Choquequirao: trek to so-called Sacred Sister of Machu Picchu
Choquequirao: Trek to so-called Sacred Sister of Machu Picchu
Only a 4-hour bus ride away from the city of Cusco you can find the amazing Inca ruins of Choquequirao, another “lost city of the Inca’s.” Choquequirao is bigger than Machu Picchu but almost “undiscovered” (like any other remote part of the Andes here in Peru). While the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is so popular that it is very hard to get Inca Trail Tickets, we could not join a group of hikers to do the Choquequirao Trek, simply because there were no groups available for the date we wanted to go. Unlike Machu Picchu, Choquequirao (or Choqueqirow) was not thoroughly explored and excavated until the 1970’s.
How it is possible that Machu Picchu has 1,4 million visitors every year and Choquequirao only 5,5 thousand? The answer lies in the remoteness of this archaeological site. Of course, this is what makes it so unique too. During the Choquequirao Trek, you will get a more intense feeling of achievement; and, at the same time, an immense appreciation of Peruvian nature. How it is possible the Incas have built this magnificent city here, at this incredible location in the saddle of a high Andean ridge, 3000, above sea level and 1,500 meters above the roaring waters of the Apurimac River? The Sacred or the Lost Sister City of Machu Picchu – as Choquequirao is often called – is only accessible through an (at least) 4-day hike through the beautiful mountains and valley passing over the wild Apurimac river.
Together with a small group of students living here learning Spanish in Cusco, I decided to do the trek. On our own*, without a guide. And so we hired the necessary equipment, learned about the trekking route, found out about the transportation, did our shopping, and we left, on our way to the conquer to ruins of Choquequirao. We would do the Choquequirao: trek to so-called Sacred Sister of Machu Picchu!
First, we take the bus to Desvio de Cachora at 6.00 a.m. We arrive three hours later. Here we find a taxi that takes us with him. We pass Cachora and arrive at Mirador Capuliyoc. Here the road ends, and the trek begins.
Most hikers start the trail in Cachora where you have the opportunity to rent mules to carry our stuff. However, we decided to carry our tents and backpacks ourselves and get a head start by starting in Mirador, this way saving ourselves from trekking 13km along the road. And after a quick breakfast upon arrival in Mirador (rice with fries, an egg, and a tomato slice), we started making our way down around 1 pm.
Nature around is awe-inspiring. The trail takes us through a wide range of different ecological zones, from Andean farming valleys, descending through a hot and arid canyon environment with kapok trees, cactus, and agaves, and then climbing again to a region of the lush cloud forest. Next to us, the snowcaps of the Vilcabamba mountain range.
While we overlook the whole Apurimac valley, we can see Choquequirao far in the distance, at the very end of the valley! How different look the slopes of the mountain on each side of the river. Our side is now dry, just sand and rocks and had a red yellowy sand color; the opposite side, however, the side of Choquequirao, is completely green, with trees and waterfalls. Tomorrow we will be walking there.
Cross the Apurimac River
We walked past Chiquisca, the first campsite and we continue all the way down to Playa Rosalina. Here we cross the Apurimac river via a modern footbridge, 1500 meters above sea level. It was already late, and I was bit worried: as we needed to reach the campsite, going up again! I remember this as the hardest part of the whole trek …. The Choquequirao trek is at a relatively low altitude (compared to, for instance, the Salkantay Trek), but the 1,500-meter descent into the valley we just did, is now followed by a 1,800-meter climb!
We made a few necessary stops to rest and to appreciate the night view. In the night, with only a few lights in the mountains, I almost stood on a tarantula. Tarantulas only come out at night and stand completely still the moment you come close (perfect for photos). The region of the Choquequirao is known for being the home of the biggest spider in the world – The Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula.
After another three hours of climbing, we finally reached our campsite!…… to find out that they didn’t serve dinner anymore. We set up our camp and went straight to sleep. Exhausted but happy with our experience on this first day.
Waterfalls and lush cloud forest
Around six we got up and had a quick breakfast: spaghetti with coffee. We packed our tent and wanted to start hiking quickly …. However, some of us were either too tired, had too many blisters or were injured. We rest for another while, as we know that day 2 is a tough climb, with 13km of steep uphill between us and the ruins of Choquequirao.
After 25 minutes of hiking, we reached Santa Rosa Alta. For the next three and a half hours we hiked up and appreciate the beautiful scenery with countless small waterfalls where we could cool down a little – because quickly after the sun came out, it got quite warm.
In the tiny settlement of Marampata (2900 meters above sea level with approximately 25 houses), we meet a nice lady that will make us some lunch. Although Morampata has a basic campground where many hikers stay before they continue to see the Inca Citadel on day 3, we decided to continue straightway.
The hike gets easier because we are now on a more gradual path towards Choquequirao. After one and a half hour we passed the checkpoint where we paid the entrance of 60 Soles. We quickly dump our stuff at the Choquequirao camp and face the last half an hour, before reaching the Choquequirao site itself.
Cradle of Gold
And it was beautiful. All the aches of the climbing and hiking were quickly forgotten when we wandered around in this beautiful site. I admired the mountains, the surroundings. I admired the Incas, for all they had done.. and finally, I admired myself too. Because there were several moments, during the trek, I truly thought I was not going to make it. But here I was as if I were on top of the world! With hardly any other tourists around!
I was truly impressed by Choquequirao. It is full of Inca architecture with terraces, plazas, chambers, imposing walls with niches, and so on. Choquequirao means ‘cradle of gold’ in Quechua. Some people believe it was the last refuge of the Inca when the empire fell apart. But it can also have been an administrative hub and ceremonial center, linking Cuzco with the Peruvian Amazon.
At the moment, there are only two ways to get out of Choquequirao again. One is to make the return trek to Cachora and road back to Cuzco; the other way out is or continue trekking to Machu Picchu and return by train to Cuzco.
Amazing Starry Night
There is no food available at the Choquequirao campsite, so I went to sleep very early, around 7.00pm. Around 5:00 we woke up again, ready to make our way down. While walking, the mist started to appear out of the earth, crawling over the floor, making way for each step. It circled the tops of a few mountains, reminding me of the rings of Jupiter. We had breakfast in Marampata and lunch in Santa Rosa Baja. Via Playa Rosalina, we finally reached Chiquisca, for our last night of camping.
Upon arrival, the sun was still shining. And finally, after three days, I was able to take a nice cold shower, which I had never enjoyed so much at that moment. We made some friends on the way and met them again in Chiquisca.
The night started to fall. We had dinner and could even buy a few beers to celebrate. We sat down in the grass with the group and just looked at the sky. In the whole area, there was no light and the clouds that had been there for the past nights had gone, which allowed us to see the whole sky for the first time. I had never seen such a starry night before, full of colors. It was a full moon, and we didn’t even need a lantern to walk around in the night. This was an amazing end to a truly beautiful hike I would recommend to any travelers in Peru: Choquequirao: trek to so-called Sacred Sister of Machu Picchu!
Thanks to Renate Heida
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