After preparing us with the Salkantay trek and Machu Picchu visit, let’s keep on hiking, this time up to the less famous but nonetheless impressive ruins of Choquequirao. An adventure of about 70 kilometres going up and down through unforgettable landscapes, all kind of climates… but definitely worth the effort.
Getting ready for Choquequirao
Tuesday 30th October 2018
Following to my visit of Machu Picchu, a nice end of the day relaxing at Cocalmayo’s thermal baths with Juan, Adèle and Clément and a good night-sleep, we woke up slowly and broke camp at the end of the morning.
We went back to Santa Teresa under some scorching heat. The distance was not that long but the sun was strong and the slope felt steep!
We let our bags at the hostel and went to have lunch at the mercado. We took the opportunity to buy all the food we would need for the trek that we were up to: peanuts, cacao, oat, tomatoes sauce etc.
Back to the hostel, we all got busy with our own stuff, got some rest and enjoyed the WiFi connection. We were in crisis with the music out loud in the common area (cumbia chicha, typical music of Peru, absolutely unbearable) but we had to deal with it! We also fried our corn, prepared a cacao pasta, some caramel… everything we needed to survive for the coming days.
Wednesday 31th October 2018
Awaken by the cocks screaming non-stop from 5 a.m., I was out of bed early in the morning and went to the market to do some ultimate grocery shopping, enjoying at the same time a delicious and copious pressed fruit juice.
Back to the hostel, I met Clem and Adèle and went back to the market with them, as I had forgotten some shopping. We were still hesitating whether it would be better to leave on that day of the following one but we quickly made up our minds once back to the hostel. The music and its volume were just horrible!
We then prepared our bags, had lunch at the mercado and took a car heading to the hamlet of Totora. We had already done part of this trail on foot and preferred not to do it again, and thus save at least two hiking days.
An epic road to Totora
The road to Totora was amazing but particularly difficult. A narrow and sinuous dirt and stony “road”, crossing a lot of waterfalls and God knows how, many other vans and camions. From the prolific banana tree and passion fruit plantations, we arrived in a valley located higher, where the vegetation was getting scarce but with fantastic views over the snowy summits in the background. The end of the day’s light made it perfect.
We arrived in Totora around 4 p.m. and started to walk straight away. It would be some kilometres less to do on the following day!
The best bivouac ever
The slope was steep from the beginning but the trail was wonderful. Behind us was standing the Salkantay summit – for once completely clear – and on the front a chain of glaciers also free from any cloud, which is quite rare in this rain season that had started earlier. The sunset was the cherry on the cake, lighting up the sky above the Salkantay. Simply amazing!
One hour and a half later, we found an ideal place to set up our bivouac, located 3 900 m high and protected with some stonewalls, with some great views over the mountains all around.
We set up the tents and started to cook – fire on one side, gas and camping stove on the other side. A few hours later, we could at least enjoy our dinner, even if some heavy rains had started and made the whole logistic a bit more complicated. It was then time to get some rest towards a tough following day.
A long ascent
Thursday 1st November 2018
A cold night, a copious breakfast, the time to pack our bags and were off to the Mariano Llamoca pass, located 4 643 m above sea level. A climb of more than 1 000 m in just 4 km; that sounded steep and intense!
We left at 8.45 and one hour later, had a 45-minute break in some little ruins that were on our path. We went on our long climb up at 10.30 a.m.; the more we were climbing, the heavier our bags were weighing but the more the valley was unfolding behind us, offering some superb views.
We finished the last part of the ascent in the clouds with an atmosphere that was quite magic. We arrived at the pass at 12.45 after an ultimate super steep climb, and even though our stomachs were feeling empty, we didn’t stay long on the top given the freezing wind.
We then went down for a while so to find a place that would be more pleasant to eat, which was about 1 km later, between two showers.
Going down to Yanama
Then started a descent of about 10 km through a wonderful valley towards the village of Yanama, located 3 600 high. The light was keeping on changing, going from showers, sun, rainbows and clouds revealing the glaciers and then covering them again.
We arrived at the end of the afternoon in Yanama, set up our tents in a nice camping, feeling sore after such a long day. The electricity was not working so I had a cold shower but it felt good anyway!
Last hot shower for a long time
Friday 2nd November 2018
The electricity was working again as we woke up so we all enjoyed a warm shower, aware that it would be the last one for a while.
We left at the end of the morning for a day that should be easier. We first had to climb up to San Juan pass, 4 150 m high. A climb of 500 m should be easy after the one we had did the day before!
The trail was simply wonderful, climbing on steps carved in stones that were all impressively shiny. We even stopped for a long time as we discovered some caves that we went to explore. They were full of treasures with crystals and other amazing stones. It was hard to resist, we could have brought kilos of them if they were not weighing so much in our bags!
As we were ready to leave, we met a group of three French coming from Choquequirao. We had a chat with them for a while, respectively exchanging some tips. We started walking again only at 1 p.m.; we still had some kilometres to go!
The climb was still spectacular, be it for the trail itself, the rocks, the vegetation… and the highlight being once at the top with an outstanding view over the surrounding valleys.
Clouds were raising from the valley below, giving a mystic atmosphere to this wonderful moment, with on top of that the over flight of a condor above our heads. What more could we want?
Going down all the way
Then started a long descent to reach Maïzal, a hamlet located “only” 4 km away from the pass… but 1 000 m below! We walked quite fast and once again, enjoyed a lot the landscapes and vegetation that was getting thicker and thicker. This day’s path was probably the most beautiful so far!
We arrived in Maïzal around 5 p.m. and looked for a quiet place to sleep, as we wanted to run away from the huge group settled in the main campsite. As always, we set up the tent just before a big shower, perfect timing!
Dining among guinea pigs
Once settled and as the rain calmed down, we walked about fifteen minutes to a farm located a bit below, where we would find some hot meals and food to buy. The path was very slippery and it was quite epic to walk there just with our headlamps but we finally made it… and the place was completely full!
The big groups occupying the camping (a promotion of Peruvian students) had indeed invaded the place, which looked like it had never been so overcrowded.
Yet, we managed to find some place at the end of the main room to eat our plate of rice, corn and fried egg. We were in the middle of guinea pigs, cats and kittens, quite atypical!
We then bought rice and pastas, as it would be the last occasion before Marampata, a village located after Choquequirao. We had waited for the last moment to make our provisions given the weight of the food in our bags but we would rather recommend to stock up in Yanama. It is already expensive there but even worse in Maïzal as the place is very remote.
Looking for buried ruins
We woke up with calm, packed our tents and bags and hid them behind some trees. We wanted to explore some little ruins that seemed to be close from here, from what we could see on Maps.me.
If the first ruins were easy to find, it is not the case of the second ones… we had to climb a steep and slippery trail, finishing though some thick vegetation. My companions were more motivated than me I was quite annoyed by the situation, looking for untraceable stones through inextricable vegetation.
We finally abandoned without even finding the ruins, went to take our bags and finished at the farm where we had been the evening before, hoping to eat our lunch there. Unfortunately the owner was not there so we had to eat the small portions of bread, avocado and boiled eggs that we had left.
We initially wanted to sleep in Pinchaunuyoc’s ruins, which we had been recommended a lot, but we wouldn’t be able to make it in view of the late hour.
We went then down to Rio Blanco, again 1 000 m below in a few kilometres. This walk was quite demanding for our knees and with some strong heat… having a cold shower once at the river was then more than welcome!
The place was infested by mosquitoes and other greedy insects (which we were already suffering a lot since the beginning of the Salkantay) but the evening storm and its heavy rain helped calming down the situation.
Yet we decided to leave very early on the following day so to avoid the invasion of insects and start the day in a bad way.
Pinchaunuyoc ruins just for us
Sunday 4th November 2018
For once we had managed to wake up and pack our bags early (ready in 2h and leaving at 6.30 a.m., an exploit for us that needed 4h in average!). We started to climb up to Pinchaunuyoc’s ruins, located less than 2 km away but 500 m higher. A steep ascent that made us sweat (and the sun was not there yet!) but was worth it.
We had already seen the ruins the day before from the other side of the mountain. They are actually some impressive terraces in the shape of an amphitheatre, with some spectacular view over the surrounding mountains and valleys.
We stayed there for the whole morning, treating ourselves with some coffee, maté and popcorn, playing music… and all of this almost without meeting anyone, such a luxury!
Choquequirao at last
We left at the end of the afternoon, ready for the ultimate effort before Choquequirao. We had to climb 800 m more in about 5 km, with the last part being especially steep and difficult.
We arrived in less than 3h at Choquequirao Pass, located 3 272 m high. The reward was up to the efforts: we had an incredible view over Choquequirao’s ruins and had the emotion to share this moment with two condors flying over our heads! A moment of pure magic…
We still had 2 km to go until the camping, all going down. We arrived about 45 minutes later with our legs feeling sore after the effort, but feeling so happy. Even the night storm, its rain and the reversal of our camping stove with our pan full of pasta being cooked (burning Juan’s leg at the same time) did not even dampen our enthusiasm!
Discovery of the ruins and end of the Choquequirao adventure in the next episode!
To be continued…
Colectivo Santa Teresa – Totora : 20 soles – 5,23€ – About 3h
Campsite las Orchideas in Yanama: 5 soles per tent, with hot shower when there is electricity. Possible to use the kitchen (cost depending on your use of of the gaz). The owners are friendly and the place quiet. There’s also a room for 15 soles.
Food & Beverage
In Maïzal: 6 to 8 soles for a dinner, 1 sole for a tea. The food is very expensive there due to the place’s remoteness so it’s better to buy the ultimate stocks in Yanama.
Equipment and tips
Most of the visitors go to Choquequirao doing a return trip from Cachora (accessible in two days), so they need 5 days overall (including one day on the ruins). It is possible to continue from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu, with at least 6 hiking day more.
We have decided to do the trek backwards, coming from Machu Picchu and terminating in Cachora, and it is definitely worth it! Be it only for the view when you arrive on Choquequirao’s pass, a fantastic reward after several intensive days of hike… but also because there are even less people doing it that way, hence more tranquillity. And finally because it’s better to visit Choquequirao before Machu Picchu.
The whole trek’s itinerary, distances and altitudes can be found on the web. Also, the trail and the campsites are all indicated on the amazing application Maps.me.
It is possible to find food in the villages during the trek but everything is very expensive so it’s better to bring all the necessary food to save some money and be more autonomous (snacks, rice, pasta etc.). Choquequira is located between Maïzal and Marampata, last villages where some food can be bought. It’s better to plan well the time you want to spend there so not to be running out on food.
Bring tent, sleeping bag (comfort 0 to 5°), gas and camping stove, pan and cuttlery, cold and light clothing (you’ll have all kind of climates and temperatures), insect repellent (or better some cream for the bites because the sprays are useless against the terrible sandflies), waterproof shoes.