(My main blog post on trekking to Choquequirao and Machu Picchu in September 2016 can be found by clicking here. All photos on this page are from that trek. Charlie has also written her own notes on this trek, which probably both complement and contradict the ones you’re about to read here.)
So you’re in/going to Cusco and want to trek to both Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu, but worried you don’t have the time to do both, or have enough money to spend on all those guides, cooks, horses, arrieros, agency fees and entrance tickets? Or you’re concerned that you might get lost, or run out of food/water if you go alone? Did you know you can actually do one single trek that combines both sites, can be done without a guide on an easy-to-follow path, has plentiful food, water and camping opportunities along the way, is for the most part wonderfully isolated and completely devoid of big groups, and that takes as little as nine days, all for less than £100 per person (including entrance fees)? If you want to know more, read on!
The Inca ruins of Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu are undoubtedly two of the highlights of any trip to the Cusco region – indeed the whole of Peru. However, with agency-organised treks to each site taking 5 days and costing in the hundreds of dollars, the majority of people who want to trek understandably choose only to go to Machu Picchu, with those on a budget usually following the Salkantay trail. What many people don’t realise, however, is that a visit to the two sites can be combined in a single trek lasting just over a week, and that you really don’t need a guide to do it.
Route finding is remarkably easy (contrary to what some of the guidebooks and tour agencies may tell you), supplies along the route are plentiful, there are incredibly cheap campsites to stop in every night, and although much of the walking is quite strenuous, anyone who is well acclimatised and has a decent level of fitness (as well as good footwear) should be able to do it just fine.
The route begins in Cachora, a few hours’ bus ride from Cusco, joins up with the Salkantay trail about two thirds of the way in, and ends at Hidroelectrica railway station near the entrance to Machu Picchu, from where you can easily find transport back to Cusco. We (Charlie and I) trekked this route in September 2016, taking 9 days and spending around £120 per head on everything we needed, plus a few things we didn’t. This guide is based on our experience at that time, and of course it may be that in future, or at other times of year (e.g. the rainy season), things are different.
Accommodation and supplies
The main thing to know is that accommodation and all necessary supplies (except gasoline) are not hard to come by on each day of the trek.
Accommodation is primarily in the form of basic campsites, so you’ll definitely need your tent and camping supplies. These mostly have toilets, running water, cold showers (sometimes for a fee) and small tiendas (shops). Most cost 5 soles per tent per night. Some have sheltered seating areas too. If you do want to push the boat out, however, you could spend as many as four out of ten nights under a roof.
In terms of food and water, we set out with five days’ worth of food and a water filter, but in reality two days’ worth would have been sufficient, as we were able to find food including pasta (and sauce), tuna, porridge, biscuits, chocolate and soft drinks every day bar one, and quite often also vegetables, fruit and bread. In addition, on most days we found someone willing to cook us lunch or dinner for 10 soles (£2.50) or less.
If you do want to take them, arrieros (horsemen) and guides are available for hire in Cachora and several places along the way. In the detailed route notes below, I’ve indicated where they might be found.
Things to bring
- Camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove, pan, headlamp). These can all be rented for cheap on either of the streets leading immediately north of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas
- Clothes suitable for hot days, cold nights, and rain – the weather can be very unpredictable and the trail at times is at high altitude
- Shoes with good soles – at times the trail can be very steep and/or sandy
- A map/guidebook, or, if you’re happy to rely on it (we were), a gps file of the route on your mobile phone. The trail really isn’t hard to find but this will at the least give you some peace of mind
- Water filter or purification tablets plus a bottle – there are plenty of water sources around, so there’s no need to carry lots with you from the trailhead
- A couple of days’ worth of food such as porridge, pasta, bread and snacks. You can buy more on the trail
- Something for mild altitude sickness e.g. coca leaves or aspirin, if you’re not well acclimatised
- Bug spray – many of the campsites along the route are infested with sandflies which can leave itchy bites and which don’t mind getting you on the face!
- Lots of suncream
- If your stove uses petrol/gasoline, enough fuel to get you to Yanama (around 5 days – we got by with around 750ml). Alcohol was available most days.
- Earplugs – every campsite has dogs which like to bark loudly all night long!
- Money in small denominations
We were quoted a cost of around $600 per person by an agency in Cusco to organise this trek. In comparison, we ended up spending a total of around £120 each, comprised of the following:
- Accommodation: 43 soles (we camped all eight nights)
- Transport: 70 soles
- Entrance fees: 55 soles (Choquiquerao) + 142 soles (Machu Picchu plus Machu Picchu Mountain)
- Food, drink and fuel: around 150 soles
- Frivolous evening out in Aguas Calientes: at least 60 soles!
Scrapping the night out in Aguas Calientes would have meant doing this nine day extravaganza for around £100 per head – an absolute bargain in my book.
The table below shows our itinerary, as well as suggested alternatives if you’re looking to go faster or slower (note that we were around 20% faster, on average, than the suggested timings in our guidebook). Detailed notes on each section can be found in the next section below
|Night||Our itinerary||Suggested easier/slower itinerary||Suggested faster itinerary|
|1||8am Cusco-Cachora bus;
|Late morning Cusco-Cachora bus;
Overnight in Cachora
|6am Cusco-Cachora bus;
|3||Choquiquerao ruins||Playa Rosalina-Choquequirao||Choquiquerao ruins;
|4||Choquequirao-Maizal||Choquiquerao ruins||Pincha Unuyoc-Yanama|
|8||Llactapata-Aguas Calientes||Totora-La Playa||Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu-Hidroelectrica;
Afternoon collectivo to Cusco
|9||Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu-Hidroelectrica;
Afternoon collectivo to Cusco
|11||Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu-Aguas Calientes|
Morning collectivo to Cusco
And here’s a map of the trail showing each of these stretches
Detailed section notes
For each stretch of the route, we’ve put together some notes on navigation as well as a description of the various facilities available along the way and at each suggested overnight stop.
A note on route finding: despite being told repeatedly that we would need a guide for this trek, in our view it would be very difficult to get lost. There is one single path the whole way, you can ask at the various campsites which are all manned, and it’s also fully mapped on openstreetmap (and by extension, mapping apps that use it, such as maps.me). On the rare occasions the route is less than clear, we’ve indicated what you need to do.
Cusco – Cachora
The classic trailhead for Choquiquerao is at Cachora, around 4 to 4.5 hours from Cusco by road. To get there, do the following:
- Get to Cusco’s main “terrestre” bus terminal (on Avenida Micaela Bastidas). We took a taxi from the town centre (5 soles), but it’s walkable. Cost = 0
- Take any bus going to Abancay, and ask to be dropped off at the ‘desvio para Cachora’ (3-4 hours in). At the time of writing, the first bus of the day left at 6am, with further buses at 8am, 9am and then a few other times during the afternoon. Cost = 20 soles pp
- Take a collectivo (or walk) to Cahcora’s plaza. When we arrived at the desvio (around noon) one was waiting and we left straight away. You may not be so lucky; though if worst comes to worst, you may be able to find a taxi, hitch or even walk the 16kms (which would probably take around 2.5 hours). Cost (for collevtivo) = 10 soles pp
We would highly recommend taking the 6am bus if you want to begin the trek the same day, though we (just) managed to make the first campsite having left Cusco at 8am and then stopped for lunch in Cachora. Alternatively, you could take a later bus and stay overnight in one of the hostels in Cachora.
The village of Cachora has the following facilities:
- Accommodation: Several good looking hostels and hospedajes (we didn’t enquire about prices)
- Food and supplies: Possible to buy all food and supplies needed for the whole trek (fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta, pasta sauce, tuna, porridge, coffee, water, soft drinks, bugspray, suncream etc.). Also several restaurants advertising breakfast, lunch and dinner (around 10 soles per meal). Probably can also buy fuel though we didn’t ask.
- Water: running water available at restaurants
- Guides and arrieros: Possible to hire arrieros and guides from several places in town, according to signposts.
- Onward transport: it is possible to take a private taxi from Cachora to the end of the road shortly before the Capuliyoc pass (cutting out around 2.5 hours of walking), perhaps a good option if you’re struggling for time. Ask around.
Cachora – Cocamansa
- Head north from northeast corner of Cachora plaza and initially descend before ascending following clear signs to Abra Capuliyoc (2975m, c2.5 hours). Great views from the top over the valley you will soon be traversing. From the Abra descend for 1.5 hours to Cocamasana campsite (2,850m) which is on the trail. Total = 4 hours
- Water sources are not plentiful on this stretch – the best bet is a small waterfall shortly before the entrance to the park on your left hand side
- There is also a basic looking restaurant at the park entrance (2 hours from Cachora), as well as a shop selling basic food and drinks
- Apparently possible to hire arrieros at Colmena, around 4-5km from Cachora
- Accommodation: Basic campsite run by a nice fellow, with three small sheltered pitches and an open terrace with space for a few more tents. Cost = 5 soles per tent
- Toilets and showers: Very basic toilets and open-air shower available
- Food and supplies: Small tienda (store) selling mostly soft drinks, snacks and pasta. Better tiendas available a few hours further on. No cooked food on offer
- Water: there is a tap with running water
- Arrieros and transport: NA
- Other: Note that the campsite is infested with sandflies – use your bug spray
Cocamansa – Chiquisca
If you have the legs, or overnighted in Cachora, it’s a further 1.5 hours down to the nicer campsite(s) at Chiquisca. Again it’s on the trail and impossible to miss. There’s no water sources or tiendas en route.
- Accommodation: Two campsites, the lower one was bigger and nicer, and is the one we write about here. Campsite had nice looking sheltered seating area. Cost = 5 soles per tent
- Toilets and showers: proper-looking toilet facilities and showers available.
- Food and supplies: was a well-stocked tienda (soft drinks, chocolate, biscuits, pasta, pasta sauce, tuna, eggs, bug spray, coffee, alcohol for stoves etc.). Possible to order a hot lunch or dinner
- Water: both campsites seemed to have running water
- Arrieros and transport: NA
Chiquisca – Playa Rosalina
Playa Rosalina is a further one hour walk to the valley floor (1,470m). There is (now) a proper suspension bridge crossing the river, rather than the old cable car. You need to sign a visitors’ book before crossing.
- Accommodation: large, nice looking campsite (5 soles per tent)
- Toilets and showers: plumbed toilets and showers available
- Food and supplies: we didn’t see a tienda or anyone offering meals, but we weren’t looking closely. Campsite did have barbecue pits
- Water: running water available in tap. Could also get it from the river but this is technically prohibited
- Arrieros and transport: NA
Playa Rosalina – Marampata
- Straight up from the other side of the bridge on a set of steep switchbacks. Reach campsites at Santa Rosa Baja (1.5 hours) and Santa Rosa Alta (+20 minutes). Carry on steeply up for a further 1.5 hours to Marampata
- No water sources on this route other than at Santa Rosa campsites
- Santa Rosa Baja is a small campsite with a small tienda offering very basic supplies, as well as hot meals. Santa Rosa Alta had a larger campsite with a tienda and offering guides and arrieros, but was closed when we passed.
- Accommodation: Marampata is a small village with several campsites (5 soles per tent). But it’s advisable to cary on to Choquequirao camping if you have the time/legs
- Toilets and showers: plumbed toilets available. We didn’t see showers but they must exist at some of the campsites if not all.
- Food and supplies: At least three very well stocked tiendas with all necessary supplies including some fresh fruit and vegetables, dry foods, coffee, canned milk, bugspray, suncream, toiletries etc. (but no gasoline). Stock up as this is the last place to buy supplies before Maizal, likely two days away. At least one campsite offers breakfast, lunch and dinner for around 10 soles per plate
- Water: taps at the campsites
- Arrieros and transport: Main campsite claims to offer arrieros and guides for the onward trek to Machu Picchu
Marampata – Choquequirao campsite
- 5 hour undulating walk on clear path. Site entrance is after 30 minutes; the ticket is 55 soles pp (around 13).
- Note the ticket does not include a map so remember to take a photo of the paper map in the shack!
- At least one waterfall on this stretch if you need a drink
- Accommodation: Free camping with ticket, seemingly for an indefinite number of nights (almost everyone seems to stay for two). No shelter available
- Toilet and showers: cold showers and plumbed toilets at the site.
- Food and supplies: absolutely none available
- Water: running water from toilet block
- Arrieros and transport: NA
- Other: signpost at campsite makes it clear that you can’t return to Cachora on the old alternative route via San Ignacio – your only options are to retrace your steps or continue on to Yanama
Choquiquerao campsite – Choquiquerao ruins
- The main ruins are a 45 minute walk from campsite. There are two ways to go to the main site, and the signposts aren’t clear. Basically, from top of the steps leading up from the campsite entrance, you should turn right for the ‘main’ entrance via the eastern terraces (and past the turnoff to Yanama). Turn left for the longer route to the truncated hilltop entrance (where the views of the ruins are better).
- The terraces below the campsite to Paqchayoc are accessible via a path leading down below the campsite with clear signposts
- Accommodation: no camping allowed; the majority of people stay back at the Choquequirao campsite
- Toilets and showers: no toilets on site so go before you leave the campsite!
- Food and supplies: nothing at all available, even drinks
- Water: no water available on site
- Arrieros and transport: NA
- Other: We’d strongly recommended to allow a full, long day to see all of the ruins (including the terraces below the campsite). It’s a spectacular site and you’ll likely have the place almost to yourself.
Choquiquerao ruins – Pincha Unuyoc
- There are two ways to join the onward trail to Yanama, via the ruins at Pincha Unuyoc. The main trail turns right just before the main entrance to Choquiquerao at the eastern terraces, following a clear signpost for Yanama. Alternatively at the top of the upper plaza there is a water channel that you can climb up and follow, though this is a bit overgrown. In both cases, once you find it, the path is very clear.
- From the path it’s 1.5 hours up and over the Abra Choquiquerao (3,200m) and down to Pincha Unuyoc
- No water or supplies available en route
- Acommodation: There are a few flat grassy areas to wild camp, mostly in the 15 minutes before reaching the ruins, but there is no proper campsite. The ruins are free to visit.
- Toilets and showers: none
- Food and supplies: none
- Water: available from the main irrigation channel running down the centre of the terraces. A very cool way to re-stock!
- Arrieros and transport: NA
Pincha Unuyoc – Maizal
- The clear path descends very steeply to the Rio Blanco (1,850m) and equally steeply up the other side to Maizal (3,000m). In total it should take around 4.5 hours.
- At the river the path isn’t obvious – you need to turn left and walk alongside the river for a few hundred metres before reaching a clear log bridge to cross to the other side
- Just before Maizal, you should follow the blue sign indicating a left turn to the campsite (‘Valentin’); there was a large tree branch blocking the alternative way. From this junction it is a 15 minute ascent to the campsite
- Accomodation: campsite on a working farm with a decent-sized terrace with space for quite a few tents. Cost = 5 soles per tent
- Toilets and showers: drop toilet and shower available, for 1 sol and 3 soles respectively
- Food and supplies: Tienda with basic supplies (rice, pasta, tuna, soft drinks etc.) We also bought bread in the mid-afternoon though this had been imported from Yanama and may not always be available. Also possible to get a cooked meal (for a fee)
- Water: tap with running water free to use
- Arrieros and transport: NA
- Other: watch out for the animals – don’t leave any food out anywhere near your tent overnight!
Maizal – Yanama
- Follow signpost to Yanama immediately above campsite. Rest of the path is clear. Pass by a number of mines including La Victoria, a couple of hours in, en route to the Abra San Juan pass (4,150m, 4.5 hours). Further 1.5 hours down to Yanama (3,500m)
- Try to reach the Abra as early as possible as the views are pretty spectacular
- You can enter the La Victoria mine (bring a headtorch) but it’s pretty dirty and smelly!
- At the Abra there was a covered area with a small tienda that was closed when we passed. You could camp here in an emergency if you have a free-standing tent
- Accommodation: At least a couple of large campsites on working farms with sheltered areas and seating (5 soes per tent)
- Toilets and showers: Available for free
- Food and supplies: Very well stocked and cheap tiendas in the village. Possible to buy fruit and vegetables, bread, all food and drinks you could possibly want, suncream and, mercifuly, gasoline (ask around, we found it at the shop immediately to the left of the main campsite if looking down from the Abra). Also possible to buy cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner from the main campsite
- Water: available at campsites
- Arrieros and transport: Yanama is at the terminus of a motorable road leading all the way to the main highway at Santa Teresa, and apparently there is one collectivo leaving every day going to Totora, Ccolpapampa, La Playa and beyond. This means you could cut out a couple of days of trekking, if you like. The timings seemed to be erratic so ask in town and be prepared to wait. Otherwise, the road was almost entirely devoid of vehicles. Arrieros are presumably available but why bother if you’ve got this far?!
- Other: There was a public telephone but this wasn’t working when we were there
Yanama – Totora
- Follow the path beginning immediately above the main campsite (rather than the road), The walking route almost never goes on the road, with the path having frequent shortcuts to cut across long switchbacks. Make sure you look out for these as this saves a lot of time.
- The route climbs steadily through the valley for 4.5 hours climb to the Abra Yanama (4,650 metres – the highest point on the trail), then descends for 3 hours to Totora
- Wild camping spots are plentiful halfway between Yanama and the Abra when the valley opens up
- Hornopampa (30 minutes before Totora) is the first place with a chance to buy (basic) supplies.
- There are rivers all along the route so water not a problem
- Accommodation: a few uninspiring campsites in the village. We didn’t stay but they cost 5 soles per tent
- Toilets and showers: yes
- Food and supplies: Fairly well stocked tiendas including fruit and vegetables, but not as good as Yanama. We didn’t try to buy fuel but there was no conventional petrol station
- Water: easy to find
- Arrieros and transport: the road got a little busier after Totora; taxis, collectivos and hitchhiking opportunities likely not to be too difficult to come by
Totora – Ccolpapampa
- 5 hours’ walk from Totora. We missed the trail and walked on the main road which was higher up the valley and probably took longer due to long switchbacks at the end.
- Water not plentiful – fill up at the river crossing on the edge of Totora
- At t junction just outside Ccolpapampa, you join the Salkantay trek, where there are plenty more trekkers. Turn left to Machu Picchu, or right (then across the river) to the beginning of the Salkantay route.
- Accommodation: Large campsites in the village for 5 soles per tent. Across river to the right is a large settlement with buildings where groups on the Salkantay trek seem to stay, this presumably also has a hostel/hospedaje. Also there is a very fancy lodge directly across the river.
- Toilets and showers: western plumbed toilet and cold shower available for free at campsite; hot shower costs 10 soles
- Food and supplies: Several tiendas with more basic (and more expensive) supplies than in Totora or Yanama, but still everything you would need. More of a focus on beer and soft drinks, given it’s on the Salkantay route. There was also a cafe which offered to serve cooked meals
- Water: available at the campsites/cafe
- Arrieros and transport: by now there is a wide, graded road and taxi transport wouldn’t be hard to find. You can also rent bicycles to cycle to La Playa for 20 USD, with your bags being taken there in private transport
Ccolpapampa – La Playa
- Main graded road goes on right hand side of valley, but turn left and cross a small bridge just before the main road bridge to take the traditional path on the left side of valley. The path undulates but is mostly a gradual descent to La Playa (3.5 hours)
- There are a few small campsites and snack shops en route.. It would be difficult to go hungry now. Also plenty of waterfalls to fill up your bottle
- Accommodation: hospedaje at far end of town, we didn’t check the price. Camping is also available at the far end of town but we passed straight through and didn’t check the facilities
- Toilets and showers: there were toilets around town
- Food and supplies: lots of fairly expensive tiendas selling all you might need, as well as a bar. You could easily find places doing hot meals
- Water: again, easily available
- Arrieros and transport: from La Playa it’s not far until you turn away from the road so don’t be tempted to take a cab now
La Playa – Llactapata
- Cross the bridge at the far end of La Playa and walk along the river to Lucmabamba (30 minutes), before turning right at a sign for Machu Picchu. Climb for around 2 hours to pass, then descend for 15 minutes to the ruins t Llactapata. The campsite is a further 10 miniutes on and has wonderful views towards Machu Picchu. Total time = 3 hours.
- Lucmabamba had a lovely looking campsite with a tienda and cafe selling proper, locally-made coffee and honey (10 soles per jar). There were a few other such places on the climb up, too
- Accommodation: One campsite. Cost = 8 soles per tent
- Toilets and showers: both available, with a hot shower costing 10 soles
- Food and supplies: no tienda although chocolate, biscuits and beer were on sale through the campsite’s small restaurant. Cost of meals was unclear
- Water: running water here
- Arrieros and transport: NA
Llactapata – Aguas Calientes
- Follow the signposted path for 5 hours down to Hidroelectrica train station. From here, follow the train tracks alongside dozens of other tourists for 2.5 hours to the bizarre town of Aguas Calientes
- There are dozens of stalls and restaurants at Hidroelectrica selling everything from bread to juice, ice cream, hot meals and all supplies. There was also one hospedaje but it was closed when we passed
- The walk to Aguas Calientes is alongside a river so plenty of opportunities to get water
- Accommodation: Full range of accommodation in touristy Aguas Calientes. For camping there are two options: one campsite 30 minutes before the town with a beach but limited space for tents (cost 15 soles per tent), and a municipal campsite 15 minutes later (cost unclear)
- Toilets and showers: western toilets and cold showers available.
- Food and supplies: Aguas Calientes has everything. Try the four-for-one pisco sours! The first campsite also had a small snack and beer shop
- Water: You’re in a town now
- Transport: there’s a bus to Machu Picchu if you don’t want to walk, and trains leaving for both Hidroelectrica (for buses to Santa Teresa, Santa Maria and Ciusco) and Olantaytambo (for a much shorter bus ride to Cusco)
- Other: You will need to buy tickets in advance for Machu Picchu, so if you haven’t done it yet, do it here – there is an iPeru office just off the northeastern corner of the main plaza. When we went, tickets that included climbing Huayna Picchu were sold out (months in advance) and one of the two timeslots for climbing Machu Picchu mountain was also sold out
Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu
- Cross the bridge near the municipal campground (opens at 5am) and follow the clear trail up.
- Climb took us 40 minutes but 1 hour is a more reasonable guide.
- We arrived at 6.30 and there was already a large queue, but the site didn’t feel too full inside when we entered
- Accommodation: only one ludicrously expensive hotel
- Toilets and showers: toilets at the entrance
- Food and supplies: expensive buffet at the hotel, otherwise there’s a coffee shop (around 10 soles for an americano) with snacks. You should bring your own stuff (despite what we’d read, no one was having problems bringing bags of all shapes and sizes into the site)
- Transport: Possible to get expensive bus back down to Aguas Calientes if you’re tired
Aguas Calientes to Cusco
From Aguas Calientes, you have a three options to get back to Cusco. The first is to take the (expensive) train to Olantaytambo (around 60 USD), and change for a bus there. The second and third are to go to Hidroelectrica, retracing your trekking route or taking a train, respectively (despite the rumours, you can take a train to/from Hidroelectrica), and then taking a collectivo back to Cusco. There were plenty of waiting collectivos when we arrived in the early afternoon. The ride took a whopping 6.5 hours and cost 40 soles per person to the town centre
Once back in Cusco, check into Hospedaje Estrellita, where all the cycle tourists in town seem to stay. Put your feet up, have a cold beer and celebrate your amazing achievement!