Hiking To Choquequirao: The Incan Crib Of Gold

Hiking To Choquequirao: The Incan Crib Of Gold
Contributing Writer
| 8 min read

So you have heard of Macchu Picchu, but what about the sister ruins, Choquequirao. Situated in the Vilcanota range of the Andes Mountains, Choquequirao, offers adventurers an opportunity for an extremely challenging and incredibly rewarding trekking experience. The ruins are located in the middle of a several day mountain trek, and are only accessible by foot. The trek is strenuous, approximately 60 km (~37 miles) of terrain that is constantly ascending or descending. Upon arrival at the ruins, trekkers will find breathtaking landscape and unique archaeological sites, only approximately 30% excavated, covering an area of 1,800 hectares (~4,448 acres). Choquequirao is relatively clandestine, unknown by many travelers, and simultaneously difficult to access, making it a fantastic spot to enjoy spectacular ruins without the crowd. Choquequirao offers visitors an exciting adventure, breathtaking mountaintop ruins and serene solitude.

Why Choquequirao: connecting with Incan history

Agricultural Terrace with Lamas
Source: Simon Dietrich

Choquequirao is perfect for those who are looking for a chance to connect with Incan mountain energy. Choquequirao, Crib of Gold in Quechua, the native Incan language, was a city said to play an important role in Incan history. Between archaeologists and local folk tales, there are many different beliefs about the mysterious, largely undiscovered city of Choquequirao. Some say the city was home to priests and those holding religious positions. Others say the city was a gathering place for Incan events. Many believe that Choquequirao was the last inhabited Incan city, a hideaway for the royal family when the Spanish conquered Cusco.

The history of the Crib of Gold is not its only mystery. The mountainside terraces, commonly used for agricultural purposes in many of the Incan archaeological sites, offer visitors a unique surprise. Unlike the other sites, the terraces at Choquequirao appear to not only be practical, but simultaneously a form of artistic expression. Here visitors will see large lamas built into the stone walls of the terraces. These lamas are unique to Choquequirao, nowhere to be found at the other Incan ruin sites. Between the mysterious history and the exclusive architecture, Choquequirao is a must visit for history enthusiasts.

Why Choquequirao: a challenging adventure, an opportunity for recluse

Plaza at Choquequirao
Source: Simon Dietrich

Unlike many of the other ruins in the Sacred Valley, the only way to get to Crib of Gold is to hike. The typical hike to Choquequirao, starting and ending at Cachora, involves descending approximately 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), crossing the Apurimac River and then ascending approximately 1,800 meters (5,906 feet) to the ruins. During the hike there are no easy days, steep, makeshift paths with many old large stones acting as steps. This challenging terrain deters the crowds, simultaneously offering visitors a meditative, peaceful journey. During the trek to Choquequirao, hikers do not find the same tourist heavy, bus crowd found at Machu Picchu and may go long stretches without seeing anybody.

The challenge in the case of the Crib of Gold, offers a delightful reward. Sitting on the terraces of the isolated Incan ruins, hikers have the pleasure of looking back and seeing the trail they had just descended on the opposite side of the Apurimac River. At an elevation of 3,050 meters (10,010 ft), the ruins of Choquequirao offer peace, solitude and reward to visitors. Away from technology, the site offers a chance for inward reflection, appreciation of nature and relaxation.

Logistics: food, water, camping

Breathtaking view from ruins at sunset
Source: Simon Dietrich

During your trek to Choquequirao, food, water and shelter are important considerations. There are three options on how to get to Choquequirao. The option you choose will determine your packing list. The first is solo, without a guide or a mule. The second is trekking without a guide, but renting a mule. The third is with a guide, which will include a mule. Depending on which you choose will change the answer to what you should pack and what you should expect. Keep in mind, when using a mule (whether renting the mule directly or using one through a guide service) there are sometimes complications and the mules can fall off the steep mountain as they tend to be overworked.

For solo hikers, you will need to carry in your food and/or plan to eat in some of the mini-towns along the way. There are opportunities for prepared food in Capulilloc, Playa Rosalina, Santa Rosa, and Marampata. However, these towns are very small, with only a couple of little camping sites that will cook whatever food they have. The food will be basic, rice, beans, spaghetti. If you want to eat trekking food like granola bars or trail mix, it is best to pack these. In the towns already mentioned, as well as the little towns in between, there will be little stores where snacks can be purchased. These snacks are typically chips and candy and are not the most conducive to hiking. If you are picky with trekking food, it is best to approximate how long you will be trekking and pack in your own food as well as a little cooker.

Another thing to note, there is no food for purchase at Choquequirao and you will have to eat before and after in Marampata or bring food in. If you do eat in Marampata, ask for a woman named Astriz in the town. She has a location for camping and food and is a lovely woman.

Water is another thing to consider when trekking solo. Water can be purchased in the towns for up to 13 PEN (4 USD) per liter. On the Cachora, desert side of the mountain, there are very few water sources to fill up a bottle. If found, be wary of this water and make sure the filter you use is adequate as there is a large amount of agriculture. On the side of Choquequirao there are more running streams and less agriculture, but be mindful that the water may contain parasites and ensure that any filter being used is powerful enough. Plan to drink plenty of water as the hike is at a high altitude between 2,000 and 3,200 meters (6,562 and 10,500 feet) and the sun can be very strong.

When considering shelter for this trek, be prepared to camp. Each of the little towns offer camping spots for between 5 and 10 PEN (1.5 and 3 USD). When you get to Choquequirao, camping is allowed with the entrance ticket for up to two nights in the designated camping section inside the park. This is an awesome perk for those planning on exploring all of the exciting sites the ruins have to offer. To plan your trip further and figure out where is best to camp, you can grab a map of the trek from a tourist information office in Cusco. The campsites will typically have some sort of running water and a shower for rent. The water should be boiled/purified before drinking and cooking usages.

If you go with a mule, but no guide, it becomes easier to bring in the food, water and any camping gear you need as you will not have to carry it. If you go with a guide, you will not have to worry about food, water or camping gear as they will carry in all of the supplies on mules and prepare all of your meals. Be mindful that there is less flexibility with trekking pace and time spent at the ruins when using a trekking company, as the schedule is predetermined and you will typically go with a larger group. You may end up only spending a few hours at the ruins, which will not allow you to see the entire archaeological site, including the lamas. Be sure to confirm the schedule and what is covered with the guide if you chose this option as there are many cases of miscommunication with the trekking companies.

Logistics: climate variations

Lama terrace viewed through jungle clearing
Source: Simon Dietrich

During the hike you will get to experience several different climates. From hot, sunny deserts, to dry, slightly shaded cloud forests, to moist, shady rainforests, the journey to Choquequirao is abundant with a variety of flora and fauna. Get excited to see flowering cacti, trees full of air plants and colorful flowers. Each leg of the hike will offer its own exciting vegetation and wildlife.

With the variety of different climates, preparation is key to hiking to Choquequirao. While camping at some of the higher altitudes, the nights will be cold making it important to have a warm sleeping bag and a set of warm clothes. During the day, the sun can be extremely strong. To avoid painful burns, bring a hat that covers your face and use sunscreen.

With varying climates, comes varying insects. On the trek, there is one insect that leaves a painful itchy bite. These tiny flies come out during the day and will leave a spot of blood in the location of their bite, which can itch for weeks. At night, the mosquitos come out, with bites that are only mildly painful in comparison to the daytime suckers. Wearing long layers and using bug spray can help prevent the bites.

Other tips

Mountain landscape
Source: Simon Dietrich

The hike is very steep in both directions which makes it very difficult to climb and descend. To aid in a smooth hike, bringing a walking stick is key. There are several walking stick options for this hike. If you have your own, you can pack it and bring it along. If you do not have your own and prefer a lightweight stick, you can rent one at one of the many trekking gear rental stores in Cusco. If you forget to rent or bring your own, there is also the option of using an all-natural bamboo stick. At the beginning of Capulilloc, the last town accessible by car, you will find a wall full of bamboo sticks abandoned by previous hikers.

Here are some other tips to make your trek smooth. Keep in mind when planning your trek to Choquequirao the time of year. It is best to go during the dry season, April to September, to avoid an uncomfortable wet adventure. A ticket to enter Choquequirao costs 60 PEN (18.50 USD). Be sure to bring cash for any purchases you will make. The elevation at certain points of the trek can be high. Be prepared to treat any elevation sickness that may arise. On the trek, you can find coca leaves, an all-natural solution to the altitude often used by the Andean natives.

To start the hike, you can take a collectiva, which is a car or minivan that acts as a bus, from Cusco towards Abancay and get off at Sayhuite. These buses leave until approximately 4 PM and do not leave until they are full. Then in Sayhuite, you must take another collectiva for 5 PEN (1.5 USD) to Cachora. In Cachora you can take a taxi to the first town, Capulilloc, or you can hike approximately 15 km (~9 miles).

Choquequirao, The Crib of Gold, an unforgettable adventure

A hike to Choquequirao is an adventure you will not forget. Challenging yet rewarding, this hike through the Andes Mountains will have you descending and climbing through breathtaking landscapes to clandestine Incan ruins. This trek will offer plenty of opportunity for silence, reflection and meditation. Sitting in the Plaza of the ruins, you will look down and back at the mountain you just trekked with peace, excitement and accomplishment.

Here is a condensed list of packing items mentioned throughout this article: - tent

  • sleeping bag

  • means to filter water

  • cooking equipment (or food that does not require cooking if you plan to eat in the towns)

  • food

  • water to drink for the first two days until you cross the river (unless you plan to buy more water in each town)

  • sunscreen

  • bug repellent

  • clothes for cold weather

  • clothes for warm weather

  • money

  • passport to enter park

  • walking stick (unless you plan to use a bamboo stick you find there)

Please note: This list is geared toward those who are hiking solo without a mule.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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I have a passion for yoga, mindfulness, meditation. As a yoga teacher, my goal is to use yoga philosophy and techniques to foster positivity and self-love, and create a happy, healthy, harmonious...Read more

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