Are you planning to do the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu? Before you decide yourself, let me tell you, that it is not the only Inca Trail to the famous Inca city. A little known but legendary adventure is the Choquequirao to Macchu Pichu trail. You will cross deep valleys, hike above 4000 m, cross the jungle, and get to see two important Inca cities. Some tour operators do the trail, but they are way too expensive. In the following lines, I will tell you exactly how to do it by yourself and have a great experience.
Choquequirao: Lonely Planet’s best in travel 2017
Having been in Macchu Pichu several times before, I wanted to take an alternative route this year. My friends and I did the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek in July 2016. Even though this trek is not as known as the classic Inca Trail, Choquequirao is becoming more and more famous among travelers. Lonely Planet has recently ranked it as best in travel 2017 under the category regions.
Getting to Cachora:
Take a plane from Lima to Cusco, and then, go to the main bus station in Cusco and take a bus to Abancay. Let the driver know you are going to Cachora so that he will drop you at the turnoff, where the road to Cachora is. From there, it is a 14 km downhill trek, or you can take one of the many taxis that are waiting there.
Where to stay:
Cachora is a tiny little town, and there are not much services or infrastructure there. I recommend you to stay at Los Tres Balcones guesthouse. It is on Cachora’s main street (very easy to find). The rooms are basic but clean and with hot water. The owners are very friendly and can help you arrange the trip.
Hiring a mule and an arriero:
The arriero (horseman) will be your guide, and it is of vital importance that you get a good, trustworthy one. You can hire someone to cook for you as well or pay extra for the horseman to cook for you (this is recommended since there are no instant meals to buy in the markets in Cusco unless you bring your own). Take into account that you are expected to feed your arriero, and pay him also for the trip back home.
The mules will carry your backpacks and the food. Believe me; you don’t want to carry weight while trekking. This trail a tough one, not only because of the terrain but also because of the altitude. We paid 35 soles (10 US$) per mule per day, and 40 soles (12 US$) for the horseman per day. An extra charge of 40 soles (12 US$) is required if you want someone to cook your meals.
I highly recommend our arriero Señor Romulo; he is very kind and has walked the trail countless times so he can help you with everything. Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak English, but don’t worry; he’s a good man and trustworthy. His phone nr is +51 965271301 or his wife Señora Nancy’s nr +51 963827816. I told him I was very happy with his service and that I was going to recommend him to other travelers so if you hire him, please send greetings from Sara.
Water and food:
You will be able to find water and cooked meals at the various campsites along the trail, however, the further you get from Cachora, the more expensive it will be. There are lots of springs along the way, but you need to treat the water. I recommend you to bring a water filter and iodine, for avoiding stomach issues.
As I mentioned before, this is not an easy trek. You should have some trekking experience behind you, as well as being in good shape. Also, I highly recommend you buying some Soroche pills in Lima or at your arrival in Cusco, to fight the altitude sickness.
You should begin the trek very early, so you will make it to the Santa Rosa campsite for dinner. The first miles from Cachora to the lookout are fairly easy. Then it gets pretty steep down from the lookout to the first stop at Playa Rosalinda at the Apurimac River. Then, you’ll trek all the way up to Santa Rosa. In Santa Rosa, you can buy water and dinner if you have not brought your own.
Get ready for another (hard!) trekking day! Begin early from Santa Rosa until you get to Marampata, where you will be able to fuel up with water and home made food. Keep going a couple more hours and you’ll get to the camping site at Choquequirao. There are (ice!) cold showers and toilets and a fantastic view. The entrance to the ruins is 55 soles approximately (16 US$)
An epic day! Get ready to enjoy the fabulous ruins of Choquequirao. After a short uphill trek of 30 minutes, you will be admiring them. Unfortunately, there are no guides, so it is recommendable to read a bit about the ruins in advance. Coquequirao means golden crib in the Quechua language, and it is so for a reason! There are lots of minerals in the area.
Many people go back to Cachora at this point, but if you really have the Indiana Jones spirit, keep going to Machu Picchu!
Continue your trek from the camping site to the Inca ruins of Pinchaunuyoc, also known as the Terrazas; we camped at the Inca ruin, but if you’re still in good shape and it is not too late, continue down the trail until you cross the Rio Blanco and up until Maizal campsite. I found this part of the journey to be particularly challenging.
Another day-long trek, but at this point, your body should be getting used to the road. From Maizal, trek through the jungle until you reach 4000 m. You will find the Victoria mines. Continue along the trail to Yanama campsite. You will be able to see the Salkantay Mountain in the background. Breathtaking!
Now get ready for cold and altitude! You will follow the trail and cross through the highest point: Yanama pass (4668m), then continue all the way to Totora, the highest camp of the journey (4100m).Enjoy the fabulous views of white mountain peaks in the area.
From Totora, walk through the sub-tropical valley until you reach La Playa to spend the night.
You’re almost there! Trek all the way from La Playa to Aguas Calientes, the little town of Macchu Pichu. Now you can say good-bye to your arriero and rent a room in one of the many hotels and guesthouses. Take a warm, healing bath in the natural hot springs. You deserve it!
Finally! You’re just a couple of hours away from your goal! Follow the trail up to Macchu Pichu. Take some fabulous pictures, and enjoy!
You can do this whole adventure on your own, without paying thousands of dollars to a tour company, as long as you have a good arriero with you. I highly recommend Francisco at Tres Balcones and Mr. Romulo for further tips and assistance. It is one of the hardest, yet most amazing trails you will ever hike. The experience is well worth it. If you do it, please come back here and share with me some pictures of your adventure. Happy travel!
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