The Choquequirao trek is an adventure in the truest sense of the word. The Choquequirao archeological site sits quite high on Quriwayrachina with steep valleys on all sides. Start into the valley on this Inca Trail alternative, and come downpour, sore left foot, or fatigue of any kind, you’ve still got to get back up the other side.
I’m going to be honest. The trek to Choquequirao is hard as hell, but you already know that the coolest experiences usually are. While the trek is at low altitude, a 1,500m descent into the valley followed by an 1,800m climb means there are no easy days. Take on the Choquequirao trek without a guide (or especially without mules), and you’re in for an even bigger challenge. But, struggle through the tough parts, and you’ll get to experience an unbothered route to Machu Picchu and the rarely-explored ruins of Choquequirao in practical solitude. Trust me. That part is worth it.
I toughed out the trek in December 2016. Here’s everything I learned, and what you ought to know for the Choquequirao Trek in Peru.
What is the Choquequirao Trek?
The Choquequirao trek is the 4-day to 9-day trek in the Vilcanota mountain range. The 4-day route will take you steeply into the Apurimac canyon, up the other side to the Choqeuquirao Ruins, and back out the same way. The longer Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu takes you down and out of the canyon through Choquequirao, then along trails that eventually link with the Salkantay to Machu Picchu.
For undisturbed scenery plucked straight out of nature docs, I’d say that the Choquequirao trek is by far the best Inca Trail alternative.
The Choquequirao Trekking route
Wondering which route to take? You can experience the ruins at Choquequirao on your own, or take the Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu. Below you’ll find the two most common routes, but you can adjust the route depending on your schedule or level of fitness.
The Shortest Route | Cachora > Cachora via Choquequirao | 4 Days
Day 1: Catch a taxi from Cachora to the Mirador to save yourself from trekking 13km along the road. Arrive at the Capuliyoc Mirador, and start the steep descent into Apurimac Canyon. You can choose to stop at the Playa Rosalina campsite just before the bridge but venture further to Santa Rosa Baja or Santa Rosa Alta (5-7 hours) to make the next day easier on yourself. Day 2: Today is a tough climb, with 13km of steep uphill between you and the ruins of Choquequirao. The trail is full of switchbacks and false summits, but eventually, you’ll reach a flag and the small town of Marampata (4-5 hours). From here, it’s a mostly gradual path towards Choquequirao (1.5 hours). If you’ve got energy to spare, spend the afternoon wandering the ruins. You can set up camp in Marampata or at the campsite located within Choquequirao. Day 3: Wake up early to continue exploring the ruins, or set off back the way you came. The downhill back to the river is tiresome and will take quite a bit of energy. Continue past the river to the Chiquisca campsite (8-9 hours) and rest up for the grueling uphill back to the mirador. Day 4: Begin your ascent to the Mirador with a series of steep switchbacks (2 hours). Once you arrive, I recommend a well-deserved beer before an easy downhill hike to Cachora (2 hours) or short taxi ride.
** I didn’t do the full Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek myself, so these distances are based on estimates and a bit of research**
Day 1: Catch a taxi from Cachora to the Mirador to save yourself from trekking 13km along the road. Arrive at the Capuliyoc Mirador, and start the steep descent into Apurimac Canyon. You can choose to stop at the Playa Rosalina campsite just before the bridge but venture further to Santa Rosa Baja or Santa Rosa Alta (5-7 hours) to make the next day easier on yourself. Day 2: Today is a tough climb, with 13km of steep uphill between you and the ruins of Choquequirao. The trail is full of switchbacks and false summits, but eventually, you’ll reach a flag and the small town of Marampata (4-5 hours). From here, it’s a mostly gradual path towards Choquequirao (1.5 hours). If you’ve got the energy to spare, spend the afternoon wandering the ruins. You can set up camp in Marampata or at the campsite located within Choquequirao. Day 3: Wake up early to continue exploring the ruins. Once you’re finished, you’ll climb over a ridge and make a steep descent to Rio Blanco (6 hours). Day 4: Make the challenging ascent to Maizal with a series of switchbacks and a big leap in altitude. Continue further on to the Victoria Mines before setting up camp in Pajonal (5 hours). Day 5: Climb for an hour towards Abra San Juan pass before a long descent through Yanama where you set up camp for the night (4 hours). Day 6: After a light day of trekking through Quellqua Machay valley, you’ll reach the high point of the Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu. Travel along Inca Trails until you join up with the Salktantay Trek at Colpapampa (about 8 hours). Day 7: The village of La Playa is about 12km from Colpapampa (7 hours), and makes for a nice resting spot, fully equipped with snacks, drinks, and hot springs. Day 8: This is the final stretch of the trek, and you’ll ascend along an Inca Trail to the ruins of Llacapacta. You will get an exclusive view of Machu Picchu before heading down to Hydroelectrica where you’ll catch a train up to Aguas Calientes. Day 9: Get a super early start (4 am if you can bear it) to join the bus line to Machu Picchu. Spend the day exploring the ruins, and don’t forget to book your return train ticket to Cusco or Ollantaytambo!
Guide or No Guide?
Unlike the Inca Trail, it is possible to do the Choquequirao Trek without a guide. That being said, the Choquequirao trek is recognized as one of the most difficult treks in Peru. You should make an honest assessment of your fitness (or sanity) before going it alone. I opted to do the trek independently, but that option might not be best for everyone.
Guided Choquequirao Tours from Cusco ($500-$1,500+ per person):
Most operators that run the Salkantay to Machu Picchu will also offer the less famed Choquequirao Trek. The guided trek should include roundtrip transport from Cusco to Cachora, a guide, a muleteer + mule, necessary camping equipment, and food. Departures are less frequent than the other Inca Trail alternatives, but you should be able to find tours from $500 (for the short route) or $1,500+ (to Machu Picchu). Companies offering the trek are Choquequirao Trek, Choquequirao Trail, and Apus Peru, though I can’t personally vouch for their offering.
Guided Choquequirao Tours from Cachora ($250+):
If you’ve already got your camping gear and just want a guide or muleteer for the trail, you can easily find them in Cachora. If you hire a muleteer for an independent trek, it is usually expected that you share your meals and pay for the time it takes them to return back to Cachora after the trek. Prices and inclusions vary.
Choquequirao Trek without a Guide ($150+):
The trail to Choquequirao is incredibly easy to follow, so a guide is mostly just nice for the company and logistics. If you go independently, you’ll need to make arrangements for your own tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and rain cover, at a minimum. I also recommend bringing cooking equipment (camp stove, utensils, food) as I had trouble finding food along the trail. You’ll pay out of pocket for your park entrance and transport. Going the trail without a guide is by far the cheapest option, with an independent Choquequirao trek going for about $150. You can check out my detailed cost breakdown for the Choquequirao trek solo at the end of this post.
Choquequirao Campsites & Where to Find Them
At the time of writing, there were six campsites between Cachora and Choquequirao. The campsites are surprisingly well-maintained, and many of them have bathrooms, running water, and a place to buy simple meals. You’re also likely to find small shops where you can buy snacks, soda, and even beer that are open in the evenings. Please note: this list does not include campsites en route to Machu Picchu
- Cachora (0 km): The starting point is a small town with hotels, restaurants, and plenty of food stores.
- Chiquisca (19 km): Free campsite just before a rough descent to the river with basic facilities and simply cooked food for purchase.
- Playa Rosalina (21 km): Free campsite next to the river with beautiful views, fire pits, bathrooms, and a very basic food store.
- Santa Rosa Baja (24km): Paid campsite with basic bathrooms and nice views. Located next to a hut selling food and simple meals.
- Santa Rosa Alta (25 km): A free campsite just up the hill from Santa Rosa Baja with clean facilities and simply cooked meals.
- Marampata (28 km): A [very] small town with several campsites, stores for buying food, and even a tiny hotel!
A Choquequirao Trek Cost Breakdown (4 Days / 2 People)
It’s important you come prepared if you’re doing the Choquequirao Trek solo. I bought and rented everything I needed in Cusco, but some basic supplies are also available in Cachora. I’ve heard you can buy food on the trail during high season, but it was nearly impossible to find open shops in low season.
Below, you’ll find all the gear and food I bought for the 4-day trek (not including Machu Picchu) for two people.
Total Cost for the Choquequirao Trek: $156
Transport from Cusco to Cachora (>$25): You can expect to pay S/6 ($1.75) for the taxi to the bus station from Central Cusco. From there, it’s S/30 ($9) for the bus to Abancay, but ask to get out at Ramal de Cachora. It will cost you S/5 ($1.50) for the collectivo or S/30 ($9) for the taxi to Cachora. Be prepared to bargain as the taxis and collectivo drivers can be a little scheisty along this route.
Camping Equipment Rental(>$60): I took care of our gear rental in Cusco at Rosly. The gear was in excellent condition, and available for pickup just a couple of hours after I ordered it. Check out this post on Where to Rent Gear in Cusco for more info on prices and location.
Food (>$30): Food is supposedly available for purchase along the trail, but I usually found that the shops and kitchens were closed. Unless you can go four days without eating, I recommend bringing most of the food you’ll need. For a two-person trek, I carried: 4 liters of water ($2), 4x ramen noodles ($1.50), 2 cans of tuna ($3), 1 loaf of bread ($1), cooked rice ($1), penne noodles ($.50), 8 tamales ($3), 1 packet of peanut butter ($3), 1 packet of jam ($.50), cut broccoli and carrots ($1), 4 apples ($2), 1 packet of soup ($.50), protein powder ($1), 4 boiled eggs ($2), 6 packets of cookies ($2), condiments ($1), peanuts ($2), raisins ($1) and instant coffee ($1). All these ingredients were cheap and locally available. I highly recommend renting a cook stove, as you’ll be pretty desperate for cooked meals at the end of the day.
** If you’re continuing on to Machu Picchu, entry is S/152 ($44.50) including Huaynapicchu. You MUST book tickets ahead of time. You’ll also need to arrange your return train from Aguas Calientes through PeruRail or IncaRail. **
Mule Hire (optional $35): The hardest part of the trek by far is carrying your own gear. If you want to rent a mule + muleteer, the cost per day is around S/ 30, and you’re expected to share your food with them. Decide if you want one when you begin the trek in Cachora! I tried to rent one on the final ascent of our trek, and there were none to be found.
Transport from Cachora to Cusco (>$25): S/5 ($1.50) for the collectivo to Abancay, S/30($9) for the bus to Cusco, S/6 ($1.75) for the taxi back to the city center.
Where to Stay In Cachora
Need a place to stay before your trek? There are just a couple of hotels in Cachora.
CasaNostra Choquequirao | CasaNostra Choquequirao is the best accommodation in Cachora by a landslide. While the simply furnished hotel is a bit outside of the center, the attractive surrounds and friendly staff make up for it. Double rooms start from $35.
Inka Dream | There’s not much dreamy about the Inka Dream. You’ll want to check out your room in advance and go in without high expectations for service. That being said, the basic hotel is one of the only properties in Cachora which will keep the rooms booked for the time being. Double rooms start from $40.
Thanks to the guys behind Effortless Digital for their advice before the trek!
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