Trekking Choquequirao Without a Guide – Everything You MUST Know: A Backpacker’s Guide to Peru
It was a pitch dark, moonless night. I forced myself to take another step up the hill, when suddenly a long, wolfish howl echoed in the distance.
“I’ve seen the the Andean wolf,” I remembered a fellow backpacker informing me the previous night. My pupils widened, my heart was racing faster than an Olympic runner, and I was breathing heavier than an unacclimatized elephant in the Himalayas.
Going as slow as I was, I knew I had at least an hour and a half left of hiking up the steep mountain, and I had run out of water for the day.
Things were not going as planned, and I was worried that I was going to end up as dinner for the wolves by the end of the night.
Another step, followed by another closer howl. I started going faster, ignoring my body’s constant pleas for rest. I passed another curve, when suddenly I heard another howl and saw two eyes, shining into the night like fireflies, staring directly at me.
“Did you know that in Russia, if you’re hiking at night, instead of shouting your partner’s name you howl, and your partner is supposed to howl back?”
Goddamn it, Iris.
It was only Day 1.
The Choquequirao Trek
We’d heard many tall claims about the remote Incan ruins of Choquequirao. People had said that the site was the next Machu Picchu- bigger and more beautiful than the popular tourist attraction. We’d even heard talk of its mystical qualities.
Obviously, we had to investigate the little-explored mystery for ourselves.
Choquequirao is located in the mountains around the Apurímac valley in Peru, a two-day hike from the village of Cachora outside of Cusco. Currently, trekking is the only way to get there.
We won’t lie to you- this trek is very difficult. It has little, if any, flat parts, and alternates between steep uphill climbs and steep descents. The only flatter bits are not really flat, but “Inca flat”- less steep but always going slightly up and down. It also gets very hot during the day, which adds to the difficulty. The good news is that if you’ve done other hikes at high elevation, the altitude here won’t be a factor for you. The highest point in the trek is the archeological site at just over 3,000 m. Nevertheless, the hike itself is far from easy and you should be prepared for a challenge.
It is also possible to hike to Machu Picchu via Choquequirao. The trek takes nine days and with how difficult it was for us just to get to Choquequirao, we assume that only crazy people do the full route.
Trekking with a Guide
As usual, we first looked into doing the trek with a guide, but it was difficult to find groups leaving at the time we wanted. The few we did find were way too expensive for us (the cheapest we found was 250 USD/person).
Trekking with a guide might be a good idea if you have the extra cash. They’ll probably provide food and donkeys, which will save you a lot of the headache that we had to endure.
Trekking without a Guide
If, like us, you want to go it alone, PLEASE do yourself a favor and read this ENTIRE post VERY carefully.
We made many mistakes on this trek, and we want the next backpackers who brave this route to learn from them.
What follows is a detailed account of all of the ways in which we fucked up, with recommendations for what you should do instead if you want to do this hike without a guide.
At the bottom of the post you can find a summary of the itinerary and expenses.
Almost everyone does the Choquequirao trek in four days– two days there and two days back the same way. We had read on a popular Israeli travel site that it was possible to do it in three by taking a different route back. Not wanting to trek the same way and being on a time constraint, we decided to try out the unconventional way- Mistake #1 (if you want to know why, you can read the details here).
We rented all of the necessary gear and bought food in Cusco the day before we left. There are tons of camping gear rental stores around the Plaza de Armas, and a supermarket called Orion directly across from the San Pedro market. At the bottom of this post you can find a breakdown of all of our expenses before and during the trek. We rented the gear for four days instead of three because we had to take it the day before, since we were leaving early in the morning.
Day 1: Cachora – Santa Rosa
We got to the Cusco bus terminal just before 6:00am and immediately went to the first booth that we saw with buses going towards Abancay. Mistake #2. The bus didn’t leave until 7:30am, but we realized that there were plenty of other bus companies with different departure times. The earliest was 5:00am, but there were also departures at 6:00, 7:30, 10:00, and later. We ended up switching to a different company with a bus leaving at 6:00.
We asked the driver to drop us off at Ramal de Cachora. From the roadside where we disembarked, we took a cab to the village of Cachora. Our plan was to rent mules in the village to carry all of our gear. We had read the approximate prices on a few blog posts, but it turned out that the information was highly outdated.
The mules cost about 3 times more than what we were expecting- S85/day (S40 per mule and S45 for the muleteer). At the same time we also learned that there would be an entrance fee for the ruins (S60/person) and fees for the campsites (S5/person). We realized that we hadn’t brought enough cash to get back to Cusco after the trek and rent the mules (Mistake #3). There were no ATMs anywhere in the vicinity.
After some deliberation, we decided to do the trek anyway and carry all of our gear- Mistake #4. Even without having to carry all of your shit, this is an extremely strenuous trek. We HIGHLY recommend bringing enough money to rent mules.
We cut off the first 10km of hiking by taking a cab to the Mirador Capuliyoc. From there, we hiked for 4 hours downhill until we reached the Chiquisca campsite, where we rested for half an hour. Here you can buy water, soft drinks, and food. Another hour downhill brought us to the Playa Rosalina campsite right next to the river, where some people choose to camp (they also sell water, soft drinks, etc). We would NOT recommend staying here, but instead continuing over the bridge and doing the 2-hour climb up to the Santa Rosa Baja campsite. This will save you many bug bites and a brutal second day.
We hadn’t started trekking until noon because of the dilemma with the mules, and by the time we reached Playa Rosalina it was 5:00pm and the sun was starting to set. Despite this, we were determined to reach Santa Rosa that day. Exhausted, we trudged on. We didn’t reach the campsite until well past nightfall- around 7:15pm.
We recommend starting the first day as early as possible so that you can reach the campsite at a reasonable hour.
Despite what the woman in Cachora told us, no one charged us for the campsite. This campsite also sells snacks, water, and soft drinks (S12 for a 2.5 liter bottle of water) and has a small hut in which we cooked dinner (although we had to share the space with the guinea pigs).
Day 2: Santa Rosa – Choquequirao
We set off around 7:00am on the second day. 3 hours up steep switchbacks brought us to the village of Marampata. This is the last place you can buy water and snacks before Choquequirao. You cannot buy anything at the Choquequirao campsite, there is only the water from the tap. Since we weren’t going back the way we came, we bought 5 liters of water here to last us the rest of the day and the next (Mistake #5– this wasn’t enough for us, but if you’re returning the same way you can re-stock on the way back).
Just before the village there is a small hut where we rested and bought some Coca Cola. From there, we hiked another “Inca flat” hour until we reached the entrance to Choquequirao, where we paid the S60/person entrance fee. From here, we could already see some of the terraces descending like stairs down the mountainside.
It was another hour of hiking on similar terrain before we reached the campsite (the fee for which was included in the entrance cost) around 12:30pm.
We rested, set up our tent, made lunch, and then set off for the ruins.
The Choquequirao ruins consist of several different parts- you can descend down to part of the terraces or ascend half an hour up to the main plaza, around which most of the ruins are located. We went up to the plaza and wandered around the sprawling stone structures for two hours, going up to a few different sections and descending pretty far down the other side of the mountain to see the famous white stone llamas inlaid in the terraces.
We realized what people had meant- the ruins were massive and spread out much more than at Machu Picchu. However, for us the real magic of the place was in its solitude. After trekking so long and hard to get there, and hardly encountering another soul as we strolled through the ancient site, we could really see the Incas in this place, alone in the middle of the mountains. The sun was setting just as we were leaving to go back to the campsite, and the peacefulness and beauty of the scene was incomparable to the crowded bustling of Machu Picchu.
Day 3: Choquequirao – Cusco
We feel obliged to warn you that if you have any sanity, you will NOT do this day. You’ll go back the way you came and take the extra day to get back to Cachora. To understand why, you can read the full, insane story here.
When you get back to Cachora, there are minivans going directly to Cusco for S35/person. If you don’t see any, you can go back to the Pan-American highway and catch a bus or hitchhike.
Choquequirao Trek Itinerary
Bus: Cusco – Abancay (get off at Ramal de Cachora): 3 hours
Taxi: Ramal de Cachora – Cachora: 30 min
Taxi: Cachora – Mirador (km 10): 20 min
Mirador – Chiquisca campsite (km 19): 4 hours
Chiquisca – Playa Rosalina (km 20+): 1 hour
Playa Rosalina – Santa Rosa Baja (km 24): 2 hours
Santa Rosa – Marampata (km 28): 3 hours
Marampata – Choquequirao (km 32): 2 hours
Exploring Choquequirao: 2 hours
Don’t ask. Like we said, take another two days and go back the way you came.
Gear rental for 4 days: S200 – included 2 sleeping bags, 2 sleeping mats, a 2-person tent, a single-burner camping stove, and a small gas tank (3 hours worth of gas).
Cooking equipment: S20 – small pot, cups, forks.
Food for two people: S50 – we bought an assortment of snacks, instant soups and noodles, eggs, bread, and peanut butter and jelly.
Bus from Cusco: S20/person
Taxi from Ramal de Cachora (where the bus drops you) to Cachora: S10/person
Taxi from Cachora to the Mirador: S30
Choquequirao entrance fee: S60/person
TOTAL: 480 Soles for 2 people (not including mules or the way back)
Worth it? Yes. This is a unique experience and now’s the time before they build the cable car and the site gets filled with tourists. But be prepared for pain.
What to bring: Hiking shoes, proper clothes (it’s really hot during the day), bug spray, sunscreen, hat, camping gear, food, camera, water (enough to get you to the Chiquisca campsite where you can buy more), and enough money for mules/water/snacks/cabs/campsite fees, etc.
– Iris & Roi
Comment with your questions about the Choquequirao trek- we’d love to help you have a great experience!