Choquequirao Trek: The Complete Visitor’s Guide

Learn about Machu Picchu's sister city with this complete Choquequirao trek guide, including why you should visit, what to bring, the best time to go, a daily itinerary and more.
A stone building at the archaeological complex of Choquequirao, an Inca site near Cusco.
The ruins of Choquequirao. Image: "Choquequirao" by Danielle Pereira is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Choquequirao Peru is considered the Jewel of the Andes and one of the most incredible Inca settlements. The remote hike required to reach Choquequirao is one of Peru’s more moderate treks, but the amazing Choquequirao ruins at the end are more than worth it.

This Choquequirao guide will help explain the history behind the site with equal, if not greater, importance to the more famous ruins of Machu Picchu, and show you why the trek is worth it. If you’re ready to take on this incredible hike and historical ruins, fill out our Traveller Form so our Travel Advisors can add this to your itinerary.

Table of Contents:

  1. Best Time to Go
  2. Choquequirao Trek Difficulty
  3. Guided vs. Independent Trekking
  4. Altitude Sickness
  • History
  • Travel Tips
  • Packing List
  • Daily Itinerary Breakdown
  • The sun illuminates a steep verdant valley with the thundering Apurimac river below.

    A view of the Apurimac river from the trail to Choquequirao, Peru. Photograph: Matthew Barker 2010, Latin America for Less

    Choquequirao Overview

    On this trek, you’ll visit the semi-tropical Andean forests and experience leaving the Andean altiplano towards the high jungle, and eventually reach the incredible Choqeuquirao Ruins. Thanks to its isolation, which requires a full two days hike to reach, the site receives a fraction of the visitors that visit Machu Picchu. Usually, there’s not another soul on site. However, around 8,000 people visit annually – compared to the almost one million visitors that arrive at Machu Picchu each year.

    This guide will help you plan and prepare for your trip to the wonderful Choquequirao ruins, that way you are fully informed before experiencing the difficult trek. The ruins include the famous llama rocks, ancient designs which are not found anywhere else in Inca architecture. It is uncertain why the Incas only decided to do it here, and experts suggest that it might be a tradition from earlier civilizations like the Chachapoyas who lived here before. By completing this trek you’ll be one of the few who will have witnessed these enigmatic terraces.

    How to get to Choquequirao

    After arriving from Cusco, the only way to reach the trailhead to these ruins is by bus charter or private vehicle. Trekking is the only way to get to Choquequirao, and it’s no simple task. It is recommended that you hire a guide and a few pack mules to carry extra supplies. It takes approximately 2 days of full hiking to get to the archeological site, and 4 days total to complete the trip. The campsites, like the route itself, are well-maintained and equipped with facilities not found on most other Andean trails. The campsites all have running water, showers and toilet blocks, and even small shops selling snacks and drinks.

    Best Time to Go

    The best time to do the Choquequirao trek is between May and September. This is the dry season in the Andes, and also when the weather is the most predictable. During the rainy season between October and April often the trail is closed because of unsafe trail conditions and torrential weather.

    On the left bank of a steep valley a trail zig-zags up the mountainside leading to Choquequirao.

    The trail to Choquequirao leads from the mountains towards the jungle below. Photograph: Matthew Barker 2010, Latin America for Less

    Choquequirao Trek Difficulty

    The trek to Choquequirao is not for the average hiker. The trail includes a steep ascent from the valley floor to the crest of the mountains and high cloud forests that hide Choquequirao. To deal with such a steep incline, the trail uses a number of zigzagging turns, although the incline still takes a toll on hikers. Luckily, the final stretch of trail that leads towards the stone gates of Choquequirao is level.

    Although the journey is difficult, stepping onto the site’s fully-restored central plaza for the first time will surely prove to you that the journey is worth it. It’s also likely that no other person will be around, and you’ll have the Choquequirao ruins to yourself.

    Guided vs. Independent Trekking

    with considerable preparation, it’s possible to complete the Choquequirao trek without a guide. However, it is strongly recommended that you book a trail guide for the sake of reliable transportation to the trailhead and back again. With a guide, you’ll also benefit from their knowledge of history as to why the ruins were built in such a way, and how the Incas used to live. Peru for Less’s Choquequirao Trekking package also includes everything such as:

    • Private Transportation to and from the Trailhead
    • English Speaking Guide
    • Cook and Cooking Equipment
    • All Meals on Trek
    • Snacks
    • Cooking, eating and bathroom tents
    • Two-Person Tents
    • Mule-handlers & Mules
    • Saddled horse (1 horse fore every 6 persons)
    • First-aid kit & Emergency Oxygen Bottle

    Altitude Sickness

    Altitude sickness (AMS) is a serious side effect from overexertion at high altitudes. It occurs in 20 percent of people at 8,000 feet and 40 percent of people at 10,000 feet. For the Choquequirao trek, it is highly likely that you will experience some form of altitude sickness, as elevations reach as high as 10,100 ft. For this reason, it is important to acclimate properly, take your time on the trail, and take measures to combat symptoms.

    Measures to combat acute mountain sickness include acclimatizing in the Andes for 48-72 hours, eating a light and high-calorie diet, staying hydrated, avoiding smoking and alcohol, easing into the hike and taking breaks whenever necessary. You may also contact your healthcare provider for a recommendation for anti-altitude sickness medication as well. Another local remedy is chewing coca leaves, drinking coca tea or consuming coca candies – a traditional treatment for fighting AMS among the people of the Andes.

    White stones outline the shape of llamas on the side of several Inca terraces at Choquequirao.

    Llama rock work on the terraces of Choquequirao, Peru. Photograph: Matthew Barker 2010, Latin America for Less

    History

    Choquequirao, which means “Cradle of Gold” in the native Quechua language, is thought to have acted as the administrative and military capital of the Vilcabamba region. During it’s final years, Choquequirao served as main defense point of the Incas as they retreated from their strongholds in Cusco and the Sacred Valley towards the jungle, desperately resisting the Spanish conquest.

    The Choquequirao trek is also known and famous for being the “sister city of Machu Pichu.” Furthermore, another unique feature is that the ancient city is bordered by two distinct environments, the Andes and the Amazon, making it one of the most distinct ruins in all of Peru. The construction of Choquequirao is estimated to have been built around 1536. Experts also hypothesize that the city served as one of the final refuges for the Incas after the conquest by the Spaniards.

    Travel Tips

    • The ruins of Choquequirao are most appealing for those that crave adventure and love pristine natural landscapes!
    • Don’t forget to bring good waterproof gear since depending on the season weather can be quite unpredictable.
    • The altitude of the ruins is also at 2600 meters, so the trek is only recommended for those that consider themselves relatively in shape.

    Packing List

    These items are listed from most to least important. Don’t forget to speak with a Travel advisor as well for more information on what to bring.

    • Backpack
    • Appropriate Hiking Attire
    • Proper Footwear
    • Sleepingbag
    • Toiletries
    • Mosquito Repellant and Sunscreen
    • A Camelback or Waterbottles
    • flip-flops (for the showers)
    • Sunglasses
    • Camera & Extra Batteries
    On the side of a hill at Choquequirao Inca terraces divide the mountain like enormous steps.

    The first views of Choquequirao from the trail. Photograph: Matthew Barker 2010, Latin America for Less

    Daily Itinerary Breakdown

    Day 1: Cusco to Chikisca
    • Start your adventures early today with a pick-up from your hotel and drive into the countryside. The road will cross the Pampas de Anta or Yawar Pampa (Blood Plains), the location of a vicious battle between the Incas and the Chankas over leadership for the city of Cusco.
    • The journey continues over the mountains and across the Apurimac River until you arrive at the town of San Pedro de Cachora where you will enjoy an energy-rich lunch.
    • After loading mules with equipment, your guide will initiate your journey with a small ceremony. Splashing a few drops of a not often palatable, but enormously popular chicha beer onto the ground, calling on the traditional Andean gods of the mountains and mother earth to give safe passage is customary. After asking “permission of the Apus and the protection of the Pachamama,” you’ll set off to Choquequirao.
    • Your guide will lead away from settled farmland and into an increasingly more gradient landscape. The ancient Choquequirao trail eventually brings you out onto a ridge, skirting the side of a deep, broad canyon. Several thousand feet below the thundering Apurimac River flows deep into the Andean cloud forests. Apurimac translates from Quechua to “talks to mountains, it’s a fitting name since you can hear it while trekking far above. Depending on the time of year, the river might swell from snowmelt running down from the glaciers and snowcapped mountains that tower above.
    • From here you will set off on foot, following a trail that leads up into a cool forest and native flora until the trail flattens out and you reach a lookout point at Capuliyoq which offers stunning views of Choquequirao and the surrounding Vilcabamba mountains. From here you will descend on a zigzagging trail until you reach your first campsite in a relatively warm valley at Chikisqa.

    Distance: 11.8 miles (19 km) Maximum Altitude: 9,514 feet (2,900 m)
    Approximate Time: 6 hours
    Gradient: Moderate

    Day 2: Huancacalle to Ututo
    • After a hearty breakfast, you will start the day’s hike with a descent leading to the Apurimac River. From here you’ll begin to climb, sometimes tackling very steep inclines until you arrive at Marampata at 9,555 feet (2,912 m). Here you will be able to take a well-deserved break and enjoy the great view of Choquequirao.
    • After a long descent, you’ll arrive on the valley floor at the first campsite on the banks of the Apurimac River. Down here the mosquitoes tend to be more active than in the higher elevation areas. Be sure to check our Packing List below where mosquito repellant is included along with other necessary items.
    • Next, you will follow a varied route until you reach the camp at Choquequirao itself in time for lunch. After resting your legs, you will start exploring the intriguing site, which is still only partially understood by archeologists.
    • Your guide will take you through the lower part of the enormous complex to visit the agricultural terraces, water channels, and an impressive ceremonial rock called the Paccha.
    • After a full day of exploring the entire site of Choquequirao, you’ll rest and enjoy the evening watching the sunset over these incredible ruins. Then you will return to camp to relax before enjoying an excellent evening meal.

    Distance: 8.7 miles (14 km)
    Maximum Altitude: 10,100 feet (3,075 m)
    Approximate Time: 8 hours
    Gradient: Challenging

    Day 3: Choquequirao to San Ignacio
    • After a delicious breakfast, you will explore the outskirt sites of Choquequirao such as the Priests’ House, the Urin Sector, and the main lookout point. You will return to your campsite for lunch and rest.
    • In the afternoon, you will set off again on the trail toward San Ignacio, crossing the Apurimac River and following an extremely steep descent, which unfolds some unforgettable views of the Vilcabamba Mountains. After a gentle climb, you will arrive at camp for dinner.

    Distance: 5.6 miles (9 km)
    Maximum Altitude: 10,100 feet (3,075 m)
    Approximate time: 5 hours
    Gradient: challenging

    Day 4: San Ignacio to Cusco
    • After a delicious breakfast, you will leave the camp to follow a trail through the valley of the Tambobamba River. You will walk through a beautiful mango forest and enjoy the calming scenery.
    • You’ll have the opportunity to see trees filled with parakeets near San Ignacio. Furthermore, on the journey down, if you’re lucky, you might be able to spot the region’s most rare creature, the spectacled bear. This elusive bear is endangered and is only found in remote areas like the Choquequirao trail.
    • Your trail ends at the delightful lodge of Villa Los Loros in Huanipaca. Here you will enjoy a final delicious lunch amid tranquil flower gardens and next to a gently flowing river. You will then meet your transfer for your trip back to Cusco. Once you’re on your way home, you can relax, reminisce, and enjoy the achievement of seeing the remote Choquequirao Archeological complex.

    Distance: 5 miles (8 km)
    Maximum Altitude: 10,100 feet (3,075 m)
    Approximate time: 5 hours
    Gradient: Moderate

    Overall, the Choquequirao trek is an incredible experience for those willing to embark on the journey. Another plus is that you’ll be one of the few in the world who have seen the amazing Choquequirao ruins in person. For more information, fill out our Traveller Form so we can personally contact you and help you plan your journey.