Still way off the increasingly trod track, Choquequirao (“Cradle of Gold” in Quechua—“The Other Machu Picchu,” as The New York Times called it in 2007), is an amazingly preserved Inca outpost, dramatically perched on a promontory nearly 1800 m / 6000 ft above the roaring Apurimac River Gorge.
Choquequirao (3,103 m/10,178 ft), built in a similar fashion to its sister city Machu Picchu although harder to reach, is thought to have had about the same size population and to have served the same religious, political and agricultural functions. However, because archaeologists long underestimated the importance of Choquequirao, the city’s existence was known for almost 300 years before the first restoration in 1993, and it has only recently been accessible to non-academics, now quickly joining the ranks of the world’s great Lost Cities.
The archaeological complex is 1,800 hectares, of which only 30–40% is excavated. It is considered to be one of the last bastions of resistance and refuge of the Inca Manco Inca Yupanqui from the Spanish as he fled Cusco after his siege of the city failed in 1535.
According to the Peruvian Tourism Office, Choquequirao was “…an administrative hub serving political, social and economic functions. Its urban design has followed the symbolic patterns of the imperial capital, with ritual places dedicated to Inti (the Inca Sun God) and the ancestors, to the earth, water and other divinities, with mansions for administrators and houses for artisans, warehouses, large dormitories or kallankas and farming terraces belonging to the Inca or the local people. Spreading over 700 meters, the ceremonial area drops as much as 65 meters from the elevated areas to the main square.” The city was considered to probably be one of the entrance check points to Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas until it fell to the Spaniards in 1572, and also played an important role as a link between the Amazon jungle and the city of Cusco.
About this Trek
This spectacular 60-km trek is not a circuit and rather, it uses the same trail to reach Choquequirao and to then return. Starting at the gorgeous village of Cachora, with views similar to those in the Swiss Alps but in a Peruvian Andes version, with towering snow-capped peaks and unpretentious adobe houses, one descends to the mighty Apurimac River, affluent to the Amazon later in its path, to then cross it and ascend on the other side. A long and demanding zigzagging uphill separates us from the next community, where one can still taste the sugar cane extracted right in front of us, giving us strength to continue uphill until we get close to Choquequirao. Our destination of Choquequirao is breathtaking; admiring the truly amazing stonework, the breath-taking location, and imagining how big it actually is, as a big portion of the site is still covered by overgrowth. A vast canyon below us, and condors spotted above, it is the remote Andes of Peru in all its glory.
Enigma’s experienced trekking guides enrich the days with their knowledge and sharing, covering diverse topics such as Inca history, archaeology, architecture, social structure, economy, politics, astronomy, and fascinating traditions and beliefs. Lodging is within designated and authorized campsites along the route.
This trek is operated in four days for travellers coming to Peru with a tighter schedule. The five-day version allows for an extra day of exploration and relaxed enjoyment in the area of Choquequirao. It is operated with the support of mules and horses, and it runs at an altitude below that of Cusco, generally not causing altitude sickness problems and requiring less acclimatization than treks running at higher elevations. However, it is highly demanding in terms of fitness, as the change in level is significant and is best enjoyed if physically fit.
The citadel of Choquequirao is a huge archaeological complex, still under cleaning and restoration, located nearby the sacred Salkantay mountain (6.271m/20569ft) and the Apurimac River canyon. The beauty and mystique of this Inca citadel is enhanced by the green overgrowth from centuries passed. Its astonishing location and surrounding mountain scenery, as well as plentiful Andean flora and fauna, with the chance to spot condors in its natural habitat, are some of the most appreciated attractions of this program.