Hiking

Outfitters from Cuzco offer a guided, four-day trek (averaging US$500 to US$750 per person). Costs for an independent guide can be comparable. Packhorses can be hired in Cachora (per day S50 horse or mule, and S50 for muleteer); make sure that they will be in good condition for the trip, since not all are. Trekking poles are highly recommended.

Independent hikers will find rest stops with organized campgrounds with toilets and some cold showers, expensive bottled water, drinks and basic meals or provisions (such as pasta or instant soup). Bring a water filter, as the water found along the way is not potable. Always carry plenty of water, as sources are infrequent.

Reputable outfitters include Alpaca Expeditions, Apus Peru, Journey Experience, Llama Path, Peru Eco Expeditions, SAS Travel and Wayki Trek.

Overnight Hikes

Choquequirao

  • Start Capuliyoc
  • End Choquequirao
  • Duration Four to five days round-trip
  • Distance 44km round-trip
  • Difficulty Hard

Perched on the steep slope above the southern side of the Apurimac Canyon, Capuliyoc (2915m) is not much more than a campground and a few kiosks selling basic meals, water and drinks. From here, the trail switchbacks down the canyon alongside grassy slopes. This side of the canyon is quite exposed and the small gravel can be loose, so watch your step. There's some guard railings in tight areas, but only on the initial part of the trail. The biggest concern is horses or mules – avoid an unexpected kick by getting well out of their way.

The route follows a 'new' trail, meaning it's not the original access used by the Incas. Descending to Cocamasana there's a settler selling basic food and drinks. From the starting point, it's a three-hour descent to Chiquisca (1900m), where there are two camping areas. The first offers a kiosk and stone bathrooms with cold showers. The next section of the trail has some steep, short switchbacks with loose sand and rocks (listen for rock fall above). It's 45 minutes further to Playa Rosalina (1550m), also with camping, kiosk and stone bathrooms with showers. The mosquitoes are vicious here, but it's a pretty spot alongside the Rio Apurimac, facing the sturdy metal bridge.

If you have camped at Chiquisca or Playa Rosalina, you will want to get a dawn start to avoid blistering heat on the ascent. Cross the bridge over the Rio Apurimacand start the steep switchbacks. With vegetation thicker on this side of the canyon, the trail is a bit more protected from sheer drops. Still, it's hard work. The steep grade starts to let up about 1½ to two hours in, around Santa Rosa I and Santa Rosa II, small settlements 20 minutes apart with camping and basic provisions. From the riverbank it will take around three to four hours to reach Marampata (2850m). This pleasant hillside village has a handful of homes surrounded by geraniums. There are homestay options (with solar-panel electricity), kiosks and campgrounds.

From here the trail levels out quite a bit. It's another one to 1½ hours further to the campsites at Choquequirao (3050m). Upon entering the reserve, visitors must register at the entrance station, where the admission fee is paid. You can see the ridgetop ruins from here, along with the eastern terraces, a breathtakingly steep design in the process of being excavated. Not agricultural in origin, the terracing is thought to be designed to better retain the soil. The campground with bathrooms is a 30-minute walk to the actual ruins.

From the ruins, it's usually a two-day hike back to Capuliyoc, arriving the morning of the second day.

Since the hike is so demanding, it's best to take at least five days for the round-trip visit. You will be glad to have the time to explore the ruins, which are extensive. From Choquequirao, you can also hike the Qhapac Ñan (Inca trail) on to Machu Picchu via Yanama, an eight-day trek.