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Choquequirao Trek – A good alternative to the Inca Trail.

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Inca site Choquequirao

Inca site Choquequirao

Kathy, Andean Trails’ director, recently spent a few days walking the Choquequirao trek. She had heard of new roads making the trek a bit shorter and more accessible than it used to be, so she set off to check it out.

She says “The trek is stunning but it is a tough one. It is only 30km but it’s hard on the feet and legs as the paths are pretty much either steeply up or steeply down. The scenery is amazing and varied as the route takes you through a variety of eco-zones. This is a wonderful vast wilderness area with few people around.

Andean views Choquequirao trek

The Vilcabamba range

The drive from Cusco takes 4-5 hours, passing through beautiful highland landscapes. We stop to pick up some last minute supplies and to fortify ourselves with a bowl of soup at the local market before setting off.

 

Up and down on the trail

Loading up our back packs we wave off our driver and set off on a gravelly path, zig zagging steeply down to the Apurimac river, a descent of 1400 m. Although it’s downhill it’s hard work as muscles warm up and kick into action.

I was glad of my walking poles. At the valley bottom my backpack felt heavy and it was very hot. We collapse in a heap under some large trees for a welcome rest and gaze across the mighty Apurimac river to the valley rising on the far side.

The climb begins immediately after you cross the bridge, an ascent of 1500m to Choquequirao. There are several camping spots along the trail with running water and toilets, not luxurious but functional. The new manager at Santa Rosa campsite site told me it had taken her legs a week to recover from the walk in, she was dreading the journey out.

The trail continues to zig zag up to Marampata. A few families live here, and kids run out to greet us as we take a welcome seat and cup of tea and wait for the mule with our kit. We camp under the roof of an unfinished house, with running water and flush toilets nearby. A lightning storm on the far side of the valley lights up the mountain sides and clears to reveal an unrivalled display of stars, in a crystal clear night sky.

Terraces Choquequirao

Choquequirao

As the early morning mist lifts we set off again, high on the valley side, with stunning views over the vast Apurimac canyon, orchids, bromeliads and lichens lining the way. It’s a gentle meander to Choquequirao and our legs are glad of the temporary respite on this rolling section of path. We take time to wander, exploring the corners of this beautiful Inca site, which we have to ourselves. We’ve only seen a handful of trekkers along the way.

It is thought Choquequiaro was constructed during the reign of the 9th Inca emperor Pachacutec, dedicated to the sun, the water and the apus (mountain gods). The site boats long terraces, temples, a main square, ceremonial platforms, palaces, houses and water canals. The location is dramatic, spectacularly constructed over a ridge high above the Apurimac gorge, snow peaks all around. Condors soar overhead and you may be lucky and see a spectacled bear.

Inca walls Choquequirao

Onwards to Yanama

This is the point at which many trekkers turn around and go back the way they came (a 5 day journey), but we head onwards (… to the small village of Yanama , end of this trek route. From there you continue to Machu Picchu (7 days).)

A short climb of 200m took us over a pass (3200m), followed by a long descent to the Rio Blanco at a tropical 1900m, with a stop off to explore the recently cleared Inca terraces at Pinchaunuyoc.  This gushing river is ideal for a cooling dip, to soak hot tired legs, and feet. You won’t want to get out.

Pinchaunuyoc on Choquequirao trek

Pinchaunuyoc

With energy replenished it’s time to tackle the ascent to Maizal at 3,000m, half-way up the valley side, and next camping spot. We get into the swing and each develop a little mantra to help us keep going up and up and up. Maizal is a one house stop off, where a local family farms some cattle high up here on the valley side. They plant a few crops and eek out a sparse existence.

Early next morning a final climb through verdant,flower rich, cloud forest brings us to highland paramo, on to a beautifully constructed stone Inca trail, past old Inca silver mines, to the San Juan pass at 4,150m. From here you look upon the fabulous ice-covered massifs of Pumasillo and Choquetacarpo ahead. This is the highest point of the trek, tropical valleys behind, Andean peaks ahead, with stunning views all around.

The final few kilometres bring us into the small town of Yanama (3,500m), where cold beers are on hand. It feels like the hard work is well and truly over, time to relax and reflect on the glorious journey just completed and look ahead to the next leg. A new road connecting Yanama and Santa Teresa means that next leg is by vehicle.

My top tips for the Choquequirao trek are:

1. Take long sleeved light weight shirts and trekking trousers as it can be hot, the sun is strong and there are biting flies.
2. Take sun block and good insect repellent.
3. A sunhat is useful as there is little shade.
4. Take at least 2 litre capacity for water and purification tablets.
5. Take walking poles.
6. Comfortable walking boots and socks (I love bamboo socks in the heat) are essential as this trek is tough on the feet.

Enjoy!

Tough though it is, for me this is one of the most dramatic, beautiful, remote treks in Peru.

For the full tour itinerary see here:
https://bit.ly/2WA3vTa

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