Standing on top of a hill at 3,100 meters above see level, the Apurimac River far below, surrounded by dense forest I am awestruck by the 15th century Incan ruins of the lost citadel of Choquequirao. The archaeological complex of Choquequirao is larger than its counterpart Machu Picchu, however only one third approximately of its total area has been excavated and the rest remains hidden.
The place feels very quiet, and I cannot stop thinking how lucky I am to be here, the ruins are located in a remote location that keeps many tourists away. Only those hikers who dare to do this trek can enjoy this unspoiled landscape surrounded by the impressive snow capped mountains.
How to get there
Nowadays, the only access to this majestic site is by doing a trek of ~4 days. In comparison with other treks in the Cusco region this hike is at lower altitude but it has a moderate to difficult level recommended for experienced hikers. On the first day, hikers have to descent all the way down to the Apurimac River valley (1500 meters). On the second day, travellers hike up on a steep path all the way to the ruins themselves (3100 meters) and it is in this day where you explore the site at your own pace for hours. Third and fourth day you go back the same way you came. If you love hiking, you should add this trek to your bucket list, the stunning views plus having the site all for yourself makes it worth the effort.
Future Cable Car
For people who do not enjoy long hikes, do not loose the hope. The Peruvian government is planing to build a cable car which is going to bring thousands of tourists to the site. So grab your piggy bank and start saving to come and visit this spectacular place.
History of the site
Little is known about this long forgotten site but archaeologists believe that it was built by Pachacutec’s sons, Huayna Capac and Tupac Yupanqui. Although the materials used to build Choquequirao are different than Machu Picchu, the two sites seems very similar in architecture.
Both places have temples, chambers and administrative buildings gathering around a large main square with terraces and buildings surrounded by steep cliffs. Also, they were both re discovered by Hiram Bingham and a interesting fact is that in both sites some buildings light up on the solstice.
An interesting and unique feature within this site is the large terraces that has figures of white llamas using carved white rock.
Highlight of my Cusco trip
Trekking to Choquequirao proved to be one of the highlights and most incredible experiences in Cusco. Although, the trek was tough, walking under the hot weather and on the steep path was definitely worth it to visit this place surrounded (or covered) by trees and vegetation. I do recommend to walk at your own peace, not to rush and take your time(and plenty of pictures).
After spending many hours exploring Choquequirao, it is time to go back to my campsite. The tent has been set, I looked up at the sky, the stars are bright and shinning and I say “Thank you Apus” (Mountain inca gods) for this extraordinary journey.
Things to know before you go
- If you are experienced hiker and have previously experience camping in remote areas before, you can do the trek on your own, without a guide, and without a tour company just by following the signs on the path. However, this option cannot be the best for everyone. Keep in mind your level of fitness and camping skills. Also, by doing it alone you will have to organise everything: transport, horses, porters and accommodation. If you want to remove the stress of organising off your shoulders, I do recommend to hire a tour where everything is included in the price you pay and the only thing to worry about is the photographs that you want to take onsite.
- You can combine Choquequirao + Machu Picchu.
- Bring a bottle a water, hat, sun lotion, mosquito repellent. There are some locals selling drinks, snacks, beers etc along the way but as all produce needs to be brought in by donkeys the prices are higher than you would find in Cuzco
- Price for 4 days was ~280 USD per person for a private tour, more people less price.
Who we went with
We went with a company called Peru Leisure Travel. Peru Leisure travel team in the office in Cusco organised everything and we didn’t have to worry about anything except packing some clothes and personal belongings (don’t forget that camera and spare battery!). I have to admit that I was amazed at the food that the cook was able to produce from the basic facilities available. It was like restaurant quality food. He even baked a cake somehow on the last night! The gear the company provided was top quality and we were warm and comfortable in our tents. As it was a private tour we were able to ask for our car to stop on the way to and back from the start point to snap some beautiful pictures on the way or to stop for some snacks or drinks.