The Choquequirao Trek Without a Guide

Choquequirao, otherwise known as the “sister Machu Picchu” or, in quechua, “cradle of gold,” sits nestled in southern Peru, about 120 miles from Cusco. Distinguished for its remarkable terraces and inconspicuous location in the Apurimac Valley, these ancient Incan ruins are currently accessible only by foot and, with the grueling climb required, are relatively tourist free — perhaps making it even more wondrous than its Andean sister.

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While many agencies offer the typical four-day trek (two days to get there, two days to return), I’d read that the trek was totally doable on your own, and much cheaper (the cheapest tour I found was $300 per person, but prices are usually more like $350 or $400). I decided planning and executing the journey DIY would be the perfect way to cap off my five-month adventure.

In sum, we took six nights and five days for the trek (we opted for a full day at Choquequirao, not typically offered by agencies in town), hiked 43.4 miles, and spent S/1,341; $410 total (or $205 per person). Here’s how we did it:

The Route

MAP

The Choquequirao trek is known for being one of the toughest in the Cusco area. The reason isn’t altitude or length, it’s the dramatic elevation increases and decreases you cover in a matter of hours. This, combined with the fact that I already have a bad back, made me certain I wanted to hire an arriero (horseman) for our trip. I had become friends with a guide in Cusco who was able to help me arrange (and negotiate the price of) the horseman we’d meet in Cachora. Because it’s a substantial trip to Cachora and I wanted to ensure everything was good to go with our horseman, we opted to spend the night before our trek in Cachora, at CasaNostra, a beautiful guest home owned by an Italian man named Mateo (exactly how we got there is detailed below).

the view from CasaNostra
the view from CasaNostra
the trail
The trail to Choquequirao, seemingly carved into the mountainside

I’d learned that you never want to camp by the river, and the road from Cachora to Capuliyoc is pretty long and boring, so it’s worth taking a car from Cachora to Capuilyoc on Day 1 to get some of the post-river uphill done on the first day (9.5 miles), and not spend the night getting eaten alive by the killer mosquitos on the trail. I was extremely happy we took this advice as we cruised down the steep slope from Capuilyoc to the river, had lunch at Playa Rosalina, and then set up camp at Santa Rosa Baja after a steep hour and a half of climbing uphill.

 

 

Day 2 (7.1 miles) was my hardest day of trekking. Again, not because of the length of the climb, but just because of the near-vertical climb itself. As I climbed the two hours further and further uphill from Santa Rosa Baja to Marampata I kept being so thankful we decided to hire a horseman for all of our gear and food. We stopped briefly in Marampata for some tea and to pick up some eggs for breakfast the next day, excited to embark on the ~1.5 hour “flat” path to the Choquequirao campsite. The path ended up being the definition of “Peruvian flat,” the expression we gringos use for a trail that Peruvians describe as flat, and ends up being anything but. The trail ebbed and flowed between serious ups and downs, taking us through the control center where we purchased our entrance tickets to Choquequirao and made a new friend, Freddy, who helped John harvest a tuna (cactus fruit), before we finally arrived at camp. After lunch we headed down to explore the lower ruins, a series of terraces flanked by a stone house facing a beautiful waterfall, for sunset, before returning to camp for dinner and bed.

 

Day 3 (5.7 miles) left us feeling extremely grateful and proud of our decision to take the extra day for the trek. We slept in, made a deep-dish omelet from the eggs we picked up in Marampata (there is nothing available at Choquequirao), and spent the entire day wandering around the upper ruins. We took our time making our way through the six different areas, with highlights including tea time on the helipad, the steep trek down to the llama terraces and their mirador (this is a must-do), and hanging out in the plaza for sunset.

 

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Day 4 (7.7 miles) practically mirrored Day 1 in length and difficulty. Once again, we made our way down a steep path to the river (and past our first campsite and lunch spot), crossed, and headed up about an hour to Chikiska, the first campsite we passed on Day 1. Chikiska probably has the most robust offerings, including cooked meals and the ability to hard boil eggs for breakfast the next morning (Day 5 would be a long day so we wanted to get out early and avoid dealing with the stove). We had decided to push through and complete the post-river uphill before lunch, so we crafted a late lunch when we arrived and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, making some new friends, and enjoying the beautiful view.

 

For our final day of trekking (13.4 miles), we had resolved to walk the ~7 mile road from Capuilyoc to Cachora that we had driven the first day. We knew it’d be a tough morning, with the steep uphill we’d descended on Day 1 facing us immediately, so we were hiking before 8 AM to avoid the sun. A three-hour series of switchbacks (not as steep as Day 2, but an hour longer) later and we were back at the Capuilyoc mirador, ready for a true flat road to the finish in Cachora.

finishing up
Mission accomplished

Looking back, things couldn’t have gone better. We got extremely lucky with the weather (it rained only once, and we were sleeping, and it never got too hot during the steep uphill days), our horseman (he never rushed us and seemed happy with the food we prepared), and were happy with the campsites and trek-plan we chose (there were a number of people who arrived at Choquequirao kicking themselves for camping at Playa Rosalina the first night).

with our arriero
Trek complete!

The Cost

The cost of a DIY Choquequirao trip is extremely variable. You can sub out a horseman, sub in a guide, eat granola bars the whole way, or face a continuous stream of “gringo-taxes” (what we extranjeros affectionately call getting our wallets taken advantage of by the locals). For our two-person Choquequirao trip we opted to keep our backs from breaking and stay as nourished and comfortable as possible while keeping our expenses low and our bargaining abilities high. Here’s how it broke down for the two of us, based on the current exchange rate of 3.26 Soles = $1:

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Food = S/300; $91.75

This price is probably a bit higher than I’d expect for two people who can eat anything. I’m gluten free and can’t eat a slew of other things, so I found a bakery that charged me nearly quadruple the price of normal bread to make rice-based rolls for PB&J sandwiches. We also opted to splurge on a small bottle of olive oil, two jars of natural peanut butter (thank you Amanda!), raw honey, and some Peruvian candies. We definitely saved a bit of money by bargaining around at Cusco’s huge San Pedro Market, where we did all of our shopping before leaving. It’s worth noting that we also had to buy food for our horseman, and we purchased 22 eggs (typically 1 sol each on the trek) along the way.

Gear Rental = S/205; $62.70

Vinay, from Faces of Cusco, had recommended Rosly (just off Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Calle Procuradores N 394) for our gear rental and man did Eber hook us up. We rented a two-person tent, two sleeping bags, one sleeping pad, four trekking poles, and a stove and cookware. We also bought two plastic ponchos, a small container of gas for our stove, and a kettle. I was so impressed with Eber’s knowledge and thankful for the steeply discounted rate, I even ended up buying an inflatable sleeping pad off him (price not included in the above).

Transportation from Cusco –> Cachora = S/105; $32.11

We took a private car from Cusco to the Cachora drop-off point where you then need to take a cab to the city center. The car is usually 120 soles total, the cab 30. We got the whole trip for 105 and made it to CasaNostra in Cachora in 3.5 hours. Alternatively, you can take the bus headed for Abancay from Cusco for 30 soles a person, get off at the drop off, and grab the same 30 soles cab. That way is clearly cheaper, but the bus makes it a 5-hour minimum trip and there were only 3 buses out of Cusco the day we were going, so we opted for the more comfortable and speedier route.

Transportation from Cachora –> Cusco = S/76; $23.24

We headed up to the Plaza de Armas in Cachora in the hopes of jumping into one of the tour agency’s vans headed directly from Capuilyoc to Cusco. Unfortunately they don’t have set times, and while we were talking to the woman who’d coordinated our horseman about the likely times, we ended up deciding to go with a two-part journey back to Cusco to get the show on the road. So, we got a cab from Cachora’s Plaza de Armas to Curawasi (talked our driver down to 40 soles total), where there are 15-passenger vans (combis) leaving for Cusco every 10 minutes or so for 15 soles a person. We came to find there were also private autos, and everyone was eager for our business and willing to outbid each other for the best price the second our cab door opened in Curawasi. A bit overwhelmed by the pack of men who sounded more like they were in an auction house than a rural Peruvian town, we let them talk each other down while we collected our bags and finally pointed to a guy in a neon pink shirt, sunglasses, and gelled hair who offered a private car, leaving immediately, for 30 soles total. Upon arriving in Cusco we were told that he wouldn’t take us any further into the city than the outskirts where he had pulled over. So after a failed attempt to bargain with him, we jumped out and grabbed a 6 soles cab back to our Airbnb.

Accommodations = S/185; $56.64

This includes two nights staying at CasaNostra in Cachora, and one campsite. This is surely an expense you can forgo if you’re willing to wake up extremely early in Cusco and are confident you’ve got all your ducks in a row for your arrival in Cachora on Day 1 of your trek. Because we were working with an arriero (horseman) that was managed by a woman who we’d been connected to through a guide I met in Cusco, we wanted to make sure we got there the day before we started trekking to assure we were all set with the horse and the deal we’d discussed over the phone. Post-hike, even with the extra 11 km walk back to Cachora’s Plaza de Armas, we could have made it to Cusco by dinner (we were at the Plaza de Armas by 1:30), yet our Airbnb was reserved for the evening and we had had such a wonderful experience at CasaNostra the night before we began trekking, we opted for another night out of the city and rushed to our first showers in five days. The Santa Rosa Baja campsite charges 5 soles a night, but I asked if we could purchase 9 eggs off her instead, which she kindly agreed too. The woman at the Chikiska campsite (the only other one we were asked to pay at) was not as kind, so we had to pay 5 soles total for that evening.

Entrance to Choquequirao = S/120; $36.74

Apparently this recently went up from 55 soles per person. Student price is 30 soles, not sure how you prove that.

Arriero (Horseman) & Horse = S/350; $107.16

You can’t rent a horse without an arriero, so while a single horse is typically 35 soles a day, the going rate per day for an arriero and his horse is 80 soles. As I had made friends with the guide helping us in Cusco and we were going for an extra day than what’s typical, we were able to negotiate a rate of 70 soles a day.

Some Takeaways

  • If you’re going to get a horseman (which we’d highly recommend) arrange it ahead of time. Or, be prepared to arrive in Cachora and not be able to leave for your trek for a few days while you work on getting things arranged.
  • Consider renting poles. The trek isn’t terribly long, but it is terribly steep. I was happy to have my poles for both the crazy inclines and declines.
  • Don’t count on food being available while you trek. Yes, some campsites had snacks and eggs, and a few even had cooked meals for purchase, but relying on these as your only source of nutrition while trekking would be a mistake.
  • Take mosquito repellent and apply it liberally. I’d also highly suggest, despite the heat, trekking in long pants and long sleeves. John may or may not have turned into a slightly more attractive version of the Elephant Man upon his stubborn desire to wear shorts and t-shirts, allowing himself to get absolutely savaged by the killer insects.
  • Pack it in and out. This should go without saying for trekking in Peru, but in case  you didn’t know, toilet paper is anything but a paper commodity in the bathrooms of Peru. And of course, if you ever plan to pop a squat while trekking (and you should be hydrated enough to do so) you won’t find any Charmin hanging from the trees. Please remember to pack out — this site is too beautiful and sacred to be littered upon.
  • Bring water purification tabs/drops/UV pens. There is bottled water available at some campsites, but not all, and the campsites aren’t close together. The trail is steep and hot, and with running water available often, you’re better off bringing the tablets/drops/pen yourself. We were over prepared with chlorine tablets, iodine drops, and a SteriPEN between the two of us.
  • If you have an extra day, take it. Yes, this trek can be done in four (and I even had a friend who did it in three) days, but we were so happy to have a full day to sleep in and explore the ruins. Watching the sun set from the main plaza and not having to worry about setting up camp was truly spectacular.

FINALE

Have you done The Choquequirao Trek? How did your trip compare? And if you’re thinking about doing it, what’s stopping you? Please post questions and comments below! 


10 thoughts on “The Choquequirao Trek Without a Guide

  1. The trek seems awfully tough..but judging from your pictures it definitely was worth it! Think it was about 400 dollars right? Not a bad deal at all! Thanks for sharif

    1. For sure! $410 for the two of us including all the splurging we did so right around $200 a person — and that’s if you decide to stay in Cachora for two nights, take a private car from Cusco and hire a horseman — you really can’t lose doing it on your own 🙂

  2. So freaking pretty!!!!

    Also, happy late birthday!

    *Taylor Sundali* *Cofounder & COO* *E: taylor@hellocompass.us * *C: 215.853.6278*

    On Sun, May 21, 2017 at 10:26 PM, revel in the novel wrote:

    > newmanrhannah posted: “Choquequirao, otherwise known as the “sister Machu > Picchu” or, in quechua, “cradle of gold,” sits nestled in southern Peru, > about 120 miles from Cusco. Distinguished for its remarkable terraces and > inconspicuous location in the Apurimac Valley, these anci” >

  3. I just did it and was great…great landscapes, few people around, no mobile signal, and we spent even less than thought…renting the camping gear for the 3 of us and for 5 days: s/280 soles, transportation (round trip) 70 soles each, arriero and a horse 75soles per day, you can buy food at the camp sites, but don’t arrive too late, water is drinkable at the taps, at least I didn’t get sick! a half liter bottle is 4.5soles and don’t last too much…but I have to thank you for your tips…red your blog and was very helpful…I hope i can get back next year, dont’t wait for the cable car…it has no sure date..maybe 2020 according employees at the site

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