Its location is in southern Peru in the regions of Cusco and Junín. It is about 250 km long and is bounded by the deep gorge of the Apurimac river to the southwest, the rivers Tambo-Ene to the northwest and the Urubamba river to the northeast.

The southern part of the range is well known due to the many Inca sites like Machu Picchu, the Inca trail and the Salcantay mountain.

The northern part is almost never visited and it is very difficult to get there. It was brought to international attention through a 1964 National Geographic article "By parachute into Peru's lost world". Fortunately, big parts of the northern Cordillera Vilcabamba are protected through the Otishi Natonal Park and the Asháninka indian reserves.



Salcantay 6,271 m/ 20,574 ft.

Nevado Salcantay or Salkantay (Nevado Salkantay) is the highest peak of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. It is located in the Cusco Region, about 60 km (40 mi) west-northwest of the city of Cusco. It is the 38th highest peak in the Andes, and the twelfth highest in Peru.

Salcantay was first climbed in 1952 by a French-American expedition comprising Fred D. Ayres, David Michael, Jr., John C. Oberlin, W. V. Graham Matthews, Austen F. Riggs, George I. Bell, Claude Kogan, M. Bernard Pierre, and Jean Guillemin. All except Oberlin, Riggs, and Guillemin made the summit.

The standard route on the mountain is the Northeast ridge. Accessing the route typically involves three days of travel from Cusco. The climb involves about 1,800 m (5,900 ft) of vertical gain, on glacier, snow, ice, and some rock. The route is graded AD on the French adjectival scale.

The name Salkantay is from salka, a quechua word meaning wild, uncivilized, savage, or invincible, and was recorded as early as 1583. The name is thus often translated as "Savage Mountain".

Directly to the north of Salkantay lies Machu Picchu, which is at the end of a ridge that extends down from this mountain. Viewed from Machu Picchu's main sundial, the Southern Cross is above Salkantay's summit when at its highest point in the sky during the rainy season. The Incas associated this alignment with concepts of rain and fertility, and considered Salkantay to be one of the principal deities (Apu) controlling weather and fertility in the region west of Cuzco.

Pumasillo 5,991 m/ 19,655 ft.
(Pumasillo Group)

Pumasillo is a high, sharp summit rising near the center of a spectacular massif of the same name. Its summit crest stretching eight north-south continuous miles, and never dipping below 18,000 feet. Several sharp peaks rise from this crest and from its many ridges. The long eastern face of the massif presents a formidable icy wall. The west ridge drops off comparatively gradually and is the normal route of ascent, though even this is steep and highly glaciated. Any ascent of the mountain requires climbing experience on steep ice and snow.

Pumasillo was first climbed in 1957 by Harry Carslake and John Longland.

The highest peaks of the Pumasillo group from north to south are Pumasillo, Cabeza Blanca 5,940 m/ 19,488 ft.(?), Sacsarayoc 5918 m/ 19,416 ft., Lasunayoc 5,959 m/ 19,551 ft. There is some confusion about the height of the peaks of the Pumasillo group. I think these are probably the most accurate altitudes.

Humantay 5,917 m/ 19.412 ft.

Nevado Humantay is an imposing and quite difficult peak southwest of Nevado Salcantay.

Inca ruins

Machu Picchu

Machu PicchuMachu Picchu

(Quechua: "Old Peak") is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in the Cordillera Vilcabamba, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inca Empire.

Inca Pachacutec started building it around AD 1430 but was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction.

Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.

Inca trail

Among the many roads and trails constructed in pre-Columbian South America, the Inca road system, or Qhapaq Ñan was the most extensive and highly advanced for its time. The network was based on two north-south roads. The eastern route ran high in the puna and mountain valleys from Quito, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina. The western route followed the coastal plain except in coastal deserts where it hugged the foothills. More than twenty routes ran over the western mountains, while others traversed the eastern cordilla in the montana and lowlands. Some of these roads reach heights of over 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) above sea level. The trails connected the regions of the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system linked together about 40,000 km of roadway and provided access to over three million km² of territory.

These roads provided easy, reliable and quick routes for the Empire's civilian and military communications, personnel movement, and logistical support. The prime users were imperial soldiers, porters and llama caravans, along with the nobility and individuals on official duty. Although the Inca roads varied greatly in scale, construction and appearance, for the most part they varied between about one and four meters in width.

Because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking, sometimes accompanied by pack animals, usually the llama.

Relay messengers, or chasqui, stationed at intervals of 6 to 9 km, carried both messages and objects such as fresh marine fish for the rulers in the sierra. Messages consisted of knotted-cord records known as quipu along with a spoken message. Chaskis could cover an estimated 240 km per day.

There were at least 1,000 and perhaps 2,000 way stations or tambos, placed at even intervals along the trails. These structures were intended to lodge and provision itinerant state personnel.

Various means were used to bridge water courses. Rafts were used to cross wide meandering rivers. Bridges built of stone or floating reeds were used in marshy highlands. Inca rope bridges provided access across narrow valleys. A bridge across the Apurimac River, west of Cuzco, spanned a distance of 45 meters

The Inca trail to Machu Picchu (Camino Inca), consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic and One Day. Mollepata is the longest of the three routes with the highest mountain pass and intersects with the Classic route before crossing Warmiwañusca or "Dead Woman's Pass". Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending the terminus at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain.

Concern about overuse leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government to place a limit on the number of people who may hike this trail per season, and to sharply limit the companies that can provide guides. As a result, advance booking is mandatory. A maximum of 500 people, including guides and porters, are permitted to begin the trail every day. As a result, the high season books out very quickly.

Note that the trail is closed every February for cleaning.


Choquequirao (Southern Quechua: Chuqi K'iraw, Cradle of Gold) is a partly excavated ruined city of the Inca in the southern Cordillera Vilcabamba. It bears a striking similarity in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu and is referred to as its 'sister'. Choquequirao receives far fewer tourists than its sister but the ruin is no less delightful and is a good alternative to the sometimes overcrowded Machu Picchu. Unlike Machu Picchu, Choquequirao cannot be reached by train or bus. The only way to visit the site is to go on a scenic 2-day hike.
Inca trailInca trail near Machu Picchu

Vilcabamba (Espiritu Pampa)

Vilcabamba (from Quechua: Willkapampa, "sacred plain") was a city founded by Manco Inca in 1539 and was the last refuge of the Inca Empire until it fell to the Spaniards in 1572, signaling the end of Inca resistance to Spanish rule.

Otishi National Park

Lake ParodiLake Parodi

The Otishi National Park was created by Supreme Decree Nº 003-2003-AG on January 13, 2003. It is located in the upper zone of the Vilcabamba Mountain Chain, between the Río Tambo district, province of Satipo (Junín region) and the Echarate district, province of La Convención (Cusco region), covering an area of 305,973.05 hectares.

This territory is mainly mountainuous, with virgin woods and abundant biological diversity. Therefore, its protection is priority to guarantee the stability and integrity of the soils and water of the Ene, Tambo and Urubamba river basins.

This region is inhabited by some native communities that belong to the Arahuac family, mostly to the Asháninka and Machiguenga ethnic groups; however, there are also some inhabitants of the Yines and Caquintes ethnic groups. All of them are committed themselves to the sustainable use of natural resources.

The Otishi National Park has a large biological diversity and is connected to other important biological areas as part of the Vilcabamba-Amboró Binational Corridor. It provides important living zones, evidence of endemic species and a great diversity of ecosystems.

The fauna in the Otishi National Park is quite diverse as it is home to a large quantity of bird species, small and big mammals, amphibians, insects, butterflies, etc. They live in a zone of vegetation made up of tropical pastures, locally known as pajonales, queñual forests (Polylepis spp.), and mixed low forests of small trees.

Cordillera Vilcabamba mapCordillera Vilcabamba map

In this complex ecosystem the 'Pavirontsi' stands out as the largest natural bridge in the world. When this bridge is crossed by the Cutivireni river, it forms a huge tunnel over 219.82 feet high, 721.78 feet long, and with an opening of around 206.69 feet wide. The zone reaches a maximum height of 13,123.36 feet above sea level and has hundreds of waterfalls around the Cutivireni river basin. Some of the main waterfalls are the Hectariato, the Maisanteni, the Cubejas, the Tsillapo, the Parijaro, the Piarontsini, the Kimayonicabeni, the Sariteto, the Tankoari, the Patsani and the Jetariato, among others.

The Otishi National Park has the following main purposes: to protect the northern tops of the Vilcabamba Mountain Chain, as well as the soils and water of the Ene, Tambo and Urubamba river basins; to preserve and protect the representative samples of the humid forest in the central jungle of the Vilcabamba Mountain Chain; and to protect the landscape beauty of this mountain range, including the Pavirontsi natural bridge and the system of waterfalls.


[img:519460:aligncenter:medium:Cordillera Vilcabamba map]


Classic Incatrail

Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek

External Links

Otishi National Park



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.