Known as the other Machu Picchu, Choquequirao (“Cradle of Gold”) is preferred by serious hikers who enjoy the untamed nature of the trails. Remoteness and inaccessibility have kept most potential tourists away from this ruined Inca city in south Peru, leaving a pristine landscape to be enjoyed by those who dare to enter.
Similar in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is filled with ruined buildings and terraces that sit below a flattened hilltop that was leveled several hundred years ago and ringed with stones to create a platform. Built during the reign of King Pachacuti Inca Yupangui, Choquequirao is believed to be the last city that the Sons of the Sun took refuge in when fleeing Cusco in the 16th century.
Tucked into the Salkantay Mountain Range in the Cusco region above the valley of Rio Apurimac, only about one third of Choquequirao, a once vital link between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco, has been excavated. What has been uncovered to date follows traditional Inca construction: a temple and some administrative buildings are positioned directly around a central square with the living quarters of more common people further out. U.S. explorer Gary Ziegler has said that the number of niches and double jamb doorways in Choquequirao construction proves that the lost city was once held in high status. The first excavations in the area didn’t begin until the 1970s.
One of the most impressive features found in and around Choquequirao is a set of terraces that incorporate figures of llamas or alpacas. The shapes of the animals have been set into the large terraces using carefully carved white rock.
The Peruvian government has proposed that a cable car be installed to bring tourists to the region. As it stands now, visitors must endure a rough two-day hike from Cusco that is only recommended for experienced climbers. Rock and mud slides in the area are common, especially during the rainy season and most guides say that the trail to Choquequirao is twice as difficult as the Inca Trail used to access Machu Picchu. Unpaved, the dirt trail climbs nearly a mile on the second day of the hike alone.
Know Before You Go
Nearly all trekking agencies in Cusco offer a guided hike to Choquequirao. Book at least a couple of weeks in advance and find an outfit that includes meals, snacks and water for each day of the hike. Those interested in saving money can take a five hour bus to the small village of Cachora, where mules and a guide can be rented without the expensive middle man that is the Cusco Travel Industry (just about all travel companies will do the same anyways).