My 9 Day Journey Hiking The Lost Inca Ruins [Choquequirao Trek]
The Choquequirao Trek is even more amazing than Machu Picchu. There are no tourists and the only way to get there is by taking a multi-day hike. Join me as I take one of the most incredible journies of my life hiking through the Peruvian Andes, visiting the lost ruins of Choquequirao, taking a local psychedelic cactus on top of the world and flying above the clouds with a giant condor.
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and for a good reason… It’s incredible. I mean it’s an old Inca kingdom located high in the Peruvian mountains.
The problem these days is that because it’s so great, everyone knows about it and it’s full of tourists which destroys some of its beauty.
But what if I told you there was a place even more beautiful than Machu Picchu. A place so remote that the only way you can get there was by doing an incredibly difficult multi-day hike.
And what if I told you that once you reach the ruins, you’d have them all to yourself?
Well, that’s exactly what it’s like at Choquequirao.
The lost Inca ruins that had been forgotten about up until only a few years ago is such a mythical place that has been untouched since the Inca’s use to live there over 500 years ago.
Hiking the Choquequirao trek was the most challenging and beautiful hike I’ve ever done.
It’s a 9-day hike that involves climbing to the top of 3 different mountains (descending 4 mountains) and visiting some old Inca ruins that are barely visited by tourists because it’s such a challenge to get there.
They’re planning on building a chairlift to the ruins next year meaning it will become almost as busy as Machu Picchu and the experience will be completely different.
I’m glad I got to visit them before this happens.
The funny thing is that I’d never ever heard of it until I was about to leave Cusco and ride my bicycle towards Bolivia. I just happened to meet another Aussie guy riding his bicycle in South America names Jono aka “the Bushman” who made this hike sound like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
And you know what, it was better than I could have ever imagined.
Watch the video below to follow me on My 9 Day Journey Hiking The Lost Inca Ruins along the Choquequirao Trek:
(For more videos from my Bicycle Journey in South America click here.)
Day 1 – Starting The Choquequirao Trek (Cusco to Mirador de Capuliyoc)
We left Cusco around 10 am and took a bus to the start of the hike in Ramal de Cochera.
It took about 4 hours and once we got off the bus Jono realised he left his jumper on the bus. Because we would be camping in the mountains in freezing temperatures, he quickly jumped into a passing taxi, chased down the bus and returned 25 minutes later with his jumper in his sweaty hand and a big smile on his face.
After he retrieved his jumper we stopped to have some Chicharron (pork) cooked outside a house in a big pot. It was delicious.
Eventually, we made our way to the first campsite at 3000m. It wasn’t actually a campsite but rather a viewpoint on top of a mountain that we had all to ourselves.
After setting up camp, we walked along the narrow trail for about 1km to the only house around and had dinner at the locals house. We had steak for dinner while he played the guitar and chewed on coca leaves. Dinner only cost us 10 soles ($4AUD/$3USD).
We left his house at around 9.30pm and had to make our way back to the tents on the side of the mountain in the dark. It was a single dirt path with a 1000m drop to the side…what a thrill it was to walk that narrow trail at night.
Day 2 – Mirador de Capuliyoc to Playa Rosalina
We woke up as the sun rose shining beautifully onto the snow-capped mountains that we could see from our tents.
Today we would have to walk downhill to 1500m (from 3000m) all day on really dusty and rocky trail. It definitely wasn’t easy walking but we had plenty of great things to look at.
Jono is a geologist so he would stop quite often to look at rocks and then tell me a story about them. It was fascinating at the start, but by the 8th day, I’d heard enough about rocks to last me a lifetime.
We had lunch at a small restaurant in the middle of the trail in the mountainous jungle and rested our legs for an hour or so.
After lunch, we decided to take it slow and camp at a campsite next to the river we’d been staring at in the distance all day.
We cooked pasta on our camp stoves for dinner and hid in our tents to get away from all of the mosquitos.
Day 3 – Playa Rosalina to Choquequirao
We knew that day 3 was going to be hard because we had to walk back up to 3100m. For this reason, we started the day reasonably early.
It was funny seeing other people (most other people that do the trek have a guide and donkeys to carry their gear) so exhausted that they couldn’t even move. We were both slightly more use to pushing ourselves from riding our bicycles around South America (Jono had been riding around South America for more than a year at this point).
It’s not the height that’s the problem but how steep the trails are. In most parts, for every 3m you walk, you climb 1m and in some parts for every 2m you walk, you climb 1m.
Somehow we managed to make it to Marampata at 3000m which was only 1 hour away from the Choquequirao campsite. We took a long break to relax on the grass in this small town while waiting for lunch.
Since there wouldn’t be anywhere to buy food or water for the next few days, we stocked up on supplies and made our way past the control point (where we paid 60 soles ($24aud/$18usd) each to enter).
The campsite was full of two or three different tour groups which meant that we were pitching our tents close to others. This was really the first time we’d spent with any other tourists on the hike thus far. Up until this point, we’d been lucky to camp by ourselves each night.
The view was absolutely incredible of the mountains and clouds. We had just conquered this mountain on this day and were now camping right near the top, what a great feeling.
This had been one of the toughest days hiking I’d ever done.
Day 4 – Visiting the Ruins of Choquequirao
The day had finally come where we could visit the Choquequirao Ruins. It had been such an amazing hike up until this point that I honestly didn’t really care if the ruins were interesting or not.
By the time we woke up, the tour groups had already left and we were the last people at camp.
We hiked up as Jono led us through a small trail that didn’t actually exist. We walked along the non-existent trail for about an hour until we randomly stumbled across the Inca Terraces.
Wow, that was a surprise. As the clouds floated over the terraces, we stopped and looked at each other in awe…visiting these ruins was going to be something special.
As we continued walking, we came across the main ruins. We looked around and we were the only people around. You literally couldn’t see a single person. We had these amazing ruins all to ourselves. They definitely won’t be like this in 2 years when there is a chair lift that goes straight to the ruins.
We explored around the massive ruins and finally saw another couple of people but no more.
We walked up and down both sides of the mountain to visit all of the terraces. These terraces were built by the Incas so they would have somewhere flat on the side of the mountains to farm animals and crops.
After lunch, we had a well-deserved nap and went down to some more ruins and terraces further down the mountain.
We camped at the same place as the night before at the main campsite of the Choquequirao Trek.
Day 5 – Choquequirao to Camping Saint Valentin
We woke up at 5.50am because the noise at the campsite was quite loud as everyone was waking up to go and visit the ruins.
Impossible to sleep, Jono and I got up and started walking back to the top of the mountain past the Choquequirao ruins at 3260m, that we visited the day before.
This proved to be the toughest day of walking of the whole trek because after climbing to this height (3260m) we then had to walk past the ruins and then all the way down a steep mountain to 1260m.
We had lunch next to a river at the bottom after quite a hard morning walking down the hill. It wasn’t very pleasant because it was really hot and there were thousands of mosquitos. It’s also quite difficult to go from the freezing cold down to jungle heat in the space of a few hours.
After lunch, we then had to walk up another mountain all the way to 3050m. This proved to be the hardest walking I’d ever done in my entire life. I was getting really dehydrated and most of the walking was at a ratio of 2 metres walking, 1-metre climb.
I could see why most people just go to visit the ruins at Choquequirao and then turn back in the same direction they started the hike.
That being said, we only saw 4 other people on the trail the whole day and they were a group with a tour guide, horses to ride on and donkeys to carry all their gear. Lucky them.
We finally made our way to the campsite at Maizal and were hoping for food as we had none left and were told there was a small store there.
The owner of the store had gone to town to get supplies (2-3 day walk away) and wouldn’t be back for a few days.
We were then told there was another campsite 5 minutes down the road (which turned out to be 40mins, after the toughest day walking of my life).
Along the very small, almost nonexistent path we met the lady who owned the store at the nearby campsite we were walking to.
She spoke very little Spanish and only really spoke the local language Quechua. She said she would return in 5 mins but didn’t see her again for an hour and a half.
There was a group of 5 Danish people camping there who had ridden horses and donkeys up the mountain.
The campsite had incredible views of the mountains. We were able to have dinner in the Quechua lady’s house. This was just a mud hut with a dirt floor, a fire to cook on, no electricity, over 30 guinea pigs (which you can order to eat) and chickens.
Outside was an ubundance of different animals including a cow, bull (which kept trying to sneak inside the hut to lick the salt rock), 2 puppies, 3 other dogs, horses, 100’s of chickens, 2 goats and others I’m sure I’m forgetting.
What an incredible, authentic experience and a great way to be rewarded after the most challenging day of hiking in my life.
Between Jono and I, we spent 110 soles ($40aud/ $30usd) which is more money then she makes in a month.
Day 6 – Camping Saint Valentin to a Mountainside Camp at 3800m
We woke up really early (5.30am) because of the sounds of all the chickens and roosters outside the tents clucking away.
At 6.30am, I heard Jono said “Mate if you don’t get up this second your breakfast is going to be thrown away.” We had asked the lady the night before if she could make us some breakfast for 7am.
We took the morning to relax and enjoy the surroundings and didn’t start walking until 11 am. We then made our way towards the pass (top of the mountain).
It was a slow day uphill and we only walked 6km because we decided to break the day into 2 days so we could do a legal psychedelic Cactus called the San Pedro Cactus.
On the way up we saw over 10 different abandoned mines that you could walk into and check out….third world country, so, no rules, anyone can walk in and get lost, never to be seen again.
We found a nice place to camp on a grassy spot overlooking the mountain we had just crossed (up and down) and another one we had climbed. Once again we were in the complete wilderness with no one around for kilometres (the closest people were at the place we camped the night before).
We took the disgusting, powdery psychedelic cactus at 3.40pm.
By 4.40pm (1 hour later) it started kicking in and we had the most amazing view of the sun setting and the clouds moving around us. It was honestly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. The clouds were moving so fast right in front of us at eye level but didn’t come so close that we were in the cloud, which meant we could watch the sun setting over the clouds as they were moving around.
We stayed looking at the clouds and sun setting until the stars came out and then watched them for a while which was amazing in and of itself.
It was the quietest and stillest night I’ve ever had on a mountain at 3800m. There weren’t any sounds or wind.
Unfortunately, it was still really cold so had to sleep in my mummy sleeping bag zipped up all night.
After entering the tent I was going in and out of different trips (hallucinations) which was interesting but each only last a few minutes before coming back to reality and then going into a different trip (hallucination).
Normally, I was falling asleep on this hike between 7.30 and 8.30pm, but I didn’t fall asleep until 1 am because of the cactus.
Day 7 – Mountainside Camping to Yanama
We woke up around 7 am and had a nice breakfast of pasta and lentils.
Once again we had great views of the sun rising over the mountain warming up the valley.
We spoke about how crazy the night before had been (with or without the cactus, it was an incredible night). We couldn’t believe how this hike just kept getting better everyday…And today wouldn’t be any different.
At 9.30am we left camp and made our way to Yanama.
The hike was once again quite demanding and we climbed the pass at 4150m. From this point, it was going to be all downhill until Yanama (where we would catch a taxi to Santa Teresa for a day off).
On the way down we saw a huge condor. It landed right in front of us and we got within a foot of it. It was just incredible as it flew away 3 times and returned to land right in front of us each time.
When we arrived in Yanama and told the locals about the condor they were amazed. They asked us to send them all the pictures we’d taken. Apparently, the condor had only been there for a few days and we were only the second people to see it, but no one had ever been that close.
That night when we arrived in Yanama, we couldn’t catch a car because there were no cars going past (the town had only 5-6 houses and was in the middle of nowhere). We were told that there might be a car passing in the morning.
We camped on a farm for 5soles ($2aud/$1.50usd) each and had dinner with the family of brothers and their wives. It was the entire population of the small town.
Day 8 – Yanama to Totora
We woke up early (6 am) trying to catch a car but there were none. We thought that if we walked along the road, we could flag down a car and hitchhike towards the next town.
We were both ready for a day off and weren’t expecting to walk all day because others had told us how easy it was to get a car from Yanama.
We walked along the road just in case a car came past but it wasn’t meant to be.
Our day off of relaxation turned into a 23km walk up to 4660m. Jono had caught a cold and we were both finding it really hard.
Eventually, we made it to the top as it started snowing.
We didn’t stay at the top for long before climbing down the other side of the mountain and making our way 10km towards the town of Tortora, walking through the clouds and rain the whole way.
After 7 amazing days, we finally had our first bad day and nothing seemed to be going right.
Jono dropped and broke his phone meaning he’d lost all of his pictures from the trip, GPS and was really angry. I tried talking to him but he snapped at me anytime I tried to help. The photo below sums the day up perfectly.
We walked the next 2 hours in silence…
No shower in more than a week, dirty clothes, no rest day, being sick…we both just wanted to get to Santa Teresa where we could relax.
We finally made it to Totora at 4.30pm after walking all day and asked about possibilities of taking a car to Santa Teresa. The only cars were in the morning from 3am-5.30am so we stayed the night.
Instead of staying in the tents (because we didn’t want to pack them up in the dark at 4.30am), we rented a room for 20 soles ($8aud/$6usd) each. The place we were staying was just a husband and wife (who hand weaved 100% alpaca wool products. Jono bought a scarf for 100 soles ($40aud/$30usd)
We had chicken, rice and chips for dinner with the family for 10 soles ($4aud/$3usd) each.
The views around the town were once again incredible, although we were in a valley and not on a mountain, we were still at 3600m.
We fell asleep around 8 pm.
Day 9 – Totora to Santa Teresa
We woke up throughout the night many times because we both didn’t want to miss the car and have to stay another day in this small town.
We heard cars going past every 2 hours from about 1 am but spoke to a driver the night before who said he would wait for us at 5.30am.
As soon as the alarm went off at 5.20am we jumped straight out of bed and were outside in 5 mins.
We took the van along the beautiful road through the jungle along a river and past waterfalls.
It was really nice and we decided that we would take a taxi back there the next day to continue the hike.
We made it to Santa Teresa (where I’d come 2 weeks earlier on the bike when going to Machu Picchu) and got a hotel room each so we could have our space and relax. Jono was pretty bored though because he couldn’t get internet because his phone was broken.
We relaxed all day and didn’t do anything too special except sleep and do nothing.
Jono said he wanted to stay there 2 days but I said that I didn’t really want to stay in the expensive touristy town for 2 days because there was nothing much to do there, so we agreed we would start walking again the next day.
Day 10 – Santa Teresa back to Cusco
We woke up with the intention of catching a car back to the nice road with jungles and waterfalls, which then led to a further 3 days walk to Machu Picchu. However, it was raining and not very pleasant. We looked at the weather for the next few days and it was going to be raining the whole time.
We wouldn’t be able to see views of Machu Picchu along the trail with all of the clouds and didn’t want to walk in the rain for 3 days so we decided to return to Cusco, with the intention of returning in 3 days after the rain cleared up.
When we got back to Cusco, we went back to the same hostel we were previously staying at and didn’t do much else. Jono was able to get his phone repaired and was in a better mood.
In the end, I didn’t return to finish the hike as I’d already visited Machu Picchu and wanted to continue my bicycle journey into Bolivia. However, Jono did return a few days later to finish the hike and reach Machu Picchu.
Hiking the Choquequirao Trek was easily one of the best weeks of my life.
Old ancient ruins all to ourselves, huge condors, camping on top of mountains, taking psychedelics, hanging out with locals and hiking up and down mountains were just a few of the many highlights.
If you’re planning on visiting the Cusco Region in Peru, I strongly recommend you challenge yourself and hike the Choquequirao Trek.
Yes, you should still visit Machu Picchu but if you’re looking for a more authentic and real experience, don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the Choquequirao ruins.
In a couple of years, there is going to be a chairlift that runs straight to the ruins which will mean that it’s going to become overcrowded with tourists like Machu Picchu is today.
Because it’s an extremely difficult hike, you appreciate everything about it so much more.
Take the once in a life opportunity to do this trek and thank me later.
If you’re interested in reading more from my bicycle journey in South America, be sure to check out my other videos:
Stay tuned for the next post as I ride along Death Road in Bolivia!
If you have any questions about the logistics of the Choquequirao Trek, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.
Have you been on any crazy multi-day hikes? Where were they?