Cusco

Why Choquequirao Trek

What is Choquequirao

Choquequirao trek is literally a hidden gem. It’s an inaccessible archeololgical site at the top of the Andes Mountains except by foot and is surrounded by the encroaching Amazon Jungle. One more ace up Cusco´s sleeve , giving us more things to admire and explore about their unique and dynamic country that has a rich history and vibrant culture. Choquequirao peels yet another layer into the unsurpassed genius of the structural engineering and architectural prowess of the Ancient Incas. The name of this site means ´Cradle of God’, which makes sense becuase its built on a mountain top, nestled within the clouds, and that high up it was easy for them to believe they were being cradled by God himself/herself. The majority of the buildings are well-restored and well-preserved and the government still works tirelessly to ensure that its restoration continues.    

History of Choquequirao

Choquequirao was founded by Pachacuti, remolded by his son Tupac Inca Yupanaui and the most recent settlers belong to Tahuantisuyo. According to written accounts, it was possibly used as a check point to the Vilcabamba. The design, structure and placement of the 12 different sectors in the site are very similar to those of Machu Picchu, suggesting that this could possibly have been constructed around the same time as Machu Picchu in the 15th to 16th century. Because of its strategic location, the city also played an important role as a link between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco.

Also, it is currently at the same size as Machu Picchu, even though only 1/3 of the site has been reclaimed.  Which tells us there is more to be discovered and this site could be a bigger and even better version of Machu Picchu. Most importantly, this site is still a great mystery to historians, archeologists and people with a vested interest in this field. There are new discoveries being made every day.

Where is Choquequirao?

Choquequirao, sits at an elevation of 3 050m/ 10 010ft above the Apurimac River. It overlooks the Apurimac River Canyon at an elevation of 1450m/ 4 760ft. It forms part of Vilcabamba Mountain Range in the Santa Teresa District. The entire complex is more than 1800 hectares, it’s a massive site. It´s very isolated, a good 98 Km outside of Cusco. Most trailheads for this trek begin at the small village town of San Pedro de Chocora. Trekkers need to make their way from Cusco to Abancay. However, with most Tour Operators, transportation to the trailhead is always included. There is no transportation to get you to the archeological site itself, the only way to get there is by foot. That means only a select few get the pleasure of exploring this site.

There is more than one trail to follow to get here. The classic trail takes 4 days and is the shortest route. Alternatively, you can take the 5-day trail , which is a little longer. Or if you´re an avid hiker and looking for an adventure than the 7-day trail ending in Machu Picchu is ideal. You pass some amazing sights, managing passes at over 4000m in elevation. Choquequirao straddles the top of the Andes Mountains and The Amazon Jungle and because of its proximity to the jungle you will be graced with Amazonian flora and fauna while trekking. Giving you wild flowers with the most vivid and vibrant colors.        

Choquequirao tre information - Unique nature

How difficult is the trek?

Very! We recommend this beautiful and challenging trek for experienced trekkers or people in good physical shape who are used to hiking or running frequently.  

This site is remote and rarely visited. There are no easy days to look forward to. In addition, you will descend to lows of 1 400m/4 593ft and then ascend to highs of over 3 100m/ 10 010ft and back down again. The altitude will not be your biggest challenge, it does not get as high as Rainbow Mountain for instance. However, you still get pretty high, so you need to acclimatize, either in Cusco or the Sacred Valley for a day or 2. The trek is very taxing on the legs. With everything said, it is 100% worth it. You will hike in total peace and explore the ruins with no tourists around. Compared to the thousands of visitors coming to Machu Picchu every day, Choquequirao only has an average of 25 visitors a day. It truly is an enjoyable experience to join this elite club of trekkers.

Choquequiroa Trek vs Inca Trail

Number of visitors

These treks are so unique and are both a once in a lifetime experience. The starkest difference between the two is the number of visitors and trekkers each one receives on the daily. Choquequiroa Trail retains its charm and ruggedness because only around 25 visitors and trekkers a day make their way to this majestic site and most of it remains undiscovered and unexplored. It is very remote and difficult to access. Often seen as the diamond in the rough and referred to as ´The sister´ to Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on the other hand sees thousands of trekkers every day and is always booked months in advance. It has clearly marked paths and there are certain adjustments made so you don’t have to trek for multiple days if you don’t want to. For example, it is possible to join the Inca trail at Km104 for an easier 1-day Trek instead of the classic 4- day Inca Trail Trek.

Difficulty of each trek

Another noticeable difference is the difficulty of each trek. The Inca Trail does not need an advanced level of fitness and you can have a day of relaxed and moderate walking. The same can’t be said for Choquequiroa, the hike is pretty intense especially the 7-day version, there are no breaks, except to sleep and get back at it again the next morning.

Flora and fauna

The flora and fauna found on the Inca Trail is pretty unique to it and with Choquequiroa its Amazonian Jungle flora and fauna, is wild and unkempt and hasn’t been touched much by humans. It presents the kind of natural beauty that simply takes your breathaway.

similarities

Once you arrive at these sights, their closely related history is easy to spot. They have divided their complexes into different sectors, depending on each one´s needs and location. The Ceremonial Center shares the most similarities between these two sites. From the main platform you can see lined water channels used to carry ceremonial waters or Chicha (a special purple corn drink still consumed in Peru today) to shrines and baths throughout the site. Included is a main platform reserved for royalty and the elite. Their respect and understanding of astrology is also represented in the Giant staircase that opens up to the December Solstice and other structures that mark the direction of certain solar events, such as the June and December Solstice sun rises and sunsets.  

Guided Tour VS Self Trekking

There are a lot of positives to choosing a reputable Tour Operator with a guide that’s experienced in trekking and multi lingual (Spanish, Quechua and English). Firstly, the trailhead is extremely off the beaten trek making finding transport very difficult, whereas a travel agent will include transportation to and from the trailhead.

The shortest trail takes around 4-days. The amount of equipment needed for this undertaking is substantial. Added to that is the fact that the trek is pretty difficult, having to cope with all this extra weight can prove impossible for some. A guided tour with a good Tour Operator will provide mules and horsemen for all your daily essentials, including camping equipment and food. You can purchase food at selected campsites, but remember a different country means different cuisine. Majority of trekking companies work with foreigners and are well equipped to adjusting their cooking style to include both local and international ingredients, satisfying different pallets. 

I would personally go with a guided tour for these simple reasons:  This is one of the most historical sites in Cusco, learning from a guide that has extensive knowledge of the history and is in a position to communicate effectively with the locals from the many indigenous communities you have the pleasure to interact with is an added bonus. 

It is possible to complete the trek without a guide, but we don’t recommend it. Language barriers, the food and the isolated location of the trek will present serious obstacles and challenges. 

Altitude Sickness

It is a real possibility to experience altitude sickness on this trek. You will reach altitudes of up to 3100m/ 10 170ft or more. Please see below all the different ways to combat Altitude Sickness.

Tips To Avoid Altitude Sickness In Cusco

  1. Relax and take it easy!. Take a few days at the start of your trip to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting any treks or strenuous activity. This is the easiest advice we can share, take it easy for the first few days and your body will thank you later…
  2. Get lots of sleep. Sleep is the best remeday of all!  Do not be afraid to just sleep it off as your body adjusts.
  3. Avoid alcohol & drugs.  This includes sleeping tablets and tranquilizers as these can all make the symptoms worse.
  4. Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated prior to and throughout your trip is crucial to avoiding unpleasant altitude sickness symptoms.
  5. Drink coca tea. Nearly every hotel in Cusco and the Sacred Valley offers fresh coca tea to guests and for a good reason too! Coca tea is completely safe to drink and a cup or two each day can ease altitude symptoms.
  6. Go lower and acclimatize. Head straight to the lower altitude of the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu.
  7. Get an Oxishot! Oxishot is a small dischargeable can that contains 8 litres of oxygen that you can take when you arrive in Cusco and anytime you need a boost. It can help reduce headaches and fatigue associated with altitude sickness.
  8. Visit your doctor. If you are still worried before you to travel, head to your doctor and ask for an acetazolamide prescription (also known as brand name Diamox) which can be taken to help avoid altitude sickness symptoms

Altitude sickness information provided by SAM TRAVEL PERU.

How much should I expect to pay

The easiest and safest way is to take a tour, which costs around $450 to $750 USD with everything included. If you choose the most adventurous way to get there this is how to do it and estimated costs. You can take a taxi from Cusco, alone or with some friends.

Please note: When self trekking be aware that all the prices qouted to you are based on local prices. What they charge a tourist varies a great deal and even if you consider yourself a great negotiator, you are likely to pay substantially more than a local. It usually does workout cheaper, but this is not an exaggeration, the logistics are super complicated. You will need a lot of time at hand, a lot of patience, be fluent in Spanish and have some understanding of Quechua.

How can I get to Choquequirao by myself?

From Cusco you’ll need to take a combi or taxi to the town of Cachora. You’ll want to take a taxi from Cachora to the Mirador de Capuliyoc, a lookout point where the road ends and the trail begins. This will shave a good 13 kilometers off your trek, so you have more time and energy to make it up the steep inclines and downhill sections that characterize this route. The path may seem deceptively short on a map, but constant zigzags and steep ups and downs stretch it out into a much longer and more grueling trek than at first glance.

There are two main potential camping sites about halfway in. First, Playa Rosalina, is the official campsite. Alternatively, if you prefer to get the longer part of your trip out of the way the first day, keep on trucking to Santa Rosa. The next day you’ll finish the journey to the ruins themselves, where you will spend the second night. Obviously, spending the first night at Santa Rosa will make your second day easier.

What is the actual distance from the trailhead to Choquequirao?

The actual distance from Capuliyoc (the starting point) to Choquequirao is 25km. It’s the same distance on the way back, making it a total of 50km round-trip.

Arriving at the Choquequirao archeological site

Once in Choquequirao you have the option of seeing the citadel for the rest of the day or camping in the ruins (there is a camping spot there) and exploring the next day more peacefully.

Since Choquequirao is not 100% discovered, the citadel can be seen relatively quickly. Don’t miss the main plaza and its surroundings and the llama’s platforms. This last spot requires extra effort but is totally worth it.

Packing checklist for Choquequirao trek (only if you take a tour)

What you have to take with you?

  • Original passport (it has to be the same you have used for booking your trek)
  • Good daypack (the smaller, the better)
  • Water storage:  2-3L reusable water bottles (Camelbaks are encouraged)
  • Comfortable hiking boots with ankle support
  • Sleeping bag (can be rented from several different agencies in Cusco)
  • Headlamp: essential

What to put in your duffle bag for the Choquequirao trek?

Most tour companies will provide you with a duffel bag at your briefing and  INCLUDED is a horse and horsemen who will carry up to 7 kgs or 14 lbs including your 2.5kg sleeping bag, mattress and extra clothing. By Peruvian law, a duffel bag must not weigh more than 7 kilograms (15lbs). This limit is set to protect the health of the horses. All bags will be weighed before being accepted. If you require more than 7 kilograms, it will then be your responsibility to carry the extra weight with your day pack. In this 7 kilos, please count 2 kilos for your sleeping bag and 1 kilo for your sleeping pad. This leaves you about 4 kilos for your personal gear.

  • 2 t-shirts
  • 2 hiking pants at least
  • 4 sets of undergarments
  • 3 sets of hiking socks
  • Bathing Suit for the thermal waters
  • Couple Fleece/ Thermals
  • Warm clothes, down jacket — 2nd campsite temp around 3º C
  • Waterproof gloves (even if they are ski gloves, take them)
  • Comfortable shoes for camp
  • Quickdry towel. We provide small ones, you might prefer something larger
  • Small bottle of soap: we provide warm water each day to wash
  • Battery Charger: No electricity along the trek
  • Large plastic bags
  • Sleeping bag: It has to be at least -15ºC
  • Swimming Suit

Toiletries

  • Face moisturizer
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Personal medications
  • First aid kit: band aids, moleskin, etc

What to put in your backpack for Choquequirao trek

We highly recommend a small backpack 30 to 40Litres for hiking in the day. A big backpack will not be allowed into Choquequirao. The remainder of your belongings will be in your duffel bag at camp.

  • Water: Please supply your own water until the first lunch spot, then the company should provide you with cold boiled water at each meal time.
  • Sun hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Headlamp: essential
  • Wool hat
  • Rain gear
  • Fleece
  • Snacks like chocolate bars, cereal bars or any dry fruits
  • Rain plastic poncho
  • Gloves
  • Camera
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper and small plastic bag for waste
  • Extra money for souvenirs, drinks & tips

Typical itinerary in a classic Choquequirao Trek?

Day 1: Cusco – Capuliyoc– Playa Rosalinas – Santa Rosa

At 4:30 am, we pick you up at your hotel and drive for the next 4 hours in our private van to Capuliyoc (2,850m/9,407ft). Along the way, there are spectacular views of villages, valleys and snow-capped mountains. Once at Capuliyoc we meet our horsemen and pack all of our equipment onto the horses.
Then we start walking all the way down to Playa Rosalinas (1,475m/4,840ft) where we have lunch. Along the way enjoy great views of the Apurimac Canyon, and mountain peaks such as Padreyoc (5,571m/18,387ft). After lunch, we ascend for two hours to our first campsite at Santa Rosa, (1900m/6234ft) where we spend the night.

  • Meals: Lunch – Afternoon Tea Time – Dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities
  • Distance: 12kms/7.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Day 2: Santa Rosa – Maranpata – Choquequirao

After an early breakfast, we start our adventure by walking uphill for 2 hours to the rural village of Maranpata (2,850m/9,350ft), We enjoy the scenery and then we walk through a myriad of flora and fauna to the magnificent archeological site of Choquequirao. We have lunch here and then we will have a private guided tour for us in the afternoon. During the tour, we will explore all the important sections, such as the palaces, temple, ritual water fountains, amazing Usnu (ceremonial platform), agricultural terraces, llama’s section and much more. Finally, we head back to our second campsite located just 20 minutes from the Choquequirao ruins, where we will have tea and dinner

  • Meals: Breakfast – Lunch – Afternoon Tea Time – Dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities
  • Minimum Altitude: 1900m/6234ft
  • Maximum Altitude: 3,150m/10,397ft
  • Distance: 8km
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca

After an early breakfast, we explore some of the stunning sections of Choquequirao ruins and then head back towards the rural community of Maranpata for lunch. Afterwards we descend to the magnificent Apurimac River (1,550m/5,117ft) for two hours. Finally, we walk up a moderate hill for one hour to our third campsite at Chiquisca. (1,990m/6,270ft)

  • Meals: Breakfast – Lunch – Afternoon Tea Time – Dinner
  • Accommodation: Camping facilities
  • Distance: 12kms/7.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Day 4: Chiquisca – Saywite – Cusco

After a delicious breakfast, we walk up a moderately difficult hill towards the Capuliyoc pass. Once there we can enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Apurimac Canyon. Then we take our car towards Cachora (2,850m/9,407ft) for lunch. Afterwards we take our private transport to the archeological site of Saywite having plenty of time to explore it. Finally, our private transport will take us back to Cusco to your hotel, arriving in the evening, arriving around 6pm.

  • Meals: Breakfast – Lunch
  • Distance: 8km
  • Difficulty: Difficult

This itinerary has been provided by ORANGE NATION

Recommended tour operators to Choquequirao

4.9 (2,207) by tripadvisor

Over 80 trips Completed | Regional Expert Service level: top

  • Small intimate groups of 2 to 8 person
  • Guaranted and Secure Trips

SAM TRAVEL PERÚ is a family-owned Travel Company & Tour Operator located in Cusco, Peru that creates customized uniquely designed adventure treks and tours to untouched wilderness places, OFF THE BEATEN TRACK, in the High Andes Mountains of Peru. Our many years of experience is demonstrated in our excellent reviews!

4.9 (160) by tripadvisor

Over 45 trips Completed | Regional Expert Service level: Standard

  • Small intimate groups of 2 to 8 person
  • Guaranted and Secure Trips

ORANGE NATION is Peruvian owned Travel Company that specializes in tour and trekking in Cusco Peru. They are experienced in offering small group personalized service for tours from the BREATHTAKING ANDES MOUNTAINS TO THE MAJESTIC MACHU PICCHU CITADEL. Making your experience beyond what even you could have dreamed!

4.9 (6) by tripadvisor

Over 45 trips Completed | Regional Expert Service level: Standard

  • Small intimate groups of 2 to 8 person
  • Guaranted and Secure Trips

SPIDER TRAVEL PERU is an innovative adventure travel company in Cusco Peru that offers UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCES TO UNTOUCHED WILDERNESS AREAS. Our adventure treks and tours are specific and carefully designed to cater to budget and personal needs!

4.9 (6) by tripadvisor

Over 45 trips Completed | Regional Expert Service level: Luxury

  • Small intimate groups of 2 to 8 person
  • Guaranted and Secure Trips

Glamping Peru Treks creates treks and tours that offer unsurpassed luxury and comfort while hiking off the beaten track. All accommodations, food, and services are of the highest quality and standards. If you are looking for something UPSCALE AND LUXURIOUS while trekking or touring, this is the absolute best option for you. Do not be afraid to work with their service operators to create your dream personalized luxury trek or tour. The company group size averages 2 to 4 persons, not exceeding 8 people. If you love your privacy, be sure to ask for a private tour.