Previous post: Let the climbing begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco
(Associated post: How to trek to Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu in nine days for less than £100)
What we did
First, as usual, the summary of what we did:
- Days taken: 9
- Distance hiked: 126km
- Total elevation gain: 8,354m
- Max daily distance: 26km
- Max daily elevation gain: 1,808m (highest of trip)
- Max altitude reached: 4,659m
- Max altitude slept at: 3,547m
- Nights spend under a roof (in a tent): 0 (9)
After two rest days in the past two and a half weeks, one of the main things we did in Cusco was, well, not a lot. We’d checked into the Estrellita hospedaje, the magnet towards which all cycle tourists passing through Cusco seem to be drawn, and for the first time in a while we had a few days of a relatively normal life. Cusco itself really is a sight for sore eyes, with its unique concoction of some seriously beautiful Inca and Spanish architecture – often with the colonial frontage built right on top of the original foundations – and we spent a lot of our time wandering the streets or sitting in bars and cafes overlooking the magnificent Plaza de Armas (main square). We also did some sight-seeing for the first time in ages, visiting the main Incan temple of Qorikancha as well as some of the plazas and markets around town. But mostly we sat in the hostel exchanging stories and route notes with other cyclists such as Campbell, James, Arne and others; in Starbucks or drinking super-sized coffees and writing our blogs; or in nice bars drinking Picso sours or the excellent local Cusquena beer. We also even managed a night out clubbing with some other cyclists, although with all of us sporting the same combination of down coat, sensible trainers and overgrown beard (except Charlie with her beautiful hairless face), we were hardly setting the dancefloor alight.
But before long we got that itch in our feet again, a feeling any cycle tourist will know well. However, this time it was the rucksacks rather than the panniers that we found ourselves packing up, as we were setting off on a five day trek to the Inca ruins of Choquiquerao.
Way before we boarded the plane to Rio, I went to a talk by the author of the Trailblazer guide to trekking in the Cusco region, and he basically spent the whole time harping on about one particular trek that everyone should do – if they had a week and a half to spare – which was to Machu Picchu via this other, lesser known set of Inca ruins called Choquequirao. But he also said – words repeated in his guidebook – that the trek would involve several days in the wilderness on treacherous and difficult-to follow paths, and that you need to take a guide. After weighing it up, we decided it would be too risky to try it, which is why we decided only to do the standard Choquiquerao trek, turn back again to Cusco, and then get to Machu Picchu another way, separately, later on.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, nine days later we found ourselves at Machu Picchu, having completed the epic walk that I’d been dreaming of doing all along. We’d managed to find campsites selling basic supplies along the whole route and just decided to carry on rather than turn back, carrying everything on our backs and using the guidebook and our phones for navigation – unlike the majority of groups which use a guide, cook, and multiple horses and horsemen, and pay hundreds of dollars per day for the privilege.
The trek itself was pretty hard, with the first few days involving seemingly endless descents and ascents and with little shade from the baking hot sun. But we were rewarded along the way with some amazing views of deep valleys, wild rivers and snowy mountains, as you’ll see if you get as far as my photoblog below. Oh yeah, and then there were the Inca ruins themselves. Choquiquearo and Machu Picchu are both breathtakingly situated on the edges of mountainsides, and are definitely not suitable for anyone with vertigo; archaeologists believe that the Inca rulers chose these two sites in part for their aesthetic beauty, and I could see why they might think that. Machu Picchu obviously needs no description from me – I’ll just say it definitely lived up to the hype – but Choquiquerao was also a pretty amazing place, a huge site with well-restored houses, lots of ceremonial sites, and terraces dropping hundreds of metres down three sides of the mountain for growing crops and to prevent erosion.
So in conclusion, it was great. This was the longest unguided trek I’ve ever done, and it made both of us want to do more long treks as the trip goes on. Charlie was also a huge help with her greater experience in all things trekking, and I also learned a lot from her in terms of how to prepare and pack (most importantly – make sure you bring a battery pack and lots of TV episodes on your phone!)
With this route being relatively new and unknown by the tourist masses (we met only five other people doing it over the nine days), as well as a brilliant and very cheap way of reaching Machu Picchu, we decided afterwards to pool our brains and put together some route notes for the trek, my write-up of which you can read here.
Route map and altitude profile
Left: Beginning the trek to Choquiquerao – little did I know that we wouldn’t be back for nine days. Right: There would be no getting lonely though, as we soon made some furry friends!