Choquequirao to Machu Picchu
Key information: Choquequirao to Machu Picchu
- Climb higher and remoter than the Classic Inca Trail, and under the shadow of the goliath sacred Inca mountain of Salkantay (6,264m).
- Enjoy the wild and dramatic scenery of the high Andes in wonderful, empty landscape. Two high passes above 4,500m, with plunging gorges and canyons in between.
- This walk is seriously tough, even before you join the crowded classic routes on which many people still have trouble. Acclimatise properly first, and come prepared.
- This trek requires a permit for the Machu Picchu end, if you want to take one of the Inca Trails down from the famous ruins. For the Choqeuquirao ruins you need only pay a fee (as at 2011).
- Walkopedia rating93
- Natural interest16
- Human interest13
- Negative points2
- Total rating93
- Note: Negs: altitude
- Length: 9-10 days
- Maximum Altitude: 4,660m
- Level of Difficulty: Difficult
The 9-10 day Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek is a superb, high Andean traverse between the two Incan strongholds. You need to do the "standard" trek from Cachora first (to start from Choquequirao), before this trek really begins. At the other end, either take the railway or one of the trails down from Machu Picchu itself.
The trail is high, crossing a soaring pass over 4,600m (significantly above those of the "Classic" Inca Trail). But for this height, read isolation: the trek is more remote and so without the Classic Trail?s throngs; it transects marvellous but very tough country; and you get to bag both ruins in one.
Follow the 7-day trek's path (see Inca Path to Choquequirao) north out of Choqeuquirao until Yanama. As a taster of this trek's harrowing descents and climbs, this means an immediate 1,000m drop to the Rio Blanco/Victoria, then nearly 2,500m of constant climb to Abra San Juan, followed by another 1,000m of descent.
Instead of branching off northwards again, keep to the eastern trail all the way up to 4,660m Abra Yamana. At the pass, there are expansive views to Padrayoc and its lower reaches and glacier. Salkantay ("Savage Mountain") and Humantay are visible to the east.
On its other side, the pass drops steeply through scree and boulder fields and then down some more vertiginous switchbacks. The seriously remote wilderness country ends here, and the descent slowly becomes shallower after Totora's impressively rugged valley, as the trail eventually falls in with the Santa Teresa track at Ccolpapampa (connects to the Mollepata/Salkantay walk) en route to Machu Picchu.
Follow the track to La Playa, descending through cloud forest and through a torrential (6 stage, 300m) waterfall on stepping-stones. Down a massive landslide, picking your way carefully, with views opening up of Machu Picchu's mountain in the distance.
Climb to a 3,000m (approx.) ridge-pass across a series of spurs, and over into the Aobamba Valley. Get taunted by glimpses of Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu hulking over it, a mere 5km away but not yet directly accessible. Further down are the empty ruins of Llactapata, still wild and overgrown, its Overlook Temple and other temples perfectly aligned with its grander neighbour's, directly across the valley.
Down to the railway (nearby: some sculpted stones at Sector Intihuatana): either catch the train or follow the railway along the floor of the steep-sided valley to Agua Calientes, then make the steep (hour or so) slog up a trail to Machu Picchu, if you still think you can handle it.
You will need a permit if you take one of the Inca Trails down from Machu Picchu, or if you start from that end. Permits aren't required for the first few days (to Choquequirao), although you do need to pay fees (as at 2011).
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See our Inca Path to Choquequirao page for detailed practical information for this trek, or our Inca Trails page for links to more walks in Peru.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS
Name: David Briese
Posted on: 08/12/2011
Day ; (Day 3 in David Briese’s account); Choquequirao to Rio Blanco (10km; 450m ascent/1450m descent)
We were off at 7am, climbing up a single file footpath through the dense cloud forest vegetation towards [Choquequirao]. After a short exploration, we pushed upward around the canyon wall to emerge on the top of a flattened hill, lined with a low stone wall; the Incan ceremonial site.
Eventually we had to move on. We traversed one ridge, looking down 1800m to the Apurimac River, deep in its canyon. We dropped 700m in just over and hour.
After a short break in a green grassy clearing, we continued the descent, entering lower shrublands with lantana and bamboo, to reach the site of Pinthinunuyoc, a much smaller Incan ruin, only discovered in 1998 and not yet cleared or restored.
Finally, we entered the steep inner gorge of the Rio Blanco. We picked our way along the stony bed of the river, crossed the rushing stream on a plank and found our lunch and eventual camping spot in the shade of the northern wall, 1,450m below the heights above Choquequirao.
The High Passes: see www.gang-gang.net/nomad/andes/andes10b.htm
[Day 2]; Rio Blanco to Minas Victoria (8km; 2040m ascent/20m descent)
There was a price to pay for our pleasant afternoon off, and this was to be a climb of over 2000m out of the Rio Blanco Canyon.
Eventually, 2½ hours into the climb, we reached Maizal, a small grassy plateau 940m above our start point; it was time for a break as the cloud layer finally began to lift.
We set off again into the green void, ascending a steady and relatively gentle (by Andean standards) traverse across the steep slope, and at times even descended a little.
A short time later we reached our destination, a grassy flat at 3900m that was the site of an old silver mine, looking out over the expanse of steep green slopes and distant canyons.
Day ; Minas Victoria to Tayaco (12 km; 600m ascent/550m descent)
After a climb of 250m we reached 4155m San Juan Pass, marked by the stone cairns or apachetas on which local quechua people place stones each time they cross as an offering to the mountain gods.
Finally crossing the pass, we stopped briefly to explore an old silver mine just on the other side, before starting the descent through a steep landscape of rocky outcrops and tree lupins. It was a very different landscape to the western flank of the pass. Eventually we dropped below the cloud layer to cross a steep pasture.
The track through the pasture led us to an impressive sheer cliff face on the right side of the valley. From here we could look out over the valley to the green flats of Yanama village below us, with the snowy caps of Nevado Sacsarayoc high above it.
After lunch, we left the peaceful village to continue up the Yanama Valley. Ahead lay an imposing wall at the end of the valley, but that was tomorrow's problem and we didn't want to think about that yet.
Day ; Tayaco to Colpapampa (18km; 700m ascent/1900m descent)
We set off with only a handful of clouds in the sky, leaving the middle valley to follow a small gorge further up to a higher valley. To the left, views were opening out to glacier topped Nevado Pumacillo ('claw of the puma'), while to the right the glacier high above Yanama Pass began to emerge.
One last steady push up the old moraine below the glacier brought us out at 4660m Yanama Pass, 700m above our campsite. The views from the pass were superb.
From there, the track took us across an area of moss-covered boulders before eventually making a long traverse along the southern slope of the valley.
The river fell sharply away from us on the left, rushing downhill in its rocky bed. We crossed a couple of seriously impressive landslides, one blocking the river to form a small lake.
Finally, as the light was starting to fail, we reached the small community of Ccolpapampa on a flat grassy plateau high above the junction of the Totara and Salkantay Rivers. We pitched our tent in a field with the farm animals nine hours after setting off.
Eyebrow of the Jungle: see www.gang-gang.net/nomad/andes/andes10c.htm
Day ; Ccolpapampa to Santa Teresa hot spring (16km; 40m ascent/ 810m descent)
Today's walk would be a five-hour wander down the rich and diverse vegetation in the valley of the Salkantay River. We were about to enter what the locals call "the eyebrow of the jungle".
We set off, quickly descending the 80m gorge walls to reach the Rio Totara, crossing it just before it merged with the Rio Salkantay to create an even broader rushing torrent of water. Soon we were passing through small coffee and banana plantations, and adobe huts appeared frequently alongside the widening track, which eventually led us into the small town of La Playa.
There was a slight change to our original trek plans at La Playa. The usual route to Machu Picchu continues up and over a densely forested ridge to reach the Hydroelectric Station on the Vilcabamba River. Our arriero Felix gave us this option or one of catching a local bus to Santa Teresa, 14km further down the valley, where the Salkantay River flowed out into the Vilcabamba, to camp out at a small hot spring. The thought of soaking in a hot spring after 6 days of trekking was compelling.
From Santa Teresa hot springs we started walking again, taking a short 2km stroll along the broad stony bed of the Vilcabamba River, crossing the Salkantay on a long suspension bridge just before it merged with the Vilcabamba and pushing on into the narrowing gorge of the river. We stopped at a secluded flat spot, where Felix pointed out the side path to the "secret" hot spring, a small pool of clear, warm water set amongst the rocks.
It was a good place to camp.
Day ; Santa Teresa hot spring to Aguas Calientes (14km; 500m ascent)
We had a latish start this morning - the sun was already heating the floor of the valley when we set off at 9am to wander along the stony river flats. Leaving the flats, we crossed the river on a solid metal girder bridge, built to replace one swept away in disastrous floods 10 years earlier.
The gorge narrowed and steepened after the bridge and we headed gently up a wide dirt road, passing small banana plantations that clung to the steep slopes. A little later we crossed the outlet of the hydro-electric station higher upstream, the water jetting out fiercely from the rock face like a giant fire hydrant. Rounding a bend, we saw it for the first time, rising sheerly and sharply above the Vilcabamba River; the site of Machu Picchu.
Spurred on by the sight, we crossed the river, now known as the Urubamba, once again and turned eastward for a short walk into the hydro-electric station and its train terminus. From here it was but a long stroll along the train track, as it slowly spiralled its way through the dense vegetation of the steep Urubamba Canyon, pushing deeper into the Machu Picchu Reserve.
Eventually we left the railway to follow a dirt road for the final kilometre into Aguas Calientes, a booming tourist town that has cashed in on the popularity of Machu Picchu; tomorrow we would be up at 4.30am to prepare for the culmination of our trek and one last climb - the 400m from Aguas Calientes to the famous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
Day ; Machu Picchu (10km; 650m ascent)
We were off before dawn, strolling down the road from Aguas Calientes to the start of the climb up to Machu Picchu - the climax of our nine day trek. The sheer rock walls along the edge of the Urubamba River vanished into the clouds; somewhere above were the mystical ruins of the Incan "lost" city, but to reach them we first had to climb over 1700 stone steps.
By step 1100 we were entering the mist; by step 1200 the mists were condensing to rain, gentle but wet. We reached the entry gate damp and in deep fog; it was not the entry that we had planned.
It had been one of the best treks we have done, twice down into the depths of a canyon, twice across a high alpine pass, traversing landscapes ranging from semi-desert to alpine grasslands and dense cloud forest, getting a feel for life in the remote Andean villages and for the history of ancient empires.
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