Lonely Planet Writer

Peru wants travellers to discover the lost city that rivals Machu Picchu

After years in Machu Picchu’s shadow, the Incan site of Choquequirao is finally getting the spotlight it deserves as the Peruvian government plans to turn it into a major tourist attraction.

Much of this site has yet to be rediscovered. Photo by Yuri Zvezdny/Shutterstock

Choquequirao is very similar in layout to Machu Picchu and is, in fact, much larger but on average it attracts only a dozen visitors a day in comparison to the massive crowds that flock to Peru’s main attraction. Partly this is because Choquequirao is much harder to get to; currently it takes at least four to five days to do a round trip on foot, although the difficult terrain means many people decide to take longer. However the government has new plans to fix this.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has pledged US$62 million to help promote the site and part of these funds will be spent on infrastructure, including roads connecting it to Machu Picchu meaning it will be possible to visit both sites in the one day trip. A cable car is also in the works and will take visitors 3000 metres above sea level, making the tough journey more accessible.

There’s plenty of llama artowrk around the ruins. Photo by Glowimages/Getty Images

The Choquequirao plans are part of Peru’s wider tourism initiative, emphasising its rich archaeological heritage in a bid to attract visitors. Currently the ruins attract 5800 people a year and it’s hoped the cable car will raise this number to 150,000 in the first year. Eventually authorities estimate 500,000 people could be exploring the stairways, temples and fountain of the citadel, some of which have yet to be fully excavated.

Machu Picchu has suffered from some overcrowding recently with 1.4 million people visiting a year, forcing local authorities to enforce a shift ticketing system and it’s hoped the revival of Choquequirao will go some way towards easing this.

If you’re unsure about whether you’d like to go, Peru released a virtual reality app last month allowing visitors to explore the Inca site from their own home, in the hope it will inspire you to make the trip.

What is Choquequirao?

Choquequirao sits 3000 metres above sea level and was once a thriving settlement in the 15th and 16th century, probably serving as a gateway to Vilcabamba. At its peak, it would have been full of mansions, farming terraces and ceremonial areas dedicated to the Incan sun god.

It is believed to be the last refuge of Manco Inca Yupanqui and has been abandoned since the 16th century. It was ‘rediscovered’ several times since then but currently much of the site still remains covered by forest, although more is being excavated nearly every day.