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Choquequierao, the alternate to the Inca Trail

Jul 9, 2004 (Updated Dec 15, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:great scenery, not touristy, very inexpensive

Cons:trail is being decimated (and defecated on!), not maintained, and is being badly eroded.

The Bottom Line: Great trail, but in serious need of management. A great alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Introduction: Many of you have heard of the Inca Trail , a very popular hike in the mountains of Peru. There is a relatively new trail through this region, and it is the hike to the lost city of Choquequierao. This trail is 20 miles in one direction, or 40 miles round trip, and takes a total of 4 days. This comes out to an average of 10 miles per day. This is rather difficult to maintain, and the trail covers a total of 5 vertical miles (for every 8 miles you cover, you ascend or descend 1 mile (5,280 feet). You can also continue on to Machu Picchu, but that trip takes a total of 8 days (I’m not sure of the distance), and is even more difficult.

Background: Choquequierao was the last stand of the Incas. They fled to this city after their stronghold of Machu Picchu was discovered, and the Spanish followed them here and destroyed them.

An alternate to the Inca Trail: The Inca Trail is trekked on by 500 people daily (the maximum allowed by a law passed in 2000), and 1000 people visit Machu Picchu (The end of the 35 mile long Inca Trail) daily. United Nations evaluators just recommended that Machu Picchu be placed on a list of endangered world sites. It is now impossible to go to Cuzco (the city in Peru that is the starting point for either of Inca Trail or the hike to Choquequierao) and go on the Inca Trail. Now, reservations must be made months (if not weeks) in advance, and you must be accompanied by a tour guide. The hike to Choquequierao is now offered by every tour agency in Cuzco. It is cheap to go on if you do it right (see below!), but the trails are not maintained and the area will soon be decimated worse than the Inca Trail since there is literally no official oversight.

How to get to Choquequierao: There are two ways to do the trip. First, and easiest, you can hire a tour in Cuzco. As mentioned, you can blindly enter any tourist place and get a tour here. You will probably even be propositioned on the street for a tour here. These tours are expensive. Second, and what I did, was to take a bus from Cuzco toward Abancay. The bus costs $3 and takes about 3 hours. You will need to get off about 45 minutes before Abancay. Just tell the driver you need to go to Cachora and he will drop you off at a street in what appears to be the middle of no where. There, you wait for a taxi (about $5 per person) to take you the 16 kilometers (10 miles) to the city of Cachora, which is the point of departure for the trek.

What to do once you get to Cachora: In Cachora, you can hire a guide and mules ($6 per mule per day, plus $6 per day for the guide). It costs more if you need tents and food, but if you have these you’ll just pay the base rate. It is easy to find a guide and someone with mules (it’s the main business there). There are several sketchy tour guides in Cachora, but I recommend a good person who did much more than he had to in order to help me out. He runs a mule and guide service, charges the 20 soles (around $6) a day for each mule and himself, and his name is Amer Palomino Valdiglesias. It is a small town and everyone knows him. His card reads “Servicio Turistico de Asemila, Carga Y Montar”.

The town has a few good hostels/hotels, which are cheap and pretty safe. They should run you about $3 a night. The town also has a restaurant, which I must say has good food and a very friendly owner. You can also do what my three friends and I did after making it to this town, which was to just embark on the trail ourselves (with no guide or mules). We did find a map in Cuzco, which will of course be handy. We also had to carry all of our own gear for the 40 mile hike, which would have been on mules if we chose to rent them.

The hike itself: The hike was ridiculously difficult. On day 1, you are supposed to make it 15 kilometers, which is pretty hard at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet on your first day of hiking. We passed a few people who had all their stuff on mules who were having a hard time on the hike. We had 40 pounds on our back, and that made things a little more difficult. We stopped 4 kilometers short of the 15 km target because we couldn’t make it. I didn’t think day 2 would be harder, but it was. On day 2, we had to walk up a mountain at a 40 degree angle for about 4 hours, and then walk 5 or 6 miles around the mountain side (still a lot of ups and downs) to the ruin site. The hike was beautiful, but the ruins (I don’t know what I was expecting) were very small, about 20 times smaller than those at Machu Picchu. They were not disappointing, though. We slept at the top of the mountain on the second night. On day 3, which was the hardest day of the hike thus far, we made it about 20 kilometers. That night I was puking because of fatigue, and two other members of my party (there were only 4 of us) were not doing so well either. On day 4, we hiked the remaining 13 km back to town, and made it back to Cuzco that afternoon.
The ruins: The ruins were magnificent. There was a housing complex made up of five main buildings, a large ceremonial bath, and a very large lookout field that had a panoramic view of the mountains and all the ruins in the area. There was also some other miscellaneous buildings that I wasn’t quite certain of their purpose.

Condition of the Trail: The condition of the trail is deplorable. The Inca Trail, roughly 30 miles (as the crow flies), is under strict control but is still in bad shape. The trail to Choquequierao is not controlled and in much worse condition. Roughly 10 people make this trek a day. There are approximately two mules for each of these people, plus about 30 mules and horses from the locals. All of these animals (plus people) defecate on the trail whenever they want. The odor of these piles of dung on the trail are unbearable at times, and rather constant until you get to the actual ruins. Sometimes you are walking on very cushiony terrain only to find that you are walking on dry mule dung. Aside from this one issue, there are no efforts to maintain the trail. The only control for the entire trip is one guy up at the ruins that collects 10 soles per person to enter the ruin site. He is very friendly, too.

Related Links

An excellent map of the region.
An identification guide to trees/shrubs/flowers in this region.
Tips on being safe in the region.

The absolutely most important item for this hike is bug spray. Anything with a lot of DEET with do the job, anything less is simply not sufficient. Bug spray MUST be bought in Cuzco, as it cannot be found even in neighboring towns. I saw people who sustained 50 bites on each leg and arm. I resorted to crushing up coca leaves (which acts as a local anesthetic) to treat the bites of myself and my closest friend.

Recommend this product? No

Best Suited For: Friends
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug

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