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The Superb 8 Day Choquequirao Trek To Machu Picchu

The Superb 8 Day Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu

Have you ever heard of the Choquequirao trek? I had not until I spent some time looking through active vacations on the G Adventures website. I don’t know how this superb 8 day trek slipped by me. I’m familiar with the other three treks that deposit you at Machu Picchu; the Inca Trail, the Salkantay trek and the Lares trek. But the Choquequirao trek is the only one I’d recommend, now that I’ve done it. The main reason is the fact it hasn’t been discovered yet. Six of the eight days on trek are incredibly quiet, beautiful and peaceful.

Choquequirao Video

Before reading the blog post check out this video showcasing the highlights of the trek. You’ll really get a sense of how rugged the landscape is.

Background Information about the Choquequirao Trek

The 8 day trek starts in Cachora – almost a five hour drive from Cusco, and ends at the Hidroelectrica train station not far from Aquas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu.

On six of the eight days you don’t see many other trekkers – hence the appeal in my books. It’s not until you meet up with the Salkantay trekkers on day 7 that you feel like you’re back in civilization.

The trek is varied. It takes you through tropical-like cloud forest through to the high alpine. Occasionally temperatures are sizzling hot at midday but the minute the sun goes down the temperature heads south as well. Daylight is short – about 12 hours – so you get up in the dark and head to dinner in the dark. 

We had two guides with us – Joseph and Carlos – or Ooh-la-la – as we called him. Twenty horses, seven horsemen, two cooks and a couple of helpers rounded out our crew. And there were 16 of us. So we were a big group.

Days on the trek are quite long – in the six to seven hour range. Kilometres don’t mean much in the terrain we covered though at the end we figured we’d done somewhere around 125 km. Joseph our guide suggested 160 km and I’m willing to go with that!! The high point on the trek is Yanama Pass at 4,660 m or 15,289 feet. Lower down bugs are bad though you’ll never see one. Bug spray is a must.

Our two guides - Joseph and Carlos

Our two guides – Joseph and Carlos

Wondering what a G Adventures Choquequirao trek looks like? Here it is broken down day by day.

Day 1: Bus ride from Cusco to Cachora followed by a 6 – 7 hour hike

The alarm went off at 4 AM. Sleep-deprived already from missing my flight to Peru, I was happy about the five hour bus ride to the start of the trek where I and everyone else caught as much shut-eye as we could.

Somewhere around 9:30 AM we arrived in the village of Cachora – my core muscles well-used from tightening every time we took a curve on the highway. After a quick breakfast we started off – albeit only for about 10 minutes before hopping onto a smaller shuttle and getting to the actual trailhead.

You have to sign in with your passport and write your age and occupation before you head off. I had a quick look at the ages of everyone who’d signed in ahead of me. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it wasn’t all just a lot of young bucks in their 20’s but many people in their 50’s and 60’s. At least I had a hope of keeping up. 

A five hour descent to the Apurimac River broken by a lunch stop was the order of the first day. Although it was stinking hot, it was also extremely beautiful. I had no idea the landscape would be so rugged and deeply incised by canyons. Or that masses of wild purple grasses and blooming wildflowers would be in such abundance.

Looking down to the Apurimac River

Looking down to the Apurimac River

At lunch time a decision was made to continue to a camp a couple of hours up from the Apurimac River. Most everyone but me was happy about it but hiking when sleep-deprived is hard. I dug deep and trudged the last few hours up to a camp – crawled into my tent and only came out for a quick dinner.

Whirls of orange wildflowers at the start of the Choquequiarao Trek

Whirls of orange wildflowers at the start of the Choquequiarao Trek

First day on the Choquequiarao trek

First day on the Choquequiarao trek hiking through a stunning landscape of purple grasses

The hiking looks easy on day 1 on the Choquequirao trek but its stinking hot

The hiking looks easy but the trek is at altitude in the heat and its sometimes pebbly underfoot

Horses get the right of way on the Choququirao trek

Horses get the right of way on the Choququirao trek – which suited me fine as it gave me a chance to catch my breath

The Choququirao trek is very dusty on the first day

The Choququirao trek is very dusty on day one

Day 2: Somewhere near Marampata to Choquequirao

The morning started with a steep 2 hour and 10 minute climb to the village of Maramata. At some point along the trek we could look back to the trail from the previous day. It looks precarious in places though it never felt like that.

While the hiking at altitude sure got my attention what I loved about this part of the trail was the whiff of wild mint that I’d catch periodically. And the landscape is phenomenal; at times it looked surreal with plantings on mountains so steep you wonder how people could stand without falling off.

Hiking continued after lunch with a steep descent from our camp to the ruins of Paqchayoq. Some of the terraces are in the process of being restored but what a job that must be. I felt a sense of calm and quiet in the space and enjoyed the beauty of a massive waterfall.

A view of part of what we'd hiked the first day

A view of part of what we’d hiked the first day

Hiking was thankfully in the shade on much of the second day

Hiking was thankfully in the shade on much of the second day

Mindblowing to see the area cut out of the mountain to farm

Mindblowing to see the area cut out of the mountain to farm

Our tents set up at the second campsite

Our tents set up at the second campsite

Exploring the deserted ruins of Paqchayoq

Exploring the deserted ruins of Paqchayoq

Notice the elaborate terracing behind me

Notice the elaborate terracing behind me

Day 3: Explore the Choquequirao ruins and then hike to Pinchiunuyocc

At night a major thunderstorm lashed the area. I loved listening to the booms but come morning without my headlamp on, I slid out on the way to the bathroom, not once but twice on mud I didn’t see. Thankfully the hiking trail was in far better shape than the campground.

It was a short but steep climb to reach the ruins of Choquequirao, which means Cradle of Gold. It was built around the same era as Machu Picchu. But unlike Machu Picchu that sees upwards of 1,000,000 visitors per year, Choquequirao gets about 5,000 people coming through every year. There is talk however of putting in a cable car to shorten the journey from a two day walk to a 15 minute ride – and bring in up to 3,000 people per day – at least according to Lonely Planet. Visit now before that happens.

We spent several hours exploring the ruins with stops at important buildings to learn their history. While numbers vary it has been suggested that Choquequirao is a much larger site than Machu Picchu but only about 30% of the ruins have been uncovered. There’s a ceremonial flat area where perhaps more than the odd animal sacrifice is said to have happened.

After lunch at the ruins we continued for two hours down the mountain and ended up at camping on ancient Inca terraces – my favourite spot on the whole trip.

Breakfast would be served at 5:30 AM most mornings in a dining tent

Breakfast would be served most mornings at 5:30 AM

It's a short hike from camp to the ruins of Choquequirao with our trail from the 2nd day in the distance

It’s a short hike from camp to the ruins of Choquequirao; our trail from the 2nd day is a thin line across the mountains in the distance

Interesting lighting with an early arrival at the ruins

Interesting lighting with an early arrival at the ruins

Heading fro the main Choquequirao ruins

Heading for the main Choquequirao ruins

Choququirao is often called the other Machu Picchu

Choquequirao is often called the other Machu Picchu

Exploring the ruins of Choquequirao

Exploring the ruins of Choquequirao

My favourite campsite sleeping on the Inca terraces

My favourite campsite sleeping on the Inca terraces

Choququirao trek camping on the Incan terraces

Choququirao trek camping on the Incan terraces

Day 4: Pinchiunuyocc to the Maizal Campsite

The day started with a gorgeous 70 minute descent to the Rio Blanco past moss-covered trees, cacti and grasses. Then the climbing started – three hours of non-stop huffing and puffing. Camp for the night was about halfway up the mountain in the photo below. The backdrop was stunning – and since it was the home of a local family we also got treated to roosters crowing right outside our tent at 4 AM. Trips to the bathroom involved avoiding the pigs. 

With a short day of hiking we all had time to get clothes washed – and dried – along with a few hours of much needed R&R.

Looking ahead to our route switchbacking up the mountain

Looking ahead to our route switch-backing up the mountain

A really pretty descent to the Rio Blanco

A really pretty descent to the Rio Blanco

The only big insect we saw on the whole trek

The only big insect we saw on the whole trek

It pays to stop looking at your feet

It pays to stop looking at your feet

Stunning vistas if you took the time to stop

Stunning vistas if you took the time to stop

Our whole group after a meet and greet

Our whole group after a meet and greet

Chicken eyeing me in my tent

Chicken eyeing me in my tent

Day 5: Maizal Campsite to Yanama

It took us four hours of hiking, much of it through jungle-like vegetation to reach Yanama Pass at 4125 metres. Near the top we stopped both to admire the view and to check out Victoria Mines. Tunnels dug into the mountain used by the Incas are still very much in evidence.

Yanama Pass is magnificent – the highlight of the trek for me. Not only are the views of glacier-covered peaks outstanding, but the vegetation and wildflowers added a uniqueness to the high alpine setting. We enjoyed a long break here, learning about how local grasses found at elevation are woven and eventually made into bridges. Though the pass was a highlight, the descent through a veritable botanical garden filled with blooming lupine trees was a close second.

A late lunch in camp after about seven hours of hiking included a roasted whole sheep (cooked beneath coals in the ground), fava beans, potatoes, salads and even more. Then there was time to explore the pretty village. It was obvious there wasn’t much money around, but every house in the community boasted colourful pots of flowers.

Starting off in dense cloud forest

Starting off in dense cloud forest

Hard work for the horses

Hard work for the horses

Heading to Victoria Pass at 4125m

Heading to Victoria Pass at 4125m

One of the prettiest passes I've ever crossed

One of the prettiest passes I’ve ever crossed

These "poached egg" flowers were abundant at the pass

These “poached egg” flowers were abundant at the pass

The backside of the pass was like walking was like walking through a botanical garden

The backside of the pass was like walking through a botanical garden

Dramatic narrowing of the trail

Dramatic narrowing of the trail

Sheep cooked in coals for a late lunch

Sheep cooked in coals for a late lunch

Day 6: Yanama to Totora

Another pass was in store for us today. The hike started easily with a pretty walk along a road – past more lupine trees and wildflowers. Once we hit the end of the valley, the hard work started. It took us five hours from camp to reach the pass at 4660 m and while it wasn’t remotely as pretty as Victoria Pass, it felt like an accomplishment to make it. I didn’t realize that a road crossed the pass. The road resembled a vacuum cleaner hose – all curves on both sides of the pass. Over the few hours we were in the area we never saw a car going over the pass. 

Our G Adventures crew had lunch set up just down from the pass. I think we all gave a collective sigh of relief to sit and eat after a tough morning of hiking. From lunch we still had thousands of feet to descend but for once my legs felt like they had some juice. It only took me six days to get acclimatized and into shape!

Day 6 on the Choquequirao trek starts off more easily than most days

Day 6 on the Choquequirao trek starts off more easily than most days

Back into the lupins

Back into the lupins

Just me and the lupins

Just me and the lupins

 

Count the hairpin turns on this road

Yanama Pass at 4660 m is not the prettiest one I've crossed

Yanama Pass at 4660 m is not the prettiest one I’ve crossed

It's a quick walk to our lunch stop along the road

It’s a quick walk to our lunch stop along the road

4000' feet of descent to get to camp

It’s a 4000 foot descent to camp and a pretty one at that

Day 7: Totora to La Playa

We say goodbye to any semblance of cold weather and head into a sub-tropical valley. The hike today is another long one – about 24 km – but its mostly downhill. I loved our breaks where we gorged on passionfruit. The one negative was that suddenly the hike was busier with groups from other treks showing up. 

The pass we'd cross the day before is in the background

The pass we’d cross the day before is in the background

Break time now included freshly picked passion fruit

Break time now included freshly picked passion fruit

Day 8: La Playa to Aguas Calientes

I thought the final day was going to be a quick, easy one. But it wasn’t. However we did stop early on in the hike at a local shade-grown coffee house. We were treated to a cup of freshly roasted and ground coffee that was absolutely delicious. A giant bowl of guacamole – the best I’ve ever eaten was also produced so we were well-fueled to deal with the steep part of the hike.

By the time we finished climbing we were at a place that offered a fabulous though distant view of Machu Picchu. In some ways I preferred it over the up-close and personal experience at Machu Picchu but that’s a future blog post.

The final descent was a steep one. Several people fell so it paid to be cautious. The actual trek itself finished at a train station where we grabbed some lunch before hopping on a train to Aquas Caliente.

After all the hard work of eight days of hiking the end felt anti-climactic as it so often does. I’m really happy I did this trek, despite the difficulty.

A stop at a shade grown coffee plantation for a cup of freshly roasted & ground coffee

A stop at a shade grown coffee plantation for a cup of freshly roasted & ground coffee

There were lots of dogs like this one I wanted to take home with me

There were lots of dogs like this one I wanted to take home with me

Several hours of very steep climbing on the last day of the trek

Several hours of very steep climbing on the last day of the trek

Pretty sweet view of Machu Picchu behind me and not a soul to mar the view

Pretty sweet view of Machu Picchu behind me and not a soul to mar the view

And then its steeply down, down, down

And then its steeply down, down, down

We can taste the finish of the Choquequirao trek at this point

We can taste the finish of the Choquequirao trek at this point

The Hidroelectrica train station

The Hidroelectrica train station

Highlights of the Choquequirao trek

The G Adventures staff were fully invested in making the trip the best it could be. Freddie the chef did an excellent job cooking. The horsemen worked unbelievably hard and were always smiling. Both trail guides were helpful and Ooh-La-la was especially kind to me. 

Every day on trek offered some unexpected highlight – including an amazing cup of freshly ground and brewed coffee along with the best guacamole of my life to a freshly made Pisco Sour on the last night.

Amazed at what the cooks could whip up in the camp setting

Amazed at what the cooks could whip up in the camp setting

Most of the horses had beautiful halters made for them like this one

Most of the horses had beautiful halters made for them like this one – and the horses have two week breaks between trips

I have such respect for the hard-working horsemen

I have such respect for the hard-working horsemen

What I wasn’t a fan of on the trek

There were a few improvements I think could and should be made.

I’d add a portable bathroom in a private tent so people literally don’t have some guy washing dishes right outside the bathroom door on the first night – especially as there was only one toilet for probably about 30 people. Some of the other bathrooms weren’t great – but this one was the worst.

Be prepared to have a sponge bath as most of the showers are on the dodgy side. Don’t forget waterproof sandals if you opt for a shower as you definitely don’t want to step on the floor.

I think most of us were surprised at the heat – and at how early we had to get up so we could beat it. If you’re reading this blog you now know about it but a little heads up would have been great.

Most days on the trek ended with lunch at the camp we’d stay at for the night. Usually that would be after 6- 7 hours of hiking. I am a fan of enjoying the hiking journey – and stopping for lunch on route. I would have much preferred to stop for 45 minutes somewhere with a view and a packed lunch. This is the first trek of any I’ve been on that handled lunch in this manner. But some people didn’t mind – so take this observation as mine alone.

Line-up for the less than private bathroom

Line-up for the less than private bathroom

I am personally not a fan of staying in busy semi-permanent camps. Give me the wilderness any day – or the Inca terraces which were a huge improvement over the camp on the first night.

Our first camp was way too busy for my liking

Our first camp was way too busy for my liking

If you’re interested in testing your lung capacity and your mettle on an 8 day hike to Machu Picchu you can read the fine print on the G Adventures website.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The 8 day Choquequiarao trek to Machu Picchu

Thank you to both Prom Peru and G Adventures for making this trip possible.

Leigh

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Great, another amazing place ruined, because a travel writer just has to let the world know all about it. G Adventures, or GAP as they used be be called are quick to exploit so many places for buck, looks like their exploiting here as well. This is the same GAP Adventures, based in Toronto who sank a ship off Antarctica in 2007, it was the Captains first voyage in charge. Thankfully everyone survived, the company changed their name to G Adventures soon after. Sorry but I’m old school, why can’t people just research it on their own, go there and experience and enjoy such a place. Why do we need to brag to the world of our accomplishments? Maybe in a few years they’ll build an airport there just like the Peruvian government is planning for Machu Picchu, then you won’t need to “rough it” as much.
    My wife and I hiked the trail 5 yrs ago over 5 days, with one guide. We learned about Choquequirao from books, studying maps and talking to friends in Peru. On the trek we met a group of students studying tourism, that was it, we were the only foreigners. I wish people could just keep places like this to themselves. If you really want out of the way, off the beaten track, you can still find them, you just need to work at it.

    1. @Randy Thank you for your comment. To clarify I was a guest of G Adventures and I can tell you from what I saw and experienced that I came away impressed with their commitment to hire only locals and to assist in the development of the local economy. I noted on trek that all food was local. Also their charitable organization – Planterra does an incredible job in the Sacred Valley (and on projects around the world.) They have programs that I saw first hand; one was a women’s weaving co-op that allows local women to sell traditional textiles. Another was the Parwa Community Restaurant that offers a farm to table program which in turn has boosted the local economy and spun off several microenterprises.

      I have been FORTUNATE like you to travel the world. Much of the time I do what you do and research and do trips that take me well away from people – mostly without a guide. Some of those trips over the last 25 years are busy now; cue the Manaslu trek in Nepal that opened in 1995 and is now a teahouse route; we didn’t see a single soul on the Cordillera Blanca trek in 1999 and I can only think its crazy busy now. The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island sells out in minutes. Is that all G Adventures or is that a mostly affluent group of travelers and millennials that prefer experiences to possessions?
      Wishing you many more excellent adventures.
      Leigh

      1. You’ve chosen to take the high road on this post, kudos for that. From what you’ve written, I commend the giving back attitude and empowering the local people. The popularity of Choquequirao will only grow and grow, but by the actions of responsible tour providers, negative impacts can be reduced and the local communities can ensure money is kept in their communities. Like yourself and many others, we have seen so many examples of both bad tourists and questionable providers in action, the world over. So when someone is both ethical and sensitive to the locals and location, it should be appreciated and acknowledged.

        It’s the internet age, I’d be a fool to think hidden gems and secret locations would stay just that, hidden away from all but a lucky few. People will seek out, find and venture to every remote corner of the planet, just like we have always done. I come off with a sense of arrogance and entitlement thinking no one else should venture to somewhere like Choqeuquiero, especially as a tour.

        I show my age when I say I miss the old days and ways of travelling and backpacking. In my mind I romanticize it, but truth be told it was bloody hard some days, but that makes for the best memories now! I’d be lying if I were to say I don’t enjoy wifi access from a hostel or being able to talk to my kids while travelling. Today, technology is both a blessing and a curse.

        At the end of the day, I guess it’s how we travel and represent ourselves; is it all about an instagram moment or truly being mesmerized by somewhere or something so special and powerful. It was here long before us, let’s make sure it stays that way after we visit. I hope people will travel lightly and respectfully in these sacred places.

        1. I’m getting ready to do this hike in 2 weeks. Friends who live in Peru said there are still very few people who come to this place.

          I’m pumped.

          Tracy

  2. Such a beautiful place to visit. And most importantly choquequirao trek is very beautiful. Never heard about this trek to machu picchu. I would like to visit this place. Which month would be perfect to visit this place?

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