Travel Tips for Choquequirao: Machu Picchu

Travel Tips for Choquequirao: Machu Picchu

The most important things to know about Choquequirao Hike are that it is much bigger than Machu Picchu and that the trail to get there is very steep and has significant elevation change.

The Choquequirao Hike & Ruins are all of the things you want in an archeological site: beautiful, mysterious, extensive, unique, fascinating, etc. They have been classified successively as a fortress, a ceremonial center, a city and the last residence of the Inca. In my opinion, the most important aspect is that they were never discovered by the Spanish during the decades of conquest. I was very disappointed to hear from local families that they have been thoroughly looted throughout the 1900s. However, the site is so massive and so little of it has been properly restored that we don’t really know how much is still covered by the jungle. We also don’t know what will be found when that jungle is removed.

In Quechua, Choquequirao means “cradle of gold” and many theorize that there were gold mines nearby that were exploited during the Incario. However, as with so much Inca history, the original name of the site is still up for debate. (For the record, Machu Picchu is not the original name of that site either). Like all Inca cities, it includes a main plaza, royal quarters for when the Inca visited, a temple for the sun, large buildings called kallankas, storage buildings called collcas, platforms called usnu, barracks for soldiers, a prison, walled-off houses separate from the rest of the site for priests, an administrative center and lots and lots of terraces for agriculture and hillside stabilization.

Like all Andean cities or towns, it is divided into the upper half (hanan) and the lower half (hurin). This is only one of the innumerable examples of the Inca concept of duality. In this case, the hanan (upper part) is more important because that’s where the Inca’s residence is. The residence is easily distinguished by the higher quality of stone work and the channeled water that leads straight to a shower and bath.

The most famous part of the ruins are terraces with white quartz llamas built into the walls (terraces wall). We know that they’re llamas and not alpacas because they’re too skinny to be alpaca and the elevation of the site is too low for alpaca to be happy there. The elevation of Choquequirao is llama territory.

All that’s left to be uncovered

Archeologists theorize that the entire hillside to the right of what has been restored is covered with terraces, houses and other Inca constructions. It will take an extraordinary amount of time and money to fund restoration of all of Choquequirao. I hope it’s done in my lifetime.

All that’s left to be uncovered
A work in progress - Sam Corporations

A work in progress

On your way from Marampata to the ruins, you pass the residences of the Ministry of Culture workers who are still busy clearing jungle and maintaining what has been uncovered. They’re interesting people and if you can catch one taking a bit of a break, take the opportunity to ask them about the ruins and their experiences working there. (Plus sometimes they have cute puppies to play with).

The Trail: looking back from Choquequirao Hike

The green area with some houses on the left is Matampata, the closest you can camp (or rent a cabin) to the ruins. On the right you can see the trail zig zag back up to Capuliyoc, which is right in front of a bit of hillside that’s in shadow. From this perspective, you can’t see even halfway down into the canyon.

The Trail: looking back from Choquequirao Hike

I hope that you now know enough about Choquequirao to want to go there. Here comes the catch: the trail is steep and until they do more trail maintenance, it’s a minefield of loose rocks.

The relevant elevations are these:

  • Trailhead at Capuliyoc: 3033 meters / 9,951 feet above sea level
  • Apurimac River at the bridge: 1000 meters / 3,281 feet above sea level
  • Matampata: 2918 meters / 9,574 feet above sea level
  • Choquequirao ruins: 3,104 meters / 10,184 feet above sea level

How to get to Choquequirao

After arriving from Cusco, the only way to reach the trailhead to these ruins is by bus charter or private vehicle. Trekking is the only way to get to Choquequirao, and it’s no simple task. It is recommended that you hire a guide and a few pack mules to carry extra supplies. It takes approximately 2 days of full hiking to get to the archeological site, and 4 days total to complete the trip. The campsites, like the route itself, are well-maintained and equipped with facilities not found on most other Andean trails. The campsites all have running water, showers and toilet blocks, and even small shops selling snacks and drinks.

Best Time to Go

The best time to do the Choquequirao hike is between May and September. This is the dry season in the Andes, and also when the weather is the most predictable. During the rainy season between October and April often the trail is closed because of unsafe trail conditions and torrential weather.

How many days should I hike?

Basically, over the four or five or however many days you take to visit Choquequirao (I recommend 5 days and 4 nights), you will descend and then ascend well over 4,300 meters / 14,100 feet. Where you begin at Capuliyoc, you can clearly see the Choquequirao site and the village of Marampata. That means you start with the descent down to the Apurimac River, followed by the ascent up to Marampata and Choquequirao, then the descent back down to the river and ascent up to Capuliyoc. Not even the trail from Marampata to Choquequirao has any flat sections. It’s a constant descent to the lower terraces of the ruins, from where you climb up to see the rest of the archeological site.

While in Marampata, I was told that the Apurimac canyon was the fourth deepest in the world. Unfortunately, it’s not in the top ten globally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the fourth deepest in Peru. (Two other canyons in Peru are in the top ten).

My group with SAM Corporations got up early and was usually on the trail by 6:00 a.m. because early in the morning, the canyon is still in shadow. The lower you get into the canyon, the hotter it is, because you’re not too far from the equator and low elevations in the tropics are always hot. There is a lovely afternoon upcanyon wind, but I don’t recommend doing much hiking between about 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Our first breakfast was at Capuliyoc and lunch at Chiquiska, both on the side of the river that’s part of the Apurimac region. Once you cross the bridge over the Apurimac River, you enter the Cusco region. This is significant because the Cusco region has a big budget for supporting tourism, while Apurimac does not. The families in the Cusco region have received solar panels, cooking ranges big enough to cook for large groups and even monthly checks or supplies during the worst of the pandemic. The families in Chiquiska didn’t get anything during 2022.

The first day we hiked from Capuliyoc all the way down to the river, jumped in the cold water to rinse off and then hiked up to a place called Santa Rosa. This isn’t even big enough to be a village. It’s only one family.

The second day was all uphill, but we had done enough the first day that we were faced with only five kilometers. When we got up to Marampata I did exactly what everybody does, which is stop at the first house. There are plans for a sign at the entrance of the village with names of all of the families offering camping area.

The third day of the Choquequirao Hike we spent all day at the ruins, but it wasn’t a rest day. It’s still a hike from Marampata to Choquequirao, and it’s all a steep descent, which becomes a steep ascent in the afternoon.

The fourth day we walked back down to the Apurimac, went swimming before crossing the bridge and hiked up to Chiquiska.

The fifth day was like the third: all uphill but not too far. We left Chiquiska at 6:00 a.m. and arrived at Capuliyoc at 9:00 a.m. Walking slower would have been more comfortable but the longer it takes, the higher the sun is. We choose the physical discomfort of walking uphill on loose rocks without stopping over the physical discomfort of an equatorial sun beating down on us. Breakfast was at 5:00 a.m. and lunch at Capuliyoc was at 11:00 a.m.

The view from Capuliyoc is breathtaking.

Packing List for the Chiquequirao Hike

  • Documentation.
    Bring your original passport. You will need it both to start the Inca Trail Tour and to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.
  • Day Pack (30L)
    Bring a comfortable daypack with snug straps to wear while you hike. SAM Travel Peru and most of the companies offer extra porter to carry you things too
  • Reusable water bottle.
    Carry a reusable water bottle in your daypack. Another option is a hydration pack, like a CamelBak, which is a super convenient way to stay hydrated.
  • Clothing.
    Layers, layers, layers. You’ll pass through many different climates along the trail and dressing in layers is important. Pack lightweight pants, short- and long-sleeve shirts, a warm fleece jacket, underwear, and socks. Temperatures really drop at altitude when the sun goes down. To stay warm, thermal undergarments, a warm hat, and gloves are recommended.
  • Footwear.
    Comfortable hiking boots or walking shoes are a must. Also pack shower sandals.
  • Rain gear.
    Be prepared with a rain jacket and pants or poncho. Rainy conditions aren’t to be expected during the dry season, but it’s better to be prepared.
  • Sun protection.
    Pack a hat, strong sunblock, and glasses for protection against the sun.
  • Flashlight.
    Headlamp (with extra batteries) or small flashlight to use at night while camping.
  • Comfort.
    Light-weight travel towel to shower with and a small travel pillow for your sleeping comfort. Some trekkers may prefer to bring walking sticks, they are especially helpful in downhill sections.
  • Toiletries.
    Toothbrush, toothpaste, travel shampoo, tissues, toilet paper, wet wipes, insect repellent with deet, and any personal medications.
  • Snacks.
    You may want to bring extra (or diet specific) high energy snacks, such as some cookies, protein bars, chocolates, or nuts.
  • Money.
    Bring local Peruvian currency (Soles) in your wallet so that you can tip your trekking team.
  • Camera.
    Of course, don’t forget your camera, with extra battery packs and memory cards – No Electricity along the trek

Choquequirao Hike information has been updated on January 2023.