Moon Temple and Choquequirao

by on 25th February, 2016

Moon Temple and Choquequirao

Director of Andean Trails and Peru trekking guide book writer, Kathy writes:


” There’s a lot more to Peru than the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. If you want to explore some amazing Inca sites, walk deep in the mountains, and get away from the crowds then two of my favourite treks are our Moon Temple Trek and our seven day Choquequirao trek. Both are in the Cusco area, taking you through Peru’s Inca heartland, close to the iconic Inca Trail, but get you way off the beaten track. I’d be happy to do these treks again and again. The days are tough with some long steep ascents and descents, but take you through fabulous mountain scenery, punctuated by Inca terraces, temples, stair cases and fabulous carved rocks, and the wildlife is good too. You are not likely to meet many other tourists, if any.”


On the Moon Temple trek – before you even start the walking you explore the little known archaeological site of Quillarumiyoq (Quechua for moon stone). This site is 46 kms west of Cusco which was the heart of the Inca Empire, known as Tahuantinsuyo or four quarters.


moon-temple-trek view-peru

Moon Temple trek view, Peru


That Empire reached far: south into what is now Chile, and Argentina; east to the Amazon and Boliva; west to the Pacific coast: and as far north as Ecuador’s border with Colombia. Inca roads stretched out from Cusco to the four corners of the empire and Inca sites can still be found all along those trails.

The site of Quillarumiyoc is at the north-western tip of the fertile agricultural plain called Pampa de Anta, between the valleys of Anta and Limatambo. Limestone blocks are carved and built into walls with typical trapezoidal niches, water is channelled throughout the site.   It is thought that Quillarumiyoc was dedicated to the deity Killa or Quilla, the moon goddess – very important to the Inca agricultural calendar.  The main temple, is a large rock impressively carved in an arc with seven steps. The steps could represent the seven stars of Choqechinchay, the name early chroniclers gave to the constellation we know as Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.


Inca Stonework at Quillarumiyoc Moon Temple Perú

Inca Stonework at Quillarumiyoc, Moon Temple, Perú


The Incas used the stars for navigation and gave names to the main constellations.  You can wander freely though the ruins, and let your imagination inspire you as to what the site may have looked like and why it may have been built.  Once on the trek you walk past extensive Inca terraces, still used by today’s farmers and other Inca sites, high up in the mountains, such as the Hummingbird Temple, called that because of its shape, but not yet fully excavated.


The Choquequirao trek also starts with a visit to a little known Inca site, the carved boulder at Sayhuite. There are over 200 figures carved into the 4 by 2 m rock, including reptiles, frogs, and felines as well as carved terraces, ponds, rivers, tunnels, and irrigation channels.  Further along the route is Choquequirao itself, part of the extensive system of towns in the Vilcabamba Range.


The site is even more extensive than Machu Picchu. There are fine terraces, ritual baths and a central plaza surrounded by ceremonial and residential buildings. The site is still being excavated, and its exact purpose is also still largely unclear. It may have been built as a retreat or look-out by the last Incas during their thirty-year exiled rule after the Spanish expelled them from Cusco.


Cooks making lunch Choquequirao trek Peru

Cooks making lunch, Choquequirao trek, Peru


You have a good few hours to explore before continuing the trek. The next day’s walk takes you up and over a high pass past Inca silver mines, on original Inca staircase and some impressive sections of trail carved into cliff faces. Each day there is a new site to explore, many of which are still being cleared from the vegetation. This is Inca heaven, and I always feel that the more sites you come across the more you’ll want to know about this intriguing and highly developed civilisation.

An easier, shorter trek, also with a less well known Inca site is Huchuy Qosqo.

Contact Andean Trails for more information.

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