When you look into the various options available if you want to trek the Inca Trail, you’ll discover there is much more on offer than just a four-day package to Machu Picchu.
If you’ve got the time – and the money – to spend a bit longer in Peru, it’s worth choosing an Inca Trail tour that visits other sites, such as Choquequirao. This is one of the lesser-known Inca settlements in the country and there is certainly a lot to discover here.
Choquequirao: the basics
Choquequirao is often compared to Machu Picchu due to the similarities between the architecture at both sites, as well as their elevated positions on high mountain ridges. While Machu Picchu overlooks the Urubamba River, Choquequirao is situated above the Apurimac River.
In total, Choquequirao covers 1,800 hectares, although less than half of this has been excavated. It is said to be one of the last enclaves used by the embattled tribe while they were fighting the Spanish in the 16th century, with its origins dating back around 100 years earlier to the reign of Tupac Inca Yupanqui who ordered the town’s construction.
Getting to Choquequirao
Also like Machu Picchu, the best way to reach Choquequirao is on foot, although you’ll only have two days of walking ahead of you instead of four.
You’ll set out from the town of Cachora and from here you’ll climb to Capulilloq at 2,800 m above sea level. This provides you with an excellent vantage point from which to view the river below and the ruins on the other side of the valley.
The same afternoon, you’ll begin a gradual descent into the valley, but you’ll have a steep climb the following afternoon to reach the plateau on which Choquequirao is located. The agricultural terraces start relatively far down in the valley, as this enabled the Incas to grow multiple different crops due to the changes in climate as you ascend. The citadel of Choquequirao itself sits at 3,085 m above sea level.
Although many of the ruins at Choquequirao remain hidden by the forest, there are still plenty of fascinating things to see. The buildings that have been uncovered, however, are in a reasonably good state of repair and there has been much reconstruction work carried out in recent years.
You can clearly make out the walls of many buildings, some of which would have been small houses for the farmers (those towards the outskirts of the settlement), while larger and grander mansions are positioned closer to the centre. Aqueducts, canals and other water channels can all be found running through the town.
The lower plaza is where you’ll see some impressive stonework and this is believed to have been the focal point for the settlement, while the upper plaza is thought to have been used primarily for ceremonial purposes. There were also palaces dedicated to the earth, sun and water within Choquequirao.
Combining Choquequirao with a visit to Machu Picchu
Usually, you will visit Choquequirao before going on to see Machu Picchu and rather than following the standard Inca Trail, you will have the opportunity to trek along some lesser-known tracks used by this civilisation.
The route along these pathways will lead you past some spectacular sights – such as the Apurimac Canyon and the Rio Yanama Valley, which is covered by wildflower meadows. There is also the possibility of seeing some exciting wildlife as you walk, with the likes of spectacled bears and condors among the creatures you may spot.