Peru part 2: From biking to hiking: the wilderness trail to Machu Picchu and Choquiquerao (12-23 Sep 2016)

Previous post: Let the climbing begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco

Next post: Awesome Ausangate: Trekking around (probably) Peru’s most beautiful mountain

(Associated post: How to trek to Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu in nine days for less than £100)

Contents

What we did

Blog Post

Route Map and Altitude Profile

Photoblog

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)

Blog post

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

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A map of our trek to Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu

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And here’s our altitude profile – you can view a larger version here

Photoblog

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I didn’t take many photos of Cusco, which I now regret as it was very beautiful! This one is overlooking the Plaza de Armas towards the city’s main cathedral

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And this one’s a scene from the local nightclub!

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#Lads

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!

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View more than 1,000 metres down to the Apurimac river – which we would reach the following morning

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But before that, the first of our nine nights of consecutive camping at Cocamansa, which, like much of this arid valley, was infested with sandflies

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The next morning, the descent began in earnest

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The view from the bridge at Playa Rosalina (altitude c1500m). From here we would have to climb almost 1.5 vertical kilometres in one sweaty afternoon to reach the Choquequirao campsite. Well, I guess we didn’t have to do it all in one afternoon. But we did!

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And we were rewarded with the freedom of the campsite – before a few other groups came along. Use of the campsite, which is less than an hour’s walk from the ruins, is free with an entrance ticket for an unlimited number of days. Value!

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The next morning we left the rucksacks at base and went off to explore the ruins, which are perched spectacularly on a hillside around 3,000m above sea level

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Our first view of the spectacular ruins of Choquequirao

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There were no more than 20 visitors to the ruins the day we were there – this may have something to do with the fact that this grueling two day trek is the only way to reach them

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The site was large, with terraces on all sides dropping down the hillside providing irrigation for growing crops or to prevent erosion

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Restoration of the site was definitely a work in progress

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Vertigo-inducing view down the steep terraces to the Rio Blanco – which we would be crossing the following day!

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On the way down we passed another set of newly-excavated ruins of Pincha Unuyoc. Amazingly, the irrigation system in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped terraces still works and was our water source for the morning

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Still a long way down!

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Crossing the Rio Blanco in the midday heat. Now it was just the small matter of a 2,300 metre climb to the next pass!

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We camped halfway up at the Maizal farm. On most days there was only one proper campsite; at this one we had four other trekkers and about a hundred animals for company

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The ominous-looking weather from the night before disappeared, and the next morning we pushed up to the pass. This is Charlie having a bite to eat outside a disused silver mine

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At times the path followed an old Inca road

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Charlie slightly prematurely celebrating reaching the 4,140m pass

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In fact, it was just around the corner, where we all had our first view of snowy mountains in Peru

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Before you know it, we are already beginning the next long downhill. This one was a bit scary!

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The bottom of this one was the village of Yanama, which mercifully had a good shop and someone selling fuel. Less merciful was the weather, which sent a wave of mist over the valley the following morning

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What’s around the corner?

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At times it felt a bit like trekking in Wales

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Except we were now at a breathless 4,660 metres above sea level. This is the approach to the Abra Yanama, the highest point on the trek

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Where it had been snowing. So, naturally, we made a snowman!

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It’s all downhill from here…

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We joined up with the popular ‘Salkantay’ trekking route to Machu Picchu on day 7, and the path became better-maintained. Here’s Charlie crossing a waterfall

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On the final climb before Machu Picchu. This one was small beer compared to the past few days, at only 600m. But no less beautiful

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Our penultimate campsite actually overlooked Machu Picchu – through the gap between the trees. Though a pair of binoculars would have helped

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Down the other side of the hill and the famous walk along the train tracks between Hidroelectrica and Aguas Calientes began. By now there were many people on the trail

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But there weren’t a whole lot of trains. Thank goodness!

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After seven nights of straight camping, we took a well earned dip at the side of the railway line. As you do

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Despite Aguas Caliente’s plethora of cheap hotels, it just wouldn’t have been right not to camp one final time, especially when there was a perfectly nice beach spot available…

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One more short climb later, and we’d made it. Arriving early meant we got some good snaps before the views were filled with other people

Say cheese!

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Soon that pesky mist was back – good job we arrived early

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Although by the time we found someone to take our photo, much of the site was obscured

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Time to have a walk around. Here’s where some of the inhabitants lived. Hardy souls

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Here’s a view down from the edge of the site. Machu Picchu’s setting really is spectacular

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And here’s that classic snap with Huayna Picchu in the background, at the culmination of what was an epic trek

Next: Awesome Ausangate: Trekking around (probably) Peru’s most beautiful mountain

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4 thoughts on “Peru part 2: From biking to hiking: the wilderness trail to Machu Picchu and Choquiquerao (12-23 Sep 2016)

  1. Pingback: How to trek to Choquiquerao and Machu Picchu in nine days for less than £100 | Long way up

  2. Pingback: Peru (03 Sep – 05 Dec 2016) | Long way up

  3. Pingback: Peru part 1: Let the climbing begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco (03-11 Sep 2016) | Long way up

  4. Pingback: Peru part 3: Awesome Ausangate: Trekking around (probably) Peru’s most beautiful mountain (26-28 Sep 2016) | Long way up

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