Overview

We hiked the trail from Cachora to Choquequirao before heading to Machu Picchu, self-guided. We enjoyed this trek so much, that we decided to create a one-stop resource to make it easier for others to do the same without scouring the web for tidbits of information. We took detailed notes while hiking and talked to various other fellow travelers during our July 2019 hike. We hope that you will get a chance to explore and enjoy this wonderful area.

There are two main ways to visit Choquequirao: 

  • One way is a round trip from Cachora which is typically done in 2 days in and 2 days out. This is the faster option but you hike the same trail twice.
  • A second way is a one-way trip from Cachora all the way to Machu Picchu. We did the latter in 7 days, including 5 days of walking the Choquequirao trail, 1 day of taxi/hot spring/taxi agian/walk to Aguas Calientes along the railroad track, and finally 1 day to visit Machu Picchu. During these 7 days, we walked 52 km of good trails. Purists can walk all the way to Aguas Calientes for a total of 10-11 days. Most of the scenic walk occurs in the first 5 days.

What to Bring


Altitude varies from 1800 to 4100 meters, with camping done around 3000-3600 meters. Camping equipment therefore need to be adapted to the high altitude and corresponding weather. Note that our hike was done during the dry season (May-September), which is colder but has little rain.

Camping:

  • Tent (3 seasons is fine, 2-person tents are best for the narrow terasses)
  • Sleeping bag (20 F / -10 C was toasty, friends were cold in 32 F / 0 C bags)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filtration / purification (bottles not always available for sale)
  • Cooking equipment, bowls, cups... (if cooking)

Personal items:

  • Hiking gear (pants, shirts, hiking shoes or trailing sneakers, and poles)
  • Sun gear (sun screen, long sleeve quick dry shirt, floppy hat). Don't underestimate the sun at high altitude.
  • Rain gear (just in case, good for wind breaker too)
  • Warm gear (fleece, puffy, top/bottom base layers)
  • Normal stuff (head lamp, socks, underwear, flip-flops for the showers, extra shirt/pants, bathing suit for the hot springs or the river)
  • Toileteries (including toilet paper, bug repellant, first aid kit)

Others:

  • Map, cell phone with GPS map, head lamp, camera, binoculars

Money:

  • Camping is generally 5 soles per tent
  • Cooked dinners/breakfast cost between 10-20 soles
  • Mules & muleteer (mulas & arriero in Spanish, see price below)

Altitude:

  • Diamox (Acetazolamide) works well. Take 25mg (1/2 tab) twice a day while ascending, and it is best to begin a day before you start the hike.
  • Ibuprofen and/or Tylenol for headache
  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol
  • Don't skimp on sleep
  • Do it like the natives, munch on coca leaves while walking.

To cook or not too cook?


All but two camping sites offer food (dinner and breakfast). So you should take food for 5 lunches and snacks while hiking, plus at least 2 dinners and breakfasts (for Choquequirao and Pichaunuyoc). If you hike 5 days and bring your own food, you then need 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners. Food is easily available in Cachora, Yanama, and Aguas Calientes.

Recommendation for food:

  • Bring plenty of snacks (trailmix made from dry fruits, nuts and chocolate) for the hikes.
  • In altitude, it's important to drink plenty of liquids. So incorporate hot chocolates, tea, soups, raman noodles, porridges, ... in your breakfasts and dinners. 
  • Our muleteer gathered herbs during the day for outstanding tea; it couldn't get more local than that. Campsite owners can probably help you if you are on your own.

Mules or no mules?


Although we seriously hesitated to hire mules, being seasoned backpackers, we were really glad we did. The path is very steep up and down, very little flat, and 5 days of food can wear on you. Many friends we met along the way chose to carry their load-- some did fine, some envied the mules.  It's really a personal decision. An added benefit is that our muleteer pointed out highlights on the trail, including a shortcut, and shared with us stories about the ruins and the people, which greatly enhanced our experience. Spanish is usually required to communicate with the muleteer.

How to hire mules, and how much it costs:

  • We strongly suggest to come the day before the hike in Cachora and negotiate there the prices for the mules. We heard of prices 3x higher if reserving in Cusco or by email with a hotel.
  • A mule carries about 30kg of gear. Two backpacks or duffle bags per mule is preferred. If you get mules, you must also hire a muleteer (arriero in spanish) to take care of the mules, who will load your stuff after you break camp and meet you at the next campground, usually passing you along the way.
  • In June 2019, we paid in Soles, 40/day per mule, 60/day for the muleteer (40 for the muleteer & 20 for his daily food). You can choose to feed your muleteer and save 20 Soles per day. Keep in mind, it is standard to pay one more day for the muleteer to return from Yanama to Cachora. Expect pressure to add an additional mule and an additional day to visit Choquequirao; however, we easily arrived at noon on the 2nd day, visited Choquequirao that evening and the following morning, and left the next day at 2pm, and felt this was plenty of time. So unless you intend to explore in great detail, or walk very  slowly, an additional day is usually not necessary.

How many mules:

  • For one family of 4 with light equipment, one mule can be sufficient if you carry the lighter, bulkier items. Each member also carries lunch, water and personal gear for the day.
  • For a family of 4 with heavier or bulkier equipment (cameras, objectives, tripods, 4-season tents, etc), two mules are recommended. 

Things to know:

  • Make sure the muleteer knows that the 60 soles inculdes his cost for him to pay for food. We agreed to provide our muleteer food for the two dinners/breakfasts where there was no food at the camping. 
  • Pay half before leaving, and half at the end, and make sure that the muleteer knows that half is already paid. 
  • Make sure also that the muleteer knows that his extra day for the way back is already included. In our case, we negotiated directly with the muleteer and his wife, so there was no misunderstanding; however, you may only meet the muleteer at the trail head. In such case, having details written is best.
  • A muleteer is not a guide: he will load your gear on the mules in the morning and meet you in the evening at the mutually agreed camp site. Finding the path is straighforward, and you can read before hand about the sites you will encounter. Make sure you agree on the destination before you part in the morning. Our muleteer, Romulo, was very friendly and recounted tales for us in the evening. He also used to maintain the Pichaunuyoc site and gave us a tour there. It is now no longer maintained. We got to know the people of the region much better thanks to Romulo.

Muleteer Recommendation:

  • We were extremely happy with Nancy TapiaRomulo Barrientos. Romulo was very professional, knew everyone along the way (often stayed with family), and enjoyed sharing stories about Choquequirao, it's rediscovery, and  growing up in the region. We agreed on a price that is generally accepted as fair without any problems. We can recommend Nancy and Romulo without  reservation. They can be reached at 9 652 71 301 (Romulo) or 9 638 27 816 (Nancy). I would start reaching out to Nancy first. 
  • If you decide to go through the hotel where you stay, which can help if you don't speak spanish, the hotel will probably take a commission. 

Day 0: Reaching Cachora

In Cusco, we met a taxi driver that agreed to organize a minivan to take all 8 of us from Cusco to Cachora for $110 (USD). The drive lasted about 5 hours, and they have to come back. Talking to other hikers, they generally paid 30-50 Soles per person using a colectivos first, followed by a taxi for the last stretch of dirt road. Ask around for the latest info on where to get the colectivos. Cachora is at 3000 meters, so 400 less than Cusco. Perfect for altitude acclimatization. 

Hotels:

  • There are few options in Cachora; it is a really small town. We stayed at the Inca Dream and had a fantastic stay. The atmosphere was great, all hosts shared a common table, we really felt like at home. Kids were asked to help split the logs for a real wood-fired oven that delivered, with the magic of the chef, the best bread and cinnamon rolls within 1000 miles :-).

Last minute supplies:

  • There are small shops selling essentials, including fresh bread, in Cachora. However, we recommend you shop in Cusco for the bulk of your food, as markets in Cusco offer variety and better prices for dry fruits & nuts, cheeses, chocolate, and more.

Day 1: On your way to Choquequirao

Getting to the trail head (Capulyioc):

  • The trail head is 10km from Cachora  and is quite scenic. Muleteers will meet you there in the morning.
  • As we stayed in Cachora, we were able to organize a van with other hotel guests for 10soles/person to the trail head. 
  • The trail opens at 8am. The initial trail is very exposed to the sun, so going early is recommended.

Trail head:

  • Buy your park pass at the trail head for 60soles/person, which includes camping at the Choquequirao campground. The park pass appears to be valid for as many days as you stay. Store it where it can be found, as you may be asked to show it at Choquequirao.
  • You can buy all sort of nicknacks at the trail head, including a hat if you forgot to get one. 

Hike overview:

  • 13 km, 1500 m down, 750 m up. Plan for 6-7 hours.
  • Trail winds down to the river, which you traverse with a high suspension bridge. Then the trail climbs back up to the Santa-Rosa campground where we camped. It's a long day of hiking, especially the sun-exposed trail down. The advantage of going back up to Santa-Rosa is that we get already some of the elevation toward Choquequirao on our first day.

Hike details:

  • Trail head/Capulyioc at 2900m to the river in Playa Rosalinda at 1460m (kilometer 10)  to the camping in Santa Rosa at 2200m (kilometer 13 for that day).
  • Two small springs along the trail on the way down provide water before arriving at a lunch stop/campground called Chiquisca, about 3hrs from the trail head and about 1hr from the bridge. There is water and food. Chiquisqua made a very comfortable lunch stop.
  • We passed a second camping just before the bridge, Playa Rosalinda, at 1460 meters. We were told that there are a lot of sand flies at that campground, but good food.
  • On the other side of the river, there is a path down to an excellent swimming spot, to freshen up before heading up Santa Rosa-- strongly recommended.
  • We passed one more small campground on the way to Santa Rosa where you might be able to find drinks. 
  • There are actually 2 campgrounds at Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Baja, and 1km further up the trail, Santa Rosa Alta. There is a fork in the road with a sign indicating Baja to the left and Alta  to the right. Baja has food, water, toilet and a (cold) shower, while Alta is not always open. Some campers went to Alta, where the bathrooms were locked except for one men's toilet, and were still asked for 5 soles/tent when they passed the campground owner's house along the trail. We stayed at the Baja camping, which is at approx 2200 meters.

Note on trail navigation:

  • Generally follow the path with the most mule poo, it will keep you on the main path.
  • Sometimes, campgrounds will force you to make a choice, and indicates time to reach their campground. These times are unlikely to be true, so don't base any decision on these times. Stick to the trail with the most mule pooh.

Day 2: Reaching Choquequirao

https://sites.google.com/site/choquequiraobyfoot/home/IMG_8285.jpg

Hike overview:

  • 7 km, 900 m up, 100 m down. Plan for 4-5hrs.
  • Uphill most of the way, but fortunately shaded by the growing vegetation.
  • Leave early, to reduce sun exposure and to leave ample time to visit the Inca ruins in the afternoon. 

Hike details:

  • Camping in Santa Rosa at 2200m to Marampata at 2900m (kilometer 4) to the camping in Choquequirao at 2900m (kilometer 7 for that day).
  • No water until the little isolated village of Marampata, 2900 meters high. Food, camping, and WiFi is available there. There's even a little "hotel".
  • The trail heads down  a bit before climbing again to enter the Choquequirao campground. Unload at the campground and stake your camping spot. 
  • You should be able to arrive at around noon, leaving plenty of time to visit the ruins. Bring your head lamp, as you can get caught up with exploring the site and the sun sets quickly. The gate supposedly is closed at 5pm, but we did not see anyone closing it as we headed back at 5:15. Bypassing the gate is unlikely to require much effort if you find it shut heading back.
  • To our knowlege, the camping site does not offer food, but there were plenty of chikens around and a guard was busy in his own kitchen. Toilets and showers are available.

Day 2-3: Visiting Choquequirao

These are the reasons you hiked the Choquequirao Trail. First, you are likely to be in the company of only 5-10 other friendly hikers whom you most likely already met on the way there. Second, you will be free to explore the ruins on your own without having to stay on a mandatory one way path (see Machu Picchu). Take a picture of the map at the campground, it will help your orientation as there are not many signs and usually no one there to guide you.

Option 1 for afternoon visit. Lower platforms:

  • If you backtrack a bit from the campground, you will have the option to go to the lower terraces named Paqchayoq and Paraqtepata, which are visible from the trail as you leave Marampata. Friends went there and mentioned it being quite wild and pretty interesting. It is  a hike down and back up, likely to take most of the rest of the day.

Option 2 for afternoon visit. Main site:

  • Ask the camping manager for the trail to Pikiwasi (literally means the house of flies), and from there, you will be able to continue to Ushnu (beautiful view over the mountains, houses of the sacerdotes, or priests),  then to Urin (sacred platform for ceremonies with commanding view over the site), and then to the  Plaza Principal. From there, follow the sign that says Llamas which leads behind the Plaza Principal to the magnificent terraces with white llama motifs. If you don't suffer from vertigo, it is worth going down the steps and then over to the vista point (mirador in spanish) for a picture of the terraces.
  • Tip #1: There is a path that winds down along side the terraces if the terrace stairs themselves are too dizzying.  You can always use the stairs to come back up.
  • Tip #2: leave the higher ruins (Qolqas, source of the spring) for the next day, as it will be on your way out of the site.

Next morning:

  • Visit the main site again on your way out. Spend more time on the Plaza Principal  to soak up the beauty of the site. When ready, follow the trail up to Qolqas, which follows the Incan irrigation system. Following the irrigation chanel up the mountain will lead you up a somewhat unkempt path that will lead you directly back on the mule path toward Machu Picchu. Obviously, when hitting the mule path again, continue left to ascend.
  • If you do not follow this small path, then you have to head back down to the main site entrance and then back up again. 

Day 3: En route to Pichaunuyoc


Pichaunuyoc is a very special place, a set of steep terasses where you can camp directly on the terraces. It has water, and the view is stunning. Be respectful of the place and leave it in pristine condition. Beause the trail is very exposed to the sun, and so is the campground, we would recommend you to leave early in the afternoon to arrive at the campsite late in the afernoon. But not too late so that you can enjoy an open air shower. Near dusk it can become buggy.

Hike overview:

  • 5.5 km, 300 m up, 700 m down. Plan for 4 hours.

Hike details:

  • Camping in Choquequirao at 2900m to the pass at 3200m (kilometer 2) to the camping in Pichaunuyoc at 2500m (kilometer 5.5 on that day).
  • Following the path up to Qolqas is easy, but after exploring the ruins, the continuing path is a little tricky to find. It leads straight up from the last ruins.
  • Once you reunite with the main trail, continue to ascent until the Choquequirao pass at 3200 meters, about another hour.
  • Then the trail heads down to Pichaunuyoc, at 2500 meters. You will have glimpses of the terraces as you go. There is no water until the terraces, so fill your bottles appropriately.
  • Water is in the middle of the terraces at the same level as the entrance to the site.
  • The site has no food and no guard. Camping is free. 
  • Some skip this spot and hike directly to Maizal making for one long hike day. 

Day 4: Hike to Maizal

Start this hike early and freshen up in a welcoming cold river at 1900 meters. The hike will then be straight  up to Maizal, altitude 3000 meters.

Hike overview:

  • 6.5 km, 1100m up, 600m down. Plan 6 hours.

Hike details:

  • Camping in Pichaunuyoc at 2500m to the river at 1900m (kilometer 3.5) to the camping in Maizal at 3000m (kilometer 6.5 on that day).
  • Aside from the river at the bottom of the valley, there is no water sources along the way.
  • Maizal has 2 campings; we went to the one named Victoria, which is closer. Friends went to the other campground and were spooked by the owner and his dog.
  • This campground was 5 soles per tent, and they asked 2 soles if you used the bathrooms, and 3 if you used the showers. We gave them some extra money to account for these expenses; they do not appear to keep track of who does what and were happy for the few extra soles.

Hidden city:

  • Some friends heard that there is a hidden Inka city nearby, and that only folks involved in the discovery are allowed to go there. Our friends asked the camping manager to lead them there... and we never saw our friends again. So either they had a fantastic visit and took a whole day exploring.... or .... Spooky.

Day 5: Pass to Yanama

This day will test your altitude acclimatization, as you will reach 4100m at the pass toward Yanama. This hike is specacular, and the path is mostly the original Inka Trail path, where you walk on large rocks carefully laid down along the path. There are silver mine tunnels on the way up and down, which you can visit with a flashlight. At the top, we saw the legendary condors.

Hike overview:

  • 8km, 1150 m up, 600 m down. Plan for 6-8 hours.

Hike detail:

  • Camping in Maizal at 3000m to the pass at 4150m (kilometer 3) to the camping in Yanama at 3540m (kilometer 8 on that day).
  • Head to the trail early. It will be refreshing to head up without too much heat from the sun.
  • There is no water on the whole trail, but there is a "bar" at the pass, selling drinks (water).
  • On the way up, there are a few amazing camp sites, if you have the strength to continue higher the day before, and carry along all the water you need as they have no water.
  • The path is mostly in a rain forest, with bamboo all the way up to 3600 meters. Amazing! In the Alps, there would not even be grass, lichen at  best :-)
  • The iconic picture (path carved in the rock) is experienced on the way down. Path is wide, no worries.
  • In Yanama, there are many campgrounds. We stayed at "Las Flores." As you come into Yanama, hike all the way to the main road, then turn right and walk about 10min more. It will be on your left. After setting our tents, we went down to the river to freshen up, and ate a dinner in a local house for 10 soles/person .
  • This was our last day with our muleteer, who then headed back to Cachora. We had a great time with him, try to find Romulo if you can. 

Organizing a van to Santa Teresa:

  • We talked to the campsite owner to organize our drive back to Santa Teresa. He put us in touch with a van owner, who agreed to take us to Santa Teresa for 25 soles/person. Our destination was actually the hot springs (Baños Termales Cocalmayo) so when we arrived in Sta Teresa, the driver asked for 30 soles more to take all of us to the hot springs. Be specific in Yanama so there are no surpirses. Also, make known if you would like to stop at the pass for photos. The departure time was set at 7am.

Day 6: Baños Termales Cocalmayo, Santa Teresa  & Aguas Calientes

The pass on the way to Santa Teresa was amazing. Our driver let us out for photos, and looking in the nearby rocks, found some gold-flecked rocks that he planned to grind down to sell the gold. The thermal baths were a well deserved delight. Some say it's not very clean; after 5 days in the mountains, we thought it was spotless. The walk toward Aguas Calientes was less enjoyable, and resulted in a jolt back to civilization. It's a bustling city with loads of tourists, mostly well dressed, plus the smelly ones (like us) who hiked for 6 days and ran out of clean clothing.

Day's detail:

  • Hidroelectrica at 2000m to the hotel in Aguas Calientes/2040m (kilometer 12 for that day). Plan for at least 2 hours.
  • The drive to Santa Teresa was fantastic. We heard that walking the Yanama-Totora stretch is phenomenal, on Inka Trail path with very little damage from mules (as there is a separate road), but the hike itself is very demanding, culminating at 4600 meters high.
  • The thermal baths in Santa Teresa are quite out-of-the-way but quite enjoyable. We arrived early afternoon and had the place for ourselves.
  • We negotiated a ride from the baths to the Rail Station at the Hidroelectrica (the start of the hike to Aguas Calientes along the train tracks) for about 10 soles per person. The ride took about an hour.
  • The hike to Aguas Calientes is well marked. After about 10min, follow the signs up a path to the third rail. Leave the Hidroelectrica by 4pm to arrive by dark, although plenty of people finish the path with their headlamps. The good news is that you will not be alone; many students appear to do the hike in the reverse direction to get back home from school. It took us a good 2hrs, with the full weight of our packs (no more mules). Good thing we ate all of our food by then! 

Day 7: Machu Picchu


We did not expect to be blown away, after Choquequirao, but we were again incredibly impressed by these Incan ruins. Just amazing.

Day's details:

  • We started to hike early (5 am), but not early enough to go up the 500+ steps (but who is counting?) to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Leave earlier if you want to make the 6 am entrance time.
  • The visit is well organized, and being early, there were not too many people.
  • We then went up another 500+ steps (but again, who is counting?) to Machu Picchu Mountain (additional cost). Unfortunately, it was very cloudy when we reached the peak, so we saw close to nothing from the lookout, but met again very friendly folks going up and down those steps.
  • Crowds are there up to 3pm, friends stayed up to the closing time and mentioned the place emptied out. So if you want the place for yourself, linger as long as you can. No one appears to be checking the exit time. The start time on your ticket, however, is strictly enforced.
  • Be warned that the only bathroom, water, or food on the entire site is at the entrance. Also you cannot exit/reenter. There are many park rangers whose job is to keep the flow of visitors moving in a one-way direction. We did bring food and water in.

Be forwarned:

  • If you carried your rain gear for the previous 6 days, but thought to be smart to leave it at the hotel, it will rain! Only one of us was smart enough to carry her rain coat, but that was not enough for the rain gods. Did I mention that we probably needed a bit of extra cleaning after 7 days of hiking.

Aguas Calientes back to Cusco:

  • The expensive way is to take the train. Book months in advance as the desirable trains fill up quickly. We did not, had to take a train and then a bus, and arrived in Cusco at 11pm.
  • The inexpensive way is to walk back the 12 km to Hidroelectrica, and take a colectivo (bus) to Cusco. Plenty of vans will wait for customers.

References

  • If you opt to have mules, try to reach Nancy at 9 638 27 816 or her husband Romulo at 9 652 71 301. They live in Cachora. Spanish only, but they were very kind, super honest, and Romula was a pleasure to travel with as our arriero (muleteer).
  • In Cachora, we stayed at Inca Dream. We would recomend this hotel to anyone, truly felt welcomed and at home there. Link to info.
  • Along the way, we stayed in the following private campgrounds: Santa Rosa Baja, Victoria in Maizal, and Las Flores in Yanama.
  • In Aguas Calientes, we stayed at Katari House (sometimes spelled Catari) on Calle Chaska Tikca 106. Rooms are reasonable and clean. Our host, Richard, was very helpful and accommodating (including providing us breakfast at 4:30 am), and kept our luggages for free while we visited Machu Picchu. 
  • For Machu Picchu tickets, get them  early. Link to reservation.
  • For trains tickets, get those early too. Link to reservation.
  • To rent equipment in Cusco, head to Procuradores street, just north of the Plaza de Armes. We stopped at Himalaya, on 398 Procuradores. The owner even reopened the shop at 11:30pm after going to bed. Link to info.

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