Choquequirao is another huge Inca city thought to be larger than Machu Picchu. Only 40% uncovered it is much more remote and receives fewer visitors due to the tough trek to get there which involves a steep decent of 1500 metres to a river and then a steep ascent of 1500 metres. Generally the trek is then repeated to get out. The valley is hot and full of mosquitos and it’s not an easy task, or so I was told. Renzo our guide on the Salankaty said if that was a 3 in difficulty then Choquequirao was a 4. I had wanted to take a guide on the trek as it seemed like a challenge but after speaking to several agencies I was told there were no tours. I contacted some Facebook groups and took advice from blogs and took the decision to go solo. It’s recommended that you hire a mule but to keep costs down I decided to carry everything, which to be fair everyone that I met hiking solo also did.
I arrived back from Urubamba around 2pm and had to sort everything for the trek the next day. I headed to the main bus terminal and purchased a ticket to Ramal de Cachora, all busses going to Abancay from Cusco will pass there. After I went to several supermarkets, the market and Rosly to hire camping equipment. I was all sorted in around 3 hours and met up with Jaz, Sam, Alice and Ennio for a coffee before they all left the city.
As I’d essentially brought sugar and carbs for the trek I went to Jack’s for dinner. Last time I was there I saw they did a chicken soup which had a lot of vegetables so thought I’d get them in before the trek. The waiter told me he used to be a guide on the trek and the first time he did it he cried. It nearly came to that for me but we will come to that later. He was impressed I was doing it solo and said I’d see the real Perú. And you know. By the time I returned to Cusco I think I had.
I returned to the hostel, repacked my bags again and had an early night. In the morning i headed to the bus station for my 9:15 bus and we headed to my destination. There was a salesman on the bus for the first hour who I think was selling powdered vitamins that you add to food as some kind of miracle cure. I have no idea what he said but it seemed to work as people brought the powder.
After about 4 hours I found myself at the side of the road in Ramal, a small clutch of restaurants by the side of the road and a couple of taxi drivers. I was charged 20 soles to reach my hostel and took it as I couldn’t see much transport but if you have time you could always try waiting for a collectivo. I did see some on the way back but they were not regular.
I arrived at the hostel and for now was the only guest and I think I found my happy place. I tested out my camping equipment as it was the first time I’d had space and then relaxed in a hammock and soaked up the view.
As it got dark I spoke to the hostel owners about last minute advice and it turned out that I needn’t have brought my own food, for which I silently cursed as it’s heavy and would have saved me hiring gas and a stove. The owner was kind enough to draw me a map and to set out a four day route.I had one final meal of lasagne and decided to finish packing for the trek and to take an early night. As I finished dinner a couple returned from the trek and they gave me some more advice and told me not to take the food to lighten the bag. I took the food and without water it weighed in at 13kg.
I awoke around 6am, had breakfast and took a taxi, 30 soles, for the first 11km if the trek, which is a road and you can hike if you want, to the trail head. Here I was left on my own but a French couple and four Peruvians started at the same time.
There is a 500 metre walk along the cliff until the first mirador where you have to sign in, which made me happy, and then the down starts. For the first few kilometres we jostled for places which was a little annoying as I wanted to walk at my own speed and the idea of doing the hike is that there are not many people but i was also very happy to have the company. As with any long distance trek eventually we all became separated.
I was already really happy I’d decided to do this. The scenery was beautiful in the valley with the hostel and only for better during the drive and at the beginning of the trek. The only sad thing is that it was a little hazy but I’d take that to see more mountains. The descent was steep for the beginning and there is no way to sugar coat this. I really wasn’t sure how I’d get back up again but that was future David’s problem so for now I concentrated in getting down safely and reaching the river.
There is a bird watching view point 2km only the trail. You can actually see it in the above pictures if you look hard. I still had energy so decided to skip it and the path settled down for a while. I pushed on to te next viewpoint which is 4km and chatted to the Peruvians a little here before deciding to push on.
The first camp was not much further and after this was a small stream where I decided to stop and put my faith in my life straw. It seems to have worked fine.
As I approached the camp I saw the first tour with horses. There are a fair few horses and mules on the path as it’s the only way to get supplies to the villages on the route and we saw a lot on the road when I was in the taxi. Which reminds me of you do see horses stay on the side of the path that is away from the cliff edge as they have been known to knock people off. This was the first tour i saw and I was going to see more. Part of me was upset I’d decided to go alone as I was already exhausted and hurting from the bag but another part wanted to complete the challenge alone.
I saw a bunch of signs on the trek, most notably the one for avalanches which was heartwarming. I also like the mile markers, well kilometre markers but it didn’t have the same ring to it. I’ve no idea what the skull sign means, probably death, but my fave was the do as I say not as I do sign that told me not to lean. I’m assuming the translation is wrong somewhere.
After the first camp the path is fairly flat for around 1.5km before a tonne of switchbacks kick in and the path gets really steep again. I’m not sure if the photos show how high up I was but there was a long way to go down.
The next camp is around 3 km further from the second and has a nice shaded area for you to relax in. On the way down I didn’t stop as I’d stopped at a second stream for water about 5 mins before. There were two water sources on the way down and they were both between the first two camps.
It was another 2.5 km to the river and there was another set of switchbacks to navigate. I think these are possibly the longest and steepest as they hit me hard on the way back. I crossed the bridge and found a shady spot to have lunch. And by lunch I mean eat my trail mix, which was essentially sweets. This is why I like hiking.
It took 3 hours to walk down, I started around 8:15 am and reached the river around 11:15. It was really hot in the valley and the heat kicked in big time about halfway down. This is something to factor in to your hike as the first down side has sun all day long and it will hit you on the way back up. I waited until my shade had disappeared and took a lot of photos of the bridge and started to head up the mountain at 11:40.
I think this initial climb is possibly the hardest things I’ve ever done. When the hostel owner drew the map the line for the down side was a nice declining angle and the up side was drawn much steeper. That’s because on one side it’s a 9km walk and on the other it’s 6km and the altitude change is roughly the same, 1500 metres.
By now the Sun was beating down on this side of the river, my water was hot and didn’t quench any first and I was exhausted by the time I reached the end of the first switchback. It was steep, my bag was heavy and I was already tired. I only had two kilometres to go so I decided to adopt a policy of four switchbacks, rest, four switchbacks, rest. The first camp was 2 km up and Santa Rosa Alta my destination was only another 800 metres so even if I only climbed 50 metres at a time I had plenty of time to make it up. It honestly got to the point where my lungs felt like they were on fire and I was willing myself for the last five metres to get to the end of the switchback before I collapsed. It felt like an age to get my breath back each time and I was going really slowly.
But a funny thing happens when you walk, each foot you out in front of the other gets you closer to the destination and eventually you arrive. I finally saw the sign for the first camp and had 200 metres to go. I couldn’t make it in one stretch but I arrived and brought some much needed water. As a consequence of all this I didn’t take too many photos on the way up.
In the above shot you can see the path on the first mountain that I’d descended. I rested and some of the horsemen tried to speak to me in Spanish. I’d actually made it there in less than 90 minutes which is not bad considering how hard is found the climb. I continued up to Santa Rosa Alta only having to stop a few more times. It was easier going for some reason. Annoyingly I found the camp deserted and the next camp was another 3km. It was only about 1:40 at this stage and I had time but I wasn’t sure I’d make it so decided to go back to Santa Rosa where I pitched my tent and collapsed and fell asleep.
I awoke to lots of noise around me and suddenly the camp site was full of people and a hive of activity. Several tours had shown up and the cooks were busy setting everything up. I made a mental note to get up early, cooked my super noodles and pepperoni and had an early night. But not before watching the clear sky’s for the stars which I finally got a chance to see. As I got into the tent my foot got caught and in the struggle I managed to rip part of the tent off that held a tent peg. I found everything and it was easily fix but if it rained tonight I’d be screwed.
I awoke at 5am determined to leave and get ahead of the tours and started up an empty path. I had a 4 km climb ahead of me and was able to take full advantage of the morning shade. It was much easier going than the day before but sill I had to stop every four switchbacks. My bag was slightly lighter and I was fresher which helped. There were two more water sources on the way up and I stopped at both to refill.
Eventually I managed to reach the top and was pleased to discover it only took two hours. The Sun was out by this point and the views were beautiful. I found my camp and stored my bag, having a rest and buying a litre of fresh water which I drank half and would later regret not buying more.
All I had between me and Choquequirao was 3.5 km of what I’d read was a fairly flat trail. It’s not flat people so brace yourself for more ups and downs.
As I left the village i turned a corner and there was a small group of people taking photos. Already I was excited and you could see the ruins front his point.
It’s another kilometre to the ticket office, where you have to sign in and pay the entrance fee of 60 soles. From here it’s at least another 2 km along the winding trail the he site-although it depends on where you go. I was given the option to go up and down and having seen the size of the site and realising I could spend all day here I cursed myself for not bribing more water. I decided to head up to the plaza which meant I could visit the lower parts later and not have to do a big climb all in one go.
And then I arrived. After meeting some Americans, Germans and one of the tour guides I’d met the day before who all gave me some great advice.
Upon reaching the plaza there must have been less than 10 people and I felt as if we were in this exclusive club that had made it to this magical place in the andes. This would change later as more people showed up but I can’t imagine that more than 70 people visited in this day. The last British people to visit was 10 days ago, so guys do this and don’t let the side down!
I explored the plaza and chatted with some of the other tourists.
And then of course it was time to head up. When I reached the top i was completely alone and I stopped to enjoy the tranquility of the ruins. I was joined by a German lady and we chatted for a while. After she left I tried to go higher but found my path blocked.
So I took a load of pictures of this tree that for some reason I really liked.
There was another hill with a fortification that I climbed up to. From here it was possible to spot the snowy peaks amoungst the clouds.
On the other side of the hill there is something called the Llama terraces. The Germans who I had met said they were worth visiting. I met the guide and group I’d got chatting to the day before and they said it wasn’t too far down. It looked pretty far but I wanted to go to the viewing platform I’d seen from above. It was really steep going down and I didn’t quite realise why it was called the llama terraces until I sat on the viewing platform. You can see for yourself in the photos below. It was hard work going back up, especially with the lack of water left, but eventually I made it.
Now i had run out of water I realised I needed to return back to the village. I wanted to see more of the ruins first so I took a quick sweep of the areas I’d not yet seen and then walked the 3.5km back to the town. It felt a lot harder than the Way there and there seem to be much more up than I remembered.
At the campsite l resupplied the water and ate. The lady who ran the camp site lent me a sewing needle so I could fix my tent. Afterwards I pitched it and had another early night.
I couldn’t decide the night before whether to walk all the way back the next day or to camp as suggested by the guides. I awoke at 6, having a lie in, and left camp at 7am. I had to walk a full 16km to get out and 12km to the campsite I had planned to stay at. The first 6km was downhill and I hiked back to Santa Rosa in an hour. That was 4km and took me 2 hours on the way up. The last part was steeper and I took another 40mins to reach the river and had a decent rest.
I braced myself for the up and as I saw the whole mountain was now in the sun I kicked myself for not leaving earlier. It was only 2.8km to the next camp so I set that as my goal. I started across the bridge and there was a gentle incline for a distance which was harder than I thought and then the first switchback hit me. It was probably the steepest is the day but not really what I needed to help me get into the hike. I had counted 16 switchbacks but there ended up being more and soon I was up and the path was less steep to reach the next camp. I can’t remember how many times I stopped but I arrived much sooner than I thought. My water was hot so I replenished with a new bottle and stayed here for 30 minutes recovering.
My final camp was just over 3 km away and up another high set of switchbacks. I decided to go for it as even at around 10am it was getting really hot. By the time I had made it up the switchbacks I could clearly see the next camp which was just over 1km away and because I was feeling so tired and walking slowly I thought I’d stay there for the day. When I arrived a dog barked at me and changed my mind. It was only 11:20am and I’d walked 12 km so far with a heavy backpack. I thought I’d I could complete the route by 2pm then I’d be fine and I had 4km remaining.
I replenished my water and set off at 12pm and by this point I’d gone slightly mad, talking to myself but just putting one foot in front of the other. I reached the top of the trail before 2pm and had been joined by a dog.
It was another 500 metres to walk back to the scattering of houses art eh start of the trail. There are a few shops/cafes and I chose one at random, ordering a coke. The lady ordered me a taxi which took nearly an hour to arrive, it’s a long way. We got chatting in Spanish. She was kind enough to speak really slowly and take the time to understand me. She let me go up on the roof to get better photos of the mountains and I showed her and her family photos of my trip. She had an older daughter and a younger daughter who was playing outside. At the end she gave me this Cóndor for luck for the rest of my trip.
I also took some photos of the mountains form the taxi. I returned to the hostel to meet the owner and she was surprised to see me so soon. I asked her advice on getting back to Cusco and took the taxi on to the main road. While there are collectivos you had to wait and it was at the point where it would be dark soon.
The taxi was dropped me on the main road, tried to give me the wrong change and left. And there I was standing by the side of the main road. It was quiet for a while and then a load of trucks passed and taxis. I was there for about 30 mins and it started getting cold and darker. A new grey car pulled up. I didn’t hear what was said but a lady in the cafe I was standing next to asked if I wanted to go to Cusco and indicated I should get in the car. So with that I decided I didn’t want to wait in the cold anymore.
I have since discovered all drivers are crazy in Peru. Thus man was driving from Lima to Cusco and seemed to be picking up passengers and dropping them off along the way. Did a while I thought I’d made a big mistake. He was nice but after showing me some, let’s just say interest Home made videos on his phone, I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. I decided that if I survived this journey then I could survive anything. There was one point when we stopped for food that I felt like I was in a movie and needed to escape. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to explain why I wanted my gag back, it was dark, I was in the middle of nowhere and he was going to Cusco so I decided to stay. After another hour 3 other people hit in who were going up Cusco so I felt safer and he did drop me off exactly where he said. Always trust in South America.
I returned to my hostel to get my things but it was booked out so I jumped in the taxi to another. By this time it was 9pm. I ended up in a dorm to myself, washed chAnged, went to McDonald’s and then to bed. It has been a long few days.