Nowhere near as well known as Machu Picchu, this is another Inca city in a similarly spectacular location.
Part of what makes this a cool place to visit is the difficulty in getting there. The only way is a tough two day trek from the small town of Chacora, and there’s relatively few people who make the effort.
There were four of us paying for the trek, an Australian, an American, a Frenchman, plus myself.
Although it’s possible to go it alone, perhaps hiring a mule or two, we decided to take an orgainsed 5 day tour for $170. We ended up being outnumbered, having a guide, a cook, and 3 porters with 2 mules. Although I was initially tempted to go it alone I’m glad we had these guys as it was pretty tough even with their help, plus they were great company.
After the bus ride on the first day, we started walking at about 1pm with a relatively flat bit followed by a long descent down almost to the Urubamba river. The climb down was tough on the knees. Along the way we saw the first of many great views.
Here’s our campsite for the first night:
At the campsite we met another Steve from Canada who was returning the opposite way. He was really rushing and not particularly enjoying the experience, having only his guide for company. He’d walked all the way to Chocequirao, looked around, and walked half way back in only 2 days. It was only later that I appreciated just what an achievement this was.
The second day was very tough. We completed the descent, 1.6km in altitude, down to the Urubamba river, and started the 1.7km in altidude ascent up the other side. I was so glad of my bambo walking stick that Jose, our guide, had found for me. My legs felt so weak that by half way I gladly got blisters on my hand by transfering weight onto the walking stick.
Along the way we stopped and munched on some sugar cane at a place full of the stuff. There was a contraption to extract the sugar which our guides tried to operate.
Getting to the top was worth it. More amazing views, right out of our tent.
Our Peruvian host at the campsite was busy grinding maize to make Chicha in this thing:
Chicha is the traditional alchohol that the Inca’s drank, and takes only 1 day to prepare.
The third day we walked the final few kilometers to Choquequirao. The first glimpse of the city was through a gap in the clouds.
By the time we got there I was knackered and dismayed to find out that exploring the city would take a lot of walking since it’s so spread out.
Like Machu Pichu this city was claimed to be Vilcabamba, the last city of the Inca’s, where they took refuge from the Spanish conquistadors. Now it’s accepted that Vilcabamba is somewhere else, and Choquequirao may even pre-date the Inca’s. The stone work there isn’t of the precisely cut kind found at Cusco and Machu Picchu.
The agricultural terraces have cool llama designs in the stones.
They had water channels like at Machu Picchu but not as well crafted. And unlike at Machu Picchu these ones weren’t working since part of the channel upstream is still overgrown.
Only 30% of the city has been excavated and there is ongoing work to uncover the rest.
After looking round it was great to be able to spend a couple of hours resting and reading amongst the ruins. In all this time at the ruins, I only saw 2 other tourists not part of our group.
In the night we came back to the camp to find a group of guys on their way to work excavating the ruins all drinking the Chicha that was being prepared yesterday. I had a taste and wasn’t impressed, it was very vinegary, like beer or wine that’s gone bad. But it got them drunk, which is the point I guess.
After eating we played cards, and all sat and watched lighting from a distant storm in the mountains. During this we overheard a conversation that a Spanish guy was having with the owners. He was interested in renting some land to fly in tourists by helicopter. We were pleased that the farm owner wasn’t interested in the proposal.
The fourth day was gruelling, walking back down and up the valley in the blazing midday sun. The fifth day was far easier, with misty,
overcast weather perfect for walking.
It was tougher than I expected, but I had an amazing time.