Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What is the Choquequirao trek?
Choquequirao is a four day 65km trek (can be done in 2 or 3 days also) that plunges down into the Apurimac canyon and then up again to the Inca ruin site of Choquequirao located in the Sacred Valley of Peru nearby to Cusco.
Tour or on your own?
Don’t go with a tour. I chose to do a tour instead of on my own because Toby was on the Salkantay trek ending in Machu Picchu and I didn’t want to see Machu Picchu again as I trekked the Inca trail 8 years ago and I wanted to do something different. I deeply regret this decision as the tour was a complete disaster. There is only one trail that is very well marked and the campsites offer showers and food along the way so it is very easy to do on your own. I recommend doing it independently as every person I talked to on the trail on a tour was unhappy with the service, but more about that later.
Day 1 (19km) – Cusco – Cachora – Chiccisqa
It was an early start with the tour guide picking me up from my hostel at 5am and taking me by taxi to the bus station. Here I met the two other members of the tour group; Olle and Terri from England. Our total group was just three people plus our guide Julio who didn’t speak any English which had been promised by the tour company. At the bus station we helped our guide unload the car with our camping gear and take it to our bus to Cachora. We took the 6am bus (20 soles if you do on your own) and it took 5 hours as there was a one hour delay out of Cuzco with road works.
Cachora is a beautiful village in the Andean mountains with amazing views of Salkantay Mountain.
At Cachora we waited 3 hours for lunch (not sure why it took so long) of Lomo Saltado which is a traditional Peruvian dish of beef stir fry with rice and fries. Here we also loaded our horse, Blanco, who was managed by a local 13 year old boy from the village. Julio explained to us that it was school holidays and they use the locals so they receive business. The poor boy was wearing sandals that were way too small for him, but he amazingly hiked twice as fast as us.
Let the hike begin
We didn’t start hiking until 2pm due to the long wait for lunch. We started the hike by walking through the beautiful countryside in the outskirts of the village. We were lucky as this isn’t a popular trek so didn’t pass any tourist along the way.
Shortly after walking out of town we came across a sign indicating the start of the trail. I was nervous as it said 150km, however someone had obviously changed the sign, as the trail is around 65km return.
We then commenced hiking along a well marked dirt trail. This took us to a luscious green forest until we reached a wide gravel road. We then walked on the road for a couple of hours until we reached a dirt trail with a sign indicating the way.
Along the way there were spectacular views of the snow capped peaks of Padrayoc and Wayna Cachora. We were also lucky enough to see three condors soaring over us.
We then headed down the canyon for a couple of hours towards the river. The trail was very well trodden, wide and easy as it was not steep as there were many switchbacks. From high above we could see where the campsite was by the patch of green forest.
Unfortunately though, time was running out as we left so late and it was getting dark. It was already past 6pm and the sun was almost gone. We decided to pick up the speed but it was very difficult and dangerous walking in the dark. I was relieved when we finally made it to the campsite Chiccisqa without getting injured.
The campsite consisted of flushing toilets, a shop and small huts with tables and chairs for meals. This was luxurious compared to our 8 day Huayhuash trek. There were even chickens running around the tents and guinea pigs in the kitchen. It is even possible to buy all meals from here as well so you don’t even need to carry food with you. This is where we finally met other tourists. It’s the busiest campsite as most people camp here on the first night and on the last night of their trek. After we set up camp it was time for dinner of pasta, cheese and carrots. During the night it was very noisy with dogs barking so bring ear plugs to block out the sound.
Overall I hiked 19km from 2,909m to 1,836m in approximately 4 hours.
Day 2 (7.2km) Chiccisqa – Marampata
It was another early morning with a 5am wake up call. I quickly assembled my stuff and was ready for breakfast immediately. Unfortunately the shop wasn’t open yet so we had to wait for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of hot tea, porridge (oatmeal), a pancake, bread and jam.
After breakfast around 6.30am we headed down the valley. There were spectacular views of the Apurimac canyon with the beautiful blue river below.
It took 30 minutes to reach the Apurimac river below at 1,550m. When we reached the bottom, the bridge was completely destroyed and there was a manual cable contraption as a replacement. I got on to the cable car with Julio manually pulling the rope to move us slowly across the fast rapids below. This is quite scary if you’re scared of heights but extremely fun. At the river we said goodbye to the young boy and horse as it was impossible for the horse to go across the broken bridge and cable car. From here we used another horse on the other side.
Once we reached the other side it was time to begin our ascent. This was going to be one of the toughest days. As it was still early there wasn’t too much sun. The switchbacks seem to be never ending. As soon as I turned the corner from one I immediately had a view of another. I passed numerous campsites and shops huffing and puffing “Buenas dias” along the way. After three extremely long hours I finally made it to our campsite Marampata at 2,913m. Marampata village is a small village consisting of 14 families. I was advised by Julio the children live in Cachora during the week and only come back on weekends as it takes the locals 6 hours to get to Cachora (the closest town).
Our campsite was with a local family who had an adorable 5 year old Alex. He helped put up the tents and even jumped into my tent thinking it was a jumping castle.
We had the option to go to the ruins in the afternoon after lunch, but we all decided to go tomorrow so we had a full day at the ruins. Therefore we had all afternoon to chill and relax.
Overall I hiked 7.2km from 1,550m to 2,913m, in approximately 4 hours.
Day 3 (20.4km) Marampata – Choquequirao Ruins – Santa Rosa
It was another early morning. We were supposed to leave at 6am, but unfortunately as our guide got drunk the night before and was up partying until 3am, we had a later start. We had to wake up our guide and he reluctantly took us to the site very hung over. As I mentioned earlier the guides for Choquequirao are not good as they didn’t speak English (as promised), didn’t hike with us (as the guides hiked together in their own group) and got drunk every night together drinking Chicha (a fermented corn drink similar to beer). Everyone we spoke to who did a tour were not happy as we effectively were just funding a party for the guides.
It took us around an hour and a half on a relatively flat trail (a few ups and downs) to get to the ruins.
We were extremely lucky to be one of the first to arrive so we had magnificent views of the plaza to ourselves.
Here Julio gave me a 1 hour tour of the main plaza. It was in Spanish so I only really understood half of what he said. The thing that makes the ruins even more special is only around 20 percent has been uncovered and it is expected to be bigger than Machu Picchu when it is fully uncovered. Also, the only way to the ruins is by hiking. There are rumours the government is working on building a cable car across the canyon. This would dramatically change the site and bring many tourists so it is really special that I got to do the hike before it changes.
From the plaza viewpoint I then walked to the other sections of the ruins (around 40min to an hour to each). The first section I explored provided an amazing backside view of the plaza, and the valley below. Here is where all the water was source- for three reasons, ceremonial, general use and agricultural
The final sector I visited was the famous white stoned llama terraces. According to my guide there are 26 llamas in total. It’s amazing how a structure like this was built so long ago with no machinery in the middle of nowhere. The way back involved a steep climb back up a staircase which took me about 40 minutes. Some of the steps were a bit wobbly at times so I had to watch my footing.
When we got back we went back to the campsite for lunch. After lunch we hiked back down the valley, crossed over in the cable car then it was time for a very hard climb in the extreme heat back to the campsite.
As you can see in the picture below this is the switchback I had to climb up, all the way to the green path. Even though it only took an hour this was the hardest climb for me as there was no shade. When I reached the campsite, I immediately laid down on one of the wooden benches exhausted from the excruciating climb up.
Day 4 (19km) – Chiccisqa- Cachora – Cusco
The final day was the earliest start waking up at 4.30am and hiking by 5am with my headlamp as it was still dark. We would be heading the same way we came on the first day, only uphill instead of down. The reason for the early start was to avoid the sun, however I was lucky as it was an overcast and cloudy day. I found it easier walking up hill in the dark as the darkness tricked my brain into thinking I wasn’t climbing so I had a lot more energy than I expected. After three hours of hiking upwards and never ending switchbacks (at times I thought I was at the top only to be disappointed with another switchback around the corner) I finally made it to the top. From here it was a relatively easy 2 hour hike back to Cachora.
The only part of the hike I didn’t remember on the way there was how long the hike on the road was. We had the option from the top to cheat and take a taxi back (for an additional 30 soles ($10.80) per person) but we all said we wanted to complete the hike. After walking along the road, we finally reached the trail again and it wasn’t long before the village was in sight. The locals were extremely friendly asking us if we enjoyed our trek. On the way back a local joked around and asked me how many Llamas I saw. I answered 26. He said you’re wrong; there were 27 but a Puma ate one.
Yay! I finally made it back and completed the most difficult trek in Cusco. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as hard as Huayhuash. So if you go to Huaraz first you’ll find this trek easy.
From here we had an option to go on a tourist shuttle and pay 5 soles extra or take the local bus. We opted for the shuttle to get back quicker. There was a dog that tried jumping in our van a few times, one of the guides took it and put it in the corner. When we left the driver sped off without checking and ran over and killed the dog. All the tourists were shocked, some even cried, while the local guides laughed and thought it was funny.
Unfortunately there are road works at the moment so we ended up stuck for 3 hours in the road works in the scorching heat.
Even though our guide wasn’t good it could have been worse as a French girl told me how from the start her trip was a nightmare. The tour agent told them there were no trips going when she wanted to go. Then the next day he told them to catch up to another group. They didn’t get a mule, so had to carry their stuff down and no-one met them at the bottom of the canyon so they had to sleep with the mule guys as they had no tent. They didn’t get lunch on the first day. When they finally met up with the other group, they forgot to send a mule to the top of the canyon so they didn’t get their stuff including their tent until after 9.30pm. So on the plus side my tour went well compared to this. It seems all the tours are really bad in this area as the tour guides get drunk together and even hike together ignoring their groups. I think it’s because the tour isn’t popular so all the good guides are used for the more popular Machu Picchu treks.
Choquequirao is a spectacular hike through the Apurimac valley with amazing views of snow capped mountains and one of the deepest valleys in the world. Do not go with a tour as it is very easy to do on your own and the tour quality is way below average as all you will be doing is funding a Chicha beer party for the guides. I would also recommend doing this tour over three days instead of four. Where you hike down to the river on the first, then leave before dawn up the canyon to the site (leaving your tent at the bottom so you don’t have to carry it up the canyon only bringing a day pack) then returning to the river by the end of the day. On the last day hike back to Cachora.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/