Peru´s Choquequirao trek may not be the most famous in a country known for gorgeous trek routes. However, it is easily one of the most beautiful, fascinating and remote. With snowcapped peaks, original Inca Trails, and incredible Inca archaeological sites along the way, Choquequirao is a route truly emblematic of what Peru trekking is all about.
Often referred to as the sister city of Machu Picchu, the expansive Choquequirao complex is perched high above two deep river valleys. This limits access to those prepared for a demanding, multiday trek, beginning at several points within the Peruvian departments of Cusco, Apurimac and La Convencion.
Choquequirao trekking can range from a 4D/3N trek to the archeological site and back, to routes lasting more than a week, culminating in Machu Picchu. Although challenging, Choquequirao is one of Peru’s most spectacular hikes, and was chosen as the top Lonely Planet’s Best Regions in Travel for 2017, featured in Travel + Leisure as the ideal alternative trek to Machu Picchu, and one of National Geographic’s Best Trips of 2015.
Which is the best multi-day Choquequirao trek for you? The answer depends on several things; physical fitness, your desired trek length, and interests. For those with average fitness or limited time in the Cusco area, the 4D/3N route is a wonderful introduction to the beauty of the areas, and allows ample time to explore the ruins. For experienced trekkers, those with a high degree of interest in Inca history, or nature-lovers looking for a gorgeous alternative trek to Machu Picchu, a longer route is ideal. Whatever trek you choose, we promise an incredible, truly unforgettable experience!
Known as Machu Picchu´s “sister”, Choquequirao is the ruins of an ancient Inca city and is similar in both structure and architecture to the better-known Machu Picchu. Serving as both a citadel and an important religious site, Choquequirao was an important link between the city of Cusco and the nearby Amazon jungle.
Recovery and restoration of Choquequirao has begun only recently, and the site has yet to gain the popularity of Machu Picchu, despite its many similarities. The primary reason for this is accessibility: The deep canyons the surround Choquequirao make for a challenging hike from any direction. For trekkers and other lovers of solitude, this is a blessing!
At Machu Picchu you may be surrounded by 3,000 other tourists in a single day, while Choquequirao hosts this number of tourists in an entire year. Today, you can visit the spectacular ruins, wander its 12 distinct sectors, and admire the Vilcabamba mountain range and Apurimac River Valley all in relative seclusion. Another major highlight is the “llama terraces”; an area with the forms of llamas built into the expansive terracing system that surrounds the main structures.
In addition to rich Inca history, Choquequirao also hosts some of the richest biodiversity in all of Peru. Located at an elevation of roughly 9,800 feet, the area is characterized by mountain topography, yet hosts Amazonian flora and fauna. It is not uncommon to see giant ferns and a wide variety of orchids, as well as condors, vizcachas (similar to chinchillas), and vicuñas.
The beautiful scenery, wonderful history, and skillful construction of Choquequirao clearly make for an incredible tourist attraction. For years, the Peruvian government and other stakeholders have sought to draw visitors with an ambitious cable car system, much like what has been implemented at Kuelap, in Peru´s north. At this point construction on this project has not begun, but it is likely it will move forward soon. In the time being, we recommend taking the opportunity to explore this amazing site and beautiful surroundings in solitude. It´s an unforgettable experience that may not be possible in a couple of years!
The most popular Choquequirao trek begins with a drive from Cusco, to the town of Cachora. From the trailhead, trekkers descend to the floor of the Apurimac Canyon. This leg of the trail features stunning views of snowcapped peaks, breathtaking drops and possibly a soaring condor or two.
Early the next morning, you´ll begin the steep ascent up to the ruins of Choquequirao. The floor of the canyon can be quite hot, so the goal is to ascend as early as possible. After spending the afternoon exploring the spacious ruins, you have the unconventional opportunity to camp just below the ruins inside the archaeological complex.
After a full afternoon and a morning to explore the ruins, many hikers choose to return to Cachora. A second option is to continue trekking along several remote routes. One option is to continue to the high jungle, in the direction of Vilcabamba. This is a beautiful, challenging, and varied trek, with the opportunity to hike along original Inca-constructed trails and visit the famous ruins of Vitcos, “last refuge of the Incas”. From there, many trekkers choose to continue to Machu Picchu. While this isn´t necessary, it is a lovely ending to a trek that highlights major Inca ruins, and traces the path that many used at the time the ruins were inhabited.
While there are other paths that can be followed after Choquequirao, this is the route that Ayni Peru recommends, and that we follow on our Choquequirao treks. Including Machu Picchu, this is normally an 8D/7N route, covering approximately 90 kilometers (until arrival in Huancacalle).
Here are some approximate key altitudes along the route:
• Cachora: 2,915 m
• Chiccisca: 1,836 m
• Choquequirao: 3,050 m
• Choqetacarpo Pass: 4,600 m
• Huancacalle: 2,900 m
• Machu Picchu: 2,430 m