“Skipping Machu Picchu for Choquequirao”: Yes, but.. not really

15 11 2011

Almost entirely agree with Mr. Terry Phillips’ review* .

I would add/point out:

1. Trekking to Choquequirao can take 3 days (in and out) by hiking the Huanipaca instead of the Cachora route.

Inca Chiaroscuro during winter solstice at the the Sacred Platform, Choquequirao

The Choquequirao experience as a whole has been constantly put down by misinformed hikers that think the town of Cachora is the only reasonable access. Personally, I wouldn’t travel this far to walk the same 32k (20miles) to and from Choquequirao. I wouldn’t do it anywhere.  This type of sacrifice is only worth it for high mountain climbing where your life depends on a security line.

Unwise tour operators (cheap and classy) and Cachora wranglers alike are keen on advising Cachora as both the starting point and finishing line. This means fewer costs for everyone at the expense of an awesome destination’s experience.

The savvy traveler will appreciate what locals and experienced trekkers call the “Choquequirao Loop”. A round circuit hike that allows a full day at the site (day 3) and can get you back to Cuzco by late afternoon on day 4. If you do things right. Ask your adventure travel operator, they should know.

I wouldn’t advise attempting the Choquequirao Loop alone (without an adventure travel operator that is) unless you are extraordinarily fit. Here is the catch; trekking out of Choquequirao via San Ignacio Bridge to Huanipaca is shorter than going back to Cachora ONLY IF pick up has been previosuly arranged at this valley. This is where a knowledgeable and truly bespoke travel operator comes in. Paying for such service is well worth it.

2. It is possible to continue past the site to Machu Picchu. But that trek will take a minimum of 6 or 7 (ok 8 if your lazy/unfit) days not 9. (i) Cachora-Rosalina, (ii) Rosalina-Choquequirao, (iii) Choquequirao-Maizal, (iv) Maizal-Yanama, (v) Yanama-Totora. A dirt road reaches Totora from the “Hydro” train station. If you get to Totora early you might be able to catch a ride all the way to the railroad. Please note you wont have a full day to spend at Choque with this schedule but two half-days instead.

Once again, due to remoteness, this implies quite a bit of coordination that is well worth paying for.

That being said, night on day 5 can be spent at Aguas Calientes (pathetically trying to be known as “Machu Picchu Pueblo” while standing for complete chaos and disregard for natural surroundings in direct opposition to the harmonious Inca outpost bearing the name).

Day 6 is Machu Picchu and the train back to Cuzco through the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba. By now the discerning trekker has hiked all the way from the Apurimac River (one of the world’s deepest canyons) to the Urubamba and completed a circuit that involves both Choquequirao and Machu Picchu; truly amazing and complementary (not alternative) Inca sites/experiences.

It would be saddening if you still want to cue along the Classic Inca Trail by now.

Remember to do your pre-work (reading and getting fit) if you truly want to enjoy the Choque-MaPi hike. Happy trails.

PS. Vilcabamba is a whole other story.

*Finally a last word thanking Terry Phillips for sharing his insights on this incredibly unknown and equally rewarding trail in my country.