Everyone knows the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, and while we knew we wanted to experience that while in Peru, our group also really wanted to experience someplace less known but equally mesmerizing. We landed on Choquequirao, the lesser known “lost city of the Incas,” and I’m so beyond glad that we did.
Currently, the trek to Choquequirao and back takes 4 days. There’s a cable car in development that will eventually transport ~3k people a day to the ancient ruins in just 15 minutes. But what I loved so much about our trek to Choquequirao was the hike, the surroundings, and the lack of other people on the trail. We ran into maybe 10 other hikers during our 4-day trek, which allowed us to really take advantage of the surroundings and explore at our own pace. If you’re up for the physical challenge (the hike is pretty steep since you descend into a valley, ascend up the other side, and then do the same thing back to the trail head), I’d highly recommend getting to Choque before the cable car does – you won’t be sorry, I can guarantee it!
Before I get into the specifics of the trek, I want to note a couple of things about the company we used. As I mentioned in my earlier post, we chose Alpaca Expeditions for our 4D/3N trek to Choquequirao, and I would highly recommend anyone else who does this trek uses them as well. We had six people in our group so we were able to do a private trek, but it would have been equally incredible with others too, I have no doubt. I believe they cap their groups at 8-10 to ensure you have the best experience, and if there only a couple of you and no one else is interested in going out at the same time, you’ll end up in a private hike then as well.
So why Alpaca Expeditions?
- We had an English-speaking guide (Simon – he was the best!), who led us on the trek. He stopped along the way to point out different plants/animals or historical facts, and because we were trekking at a faster pace from the start, he would give us options for how far we wanted to hike each day, where we wanted to camp, if we wanted to do any extra activities (like the Llama Terraces), etc. He also ate meals with us, played card games, and was just a genuinely wonderful and knowledgeable person
- Beyond our guide, we had an entire team of porters who carried our gear (except for small backpacks and water, which we carried), including all of the cooking equipment, tents, our clothing, etc
- We also had a head chef and sous chef (Leo, also the best!) who managed to cook incredible meals for us (not to mention carry stoves, food, etc on their backs up the mountains). Leo made some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life (no joke!), and he even managed to bake a cake for us for the day we made it to Choquequirao. You heard that right – we were in the middle of the mountains, at a campsite with no equipment so everything had to be brought in by us, and he managed to make an amazing, multi-tiered cake
- We were woken every morning with a cup of coca tea which helped settle our stomachs (it’s great for altitude sickness). By the time we got to our lunch stop everyday, lunch was prepared and perfectly timed for our arrival, so we were able to immediately relax and enjoy the delicious food. By the time we got to our night time campsite, the crew had also already set up all of our tents for us, and they were already prepping dinner
- Still wondering if Alpaca is the best choice? They have an average rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on TripAdvisor, so you can check out some 2400+ other reviews here.
Ok, now back to the trek! What can you expect on your adventure to Choquequirao?
Day 1: Cusco – Capuliyoc – Rosa Alta (19km)
The Alpaca team picked us up at 4pm near our hotel in San Blas, and we drove about 3.5-4 hours to the town of Capuliyoc where we started our trek. We hiked down the mountain to the Chik’Issca campsite where we stopped for lunch. After lunch, we continued down the mountain for another hour or so to La Playa, which lies at the bottom of the valley. This is typically the first night campsite, but because we were hiking a bit ahead of schedule, Simon gave us the option of hiking part of the way up the mountain on the other side so that we’d have more time to spend at Choquequirao on Day 3. We probably hiked about 2 hours up the mountain to the campsite at Rosa Alta where we spent the first night. That two hour hike up from La Playa to Rosa Alta was the most strenuous part of the trek as it was a long stretch of just straight uphill.
Note: when we left, the weather was good enough for our van to get us all the way to Capuliyoc to start our trek. Most frequently you have to begin the trek in Cachora, about a half hour drive before Capuliyoc, hence why we were able to get further than expected each day
Day 2: Rosa Alta – Marampata – Choquequirao (14km)
Our second day was a quicker trek, with a bit of a hike uphill to start the day, and then hiking at a light incline (after the previous day, it felt level!) to Marampata, Sunchupata, and finally to Choquequirao. We had lunch overlooking the ruins, followed by a guided tour and time to explore the expansive ruins on our own. We also opted to do an “extra” excursion down to the Llama Terraces below Choquequirao (about an hour hike in the opposite direction down the mountain and then another hour back up to Choque) before heading to the nearby campsite.
Day 3: Choquequirao – La Playa – Chik’Issca (17km)
Day three involved a trek back to Marampata and onto our first campsite at Rosa Alta, where we stopped for a quick break. We met the man who runs the campsite, and he offered us a local specialty called the “Rompe Calzón” (the literal translation is “pants breaker”). It essentially consists of snakes soaked in pisco, and you filter out all the snake residue before taking a shot of the pisco. I wasn’t about to try it, but a couple of adventurous folks in our group did! After that, we headed down the steep decline to La Playa in the valley. We enjoyed a late lunch in La Playa (note that the bugs here were the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life, so make sure you bring LOTS of bug spray – you’ll go through it way quicker than you think, and there won’t be anywhere to buy more once you get on the trail) before heading back up to Chik’Issca another hour or so where we spent our final evening on the trail.
Day 4: Chik’Issca – Capuliyoc – Cusco (16km)
We allowed ourselves to be pretty leisurely with our wake up on the final day since we were already ahead of schedule (and by leisurely, I mean 7:30am instead of 6:30/7am wake up time). We headed straight up the mountain to the trail head at Capuliyoc, where we were able to have some celebratory Cusqueñas and enjoy a nice lunch before the van took us back to Cusco.
Note about the campsites: each of the campsites had an outhouse with a shower and bathroom, but there is no hot water, and the bathrooms are basically port-a-potty/outhouse style, so no seats. Consider yourself warned 🙂 There’s also no lighting in the outhouses.
Fun Fact: Lonely Planet just named Choquequirao its top region to visit in 2017. Get there before everyone else does!