‘What is it?’ That was my question when I first heard of these ruins by a French backpacker in my hostel in Cusco. A few minutes and a couple of Google searches afterward, it became clear that trekking Choquequirao without a guide was possible.
Brief History of Choquequirao
Choquequirao is a ruin complex similar in structure to Machu Picchu. It is regarded as it’s little sister, even though it’s just 30% excavated and presumably much bigger. The reasons behind the abandonment are unknown but most probably the city was left around the year 1540 when Spanish conquerors burst into the area. It was for a long time forgotten, until the same (re)discoverer of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, visited the ruins in 1909. The excavations started at the end of the ’70s but never proceeded constantly. A 5 million € fund for the study of the ruins has recently been established between France and Perù. Nowadays, the site is visited by 20 people a day (40 in peak season), against the ca. 3000 of Machu Picchu. There is a project of building a cable car running through the valley to facilitate the access to the archeological site; I read it should have been ready in 2016. Up to now, they just built a road at which end the construction should start, but I think this will take a very long time. My bet is 2024. Post yours in the comments. 🙂
The visitor flow is hindered by the very tough 4 days hike required to reach the site. Although it is not so long and the altitude sickness shouldn’t be a problem (maximum elevation is just above 3000 m), the drastic elevation change and the harsh climate makes it one of the most difficult hiking in the Cusco area.
Trekking Choquequirao Without a Guide: Mission Possible
There are actually very few agencies offering a tour to Choquequirao, and they are usually overpriced (the minimum I found was 220$, and it was a tour operator. To read some tips on how to book a tour in the Cusco’s tour agencies jungle, click here). Agencies tend to push you towards more doable tours – the Inca Trail, the Salkantay, the Inca Jungle or the Rainbow Mountains.
Trekking Choquequirao without a guide is totally feasible and it saves you a lot of money: renting your equipment, buying your food and taking public transport. The whole trek is well marked, so navigation shouldn’t be a problem. If you are not fit, my suggestion is NOT to do the trekking. If you really want to do it but you’re not very prepared, you might want to take into consideration renting horses and arrieros (horseman). Price for the whole 4 days trek is around 250 soles, not including the tip: it’s also a custom to offer at least a meal or a drink to your arriero, but this depends on the service. I personally met a couple whose horse couldn’t make it to the top and they had to walk with their very heavy backpacks.
How Much Trekking Choquequirao Without a Guide Costs
The whole 4 to 5 days trek usually costs less than 100$, according to your need. This is the cost split down:
- Renting equipment (a good tent for 2, 2 warm sleeping bags, 2 mattresses, kitchen equipment and gas): 150 soles
- Transport to and from Cachora x 2 people: maximum 100 soles
- Camping: 20 soles
- Food x 2 people: 60 soles
- Entrance to the site: 55 soles / 30 soles (students)
Total: 440 soles including 2 full-price entrances.
According to the currency change at the time of writing, this equals to 135 $ and 127 € for 2 people.
What to Bring
In the dry season, rain shouldn’t be a problem. It’s strongly advisable to bring sunscreen and insect repellent, no matter the season. I carry two types of repellent and I alternate them. The sandflies are those who live a little red dot on your skin. They become very itchy.
The climate on the canyon is harsh and even though it might rain, the weather is usually muggy and very annoying. During the night it gets pretty cold and humid. Bring your fleeces and some warm underwear. A waterproof and windproof jacket might be very useful in case of downpours or windstorm (not very common in the valley).
Talking about food, try to pack light. We bought rice and soups for our dinners; bread with cheese and avocado for lunch; and herbs, dried fruit, chocolate and dried legumes (fava beans) for breakfast. We bought all of this at the San Pedro Market in Cusco – in this way we saved money and we helped local farmers. We also had coca leaves, even though altitude sickness, as already said, is not a problem if you have spent at least a couple days in Cusco.
Although many people suggest purifying water with iodine pills or water filters, I personally didn’t and drank straight from the taps and streams. Water comes from the glaciers and it tastes good. This is totally up to you. Along the trail, there are many streams with – according to my experience, or better, my gut – drinkable water.
The 4-Days Choquequirao Trek
The 4-days itinerary is the most beaten by trekkers, and it starts in Cachora. To reach Cachora, take a bus to Abancay – from the bus terminal Terrestre. You have to ask to stop at the fork with Cachora. We paid 15 soles for this. Once at the junction, there are usually colectivos or taxis willing to take you down the road for 10 soles each. Do not pay more than this. Alternatively, Cachora is a couple of hours downhill.
We decided to sleep here the first night, in a hostel called Casa Salkantay. Just follow the main road down the plaza. For 15 soles we got a double room with hot shower and private bathroom. The woman is very friendly and speaks a bit of English, as his husband his American. She also offers dinner (soup + main course for 8 soles). If you want to camp, the grass in front of the church in the main square is where most people set the tent.
Day 1 – Cachora to Santa Teresa – 25 km, 9 hours walk
The first day is going to be the hardest of the whole trek. Start early in Cachora and follow the main road, slightly uphill, to the Mirador at Capulyioc. If you don’t want to walk, you can also catch a ride to the Mirador. Probably some car will stop and try to rip you off. We were asked 30 soles for a 8 km walk. You can imagine the answer.
At the Mirador there are two shops. The first one is managed by Gladis and her little daughter Chiara, who loves to be called Valentina. Here you can have breakfast and buy food supplies if you need. They have a rain-sheltered, wooden platform where to set your tent. The other building has a little shop and offers ‘simple, double, triple rooms’ as the panel outside says, even though I couldn’t get where the rooms are – probably it is just one with a number of mattresses.
In Capulyioc the car road ends and starts the trail. We started early in the morning from Cachora, were at the Mirador at 9 and started walking at 9.40 to the bottom of the canyon. From the Mirador to Playa Rosalina, where the Apurimac river flows, it’s a 2.5-3 hours walk. In between, there is an abandoned campsite and a caseño called Chiquisca, with bathrooms, showers and rain shelters to camp. Here you can also get hot food.
The downhill to Playa Rosalina is difficult. There are many steep parts and the sun is hot enough to fry an egg.
In Playa Rosalina, you find camping facilities and bathrooms. There’s also a fountain to fill your water bottle. Here we had lunch and waited for the sun to attenuate. To Santa Rosa, cross the bridge and proceed uphill for 2-2.5 hours. Again, the trail is steep. We stopped many times to drink. Remember to register before proceeding!
NOTE: Do not take shortcuts here along this stretch. We followed what looked like a shortcut and ended up in the middle of the vegetation and cactuses, other spiny fat plants and cliffs. Really, stay on the path.
At Santa Rosa, there are two camping sites. We camped in Santa Rosa Baja. Wikitravel reported it’s not a good camping and the owner is a bad guy, but we didn’t have any problem. The camping has shower and toilet and a sheltered place to cook. Here as well you can get hot meals, mainly rice with eggs and lomo saltado.
The other camping in Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa Alta) is run by a couple, Julia and Juan, who also own the first camping site in Marampata. Since they are not omnipresent, it’s possible one of the two will be unguarded.
Day 2 – Santa Rosa – Marampata – Choquequirao – 8 km, 5 hours walk + Visiting the ruins
The second day we got up early and walked up to Marampata. The hike is again steep but at least there was no sun. In Marampata we stopped and left our bag in the first camping site – we though (as Chiquisca and Santa Rosa are) there was nothing more than a hut and some plantations around. This was not the case. 5 minutes walk up this first campsite there is a whole village with campsite, restaurants, and accommodation. We had like the impression that in the village there are better services. Nevertheless, the camping managed by Julia and Juan was just fine for our needs. The place for the tent was a bit slanted, though.
From Marampata to Choquequirao it’s a 2 hours walk. You will pass through the control, where you have to pay the ticket. We managed to bribe the guy for two student tickets with a handful of coca leaves. Doing the math we saved 50 soles with 30 cents. It was a pretty good moment. From the checkpoint to the ruins is an hour walk, up and down the hill.
Choquequirao is there, waiting to be explored – and excavated. It was a wonderful day, furthermore without any tourist crowd. Just you, a bunch of other people and the valley, the ruins, and nature. The sounds of birds and the roar of the Apurimac river. Do not forget to visit the lama terraces, built by the Chachapoya workers, and look for the white-stone woman in the last, bottom terrace. Take the switchbacks to go down – the stairs are steep and unsafe.
We got back to spend the night in Marampata.
Day 3 – Marampata – Mirador Capulyioc – 20 km, 8 hours walk
This was our choice: walk all the way back to our starting point, where the car road ends. Concentrate the effort in one day. We woke up early again and after a quick breakfast, we began our descend from Marampata to the Apurimac river – Playa Rosalina. In 2 hours, including breaks, we did it.
From Playa Rosalina, we walked all the way up to Chiquisca and stopped here to drink. There are chirimoya, orange and banana plantations. We stocked up on vitamins and potassium to reach the abandoned camping, one and a half hour from Chiquisca. Here we cooked our lunch and took some rest. In few hours we climbed up to the Mirador.
The hike is hard and most trekkers overnight in Chiquisca, which is the cleverest choice. From Chiquisca to the top, when the sun is not so strong (early in the morning) it’s a 3 hours trek. We arrived completely done.
We camped in the Mirador, having still time to enjoy the sunset. Gladis cooked for us two big portions of french fries, the best I have had in 3 months of traveling in South America.
Day 4 – Back to Cusco
If you are lucky enough, a tour is starting this morning from the Mirador. The driver usually asks 35 soles for all the way back to Cusco. If you are not, as we weren’t, take a colectivo to Cachora (5 soles). From here you can take another colectivo to the fork with Abancay (8-15 soles). From the desvio, you can take another one to Kurawasi (10 soles). Finally, from Kurawasi there are direct vans and buses to Cusco (15 and 10 soles, respectively).
That’s the end of your amazing trip! Trekking Choquequirao without a guide gives you much more freedom and, at the same time, allows you to save a lot of money. Choquequirao ruins topped the Best in Travel Regions of Lonely Planet in 2017. This site is gaining popularity year after year, and it’s nice to visit it now that it looks still pristine.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I really look forward to improving this guide.
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