Your Guide loved the Choquequirao hike. The Inka site itself is an astounding feat of engineering on a magical, thriving mountain of orchids and fruit and butterflies. BUT before you try to hike to Choquequirao solo, consider the tips below so you don’t turn that trek into a misery-fest.
For some background: I did three hikes while I was digital slowmading in Cusco, Peru: a two-day Salkantay Pass trek, a four-day hike on the Inka Trail to Machu Pichu, and a five day hike up to Choquequirao and back. I did a group hike to Choquequirao led by Alpaca Expeditions. So why make a post on solo hiking it? Because I met several (suffering, sunburnt, sore, wasted, stumbling, littering) solo hikers on the trek to Choquequirao. May this post help you not end up like them.
This post contains an affiliate link for Inov-8’s Roclite Pro G 400 waterproof hiking boots because they’re genuinely amazing. I’ve done multiple hikes with them, including Choquequirao. I always wear them when I’m moving countries now, on whatever transportation I’m taking. My life fits in three bags and they’re one of my most necessary pieces of gear.
Is the Choquequirao trek difficult?
Choquequirao is one of the most physically challenging trails in the Sacred Valley region. I had assumed all of the hikes in the area were the same general touristy level of difficulty. So I booked my Choquequirao hike first in my schedule, and didn’t think anything of it. But every time I mentioned it to a local, I’d get a reaction. When I did my other hikes, I’d often hear from the guides some variation of: “Oh, you already did Choquequirao so you’ll have no problem with this hike…”
Even with the group hike–mules to carry packs, a pace spanning five days, with a chef cooking our meals, plenty of water, etc–the majority of our group was too exhausted to explore the actual archeological site of Choquequirao on the third day. They hiked to the main square and then went back to Marampata when they saw all the stairs at the site.
There was a university group on the trail with us. The students were studying outdoor recreation. They were going to become guides in the future… We passed students crying on the trail.
TIP: Practice walking. The Choquequirao trek is like doing a daily 5-hour+ stairclimb workout, at altitude (2800m~). I did 1 hr walks, twice per day in Cusco (3400m / 11000 ft) for the week leading up to the trek.
The Choquequirao Trek infrastructure is different from what you may have seen on the Inka Trail. For much of the hike to Choquequirao, you’ll be on rocky trails with lose ground and sharp boulders sprinkled with mule poo.
The mules are smart, and take the easiest routes. So if you try to step where there is no mule poo, you’re taking the more difficult route.
Streams run across the path, so waterproof gear, like the Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400s I’m wearing in the photo above, is a big help.
TIP: Wear hiking boots. Because of the rocky ground, I was often hitting the sides of my feet and ankles against rocks. That’s not a problem you have on the Inka Trail.
BONUS TIP: Keep your boots in your tent. But what about the donkey crap on the bottom of them?! True, however, you’ll be staying in farmyards with dogs running around, and the dogs would love to have your footwear.
How many days to do a Choquequirao hike?
Doing a five day trek felt like a really good amount of time. That left space for meals and photos and really exploring the archeological site. It is large and all stairs. It takes longer to explore than Machu Pichu. Five days also meant we could take breaks during the hottest hours of the day and not be hiking in the dark.
Trying to cover too much territory in a day was a common mistake I saw solo hikers making. There were solo hikers trying to come down from Marampata at night. I could see the guy’s headlamp flash out into the night at each switchback in the trail. During the daytime, the trail from Marampata is a slip-n-slide over loose rocks for 3 or 4 hours to the first campable spot. It would not be fun to stumble around that at night.
TIP: Don’t try to rush it. The scenery is incredible. You won’t regret spending a comfortable afternoon chatting with the orchids, sipping coca tea, and watching the sunset behind the altar at Choquequirao.
It’s ONLY 6 km from the edge of the Apurimac River to Marampata. It’s 2 km and around 2 hours to hike up the steep walls of the river gorge (watch out for falling rocks) to Santa Rosa Baja. Marampata is another 4 km. Remember that you’re not just hiking 6 kilometers on flat ground. You’re rising a kilometer and a half in elevation. The river is at 1472 meters above sea level and Marampata is at 2900 meters. If you’re not accustomed to hiking at altitude, you’ll feel it.
Do you need sunscreen and bug spray for Choquequirao?
On the second-to-last day of the trek, I met a solo hiker in really bad shape. But first, let me set the scene:
On the return trip from Marampata, we hit the Apurimac River valley at mid day. Being the lowest point of the hike, with the sides of the valley at their steepest, it’s just a lot of sheer rock walls and broken boulders baking in the sun down there. Facing down at the rocky trail with the heat reflecting up will make your face feel like you’re looking straight at the sun. And there are bugs. Little flies you won’t feel until you notice the tiny trails of blood where they hacked chunks out of you.
I’d learned about the bugs along the river on the way over. Then, we crossed in the morning, I was wearing long-sleeves, and they went right through them. My covered elbows got covered in bites. So on the second crossing, I doused my whole body in bug spray and wore two long-sleeve layers.
The temperature on the trail by the river was around 25~30 C (77 ~ 86 F). Sweaty, but I didn’t have any more flesh to spare for the flies. It is in this hot and bloody environment where we meet our solo hiker in rough shape:
This guy is coming down the trail, wearing a University of Tennessee hat with a big orange T, he’s got no shirt on and his body is a solid crispy red. He has a small, 30L-ish day-pack with him. He asks: “How further to Marampata?”
At this point, we’re on the opposite side of the river from Marampata, so we can actually point all of the way straight up to some tall eucalyptus trees that stick out on the ridge right before Marampata. It’s maybe six hours straight up. This guy was trying to hike in one day what we did in two days. And then he says: “I didn’t know I’d need sunscreen out here.”
We gave him sunscreen.
He ran into more of our group down by the river and borrowed bug spray from them.
Assuming he lived, he would’ve had a very uncomfortable time dealing with that sunburn the next day touring around Choquequirao.
TIP: Bring sunscreen (and bug spray). You’re 2Kms closer to the sun than you are at sea level. If it takes you an hour to get a sunburn on the beach, you could have a sunburn in 20 minutes up in the Andes.
Where to camp on the way up to Choquequirao?
The pandemic brought changes to how camping is done on the Choquequirao trail. You’ll now do passport check-in at the beginning of the hike, at Capuliyoc. In theory, if there are too many people on the trail already, they’ll hold you there.
Between Capuliyoc and Marampata, you’ve got campsites at Cocamasana (super beautiful view facing the sunset down the valley), then Chiquisca before the river.
The site at Playa Rosalinas was closed when we went through (May, 2022). Across the river, you’ve got Santa Rosa Baja and Santa Rosa Alto, before you arrive at Marampata.
You can no longer camp at Choquequirao. The closest you can camp now is at Marampata. But that’s a beautiful little village. Locals have opened little restaurants and campsites on the terraces. The terrain around there is spectacular. Check out the photo below of our campsite in Marampata.
TIP: Contact campsites ahead of time. For instance, you can call the place we stayed at in Chiquisca: Llamayoq Wasi. Google them and their phone number will come up.
If a big group gets to a campsite ahead of you, there could be no places to pitch your tent. At one of the campsites, a solo hiker showed up late at night and the site was full. Our group was relatively small, so they negotiated with our guides and setup camp in the middle of our tents. At the end of a long day, you don’t want to be scrounging to find a campsite.
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