Following and end of the amazing adventure of Choquequirao, a legendary citadel, which name means “Gold cradle”. A place located at the heart of the mountains, protected from mass tourism and only accessible after at least two days of hike. We felt so good there that we stayed four days instead of one!
One minute of culture
Bingham discovered Choquequirao in 1909 shortly before discovering Machu Picchu. It is said that this place was so huge that up to fifteen thousands inhabitants could have lived there. It must have been composed of temples, palaces, baths, a sanctuary with idols and even prisons. It is of Inca origins but shows significant architectural differences with surrounding sites such as Machu Picchu, Pisac or Ollantaytambo.
It looks like only 30% of the ruins are visible today, the rest being covered by thick vegetation. The area is very wide, located 3 050 m high with a difference of 65 m between the upper and lower parts. Some archaeological digs are still being done nowadays and there is a project of building a cable car to get there directly. The project was delayed but still, it is better to visit Choquequirao NOW that the place is still wild and preserved.
Choquequirao, the magic ruins
Monday 5th November 2018
We woke up without using the alarm but with a sun that made us run out of the tent, which was truly turning into a steam room. We left at the end of the morning to explore these so expected ruins.
We started with the sites of Pikiwasi and the Casa Sacerdotal, where were probably organized religious ceremonies. The place is composed of two perfectly symmetric “houses” facing each other, with an outstanding acoustic. One can only imagine how it must have been with more people singing!
I let my friends there to continue the visit on my own, with my camera. I first went to a mirador with some great views over the surrounding mountains, and then went on to the main site.
I first climbed to a huge esplanade overlooking a hill. We had seen it the day before from the Choquequirao pass and had been intrigued by this big flat surface, standing like a heliport. Ceremonies and sacrifices were probably organized there, to be the closest possible to the sky.
The view over the main ruins was fantastic, with on top of that some little orchids on my feet… a perfect place for my lunch break!
I then went down to the main square. I took my time to explore these walls that are still in such a perfect state, feeling absolutely delighted. It was very quiet, there was almost nobody; the view from all sides was great… such a marvellous place!
I went on climbing towards Qolqas, the upper part of the site. Water was unfortunately not running down the canal anymore but once again it was a gorgeous place. I chose it to do one hour of yoga while the sun was falling down. A moment of ultimate peace after several days without being able to practice.
I went back to the campsite feeling like on a little cloud after these discoveries. We spent a nice evening getting to know our tent neighbours, an Ukrainian, an American and a Brazilian.
A quiet day
Tuesday 6th November 2018
We woke up under some light rain and heavy clouds that let us stay in the tents without dying because of the heat. We then spent the morning chilling and preparing some little breads with corn flour, which we cooked on the fire. The whole process was quite long but it was delicious and it was the end of our food supplies, the situation was getting critical!
I went in the afternoon the visit the sector of the Lamas, some lower part of the ruins that I had not seen the day before. These are impressive steep terraces, on which are carved lamas in the stones with some quartz. Seen from a distance or close-up, the overall place is stunning and is definitely worth going down (and then up) to get there.
Back to the main square, I started another yoga session with the declining sun. Two guards came to stop it half an hour later, telling me that the site was closing at 5 p.m. I then put on my shoes again and went a bit further, in another part of the ruins where I would be alone to finish my session.
Time to eat
Wednesday 7th November 2018
This time the situation was getting quite problematic; we really had nothing left to eat! We were even becoming quite nervous to live on our stocks like this… but we didn’t want to leave Choquequirao yet!
We then decided to go to Marampata, the first hamlet where can be found some food, located 3 km away from the campsite. We went there walking fast and enjoyed the view over the terraces located in the lower part of Choquequirao, which we still had not visited (the campsite is located between the lower and upper part of the ruins, which should still be linked to each other but are covered by vegetation so far).
We stayed for a while in Marampata, eating TWO plates of pasta (the first one was definitely not enough, we were starving!) and stocking up with some more food for at least two days. Choice was limited and prices were excessive given the remoteness of the place so we had to do some sacrifices: we would be on a rice mono-diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the coming days!
We went back to the campsite feeling full but relieved; it is really what we needed mentally and physically. We spent a nice evening around the fire and went to get some rest to fully enjoy the ruins on the following day.
A magic day in the ruins
Thursday 8th November 2018
This sunny day would be dedicated to visiting the ruins together. I had already seen all these places – the main square, the lamas’ terraces, and the upper part of the site – but these ruins are so strong and special that it didn’t bother me to see them again and enjoy them as much as possible, trying to take less photos.
We really had perfect conditions – bright sun and almost no visitor on that day – and took our time to explore each place, trying to guess how it could have been used…
We finished the day on the upper part from where the view is outstanding and where we did yoga together. Practicing yoga is always pleasant and full of benefits but doing it in such places is even more intense!
We came back feeling relaxed after this moment completely out of time and had a double surprise: we first found some quinoa left by guides with who we had sympathised on the campsite (it may look insignificant but for us it was a gift from heaven in these times of food privation!).
Then the park’s guards with who we had talked and explained that we were short on money to finish the trek (and of course it was impossible to get cash in the little hamlets) offered us an unbeatable deal: we only had to buy two student tickets (30 soles instead of 60) and let them some tips, which in the end cost us 17,50 soles each, and this having stayed 4 days instead of one… life was definitely amazing!
Last ruins and preparations
Friday 9th November 2018
After taking so much time in Choquequirao, it was time to pack the tents and be back on the road… but not without having visited the whole site! I quickly went to see the lower part of the ruins, some gorgeous terraces located close to a big waterfall, terminating with the Casa de Caide de agua – literally Waterfall house – and an impressive ceremonial stone.
I also had a glimpse over some juxtaposed terraces on which archaeologists were working. This place is a real treasure, there’s still so much to discover!
I went up quite fast to the campsite, as the sun was already strong. It would not be cold for our walk today! We finished to pack our bags and left to Marampata, where the priority was to eat well before going on.
A good sweat over 1 800 m down and up
Our stomachs being full (pasta with tomatoes and onion sauce, for a change), we started a long descent towards the river crossing the valley. From the campsite in Choquequirao, we had to go down 1 480 m in 12 km… pure descent with some strong sun, tough for our legs!
Once in Playa, at the level of the river, we had a break and left for our last kilometres, a big climb (about 400 m) under some wet heat that made us sweat bullets. We were walking along massive stone flows and the colours were amazing, with a storm already starting a bit further, like almost every evening.
We ended up our ascent right on time, arriving just before the storm in Chiquisca, a nice camping surrounded by lots of banana trees. Once again, we had the time to set the tents and get our shower just before the storm!
Once the storm had stopped, we spent our last evening preparing our eternal plasters of rice, always with the guitar and songs of my companions. It was hard to realize that the trekking was already getting to an end.
7 last kilometres of climbing
Saturday 10th November 2018
The alarm rang as the cocks were just starting to scream, at 4.30 a.m. We wanted to leave as early as possible so to start our ascent without suffering too much from the heat.
Nevertheless, with the time to pack, eat and leave… we only started at 7 a.m. and the sun was already strong. We had to climb again 1 000 m in 7 kilometres, to finish burning our legs until the end.
Fortunately the bags were now lighter as we had finished all our food supplies, so there was only the sun making the task harder. We went up enjoying an amazing view over the glaciers in the backgrounds; the advantage of having this strong sun as the skyline is usually covered here!
We met an amazing (well, it depends on the perspective) tarantula, so big that one wouldn’t want to get too close (you’ll notice the effort I made to come so close, trying to take one good picture for you!). And judging by the number of holes along the entire path, she must have had a lot of friends in the area!
We arrived at 10.30 in Capuliyoc viewpoint, 2 945 m above sea level. The 360° view over the whole region was outstanding. We had our lunch there and a long break that was well-deserved after this sweat.
Ultimate effort before the ice cream
We left at 12.45 for a last effort before joining the village of Cachora. 10 km of an almost entirely flat path, let’s say we could walk fast! More than ever, we were craving for some ice creams and it was definitely motivating us to go on 😉
We arrived about 2 hours later feeling sore but happy and quickly found some good homemade ice cream at the arrival to give us the amount of sugar and freshness that we needed so much!
A long way to Cuzco
We finished this long day with a painful trip to Abancay (music out loud and a drunk guy annoying us), and then a 5-h bus trip leading to Cuzco.
We arrived at 11 p.m. feeling quite strange in the noisy Cuzco. We had some quick food in the street and went to the hostel, happy to find some hot shower, a bed and the Wi-Fi, three elements of comfort that we have forgotten about!
Conclusion about the adventure Salkantay – Machu Picchu – Choquequirao
About 150 km hiking… it’s not that much the distances that make the intensity of this trekking but more the differences of altitude every day, in short distances.
The variety of the landscapes – from jungle to high snowy summits -, the beauty of these trails far from everything, the magic of these so well preserved ruins (most of all the ones of Choquequirao), the richness of the fauna and flora (orchids, fruit trees, condors…) and the friendliness of the locals are just a few aspects that made this experience unforgettable.
These two treks – Salkantay and Choquequirao – whatever the sens in which they are done, are easy to do without any guide as the whole trails are shown on the application Maps.me, as well as the campsites and places where to buy some food.
The only thing is to have a tent, a camping-stove and the motivation to set up the tent and cook everyday! But apart from the budget, the freedom to organize your time as you want is priceless compared to what any agency can offer you with an organized tour.
We surely took our time – by splitting the distances on the Salkantay and staying four days in Choquequirao – but this gave us the chance to be alone almost all the time while walking and to fully enjoy each moment spent in this fantastic nature and so well preserved ruins.
I would definitely recommend visiting Machu Picchu before Choquequirao. It is so expensive, touristic, and over-organized that it seemed to me that the atmosphere of the place was really spoiled…
Choquequirao on the contrary is absolutely peaceful, with only a few visitors per day and the possibility to go back and forth and visit the ruins as you want, with breath-taking views over the surrounding mountains, condors flying over the site…
To be continued…
Choquequirao campsite: Free campsite with freezing showers and sink at disposal. Located at the heart of the site, between the upper and lower part.
Camping de Chiquisca: 5 soles per tent, electricity and cold shower at disposal. Very beautiful area with banana trees.
Choquequirao ruins : 60 soles normal price, 30 soles for students. The guards are very friendly, it’s possible to negotiate with them to get at least the student price.
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.