Peru’s diverse landscape and rich history attracts millions of tourists every year. Whether you’re checking out wildlife in the jungle, surfing sand dunes in the desert, or exploring the ancient Inca ruins, there’s really something here for every kind of traveler.
Machu Picchu is one destination that sits on the top of everyone’s list (both metaphorically and literally). However, with thousands flocking to Machu Picchu daily, you might be excited by the opportunity to explore the ancient ruins of a city that’s off the beaten path. The Choquequirao trek offers hikers a quieter, less crowded alternative to the busy Inca Trail.
What Makes The Choquequirao Trek Different From The Famed Inca Trail To Machu Picchu?
Here’s the major difference between Choquequirao and Machu Picchu: there are no buses or trains to transport you to Choquequirao. The only way to reach Choquequirao is by your own two feet! The Choquequirao trek (there and back) usually takes between 3-5 days, depending on the weather and your pace.
Also, unlike Machu Picchu, hikers are not required to obtain a permit or have a guide with them while making their way through the Choquequirao trek.
The biggest difference between Machu Picchu and Choquequirao is the solitude. Machu Picchu is packed with tourists while Choquequirao receives very little foot traffic. Things may change once the cable car to Choquequirao is up and running—but for now, the site remains hidden and unexplored.
A Brief History of Choquequirao
Choquequirao, meaning “Cradle of God”, is an Inca city in southern Peru, built in the late 15th and early 16th century.
Similar in structure and architecture, Choquequirao is frequently referred to as Machu Picchu’s sister city. Sitting 2,987 meters above sea level in a remote corner of the Peruvian Andes, Choquequirao was the last refuge for the Incas. The city is named for its proximity to the gods (sky, sun, moon, star, and mountain).
Recent findings show that the Incas weren’t actually the ones to have built this site. Bones and artifacts that date much earlier than the Incas led archeologists to the conclusion that the city was technically pre-Inca. However, when the Spaniards conquered Peru, they destroyed almost everything—leaving behind no distinct clues as to who might have originally build the city.
To be certain, there are many similarities between Choquequirao, Machu Picchu, and other cities along the Inca Trail. All the cities were designed in accordance with astronomical alignments and were precisely formed, in relation to sacred rivers, mountains, and celestial phenomena.
What To Expect On The Choquequirao Trek
The Choquequirao trek takes you to some of the most remote Inca ruins in the Andes and is believed to follow the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, an American explorer who brought Machu Picchu to the world’s attention.
Although the most common starting point is in the village of Cachora (a 4-hour drive from Cusco), it is recommended that you take a taxi from Cachora to Mirador to save yourself from trekking 13 km along the road.
The Choquequirao trek is considered to be one of the tougher Inca Trail alternative routes, reaching a top altitude of 4,668 meters on the Yanama Pass. You may not be climbing all that high as a total number but with a 1,500-meter descent into the Apurimac canyon followed by a 1,800-meter climb out later—there really are no easy days.
As for the scenery? No picture can adequately portray the feeling of standing in a canyon looking up at the magnificent Andes that surround you.
The Choquequirao trek takes you past ancient temples, through lush jungles, deep into canyons, and alongside snow-capped peaks. In the early mornings, you can see the sun breaking through the fog and mist, unveiling enormous jagged peaks.
Zigzagging high into the Andes, condors fly above with distant views of Choquequirao. Are you sold on going yet?
Photo Credit: Joanna Rose Flug
The Best Time Of Year To Visit Choquequirao
The same subtropical weather patterns that dominate the rest of the region similarly impact the Choquequirao trek. The dry season starts in late April and lasts until early October. The wet season starts in mid-October and ends in late April.
The best time for the Choquequirao trek is between May and September. Due to the solidarity of the Choquequirao trek, hikers don’t have to worry much about seasonal crowds.
The main concern on the Choquequirao is the sun’s intensity, which is very high on many of the mountain slopes.
Make sure to wear lots of sunscreen, have a good hat, and use long-sleeve shirts to protect your forearms from burning. The shoulder months to the dry season, April and October / November, can also be a great time to trek. The rainy months of December, January and February are not great for trekking.
Where To Stay For Those Trekking Without A Guide: Choquequirao Campsites Along The Route
- Cachora (0 km): The starting point of the Choquequirao trek is a small town with hotels, restaurants, and plenty of food stores.
- Chiquisca (19 km): You can camp for free here and unwind before the long, challenging descent to the river. It has basic facilities and food for purchase.
- Playa Rosalina (21 km): This is a free campsite next to the river. It has beautiful views, fire pits, bathrooms, and a food store.
- Santa Rosa Baja (24 km): A paid campsite with working bathrooms and nice views. If you prefer a free campsite, you’ll find Santa Rosa Alta just 1km up the hill. Both sites have access to food.
- Marampata (28 km): A small town with several campsites, stores, and a tiny hotel.
Acclimating to Peru & Dealing with Altitude Sickness
Although this trek does not ascend very high, it is still important to spend a couple days in Cusco acclimating your body to Peru’s high altitude. It is extremely important to stay hydrated and don’t overexert yourself.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is one of the most common health issues hikers experience. In Cusco, you will find various remedies; such as candies, teas, and scents to help with the prevention of AMS.
Packing List For the Choquequirao Trek
The packing list for a Choquequirao trek is very similar to the general Inca Trail packing list.
The only real difference is that the Inca Trail is shorter than the Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu, so you should plan to bring additional pairs of socks, a couple extra trekking shirts, and one more pair of trekking trousers.
Don’t forget to bring a cozy hoodie to keep you warm on those cold nights. Here are a few Peru-inspired designs to pair perfectly with your Choquequirao trek #Insta shots:
Final Thoughts: The Choquequirao Trek: A Unique Alternative To The Busy Inca Trail
If you’ve trekked up to Choquequirao before we’d love to hear about it! Give us a follow on Twitter @TanksGetAround and share your experience with us!
Featured Image Photo Credit: Joanna Rose Flug