Choquequirao sits in the saddle of a high Andean ridge, 3000m./10,000 ft.above sea level and 1,500 m./5,000 ft. above the roaring waters of the Apurimac River. Ringed by spectacular snow-capped peaks and flanked by plunging, thickly forested slopes, the city is an inspiring example of an elite Inca ceremonial center, dedicated to the worship of the mountain gods, the river and the elements of nature.
Choquequirao has been called "Machu Picchu's sacred sister" because of the striking similarities of design and ceremonial architecture to its famous counterpart above the Urubamba Gorge. Yet it remains an enigmatic place whose history is still a matter of speculation. One theory of its origins holds that it was a royal estate built for the emperor Topa Inca, perhaps in an attempt to rival his father Pachacuti’s spectacular domain at Machu Picchu.
For centuries Choquequirao lay shrouded in obscurity, protected by its remoteness. Unlike Machu Picchu, people knew it was there – it was first mentioned in a Spanish document of 1710, later visited by various explorers and treasure hunters, and roughly surveyed in the 19th century by the French consul in Lima, Leonce Angrand. Finally, in 1909, the indefatigable U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham –the future scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu -- explored and mapped the site.
Today we trek to Choquequirao via a modern footbridge across the Apurimac River. The journey is as awe-inspiring as ever, taking us through an astounding range of ecological zones, from Andean farming valleys, descending through a hot and arid canyon environment featuring kapock trees, cactus and agaves, and climbing again to a region of lush cloud forest, beneath the dizzying snowcaps of the Cordillera Vilcabamba.
Day 1, To Cachora/Chiquisca
Departing from Cusco in the early morning, we take a spectacular drive across the farmlands of the Anta Plateau, surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. The winding road plunges more than 1,800 m./6,000 ft. to a bridge over the Apurimac Gorge, then climbs through lush fields and orchards before making a final descent to the village of Cachora, at 3,400 m./11,100 ft., where we encounter stunning close-up views of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Here we meet our crew and horse pack train and begin our hike, catching our first glimpse of distant Choquequirau at the Capuliyoc lookout before dropping steeply through dry cactus and orchid country into the Apurimac River Canyon. We camp at the small oasis of Chiquisca, 2000 m./6,550 ft.
Day 2, To Choquequirau
We descend the last fifteen hundred feet of elevation to the Apurimac River –“Great Spirit Speaker” in the Quechua language of the Incas – and cross the mighty river on a suspension footbridge, at 1550 m./5,100 ft. A broad trail makes a zig-zagging ascent, which takes us out of the dry canyon zone past small sugar cane plantations to upland meadows where, across a deep valley, we meet our first panoramic vista of the buildings and terraces of Choquequirau. The final leg of today’s hike passes through the cool shadows of a native cloud forest as we approach the wooded ridgetop (3000 m./10,000 ft.) where the Incas built their remote ceremonial center. We camp near the Inca ruins.
Day 3, In Choquequirau
We have the entire day to explore this stunning Inca settlement. As mysterious as Machu Picchu, its name means “Cradle of Gold”. Early Spaniards knew of this place, yet its remoteness protected it. French explorers visited it in the 19th century, and in 1909 Hiram Bingham was first to scientifically investigate the site. Some speculate that the emperor Topa Inca had it built as a personal spiritual retreat, to rival his father Pachacuti’s magnificent estate at Machu Picchu. Whoever built this place, it was undoubtedly an elite settlement, built for ceremonial purposes and occupied by Inca nobility.
The Apurimac River roars distantly 1,450 m./4,800 ft. below, visible on either side of a steep ridge to which clings the Inca city. As we approach the heart of the city, a sweep of enormous curved terraces leads our eye to an artificial hill and ceremonial platform overlooking the main plaza. Here afternoon thermal currents bring Andean Condors soaring over the complex of temples, mausoleums, royal residences, ritual baths and water channels, great gathering halls, storehouses, hidden gardens and a giant stairway, all still standing as testimony to the careful planning of Inca engineers. Excavation work at the site is very recent, and archaeologists are continually uncovering hitherto unknown areas and structures. The steep mountainside below the main plaza features several clusters of newly-discovered buildings, including the so-called Ridge Group, and the Waterfall Temple, an intriguing ceremonial complex facing the cascades of a steep ravine.
Day 4, To Chiquisca
The sun rises over the snowy crags of the Cordillera Vilcabamba, and we make our way across the meadows of Maranpata, where a row of Inca storehouses marks the limits of the Inca settlement. We return to the depths of the canyon, gaining new perspectives as we face the immense, multi-hued cliffs on the south bank of the river. At the crossing of the Apurimac River, we can take time to cool off in a swimming hole among the huge boulders that line the river. We return to the shade of the fruit and avocado trees at Chiquisca, where we make our final camp.
Day 5, To Cachora/Cusco
We hike up out of the Apurimac Canyon, with the river receding to a distant, white ribbon below us and the glaciers of the Vilcabamba Range filling the sky ahead. After winding our way beneath spreading, smooth-barked trees, dripping with orchids and bromeliads, we regain the mountainous grasslands that stretch toward the Capuliyoc Pass and the pastoral valley of Cachora. Our transport awaits us here. Bidding farewell to our trail crew, we begin the breathtaking drive back to Cusco.
|Choquequirao Trek 2019|
|5 days/4 nights All camping
Fixed Departures: Thursdays
- all months except February.
|Minimum 2 persons||Single Supl.|
|Price per person||$ 1255||$ 96|
|Does NOT require an Inca Trail Permit|
|Private Departures 2018
Start any day all year.
|2||3||4 - 6||7 - 9||Single Supl.|
|$ 1597||$ 1201||$ 991||$ 764||$ 96|
After this trek you will want to spend time at Machu Picchu. You can do a day trip to the ruins or an overnight at an excellent hotel near the ruins that will enable you two days of visits to this most famous of lost cities. See our Machu Picchu pages for ideas.