Machu Picchu receives thousands of visitors on any given day, so if you’re looking for a backpacking adventure that offers strikingly similar landscapes but wants to avoid the crowd then you’re going to love the Choquequirao trek. This archaeological complex is another remnant of the famed Inca civilization, complete with temples, plazas, and other structures present in Machu Picchu. Plus, the snow-capped mountain peaks and plunging forested slopes make the landscape even more interesting and worth visiting.
But note this: the Choquequirao hike is not for the faint of heart and body as it widely is considered as one of the most difficult trails in the country. That said, we have this guide to help you prepare for this particular trip including tips on food and accommodations, necessary gear and equipment, and other important things that must be considered before taking on this journey.
The Choquequirao Trek Overview
The Choquequirao Trek begins in the small village of Cachora, about three hours outside of Cusco. From there, hikers will start moving up through the Vilcabamba mountain ranges and making their way to the Choquequirao Archaeological Complex. Depending on the hiking route taken, the trek may end there or hikers can continue until another destination is reached.
For instance, a four-day trek will mean starting from Cachora and hiking for two days to Choquequirao with the remaining two days spent walking back to the village. A longer trek that usually takes about eleven or twelve days to complete eventually leads to the world-renowned Machu Picchu, passing through various landmarks like the Pinchinuyoc, Llactapata, and of course the Choquequirao.
Note that these are just some of the more common routes offered by tour companies or taken by solo hikers, with some companies even offering longer Choquequirao hike adventures. Whichever route you choose though, rest assured that all of them will take you through some of the most scenic spots and landscapes in the region worthy of your Instagram page.
Best Time to Go
Although it is possible to hike through the Choquequirao Trail any time of the year, it is highly recommended that you do so during the dry season which usually begins from April and runs to October. During these months, the weather is likely to be warm or hot, rendering the hard-packed dirt trails solid and safe to walk on. Keep an eye on the weather though since an occasional drizzle may occur (predicting the weather by looking at the clouds can be a useful skill at this point).
The rainy season generally starts during the later parts of the year and runs through early the following year, usually from December to February. Although it is generally safe to hike the Choquequirao during these months, it is recommended to avoid doing so as downpours can be catastrophic at these times of the year. Flash floods and landslides do happen along the trail when the strong rains start pouring in, not only rendering the paths unpassable but also puts the life of anyone on the trail in grave danger. This is why many tour companies reserve the right to cancel any scheduled hiking trips during the rainy season, especially if they deem it too dangerous.
Food and Accommodations
Food shouldn’t be too much of a concern in your Choquequirao hike expedition since you’ll be passing through several towns along the trail. Here you’ll find markets where you can restock your food supplies and even purchase local fruits and vegetables you can cook in the campsites. There are also small restaurants there where you can grab a full meal and relax for a bit before continuing with your adventure. However, don’t expect any menu to be handed out to you when you enter; the menu is whatever they have available. Regardless, home-cooked meals still beat dehydrated food packs and instant noodles especially after several days in the outdoors.
There are designated campsites scattered along the trail, some of which are based on the lower ends of the ruins. Although all the campsites are pretty-well maintained, not all of them offer the same amenities and hospitality standards. For instance, some campsites may offer dinner for when you arrive and breakfasts before you leave while others don’t. Some campsites may also have dedicated bathrooms and shower rooms with heated water for additional fees, while in others you’ll have to make do with a primitive outdoor shower area.
What to Wear
What you wear will certainly have a huge impact on how comfortable you’ll be while hiking, so makes sure you dress for the occasion. Below are some of the essential hiking apparel you’ll want to wear and bring along. Feel free to add to the items below as you see fit, though you’ll want to make sure that you don’t add any unwanted to your luggage because even the smallest ounces can feel heavy when hiking through mountains.
1. Hiking Pants and Hiking Shorts
If you go during the dry season, you should use your hiking shorts during the hike to help cool off your legs. Hiking pants are okay, though they may feel too warm for comfort once you start with your uphill climbs. If possible, choose hiking pants with zip-on sleeves which you can remove to transform them into shorts.
2. Hiking Jackets
The weather can be hot during the day but a bit chilly during the night up in the trail, so you’ll still want to bring along a hardshell jacket to keep you cozy and warm.
3. Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes
It is recommended that you use a pair of high-quality hiking shoes for this trek instead of heavy and bulky hiking boots. They are more flexible and will be easier on the foot when hiking in terrains where inclines and slopes are common. Still, you can use hiking boots if that’s what you have, just be sure that you break them in properly before doing the trek.
4. Base and Mid Layers
Weather and temperatures can fluctuate unexpectedly in high altitude regions such as the Choquequirao Trek. Having a good set of base and mid-layers will help you to accommodate these changes and help you remain dry and comfortable throughout your adventure.
5. Hiking Hat
Choose hiking hats with a wide brim to provide more cover for your face and the back of your neck. Also, look for hats with mesh linings to allow hot air emanating from your head to escape easily and help cool you off.
The sun’s glare can be unforgiving up there in the trail, so be sure to bring a pair of sunglasses with you. It is recommended to go for polarized hiking sunglasses because they offer better protection against glare while still allowing you to fully enjoy the scenic views around you.
7. Hiking Socks
Hiking socks are different from your ordinary, everyday socks. The former is often made with moisture-wicking materials, unlike the latter which is generally made from cotton. They also have pads on the heel and the ball sections which helps to make walking more comfortable.
8. Trekking Poles
Trekking poles can be of immense help when traversing routes like the Choquequirao Trail, especially when you consider the changing terrains and elevation. Be sure that your trekking poles are adjusted according to your needs and preferences.
What to Bring
As with any other backpacking trip, you’ll want to bring the following items in your backpacking backpack.
1. Backpacking Tent
Even though there are small hotels where you can spend your nights on the trail, you’re most likely going to be spending them in the designated campsites (after all, backpacking is much more fun that way). Naturally, you’ll need a backpacking tent where you can sleep in.
2. Sleeping Bag
Although there are sleeping bags available for rent at the campsites, you’ll want to bring your own. In any case, bring a 3-season sleeping bag if you plan to hike during the dry season and a 4-season sleeping bag if you plan to go there during the winter months.
3. Sleeping Bag Liner
Not necessary if you bring a warm enough sleeping bag, but if not then you’ll want to bring a sleeping bag liner. This even more important if you’re planning to rent a sleeping bag from the local campsites because the sleeping bags for rent there may not meet your personal preferences and standards.
4. Rain Poncho or Small Umbrella
Weather in high altitudes can be unpredictable, and even if you go during the dry season you may still get caught unaware by drizzles. So bring a small umbrella or a rain poncho to keep you dry when the unexpected happens.
There are showers on the campsite and actual bathrooms with toilet bowls and running water, but you’ll want to bring your toilet paper, shampoo, and soap. You’ll also want to bring along wet wipes to clean yourself along the route.
6. Water Bottle
Dehydration can happen quickly when trekking routes like the Choquequirao Trail, so be sure to bring plenty of water along with you. Drinkable water sources are scarce along the way, though there is running water available at the campsites. Still, you’ll have to purify them with a backpacking water filter or boil them to kill off any bacteria.
7. Medicine and First Aid
Whenever you go hiking or backpacking, it is always a good idea to bring a small first aid kit with you, complete of course with at least the basics like bandages, disinfectants, and others. Regardless of whether you’re traveling on a guided tour or as a solo hiker, be sure to have a first aid kit in your backpack.
8. Cameras and Batteries
You’ll be passing through some of the most scenic and captivating landscapes along the Choquequirao Trail, so be sure to have your hiking camera ready. Be sure to bring spare batteries as well.
It is recommended that you bring a battery-operated flashlight or headlamp, as well as several spare batteries. Avoid bringing rechargeable flashlights or headlamps as much as possible since charging them along the route can be a bit of a challenge.
10. Camping Stove and Utensils
A camping stove, as well as some cooking and eating utensils, are essential for any backpacking adventure, even on a trail like the Choquequirao where you can find hotels and markets that serve food.
Hiking Solo vs. Guided Tours
It is possible to hike through the Choquequirao Trek without a guide. But remember, this particular trail isn’t for beginners and offers plenty of challenges even for veteran hikers. That said, be sure to make an honest assessment of yourself and your capabilities before attempting this trek. Also, take every safety precaution like checking the weather, getting the contact numbers of local authorities and rescue groups, and others.
Guided tours will certainly make your Choquequirao hike much easier for you. Their tour packages will usually take care of pre-trip accommodations, transportation and logistics, food and camping equipment, and others. However, guided tours in this area can be rather expensive, with some hikers saying that it will cost you ten times as much compared to hiking solo. Still, if you are pretty new to hiking then having a guide with you is highly recommended.
Globo Surf Overview
It bears repeating that the Choquequirao Trek is not for beginning hikers. It is a challenging and demanding trek and is considered to be one of the most difficult trails in the region. There are many serious issues you will meet in the trail like excessive exposure to the sun, dehydration, as well as tarantulas and scorpions. That said, be sure that you are fit to take on the Choquequirao hike challenge before signing up for guided tours, even more so if you plan to go at it on your own. Despite the difficulties and challenges though, you will be rewarded with spectacular views throughout the trail which will more than make up for all your efforts.
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