All about Choquequirao
What is Choquequirao?
Choquequirao is an ancient Inca citadel, today an archaeological site, famous for the 2-day walk that it takes to reach it. Its name means 'Cradle of gold', which is the name of a nearby mountain. Due to its remote location and at the top of a difficult to reach summit, it is believed that this citadel served as a checkpoint and refuge in case of invasions. For this reason it is also known as the 'The last refuge of the Incas', although there is no reliable evidence of this. Most people know it as 'The sacred sister of Machu Picchu', because of its resemblance to the Inca city.
Choquequirao is in one of the foothills of the Salkantay, in the Andes Mountains of Cusco - Peru. It belongs to the Apurímac valley, the great river whose canyon you have to cross to get there.
The archaeological site of Choquequirao is 3,033 meters above sea level (9,959 feet altitude).
How to get there?
Due to its difficult geography location, the only access to Choquequirao is on foot. There are two points of departure. The first and most used tourist route is the route that begins in the town of Cachora, in the department of Abancay (located 165 kilometers by road from Cusco). Then there is a 32-kilometer uphill hike (10 to 12 hours of walking) through the Apurímac river canyon. This route is touristy and takes 4 days (2 days outbound and 2 in return). The other way to go is by car that connects Cusco with the town of Santa Teresa and, later, the community of Yanama (26 kilometers from the archaeological site). From there another walk of several kilometers is made. Although you can do the route on your own, most tourists choose to go with an all-inclusive 4-day tour.
Map of the route to Choquequirao
The architectural characteristics indicate that Choquequirao is an imminently Inca citadel. In other words, it was not built on the foundations of a predecessor culture. It was born with the expansion of the Inca empire, presumably in the 15th century. Most researchers agree that it was built as a checkpoint for the surrounding territories, such as Machu Picchu. When the Spanish arrived in Cusco in 1533, it is believed that Manco Inca and his rebel army fled towards these jungle areas, which is why, according to some historians, Choquequirao would have been one of the last refuges of the Incas.
During the colony, there was no news of the existence of Choquequirao, which was covered by the thick vegetation of the area. The few references that there are of 'an uninhabited city of Inca origin' were not taken into account by the authorities. The few explorations of people attracted by the treasures of Choquequirao, did not have the expected result. In 1909, the place was explored by the American researcher Hiram Bingham (the same one who years later would arrive at Machu Picchu). Thanks to your description of the site, the Peruvian Government paid attention to the site. The archaeological works were only carried out around 1970.
Today, the archaeological site of Choquequirao was only unearthed 30% of its totality. There is no road that can reach the area, so the only way to get there is by a 2-day hiking route from the town of Cachora, in Abancay. Still it is visited by tourists. The site includes up to 1810 hectares protected by the Peruvian State. With the construction of a cable car proposed by the government, it is expected that the Choquequirao archaeological site will receive about 3 million tourists per year.
Choquequirao archaeological site
Kallankas - These structures are large rectangular walls with rectangular holes whose patio would have been used for holding meetings. On the site there are several kallankas, all supplied with water by gutters. The most famous of all was called 'Sunturwasi', which had had a religious use.
Ushnus - These platform-like structures were found high in the hills. From there you had a privileged view of the surroundings as well as the mountains, the river and the main square of Choquequirao. It is believed that it had a religious purpose. To get there you had to ascend some steps. One of the most prominent is the so-called 'Adoratorio al sol'.
Colcas - These buildings were intended to serve as warehouses to store food. In Choquequirao there are several that have other additional divisions. It is believed that Choquequirao was a self-sufficient city, that is, that it lived on what its lands produced and did not need any help from outside its walls.
Andenes - The platforms were contiguous platforms where the Incas cultivated various products. Most of the territory of Choquequirao is made up of its platform groups. The most striking are the group of platforms where the figure of carved flames stands out on each step. There are up to 22 engravings, which are called 'The golden flames'.
Enclosures - Throughout Choquequirao, there are quadrangular-shaped enclosures made of granite. The most important are the set of two buildings in the upper part, next to a small square. These enclosures would have housed the most important priests of the place. In the lower part, there were the popular enclosures called 'Pikiwasi'.
The main square - This construction called 'Huaqaypata' divided the site in two: the upper part (Hanan) and the lower part (Hurin). It served as the main point of religious meetings and ceremonies. It is built in a quadrangular shape and has several doors and stairs to enter. On the sides there are enclosures as well as kallankas and other buildings.
The Inca cemetery - This building near a square is also known as 'The triumphal wall' or also 'The wall of offering to the ancestors'. This wall has up to five covers where funerary bundles were found without much ostentation. The enclosure also has water channels. For many researchers it would be an Inca cemetery for important personalities of the site.
The classic walk to Choquequirao lasts 4 days (round trip). A total of 64 kilometers are covered and follow the following route:
Day 1 - The trip begins in the city of Cusco (or the city of Abancay) from where you must take a transport to the town of Cachora (between 4 or 5 hours of travel by car). There the hike starts uphill crossing the Apurímac River. That day the route ends at the Chiquisca camp, after approximately 16 kilometers on foot. There he will spend the night.
Day 2 - The second day the route is followed by winding roads until arriving at the archaeological site of Choquequirao, after more than 10 kilometers of route. In one of the authorized areas, tourists will be able to camp. Due to the difficulty of getting there, few visitors will be able to visit Choquequirao the next day.
Day 3 - The third day in the morning is destined to visit every corner of the archaeological site of Choquequirao. After visiting this Inca city, the return route is undertaken, which follows the same path to the outward section. At night, after approximately 14 kilometers of walking, you will camp in Chiquisca.
Day 4 - On the fourth day, the route continues crossing the Apurímac River, through picturesque Andean towns. Finally, you will arrive at the town of Cachora, after approximately 7 kilometers of walking. In this town, a vehicle transport must take the visitor back to the city of Cusco.
Flora and fauna
Choquequirao has as much diversity as Machu Picchu. Due to its location within high mountains and high jungle landscapes of Cusco, there it is possible to appreciate wild animals such as: foxes, condors, vizcachas, tarucas, skunks, spectacled bears, hummingbirds, cock of the rocks and more. Among the species of plants and flowers, the most common are orchids, ichu (wild straw from the Andes) and more.
Choquequirao has a temperate climate. The maximum temperature at the archaeological site can reach 23ºC (73.4ºF) during the day. At night the temperature can drop to 4ºC (39.2ºF). On the other hand, the walk goes through landscapes with a warmer climate as it crosses the Apurimac canyon. Heat can reach a maximum of 25ºC (77ºF). The cold can drop to a minimum of 5ºC. (41ºF).
How to do the route on your own?
An economical and adventurous option is to ascend to Choquequirao on your own, that is, without a tour package. To do this, you must start from the city of Cusco (or Abancay) in the direction of the town of Cachora, the starting point of the walk. Visitors can start the hike or hope to do it the next day. One option is to take a taxi that will take you 7 kilometers further on to the Capulylloc viewpoint, where there are no more roads and you only have to walk.
The rest of the way is well signposted by panels. You must ascend by ascending and winding sections to the camps of Santa Rosa or Chiquisca. Along the route there are towns and peasant communities that can help you with supplies and advice to follow the route. Do not forget to bring camping equipment, food and a coat. It is recommended to continue walking very early to avoid the wear of the sun. Once in Choquequirao, you must pay the entrance fee (approximately 18 US dollars). This price includes a camping area close to the archaeological site.
For a long time it was believed that Choquequirao was the last refuge of the Incas who escaped the Spanish siege of Cusco in the 16th century. However, this place was actually Vilcabamba, located in the jungle of Cusco. The truth is that this huge Inca city could have housed 15 thousand people. Like Machu Picchu, it was gradually abandoned until it was covered by thick vegetation.
How much do the tours cost?
The classic tour to Choquequirao (4 days and 3 nights) has an approximate cost of between 350 and 500 dollars per person. The price depends on the quality of the service and the tourism agency you have hired.
What does a tour include?
All tours include the following:
- Transportation by minivan from Cusco to Cachora.
- Official tourism guide for 4 days.
- Team of cooks (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
- Team of chargers with horse.
- Entrance to Choquequirao.
- Implements for hiking.
- Camping implements.
Images of Choquequirao
Information you should know
There are shorter versions of the Choquequirao trek that last only 3 days and 2 nights. This short version uses a more intense route to achieve the goal. There is also an 8-day route that, after visiting Choquequirao, continues through the mountains and jungles of Cusco until arriving at Machu Picchu. This last route covers a total of 115 kilometers.
Choquequirao is an archaeological site that, despite its similarity to Machu Picchu, only receives an average of 20 tourists every day. That is why doing the route now means being almost alone with a place that, surely, in a few years will receive thousands of visitors.
The entrance to Choquequirao has a cost of 60 Peruvian soles (approximately 18 US dollars). The hours of operation are every day from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. The entrance ticket includes the option of camping in an area located near the place. The tours already include the entrance fee.
The walk to Choquequirao is one of the most intense hiking routes since it ascends through steep paths in the Apurimac canyon, where the heat can wear down the visitor. Although it is not necessary to be an expert mountaineer, it is recommended to be in good physical condition. The entire route is 62 kilometers on foot.
According to people who have already visited Choquequirao, the best time of the year to do the trek is in the dry season months (from April to October) where not many rains usually occur. On the other hand, the rainiest months are January, February and March.
When you make the trek to Choquequirao do not forget to bring with you: hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, rehydrating water, a sleeping bag, hiking shoes, a backpack for trekking, poncho in case of rain, repellent for mosquitoes, your personal documents and a camera to capture the beautiful landscapes.