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Choquequirao: The Alternative to Machu Picchu for Those After Adventure Not Just Selfies

Choquequirao: The Alternative to Machu Picchu for Those After Adventure Not Just Selfies



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Choquequirao is known as the ‘sacred sister’ of Machu Picchu, as it is similar to this site both in structure and architecture. With demand ever high to trek the now well-worn Inca trail to Machu Picchu, but places limited to 500 per day and prices high, Choquequirao is now being offered as the alternative trail to follow.

Many who had the dream of walking in the footsteps of the Incas to Machu Picchu have been disappointed due to the limited places available,and so have had to settle for getting the train to the iconic site and at least obtaining the “I was here” photo. For some that’s enough. For others – those who were relishing the grueling several day trek - there is now an alternative path open leading to an arguably more thrilling site. The only access to Choquequirao is by foot, meaning far less visitors and the expansive site is still being uncovered. For those who prefer to get off the standard ‘bucket list’ destinations or even entertain having a slightly more original selfie to post than a miriad of their gap-year peers, Choquequirao is a good bet. So what is the reward for bucking the trend and taking a path less trodden?

Experience the Uncovering of Choquequirao

Peru was once ruled by the mighty Inca Empire, a civilization that achieved many impressive architectural feats . The famous Machu Picchu, which was built by the Inca above a much older megalithic site, is one of the prime examples of their skill and ingenuity. Nevertheless, Machu Picchu is not the only monumental site built by the Incas, as there were other less-known, but equally impressive places that they built . One of these is Choquequirao (‘Cradle of Gold’), which still holds many hidden secrets as archaeologists have barely scratched the surface of what lays beneath the earth.

Choquequirao is located on the spurs of the Wilkapampa mountain range in the La Convención Province in the north western part of the Cusco region. Choquequirao first entered European knowledge when it was discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Arias Diaz in 1710. Nevertheless, archaeological excavations were only conducted over 250 years later in the 1970s. By comparison, Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, and was excavated in the following year. It has been estimated that only one third of Choquequirao has been excavated, whilst the rest of it remains hidden and is yet to be unearthed.

The spectacular site of Choquequirao ( Wikimedia Commons )

It has been suggested that Choquequirao was built a generation or two prior to the arrival of the Spanish. One argument is that the city was built as a royal estate by Topa Inca Yupanqui, the tenth ruler of the Inca Empire who lived during the latter half of the 15 th century. It is said that Topa Inca Yupanqui intended to build a city similar in location and design to Machu Picchu, which is said to have been built by his father and predecessor, Pachacuti. Another argument states that Choquequirao was built around the same time as Machu Picchu, and its construction was commissioned by Pachacuti, rather than by his successor.

Left: Main plaza at Choquequirao. Right: Remains of Inca houses at Choquequirao ( Wikimedia Commons )

Like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is also centred on a ridge top with a higher mountain at its back, and a lower distinctive promontory at its front. In addition, each city had a sacred river flowing below in view. During the heyday of the Inca Empire, it is likely that Choquequirao functioned as a provincial administrative center, and served as a vital link between the Amazon rainforest and Cusco. It has also been speculated that Choquequirao provided a seasonal pilgrimage destination for regional state-sponsored ceremonial events. On top of that, there is evidence to suggest that Choquequirao was also an important center for the cultivation and distribution of coca.

Distinctive Inca terraces at Choquequirao, which are reminiscent of sister site Machu Picchu ( Wikimedia Commons )

The excavation of Choquequirao has revealed the skill of the Inca engineers, as everything was built with great precision and attention to detail. For instance, water fountains were made of large rocks so that they would not wear away quickly, whilst the residents of Choquequirao announced their wealth and power through houses with double doors. Furthermore, flat slabs under windows were said to store food for refrigeration, and irrigation channels supplied water to the city’s inhabitants. Down the stairway of the main plaza is one of the most interesting features of Choquequirao. On a set of terraces, the builders of the city decorated each terrace with white rocks in the shape of llamas / alpacas. One interpretation of this work of art is that it was created to show appreciation to this animal, as they were used to transport food and supplies.

Two white stone llamas Choquequirao ( Wikimedia Commons )

According to Peru’s National Cultural Institute, 6800 tourists visited Choquequirao in 2006, which is more than double the number recorded in 2003. Still, this is less than one percent of the 1.2 million tourists that visit Machu Picchu in a year. One reason for this small number of visitors is that the trail to Choquequirao is often claimed to be twice as difficult as the trail used to access Machu Picchu. All this might change in the near future, however, as the Peruvian government has plans to build a cable car that would ferry tourists up to the site in a mere 15 minutes. This development may attract hordes of tourist to the site. Although this would bring in much needed money to the government, it would certainly have an impact on the tranquillity and preservation of the site.

It’s a tough climb to reach the top of Choquequirao, but all this may change with plans to install a cable car ( Wikimedia Commons )


Insider’s Guide to Hiking Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of few UNESCO World Heritage Sites to have earned the designation both for cultural and geographic reasons. Weaving through the Peruvian Andes, the many treks to Machu Picchu pass through some astoundingly varied topography, culminating in the beautiful cloud forest that surrounds the ancient Incan city.

It’s possible to take transportation and visit Machu Picchu in a day trip from Cusco, if you like crowded buses and hordes of people. But nothing can beat the feeling of arriving at Machu Picchu after several days of hiking through the Andes. For many, this is the gateway hike – the first multi-day hike you’ll ever do. Be warned, it’s addictive!


1. The Salcantay Route

The classic Inca Trail is famed for the diversity of its topography and ecosystems the Salcantay Route’s smorgasbord is even more impressive. The 20,500-feet-high Mount Salcantay was one of the holiest apus, or sacred peaks, in the Inca religious pantheon. It’s still revered today in traditional Andean religion. This mule-assisted hike cuts through the beautiful Mollepata Valley and traverses past Salcantay at an altitude above 15,000 feet. From those chilly heights, the trail descends into subtropical cloud forest, where it meets up with an ancient Inca highway (part of the original Capac Ñan network that connected the far ends of the empire) that leads to the recently rediscovered ruins of Llactapata. From there, one can gaze a few miles across the valley to take in a rare sidelong view of the full Machu Picchu complex. A downhill walk ends at the small train station, where a frequent shuttle runs along the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

Trip Length: 5 to 8 days

Difficulty Level: Medium to difficult


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Peru is opening up a little-known alternative to Machu Picchu with a new road and cable car

Choquequirao has a similar architectural structure to Mach Picchu Credit: Getty

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C hoquequirao - an Inca settlement less than 40 miles from Machu Picchu and known as a “sacred sister” to the popular site - could soon be vying for visitors with the opening of a new road and cable car.

With a similar architectural structure to the famous Machu Picchu citadel, which attracts 1.2 million tourists each year, unsung Choquequirao, which dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, is currently accessible only to those willing to make a five-day hike. Therefore it receives far fewer visitors – only a dozen a day, or around 5,800 a year.

But Bloomberg reports that the Peruvian government is hoping to change that with a new road connecting it with Machu Picchu and cable car to take tourists to directly to the ruins, which sit at 3,050 metres above sea level.

The new infrastructure would allow tourists to explore the stairways, terraces, plazas and temples that form the hilltop complex, spanning 1,800 hectares, as part of a trip to its more famous neighbour.

“The hike is exceptionally beautiful, but it’s tough,” said Roger Valencia, the country’s deputy tourism minister, and a former tour operator and guide who has done the journey himself about 20 times. “We’ll put in the roads and the cable cars to make it accessible.”

The $80m (£60m) investment scheme pledged by the country’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to develop Choquequirao forms part of the government’s initiative to double the number of tourist arrivals to Peru to seven million by 2021.

The government has yet to confirm the expected completion dates for the new roads and cable cars. But it is hoped the project, expected to start next year, will bring 150,000 visitors a year to Choquequirao, increasing to at least half a million a year in the long term.

Officials have already begun developing other lesser-known sites such as Kuelap - known as the “Machu Picchu of the north” - where a new cable car system built earlier this year is expected to draw 100,000 tourists a year, double the number that previously visited.

New walking routes to Machu Picchu and plans to allow tourists better access to the surrounding mountain range are also on the cards.

But any increase in visitor numbers could also result in the deterioration of the Lost City of the Incas. Earlier this year, Peruvian authorities placed new restrictions on visits to Machu Picchu in an attempt to lessen the impact on the country's most popular attraction, requiring tourists to purchase tickets for access within two time slots: either the morning (6am-midday) or the afternoon (midday-5.30pm).

“Peru should be thinking about other regions, other trails, other sites, both Inca and non-Inca - such as Moray and the Huaca del Sol - and looking to reduce the overall visitor numbers to Machu Picchu,” said Chris Moss, Telegraph Travel’s Peru expert.

“More boots on the ground will lead to deterioration of the steps and walls, lawns and footpaths, and probably a need for more vigilance and protective ropes.”

Seven other ancient sites in Peru

1. Chan Chan

The adobe city of Chan Chan is the largest earthen architectural complex in the Americas, spanning 20 square kilometres at the mouth of the Moche Valley in northern Peru.

Chan Chan means “sun sun” and it was named for its sunny climate which is cooled by a southerly breeze year-round. Its dense city centre is home to extravagant architectural masterpieces known as ciudadelas, featuring plazas, staterooms, and burial places for royals.

2. Kuelap

Crowning a 3,000-metre hilltop and surrounded by cloud forest, the huge walled site deserves a visit and is often called Peru's “Machu Picchu of the North”. It is now easier to get to, thanks to a new cable car that opened in March this year.

Built around AD800, it is found near the town of Chachapoyas in a rural region that does not receive many visitors. It was once home to the Chachapoyan people, known as “cloud warriors” by the Incas - up until a few years ago, archaeologists were still pulling human remains from among the ruins of conical houses and hibiscus trees.

3. Chavín de Huantar

The Unesco-listed site, which pre-dates the Incas and features narrow tunnels and impressive engravings, is found in the Ancash region, north of Lima. Chavín de Huantar, which dates back to 3000BC, served as a ceremonial centre for religious activities and contains artefacts, relics and ruins from around 1200BC.

4. El Paraiso

Built around 4,000 years ago, El Paraiso is the oldest archaeological site near Lima and described as the “largest and earliest example of monumental architecture in the New World”. It was a religious and administrative centre long before the rise of the Inca culture encountered by the Spanish conquerors.

5. Cajarmarca

“Cajamarca is a colonial town sprawled across a mountain plain at an altitude of 9,000 feet,” explains Telegraph Travel's Nigel Richardson. “In 1532, the Inca king Atahualpa was captured in Cajamarca by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro. All that remains of the palace is that room, in a side street off the main square. Of classic Inca design, it is the size of a double garage and consists of large blocks of stone with trapezoid niches set in the walls," explains Telegraph Travel's Nigel Richardson.

“It is known as the Cuarto del Rescate, the Room of Ransom, because it was there that Atahualpa reached his hand above his head, touched the wall, and promised to fill the room with gold and silver up to that line, in return for his freedom.”

6. Caral

Richardson adds: “During the 20th century, Caral was just one among many unexplored ancient sites dotting the coastal strip between Lima and Peru's border with Ecuador in the north. But in 2000, carbon dating of a bag woven from plant fibres proved that the 163-acre site had been built between 3000BC and 2100BC, making it the oldest civilisation on the continent of the Americas and contemporaneous with the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

“Pyramids, circular plazas, a round altar and strange monoliths have been revealed since. One of the greatest finds so far has been a set of 32 flutes made of pelican and condor bones and decorated with images of supernatural beings.”

7. Moray

This Inca site, not far from Cuzco, features unusual ruins in a series of circular terraces, the largest of which is around 30 metres (98 feet) deep.

Found at 3,500 metres, the temperature difference between its bottom and top levels can be as much as 15C, which has led researchers to believe the complex was used for agricultural testing to measure the effects of climate conditions on crops.


Lost Cities, Found Anew

Llactapata has been called the “Lost Suburb of the Incas,” because it sits directly across the valley from Machu Picchu and, with a decent pair of binoculars, is visible from it. Bingham, always pressing on, spent only a few hours there in 1912. John showed me how on the morning of the June solstice — the shortest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the holiest dates on the Incan calendar — one corridor at Llactapata aligns perfectly with the Sun Temple at Machu Picchu and the exact spot on the horizon where the sun rises. The Incas were superb engineers such an invisible axis couldn’t have been a coincidence.

“OK, but what does that mean?” I asked John.

“It means all these sites we’ve seen weren’t separate — they were linked in ways Bingham never could have imagined, because he was always in such a hurry,” John said. “And probably in ways we still haven’t figured out yet, either.”

After descending on foot into the canyon that sits between Llactapata and the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, an 80,000-acre preserve that contains the main site and the Inca Trail, travelers can catch a train to Machu Picchu that meanders through the Urubamba River canyon. Or, as John and I did, they can slip in the rear entrance by walking the last six miles via those same train tracks.

We soon arrived at Aguas Calientes, a chaotic tourist town that serves as a sort of entry point to Machu Picchu. After two weeks of no-tech tranquillity, I found its packed Internet cafes, four-for-one happy hour specials and souvenir shops jarring. The next morning we bought two tickets and rode the bus that ascends the switchbacking Hiram Bingham Highway toward our ultimate destination.

One’s first view of Machu Picchu is a bit like seeing the Mona Lisa after staring for years at a da Vinci refrigerator magnet. You know exactly what to expect, and at the same time, can’t quite believe that the real thing exceeds the hype. Also like the Mona Lisa, Machu Picchu is more compact than it appears in photos. In less than an hour John and I were able to visit most of the ruins that Bingham saw 100 years ago, in the same order he had encountered them: the cave of the Royal Mausoleum, with its interior walls that seemed to have melted the perfect curve of the Sun Temple the titanic structures of the Sacred Plaza, assembled from what Bingham called “blocks of Cyclopean size, higher than a man” and, at the very top of the main ruins, the enigmatic Intihuatana stone, around which a throng of mystically inclined visitors stood with their hands extended, hoping to absorb any good vibrations radiating from the granite. At noon, when trainloads of day-trippers arrived, John and I took a long walk out to the Sun Gate. We munched on quinoa energy bars and watched tour groups endure stop-and-go traffic up and down Machu Picchu’s ancient stone stairways. At 3 p.m., the Cuzco-bound crowds drained through the exit like water from a tub, and we wandered the main ruins for another two hours before catching the day’s last bus down at 5:30.

On the last morning of our trip, still feeling crowd-shy, I asked John if he knew of any place at Machu Picchu that Bingham had seen but that most people never bothered to visit.

“I know just the spot,” he said without hesitating. “Mount Machu Picchu.”

Climbing a 1,640-foot-tall staircase isn’t something I normally do on vacation. But the condor’s-eye view from the top of Mount Machu Picchu, a verdant peak that looms above the ruins, was the sort of thing that compels a man to quote Kipling. Once at its summit, we had views of sacred apus unfolding in all directions the Urubamba River snaking its way around Machu Picchu, on its way to the Amazon and even the busy Inca Trail. We were inside the confines of Machu Picchu, and yet, like Bingham a hundred years before, we could appreciate it in peace.

GETTING THERE

Cuzco is Peru’s adventure travel hub, as well as the gateway to Machu Picchu and the surrounding area. LAN offers flights connecting through Lima from American cities, though Taca tends to have better Lima-to-Cuzco fares.

FINDING AN OUTFITTER

Remote spots like Choquequirao and Espiritu Pampa can still be reached only on foot, so a visit requires an expedition team much like Hiram Bingham assembled: a guide (like John Leivers, at right), provisions, cook, mules, mule tenders.

Most reputable trip outfitters in Cuzco can assemble a made-to-order trip including some or all of the ruins Bingham saw. Amazonas Explorer (51-84-252846 amazonas-explorer.com) offers a 12-day hiking package that includes a hotel stay in Cuzco, a tour of ruins near Cuzco, and stops at Vitcos, Espiritu Pampa and Machu Picchu ($2,403 per person minimum of three people) and a 10-day trip from Choquequirao through Llacatapata to Machu Picchu ($1,643 minimum of four). Food on the trail, tents, a night’s hotel in Aguas Calientes and entry fees to Machu Picchu are also included. An à la carte trip through all five Bingham sites would take approximately 18 days.

Depending on your route, you may also want to spend two or three days in Cuzco to acclimate to the elevation.


Hike Through History on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Incan Trail network is connected through four trails that start at the Main Square of Cusco. The network leads into what was once the four regions of the Inca Empire: Antisuyo, Contisuyo, Chinchaysuyo and Collasuyo. Together, the regions combined the Tahuantinsuyo Empire, a name derived from the Quechua words tawa meaning four, and suyo , meaning region. The four regions and trails stretch from what is today Columbia and well into Argentina. The Incas built the trails gathering local materials and taking advantage of the natural landscape and considering the geography&rsquos unexpected and variable pattern.

The rich history embodied in archaeological sites is what makes the Inca Trail my absolute favorite. Next, I&rsquoll go into more depth about what each day entails, highlighting a few of the most important trail sites along the way.

Day 1: Hike past Dead Woman&rsquos Pass before visiting Chachabamba and Llactapata

The most challenging day is ahead of you. Your Inca Trail journey begins at Kilometer 82. After a night&rsquos sleep, you&rsquoll trek for almost 12 hours. You&rsquoll hike almost 10 miles and traverse the two highest mountains of the Inca Trail. The highest point, Dead Woman&rsquos Pass, stands 2.6 miles (4200m) above sea level and takes four hours to climb. The pass is infamous for its altitude but got its name by less grim means. The mountain resembles the profile of a woman lying down, looking up at the sky.

The first historical site is Chachabamba , a little spot that the Incas used as a checkpoint. The architecture suggests it was also used as a place of worship. Incas are known for their connection with nature, and they ventured to Chachabamba for water worship, the most important element for this agricultural-based community.

The second one &mdash probably the biggest site you&rsquoll see on this trail &mdash is Llactapata. The original names of these sites were lost, so archaeologists who have been studying this area came up with new ones, in Quechua. A small village where the Incas used to farm corn and potatoes, complete with traditional multi-level terraces, wraps it up for the first day of sightseeing.

Day 2: Encounter an ancient ruin, overlook point and a small city

On your second day, you&rsquoll trek by Runkuracay, a peculiar egg-shaped site. The Egg Hut offers a stunning view of Warmiwañusca, our first pass. Next up is Sayacmarca, the Unaccessible Village. The name hails from the fact that you can only access it by the Inca Trail, which is why the Inca used it as a control base for incomers. Originally, it was built by the Colla, Inca&rsquos adversaries. Upon conquering them, the Inca improved upon the existing architecture by adding a farm. A small city of 200 residents thrived where these ruins lay today. Sayacmarca overlooks a subtropical forest filled with a rainbow of orchids, and from there, the trail follows roaring rivers into the jungle.

Day 3: Hike to Phuyupatamarca, the orchid paradise above the clouds

Get excited for the third day! Just a two-hour hike from the campsite is a fantastic site called Phuyupatamarca, which translates to &ldquothe village above the clouds.&rdquo Always cloud-clad, Phuyupatamarca&rsquos primary function in the Incan Empire&rsquos time was to house religious ceremonies. Located at a staggering 12,040 feet (3670m) above the sea level, the Incas built this sacred city in the mountains to be close to the gods who lived just above the ever-present clouds.

Famously, this site is also believed to be where the Incas studied the stars. They used the stars to predict and plan, like whether they could anticipate a good harvest season, but also in relation to mining, warfare, and construction. The two calendars displayed intricate charts tracking the sun and moon&rsquos phases. It&rsquos also believed the calendars determined when important ceremonies took place.

Discover the lesser-known terrace city of Intipata

From Phuyupatamarca, you can view the terrace city Intipata, a lesser-known site. Also called &ldquothe place of the sun,&rdquo it consists of around 150 to 200 terraces perched on the hill. To this day, the terraces are overgrown with fragrant herbs and plants the ancient Inca used. During the rain season, the five stone baths still standing among the ruins contain fresh running water and are fully functional!

Wiñay Wayna is even more scenic than Machu Picchu

My clients have called Wiñay Wayna even more beautiful than Machu Picchu. Wiñay Wayna means &ldquoforever young&rdquo in native Quechua. Upon first finding it, an archeologist discovered that the site was overtaken by vegetation. When he started cutting through the ferns and bushes, a rainbow of flowers came to sight with red orchids standing out. These orchids bloom on terraces of Wiñay Wayna to this day. On top of the spectacular flora, the site is filled with fountains celebrating water, the most important element in Inca culture. The settlement is truly an unbelievable place.

Day 4: Arrive at Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas

The big finale is hiking up to the Sun Gate, originally known as Inti Punku, and the entrance to Machu Picchu. The ancient people built the Sun Gate to watch the sunrise during the summer solstice on December 21. The summer solstice marked the beginning of the rainy season for the Incas, a crucial resource for agriculture. From there, you&rsquoll make our trek down to the Lost City of the Incas. The first rays shine from the neighboring mountain Huaynapicchu, filtering through the gate exactly at the Temple of the Sun inside of Machu Picchu. It&rsquos a glorious sight.


Tipping porters on your Machu Picchu trekking tours.


Tipping is not mandatory on any of the Machu Picchu trekking tours, but it is highly recommended.

The best thing one can do is to pay attention to the fantastic work that these porters do and tip based on such performance.

Tips range from 30 to 40USD per porter for the full duration of the tour. Cooks get double than that for their impressive culinary skills.

For instance, if you have six tourists in your group, then the total number of porters is 11 plus one cook.

The amount to tip porters and the cook would be 390USD divided amongst six travelers, which ads up to 65USD per traveler.

​Tour guides are tipped on a personal basis, based on performance. A recommended tip for a guide is 10% of the total cost of your tour. ​

Inca Trail Tours

Five-Day Private Women-Only Inca Trail Tour to Machu Picchu.

Difficulty level: Moderate.
Distance covered: 31.06 Miles / 50 Km
Highest Elevation: Dead Womans' pass: 13,800ft / 4,201m

Pros
The five-day Women Only Inca Trail Tour is the only hiking tour of its kind in the world. The tour is tailored for women, led by women and supported by women porters.

It offers the opportunity to explore almost every single Incan site located within the Machu Picchu National Sanctuary while giving you the leisure of having the trail and some campsites practically entirely to yourself.

Notice
Except for day one, the route followed by this itinerary is almost entirely the same as the four-day option. Due to the different arrangements of campsites and itineraries, the five day Inca Trail provides a chance to have a second visit to Machu Picchu. First, on the fourth day at sunset, and again on the last day in the morning for the sunrise.
Cons
There are no group tours for this itinerary most five-day Inca Trail tours are operated on a private basis. Read more here.

Five-Day Inca Trail Tour to Machu Picchu.
Difficulty level: Moderate.
Distance covered: 31.06 Miles / 50 Km
Highest Elevation: Dead Womans' pass: 13,800ft / 4,201m

Pros
The five-day Inca Trail is the best way to hike the Inca Trail.

It offers the opportunity to explore almost every single Incan site located within the Machu Picchu National Sanctuary while giving you the leisure of having the trail and some campsites practically entirely to yourself.

Notice
Except for day one, the route followed by this itinerary is almost entirely the same as the four-day option. Due to the different arrangements of campsites and itineraries, the five day Inca Trail provides a chance to have a second visit to Machu Picchu. First, on the fourth day at sunset, and again on the last day in the morning for the sunrise.


Cons
There are no group tours for this itinerary most five-day Inca Trail tours are operated on a private basis. Read more here.


Peru’s 8 Best Treks

Feeling adventurous? Peru hosts many of the world’s top hikes, which comes as no surprise considering it also hosts the world’s longest mountain chain, the Andes. Many are familiar with its most famous hiking destination Machu Picchu but are unaware that there are several stunning routes to choose from i.e. the Inca, Salkantay or the Lares Trek. The Colca Canyon is another contender for Peru’s most popular destination with its impressive status of being second deepest canyon in the world. Additionally, the legendary Santa Cruz Trek should not be looked over as it is ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful treks. Regardless of your final choice(s), you can’t go wrong. From the richness of the indigeneous cultures by day to the brightness of the milky way fulfillingly closing each night, trekking in Peru is an unforgettable experience.

1. Inca Trail

As previously mentioned, there are several trails to Machu Picchu and the most popular is the Inca Trail. This 33km trail takes 3-4 days to trek and traverses 3 high passes, the highest being Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200m. It starts in the Sacred Valley, winding through the snow capped Andes and tucan filled cloud forests ultimately leading to Machu Picchu. En route to the famous archaeological site, you’ll encounter several other ancient ruins: Huillca Raccay, Patallacta, Phuyupatamarca, and Winay Wayna. The first views of Machu Picchu will be through the Sun Gate, fittingly, at sunrise. Experience the first rays of light gracing the sacred citadel in reverence long before any of the tourist buses arrive. Check out our Inca Trail trekking packages.

The Lares, Inca, and Salkantay Treks All End At Machu Picchu

2. Salkantay

The hardest, arguably most beautiful route to Machu Picchu, winds between the peaks Humantay and Salkantay, both named after formidable Incan spirits. The pinnacle of natural beauty and the jewel of this trek is the Humantay Lagoon at 4200 m. Consider leaving a spiritual offering (a carin or ‘apacheta’) here for the Incan Mother Earth or touch its blue frozen waters to ‘keep you young forever’. The trek continues onto its highest point at Salkantay Pass at 4650 m and afterwards descends gently into a jungle filled with orchids, hummingbirds, and tropical fruits. After visiting the Llactapata ruins and an impressive 300 meter tall natural waterfall, Machu Picchu is the last item on the itinerary. Like the Inca Trail, this trek reaches the ruins at dawn enabling you to watch the sun break silently over the mountains, rays slicing through the mist. Find more details on the Salkantay Trek.

Salkantay Trek, i.e. The Road to Machu Picchu

3. Lares Trek

This 2-3 day trek starting in the town of Lares is characterized as the slightly shorter and quieter brother of the Inca Trail. It is still necessary to cross incredibly high mountain passes, the highest point being Ipsaycocha Pass at 4,333 m. However, Lares trek is considered to be the easier option. This less traveled trail introduces travelers to the local cultural traditions with weaving and other demonstrations plus the option to stay with local families. This 36-km hike is a nature lovers paradise as the trek takes you through serene valleys filled with herds of alpaca overlooked by diligent caretakers.

4. Choquequirao Trek

High in the Quriwayrachina mountain range lies the ancient ruins of Choquequirao, translating to ‘Cradle of Gold’. The difficult 64km, 4 day trek plunges deep into the Apurimac Canyon before following the emerging mountain top trail to the lesser known lost Incan City. On the way in you’ll witness enchanting mountain views from the cliffside town of Marampata and experience the sunrise through leafy vistas. With other few visitors trekking to this ‘alternative Machu Pichu’ you’ll feel you’re on an authentic exploration expedition into the deep jungle. Upon reaching the citadel you’ll be charmed by its terraces and stunning location in the remote Andes. The ‘little sister’ of Machu Picchu is not soon forgotten by those dedicated to pursue her beauty.

Snow Capped Mountains of the Ausangate Massif Andes. Cusco, Peru

5. Ausangate Trek

This high altitude 7 day trek in Southern Peru circumnavigates the Ausangate Massif (6,372m) and unlike most Peruvian treks, it does not visit Incan ruins. Instead this difficult but rewarding trek highlights the beautiful geographical features of this region. There are 4 high mountain passes, hot springs, glacial and pink lakes, rugged peaks and the famed Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain. Properly acclimating in Cusco is a must as the entire trek is above 4,000m and two nights are spent at some of the highest mountain lodges in the world. This relatively undiscovered trek showcases some of Peru’s most pristine and untouched mountain landscape giving trekkers an insight to rural life high in the Alpines.

6. Colca Canyon

Outside the town Arequipa,the second deepest canyon in the world can be found with limitless spectacular views. Tourists also flock here to see its most popular resident, the Andean Condor, gliding high above the precipitous cliffs. After trekking down into the canyon, take time to soak your weary legs in the thermal baths at Oasis Sangalle. However, if you thought the descent was difficult you might be in trouble. The best advice we can give for this trek is to be physically and mentally prepared to hike out of the canyon on the last day otherwise the switchbacks may convince you to hire a donkey to carry you out of the canyon. On the way back be sure not to miss the colorful pattern work of the traditional farming terraces below you or the smoking Patapampa volcano on the horizon.

7. Santa Cruz Trek

Lauded at one of Peru’s best treks, the route winds through lush valleys and the extremely beautiful Cordillera Blanca mountain range at a moderate difficulty. Located in Northern Peru’s Huascaran National Park, this 4 day trek is known for its resplendent lakes and hospitable locals. Although it reaches 4750m at its highest point, this trek is popular due to its easy accessibility to those in fairly good shape. Guides will happily point out the impressive views of Huascarán, Peru’s tallest mountain, and Artesonraju made famous by the Paramount Pictures logo. Breath in the scent of new blossoms as you venture through some of Peru’s most opulent valleys with impressive skylines to match.

Trekking in the mountains of Andes

8. Huayhuash Circuit

Huayhuash Circuit is an incredibly beautiful and challenging trek. The full circuit takes 10-12 days journeying through 130km of pristine valleys, thermal springs and native communities. The panoramic views from Cerro Huacrish of Erupajá, Peru’s second highest peak (6635m), and the surrounding snow capped giants will take your breath away. If you are short on time or motivation, it is possible to trek a smaller section, lovingly referred to as ‘Mini Huayhuash’. Between the extreme altitudes and the picturesque mountainscapes, Huayhuash will surely take your breath away.

A Reminder About Altitude Sickness

As you may have noticed from this article, all Peru’s hikes are at a high altitude well above the 3,000m mark where altitude sickness can strike. Drink a lot of water, take it one leisurely step at a time and chew cocoa leaves to help with acclimatization. Before any long treks acclimatize in Cusco for 3-4 days beforehand. It’s recommended to bring Diamox in case you do start getting those tell tale headaches. Communicate with guides as soon as you have any symptoms as this is a life threatening illness that can bring down even the most fit trekkers.

Peru is a world class trekking destination and we would love to help you plan a trek there! As always, we hope you found our post helpful in organizing your trip. If you enjoyed it please do like, comment and subscribe to our mailing list for future posts!

Brin is an avid world traveller. After living in Australia and Taiwan, she backpacked around Asia and Europe full time before joining the AdventureHero team. She is passionate about photography, new experiences & trekking. She loves connecting to the clients on social media and sharing their adventures. Have some photos or a story to tell? Make sure to use #adventurehero and tag @adventureherotrips to be featured.

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Choquequirao: The Alternative to Machu Picchu for Those After Adventure Not Just Selfies - History

For those traveling in Peru , the allure of the country&rsquos most famous trekking trail, the Inca Trail trek , is undeniable. Spending four to five days ascending some of the Sacred Valley&rsquos most breath-taking scenery, along the same route taken by Incan pilgrims so many centuries before is an unforgettable experience during one of our luxury Machu Picchu tours.

As one of the best luxury travel companies in Peru , Aracari has been curating Inca Trail itineraries for over 25 years. Throughout that time, demand for completing the illustrious Inca Trail has soared. Where once we&rsquod seen only the most adventurous amongst our guests headed to the starting point, we now welcome those seeking a more luxurious and comfortable Andean adventure during their Peru vacation .

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The most famous trek in South America

This surge has transformed Peru&rsquos Inca Trail.

Whilst numbers are carefully monitored by authorities in order to preserve and protect the Inca Trail, Peru &ndash what was once only read about in books, is now one of the world&rsquos most sought-after bucket list adventures.

For that reason, Aracari has worked with many guests looking for an Inca Trail alternative . Trekking routes in Peru that offer all the majestic beauty of Peru&rsquos most popular trail, whilst remaining largely undiscovered to tourists.

Peru is marbled with some of the world&rsquos most awe-inspiring treks.

As leading Peru travel advisors , Aracari&rsquos unrivalled knowledge of Peru means that our team have mapped the country&rsquos incredible trekking routes from North to South, East to West. Our adventure guru, Mark Green [link] has worked alongside Marisol for years, to curate walks for guests of all abilities and ages. Through forest, desert or mountains &ndash if it&rsquos an alternative to the Inca Trail you seek &ndash the path less trodden &ndash then Aracari, a top Peru travel company , is your starting point.

Multiday camping alternatives to the Inca Trail

Salkantay &ndash varied scenery and vistas of Machu Picchu

4 Days, 3 Nights, Rigorous, 58 km (36 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,600m (15,091 ft)

Following another ancient trail close to Machu Picchu , the Salkantay trek includes mountain passes and descents into high-altitude jungle. The trail&rsquos close proximity to the Inca Trail trek means you may also get a glimpse of Machu Picchu from the last campsite. A favorite amongst the Aracari team and our guests traveling to Peru , the Salkantay trek is a challenging trail but one well worth the reward.

Choquequirao &ndash a challenging hike to a former Inca city

5 Days 4 Nights, Rigorous, 53 km (32.9 mi), Max. Altitude: 3,035m (9,957ft)-

One of the more rigorous treks in Peru , this route leads to another significant Inca site that is larger and lesser known than Machu Picchu &ndash and therefore far less crowded. During our luxury Peru itineraries , Aracari&rsquos Peru guides will navigate our guests around the raging, glacier-fed Apurimac River, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, to Choquequirao &ndash a remote and rarely visited former Inca city.

Patakancha to Lares &ndash traditional villages and Andean scenery

2 Days 1 Night, Moderate, 20 km (12.4 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,700 m (15,419 ft)

This is a shorter option for those trekking in Peru and will see Aracari guests led past traditional villages where the community live much like their Inca ancestors, in stone and adobe homes with thatched roofs. Following a route our Peru guides have trekked for decades, Aracari guests will finish their luxury trek at soothing hot springs in the town of Lares.

Multiday Lodge-to-Lodge alternatives to the Inca Trail

Ausangate Lodge-to-Lodge

5 Day 4 Nights, Rigorous, 10-16 km (6-11 miles) per day, Max. Altitude: 5,200m (17,060 ft)

This breath-taking Peru trek is through the Vilcanota Cordillera and close to the highest sacred mountain in all of Cusco. Our chosen route has always been the Camino del Apu Ausangate. When our guests choose this luxury trek in Peru , they are accompanied by llamas and horses, owned by shepherds of the nearby community of Chilca, whom Aracari continues to support.

Salkantay Lodge-to-Lodge

7 Days 6 Nights, Rigorous, 63 km (39 mi), Max. Altitude: 4,638 m (15,216 ft)

Trekking the spectacular Cordillera Vilcabamba range and traversing the magnificent Salkantay Valley with Aracari, means passing glorious peaks and lush tropical vegetation en route to Machu Picchu . This hike features unique luxury tambos or lodges, where daily meals are prepared by our experienced, local chefs.

What makes trekking in Peru with Aracari different?

Each of Aracari&rsquos luxury Peru treks are offered on a private basis only. We don&rsquot accommodate for groups, meaning you have all the knowledge, experience and skill of our expert local guides for your party alone.

Marisol and her team of Travel Designers are themselves seasoned walkers, having trekked each of the before mentioned routes in order to curate the very best trekking experiences in Peru for guests. Every detail has been considered to make trekking in Peru with Aracari comfortable and luxurious, whilst also staying true to the great outdoors and the local communities and landscapes.

What&rsquos more, our Peru guides are not only locals who know all the secrets of these ancient regions, but also researchers, archaeologists and specialists in subjects such as the Inca Empire. The partnership between Aracari and our Peru guides ensures that guests have an unrivalled insight into the destinations they visit when traveling in Peru .

Travel in Peru with Aracari and enjoy the vast open spaces of a country mapped with trails just waiting to be discovered. View our trekking itineraries.


Watch the video: Choquequirao (August 2022).