Earth : South America : Peru : Southern Sierra (Peru) : Sacred Valley of the Incas : Choquequirao
Choquequirao is in Sacred Valley of the Incas of Peru. Choquequirao Complex is a 3- to 5-day trek in the Cusco area and an alternative and less tread trek than the crowded Inca trail and Salktantay routes. Choquequiraw is situated in the spur of the mountain range of Salkantay, over 3030m surrounded by the Apus of Yamana, Ampay, Chokecarpu, Pumasiyo and Panta, on the left bankof Apurimac river. In the time of the Incas, it was united and in communication with Machu Picchu by a complex network of trails. The reasons are many: The fantastic nature with valleys, snow-capped mountains and great variety of plants, birds and animals.
It's a two day hike to Choquequirao from Cachora or Huanipaca. Guides and mules for the trip are best arranged in Cachora. Cachora is the most popular starting point for travelers who want to see the amazing newly-rediscovered Incan site, Choquequirao. Most people go in and out from Cachora as this is the best maintained and serviced trail. There are several places to buy water, Inca Kola and simple dishes of soup, eggs or potatoes along the journey. Another option is to continue onto Santa Teresa (La Convención) or Machu Picchu, but you'll need plenty of food. Hiring a donkey or mule is advised.
There are generally only a few tourists each day entering Choquequirao. The park itself is quite difficult to navigate with some paths somewhat overgrown. Much of the site is rebuilt: many original large stones have crumbled into smaller pieces, and in places it is easy to identify which sections are original work and which are reconstructed. In the main plaza, concrete beams have been used on one of the buildings. In other places, crumbling ruins are marked with numbers, so if they should fall, they will be able to be reconstructed.
Steep, rugged mountains.
Flora and fauna
Coral Snakes, Tarantulas, Cow herds.
Biting insects. Three kinds of flying insects, typical mosquitos (in Peru referred to as Zancudos), horse flies, and tiny biting (sand flies? locals call them moscos) make long, loose clothing (safari suit) and insect repellent (sold along the trail) an absolute must. Moscos are most commonly found near water sources.
*** Last Warning *** The tiny bugs are not like North American mosquitos, are very hard to see, and you don't feel the bite when they bite you. Any exposed skin should be given constant repellent reapplication. The bites last for days to weeks and will be very, very itchy. Rubbing fresh lime on bites can reduce the itching/swelling.
Due to the altitude, it's hot in the sun and cold at night, sometimes below 0°C. The air is dry on north side of the mountains, humid on the south sides and in cloud forest.
There are three trails leading to Choquequirao, one from Cachora, Huanipaca and one from Yanama. To reach Cachora or Huanipaca, take the bus from Cusco to Abancay and get off at Ramal de Cachora - the turn off for Cachora or Huanipaca (just past Saywite). There are many bus companies that leave for Abancay from Cusco's Terminal Terrestre, but timetables are not usually online. As of March 2014 Breddes buses leave at 5:00am, 6:00am, 10:00am, 1:00pm and 8:00pm (20 soles). Ampay, does the route for 15 soles (8:30am, 9:15am and then roughly once an hour until noon, as of May 2018). Get off the bus at Ramal (de Cachora), and from there you need to take a taxi (10-15 minute ride) or walk down the switchback roads or paths cutting directly down the hill from the main road to the town you intend to hike from. Taxis often wait for the people from the bus during the daytime, except on Sunday when you might have to wait an hour. A shared ride from Ramal to Cachora costs should cost 5 soles per person. A private taxi will cost 30 soles. From Cachora either you can directly start waking, or take a taxi (30 soles as of May 2018) to the Mirador de Capuliyoc, effectively saving about 3 houres.
An alternative to taking a bus is to take a colectivo from Cusco to Curahuasi. The ride costs 15 soles per seat. The collectivos leave from near the eastern end of Avenida Arcopata whenever they are full. Once at Curahuasi, you can take a taxi to Cachora for 60 soles (less if you are good at haggling).
For the Huanipaca and Yamana trails, steep sections make hiking the only option, but the trail from Cachora can be done either on foot or horseback. If you speak a bit of Spanish you should have no trouble finding an arriero and one or more mules or horses in Cachora. Just ask your taxi driver when you get a lift in, or ask at any of the shops in the main Plaza del Armas. Expect to pay 50 soles per day for an arriero, and 40 soles per day per horse. The price can be negotiated and has gone up due to the increase of popularity of the trek. A woman named Doris who lives in Cachora owns between 30-40 mules and she rents them to both organized groups and individual hikers. A minimum of 4 days hire is applicable. Renting a mule for your pack is highly recommended, as the trek is very steep both down and up from the valley. Tips for arrieros aren't necessarily expected but much appreciated if you are satisfied with their service. Plan to provide a meal or two to your arriero as well, and inviting the arriero to an inka-cola or beer is also much appreciated. Again, considering their attention and service.
The trail from Huanipaca is shorter, steeper and lacks the amenities that the trail from Cachora offers. Everyone will tell you there is no food on the trail, but you can get a cooked meal at Hacienda San Ignacio, about 2.5km from the river on the Huanipaca side. There are several water sources on the Huanipaca side, so bring your filter. The route of Huanipaca has been completely rehabilitated in August of 2017, after having been closed a long period by damages caused by climatic events.
The trail from Cachora has several sources of drinkable water, campsites, showers, toilets and several shops where you can buy soft drinks, water, beer and small snacks like crackers or cookies. Hiking in from Yanama you would need to start in Mollepata, Santa Teresa or Machu Picchu Pueblo, these are very long and difficult hikes. If you want to do the 8 day Machu Picchu - Cachora hike it is probably easier to do it in reverse as you will find arrieros much more easily and cheaply in Cachora than at the Machu Picchu end. Note that in either case you will probably need to pay for a return journey for the arriero and mule hire, not just the one way.
Four-day trek itinerary;
Total time with a 15kg pack, no guide, no mules: 4 days. Excellent scenery and a great alternative to the Inca trail at Machu Picchu.
With a mule carrying your pack and a good level of fitness it is possible to do this hike in 3 days, but the Association of Arrieros in Cachora don´t like arrieros doing it in 3 days, and will fine them 30 soles if they catch them, so those confident in their fitness and wanting to do it in 3 days should probably tip their arriero at least this amount, as well as paying for 4 days hire which is considered the minimum.
Day One - Start out walking early from Cachora (5am or earlier) to make it to camp before nightfall and to avoid the heat. Alternatively, take a taxi to the mirador at the start of the trail to save three hours of walking along the road. The further down in the valley you get, the hotter it becomes. Don't be fooled by the fresh cool air up top. The heat is a serious factor on the first day, so take it into consideration. The shadow starts to cover the dry side of the mountain around 3pm. Some people choose to hike the first day down at night to avoid the heat. But consider if it has rained in the last days and if it is windy, as there are occasional falling rock. The first day is a five to seven hour hike and 1,500 meters elevation change down the mountain. There are multiple campsites, all well marked, with running water and bathrooms. The tap water is siphoned from streams coming from lakes and glaciers on the Choquequirao side of the Apurimac River. KM 25 Santa Rosa (Alta) camp site it is a great point to aim for.
Day Two - Set off early to reach the Inca site while it is cool. The path is easy to follow at night. If trekking without mules, leave your tent at Santa Rosa Alta and do an out-and-back trip to the site in one day. With mules, There is a new bridge across the river, and you can camp nearer the site on this day. Get ready for an intense hike up the other side. After 11am the sun can make this hike very difficult, with one hiker reporting a walking speed of 500 metres per hour, compared to the usual 4km per hour on relatively flat ground. About 1,800 meters up, Choquequirao awaits. From the town at the top (Marampata), it is a flatter one hour walk to the park entrance, and another hour to the main plaza of Choquequirao.
Day Three - Aim to get to the riverside campsite (Playa) or Chiquisca. From Santa Rosa Alta this three to four hour trip involves descending to the bridge and back along the path you came.
Day Four - Return to the mirador at the start of the trail and take a taxi or tourist bus back to Cachora or Cusco. The tourist buses arrive at between 8am and 10am, so get up early (aim to set off at 5am from Chiquisca) to catch these and avoid the sun. From Chiquisca it's a 3 hour climb. As of 2018 all the tourist buses stayed from 8-10am (we were there at 8am and had to wait until 10 for them to leave), to catch more tourists going back to Cusco to make more money (30 soles a person).
It is possible (but hard work, especially without mules) to do this in three days. Day two, return from the site and pack up your tent at Santa Rosa Alta - aim to get to Chiquisca for your second night.
There is an S/.60.00 soles fee (May 17) that someone will collect from you at the gate to the site, about an hour walk further from Marampata (or in the park itself if nobody is at the hut). If you have a student card featuring the ISIC logo and are cofdient when showing ot to the "park ranger" the cost of the permit is S/.30.00.
The park ranger really wanted US 2 dollar bills for good luck, so if you are going, maybe bring him one? Looks like a lonely post out there.
It takes one complete day of 8 hours to cover the entire park, and there are many sections in the middle of being uncovered - a little bush whacking will usually be rewarded with a rarely viewed section of this still covered Incan palace.
The locals are helpful but only speak Spanish and/or Quechua. The site is an active digging site, there are archaeologists working there, some of whom are American.
Probably the most impressing and are the terraces with white stone llamas. This feature you do not find in Machu Picchu and you will experience how insanley steep the incas decided to have their farmland on. Wild flowers.
Trek. Be sure to spend the time to see all the various sections of Choquequirao, as they are all quite fascinating in their own way.
There are several tiny (one-family) settlements at campsites along the way selling cooked food, snacks, beer, bottled water and soft-drinks, unless you plan on carrying a lot of water just drink from the taps - it usually comes from small mountain rivers, so treatment makes generally sense but is not always strictly required.
There are (very simple but filling) cooked meals available at Chiquisca, Santa Rosa (Alta, not Baja) and Marampata. A plate of food or bowl of soup will cost you about 4 soles (10 soles in Marampata at the beginning of the town as you arrive, and 4 soles toward the end). These locations also sell soft drinks, snacks, and the ubiquitous.
A local entrepreneur will have wisely opened a shop with Gatorade and snacks about 10 minutes before you find another shop. Don't worry about it and just buy food or snacks as you need them. In every camp site along the way locals have set up shop, so you can buy water, soda, rice, and snacks (sometimes eggs and fruit, but not always).
Fresh water from the mountain streams. The cautious will want to filter or purify with iodine, and locals will suggest it. However, on the Choquequirao side of the mountain (Marampata), we drank plentifully straight from the tap without problems. There are no towns higher than Marampata, so the water shouldn't be contaminated.
Take note of the stream / hut locations on day 1 while descending, so you can plan your water for ascending on the way out. There were 3 sources of water on the Cachora side of the river. We filled up our bottles on the Choquequirao side for the ascent on the Cachora side.
For the ascent to Marampata - there is a stream crossing about an hour and a half from the bottom (Playa Rosalina), and another about another third of the way up - plan according to your fitness, probably carry a liter or less from each location. Plenty of water at the final campground below the ruins. (Showers and drinking)
The ascent is long, steep, and hot; bring electrolyte powders to replenish the salts you sweat out. Alternatively, Marampata sells Powerades for 10 soles/bottle.
Camping is the only option
Tent. Bring your own or hire in Cachora - there are several locations renting tents, sleeping bags and sleeping rolls. Look for 'Carpo Alquilo' signs or ask, if you speak Spanish.
You can camp near the entrance of the ruins or at several sites nearby and there are designated campsites on the way to the ruins. The main camp sites have flush toilets with doors, cold water showers, benches and a kitchen area, and nice flat grassy areas to pitch your tent. Most of them have an attendant living on site who will be your friend for the evening. There are camp sites at the following locations:
No permits are needed.
This is an isolated area but the trail is well maintained and easy to follow and people travel along it most days.
In August 2011 it was reported that remnants of the Shining Path armed with rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers robbed a group of German and American tourists and ordered them to hand over their food, cameras and other equipment. Nobody was hurt. 
There are three trails out from Choquequirao. They go to Cachora, Huanipaca and Yanama. From Yanama its possible to continue hiking onward to Machu Picchu, Santa Teresa (Peru) or Mollepata, or to take a shared bus at 6am to Santa Teresa (around 35 soles per person as of May 2018 which may be a bit steep).
Instead of walking the same way back, an easier way out is to go to Huanipaca: Within 5-6 hours if you are traveling light enough (2 hours down to the river, 3h uphill) you can reach the hotel "Villa Los Loros" (rooms 100 soles), which is located 17km on the road from Huanipaca, has a good Italian restaurant and free camping spots. From there you can order a taxi (40 soles) to Huanipaca and from there take shared taxis/buses back to Cusco. The route of Huanipaca has been completely rehabilitated in August of 2017, after having been closed a long period by damages caused by climatic events. Another option is to take the steeper, shorter path to Kiuñalla, where you can get a bed, hot shower (but no towel), tea and soup for 10 soles. At 4am a colectivo leaves Kiuñalla for Huanipaca and on to Abancay. With a heavier bag and some soreness from the Cachora hike, it can take around 12 hours to get to Kiuñalla, or from first light to last light. At that pace, Hacienda San Ignacio can be reached at about midday, and for 10 soles you can get your standard cooked trail meal and tea. Also note that the trail signs on the Huanipaca side tend to cater to those entering Choquequirao, not leaving, so keep an eye out for the backside of signs if you hiked in from Cachora.