Cusco – Choquequirao – Machu Picchu – Cusco

I treked this route in September 2006 but I have taken information from from Ruska who posted in the Lonely Planet thorntree . He wrote an article called ‘Cusco to Machu Picchu in 8 USD’. I also used information from Micah Allan who wrote a story about walking to Aguas Calientes.I also took information from from a site about Peru.

There are many ways in getting to Machu Picchu that doesn’t involve getting the expensive ‘tourist train’ or the overcrowded and expensive ‘Inca Trails’ whether it be the traditional one or the newer but equally organised trails like Salkantay. So popular is the Inca Trail, is that you may have to book six months ahead of arriving, paying deposits online or on the phone via a credit card.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Map – Choquequirao – Peru (September 2006)

For those who want to do it on the cheap, they are many options. The most obviosu one would be to get a local bus to Ollantaytambo and walk along the tracks to Aguas Calientes but this is no longer possible as guards at km 88 and km 104 will send you back because you are entering the park and you therefore require a trekking permit. Walking out of the park from Aguas Calientes to Cusco is not aproblem for them.This option is explored more fully below.

There are two further options explored here.
(1) If you are interested in trekking independently – I would recommend the trek I undertook last September (2006) from Cachora to the Inca ruins at Choquequirao and onwards to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
(2) The second option is going on Public transport from Cusco via Santa Maria, Santa Teresa, Hidroelctrico, Aguas Calientes to Maccu Pichu.

OPTION 1 – TREKKING
In September 2006, I posted a notice in various hostels in Cusco looking for trekking partners to undertake an independent trek from Cachora to Machu Picchu. It took nearly a week before I had a volunteer from Australia to take the trip with me. It is a sorry state that most backpackers will spend $400 on the Inca trail or take the privatised Peru Rail when so much more is avaialble at much lower prices.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Map – Choquequirao – Peru (September 2006)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

My map of how to get to MP on the cheap. Its pretty self explanatory. The symbols are walking, train and bus.

After buying a local map of the route, we took some information from Aprus-Peru Trekking Company. Their price per person is $555 per person (April 2007), based on a minimum of 2 people. Others charge up to $1,200.00 (Culturas Peru). We did it for about $40 dollars each including guide hire, pony hire, camping equipment hire and food (excluding Machu Picchu Entrance). Its a rather big difference. While some commercial agents will take 2/3 donkeys per person and a riding horse, it you do not need 4 course meals every day, one donkey for two people will be sufficient. You can get a good intoduction to these alternative Inca trails from a recent New York Times article. There was a second article in June 2007 called ‘The Other Machu Picchu‘. Lots of inaccuracies, but it does say ‘Several travel agencies in Cuzco organize tours to Choquequirao with pre-arranged accommodation, transportation, guides and mules or horses, typically for about $300 to $400. SAS Travel on the Plaza de Armas has a good reputation (51-84-255-205; www.sastravelperu.com).

What to Bring
* Snacks or high energy trekking food (even nuts, raisins etc). Impossible to find condensed trekking food in Cusco. Enough food for your guide as well.
* Two litre bottle of water (one to drink out of while the other is purifying). At least 10 purification tablets per person.
* Sleeping bag and mat.
* Tent for two (and your guide might have to slip in as well if it rains).
* Gas, Plates, Spoons, Lighter, matches, Knife, Tin Openener
* Washing paste and wire brush.
* Changes of clothes for cool and hot, humid weather
* Flashlight (head light) with extra batteries for you and guide.
* Good trekking footwear and socks
* Plastic poncho, as well as other suitable rain protection
* Alcohol (for gifting to mother earth at appropraite times and when it rains)
* Swim-suit & towel
* Toiletpaper
* Mosquito repellent
* Sunblock and sunhat
* Extra rolls of film or well charged batteries for your digital camera.

First of all, great advice was given to us at the ‘South American Explorers Club‘ at choquechaca, 188, No.4 in Cusco. (www.saexplorers.org). I would like to thank Miguel Jove for his advice there. The gave us the name of a guide called Celestino Pena who is the head hocho over there in terms of guiding and mules. (The locals we met there said he only gives his guides 10 Soles per day while the independents give their guides the full 20 Soles per day).

I received this email in October 2006 and is quite useful.

I can’t recommend a guide – all I can say is that we didn’t have a good experience with Celustino Pena. He tried to rip us off and take advantage of us. Make sure you negotiate how much for their return (seeing it is a one way trip and they are not likely to pick up new passengers or luggage in Huancacalle) Celustino tries to charge you 8 days there and then 8 days for the return!!!! They should be able to return in 2-3 days.Andean friends believe that you dont even bring up the return in the negotiations – because of course they will charge you for it………. but I don’t know.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

South American Explorers Club – Choquequirao – Peru (September 2006)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Map of Whole trek – Cachora – Choquequirao to Machu Pichu- Peru (September 2006)

He can be contacted at a public phone at 083-830252/832039/9712967 (mobile). Otherwise he can be found at the San Martin Hostal (A Media ouadra – De Plaza de Armas). Another guide is called David Bimbery (083-830028). Anyway, their details can be got at the South American Explorers Club. You do not need to book ahead. You can hire the donkey and guide once you get to Cachora.

We paid 127 Soles for camping year for 7 days (tent, two sleeping bags, tent, gas, pots). We also purchased three gas cannisters (7 soles each) with right of return for unused ones and water purification tablets. In terms of food we spend about 100 Soles – 82 Soles for supermarket food (noodles, cereal, tuna, flavouring) and about 20 soles in market food (rice, pasta, cheese, onions, styromfoam cups). You can not buy much food along the way (at the campsites) but guinea pigs can be purchased from local households and they will cook it etc and give a give guinea pig/ potatoe dinner. You might want to buy flaouring for your water if you dislike the taste of purification tablets. You will drink at least 1 litre per day.

We left our gear at the hostel in Cusco for free and carried as little as possible.

The Guide.
The guide will not have alot with him. He is given a few soles to feed the donkey (although they usually eat grass along the way) and told to bring the donkey back safely. In fact, he will take more notice, look after the donkey more than the people he is guiding. Donkeys are an important part of life here and good donkeys are very likely to be stolen. Alot of guides leep with their donkey or check on it a few times a night as they are responsible for it and the donkeys owner (they are worth a few hundred dollars). It is your responsibility to feed and lodge your guide. While some guides will be happy to point out the sites, help you cook and sleep under the stars, be prepared to get stuck in. Make sure to bring food that the guide may prefer and donate any unused food to him on his way back (plus tip). The donkey is not for riding on. Tough! Usually, the guide may ask you to trek on an hour beforehe starts off as he can pack up and take his time. He usually catches up a few hours in. Make sure to offer with water and snacks as he will have none.

The Trek
Attached is a map of the route. Compared to the Inca Trail, it is quite difficult although possible for the moderately fit. While Day 1 is quite easy, days 2/3/4 can be tough especially in the heat and mossies. Al lcamping is free, but be cool and buy something from them (a few potatoes, or a beer) or do what we did (gave 5/6 packets of noddles to the people we stayed with) which they were happy with. Most of the families have kids – pens, paper, school books would also be welcome.

Full itinerary

Day 1: We departed Cusco at 7am by public bus. We got a bus from Cusco to Cachora (which is the Abancay bound bus). Just tell the driver to want to get off at the road to Cahora (not the ruins there) in a place called Saihuite. From there you can either walk to Cachora or else take a Collectivo (Shared taxi) to town. Its about a 40 minute walk. There is only one building on the bend of a road so its easy to miss it (about four hours from Cusco) so make sure to tell the driver. We paid 5 soles to a taxi driver for both of us to take us to Cachora from the Abancay road (shared taxi – I was in the booth!). If you do book ahead, you can get Celestino Pena to collect you from the road.

We got to Cachora and talked to one of the association guys there. We wanted a guide and Pony for five days and were willing to pay 20 soles per day for each (yes, the donkey makes as much as the guide) including two additional days pay for the guide and donkey to get back from Collpapampa through a shortcut over the mountains back to Cachora. They wanted 30 for each. We decided to have lunch and decided to grab another indepndent guide ASAP as we really wanted to get started before 1.00pm. Any later and it may be dark when you get to the first campsite. Our plan was to do the Aprus trek (9 days/8 nights) in 5 nights, six days (plus 2 additional nights in Aguas Calinetes). We walked down the main street and saw a lady with a pony. We asked if she rented it and she said yes and beckoned us to her house where the husband and kids were. They were happy with 20 Soles per day / 20 Soles for a guide. The wife headed off and found a young lad of 18 called Miguel who would be our guide. He was a cheery lad with a good personality but had only done the trip once before. All he had with him was a change of shirt and a few soles the husband gave him for donkey food. The husband also provided the harness and kitting / web to contain the tent/ food and sleeping bags on the donkey. The two of us carried our own days packs with our clothes and anything we wanted during the day. Anything that is put on the donkey cannot be retrived again until the donkey was unpacked.

After lunch we headed off on this 16km stint. It is a 2 hour hike to Capuliyoc (2915m) from where there are beautiful views of the Apurimac valley and the snow-capped peaks of Padrayoc and Wayna Cachora. You will likely see many Condors here and poisonous Tarantula spiders. Once at the peak after two hours, there is a great viewing point on the right which you can climb. The total hiking time today is about five hours and its downhill for about three hours. Its a easy trek (the easiest of all the journey) but it was dark when we reached the basic camping site. We quickly put up camp and ate. The mossiess here are vicious little bastards. Cover yourself with spray and give some to the guide. I forgot my elbows and woke up with about 40 bites on each. There is usually a water pump at each campsite and a hole in the group for the toilet. Very basic but after you first day and an early start – finding sleep is no probelm.

Accommodation: Camping at Chiccisqa.

Day 2: Departing early, we descended to the magnificent Apurimac River (1550m). You can see the trek up the mountains towards Choquequirao as you go. It looks hard and it is. Its not the length but the steepness. They were building some entrance gate and hotel at the bridge so fees will be added here soon. After crossing over the river we began our climb to Santa Rosa which was a killer. You can buy a refreshing cane drink here (no alcohol) but is a hard trek. Santa Rosa is about half way and we stopped there for 20 minutes before continuing towards the ruins. The commercial agents usually camp at Maranpata (an hour before the ruins so taht they can have a good start te following morning when heading back to Cusco). The climb from the river takes about 4 hours and is tough. We hiked to the ruins, set up camp and hit the ruins. The commercial agents usually leave it until the next day. We spent spend the late evening in the ruins campsite which is the best equipped of all the sites on the trek. They had toilets etc.

Accommodation: Camping at Choquequirao campsite

From a New York Times article in June 2007 called ‘The Other Machu Picchu‘.
Choquequirao’s builder, Topa Inca, chose his city’s site and design precisely because of the similarities to Machu Picchu, the city of his predecessor, Pachachuti, according to Gary Ziegler, an independent American archaeologist who worked on the first Choquequirao excavation. The two cities were about the same size and served the same religious, political and agricultural functions. But because archaeologists long underestimated the importance of Choquequirao, the city’s existence was known for almost 300 years before the first restoration was begun in 1993. It is still only 30 percent uncovered. The Peruvian government is just beginning to plan for large-scale tourism there. In 2006 Choquequirao drew 6,800 visitors, according to Peru’s National Cultural Institute, more than double the total in 2003 but a little more than 1 percent of the number who went to Machu Picchu.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Choquequirao Ticket – Choquequirao – Peru (September 2006)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Back of Choquequirao Ticket – Choquequirao – Peru (September 2006)

Day 3: While most commercial treks will more fully explore the ruins on the morning of the third day we headed off but saw many Inca Ruins (without restoration on the way). We stopped at most of these to explore them. Most commercial treks will stop at Pinchinuyoc soon after but we contined to Maizal. Killer trek from the river to the campsite. it was hot,it was steep and overgrowth with no breese. I Felt I was going to collapse. It was seriously one of the most pictureesque camping sites in the world. When I say camping site, I mean there is just a family farm and a piece of ground.

Accommodation: Camping at Maizal

Day 5 : We departed at 7am, and walked uphill for about 3 hours through semi-jungle, to the Victoria Mines. We visited the ancient mines and some Inca Ruins before climbing an hour more to the pass of Abra Victoria. (4130m). There are spectacular views from the pass as we descend to the village of Yanama. (about 2 hours walk). Its a really nice village area with lows of greenery and stone walls.

Accommodation: Camping at Yanama

Day 6: A day of mountain peaks. In this day we walked for seven hours, rising early to appreciate the chain of snowpeaks. We lightly ascended to the second pass which is the highest of our trek at 4850metres. After the pass we descend for three hours to the Valley of Totora,where most commercial treks will stop for the night. Although it was pouring rain, we decided to move fast and camp at Collpapampa which is another 1.5 hours on and which is part of the Salkantay trek, so this is the first time we met other trekkers (who were on organised tours).

Accommodation: Camping at Collpapampa

Day 7: If you want you can use a hot spring here. Its at this stage we waved goodbye to our guide and donkey. We decided to carry ourselves the restt of the day. We gave him any left over food and a tip. The only downside and its a big one – is taht for the first time, we were carrying all our gear (tents, gas, sleeping bags etc) but we felt we could get to Aguas Calientes in one day at a push. Was it a good idea – only if you leave at 7.00am or so.

Today we walked (bused) for nealy 14 hours, but the whole day is descending or flat and scenery changes scenery and different varieties of plants typical of the high jungle – known in Spanish as the “eyebrow of the jungle”. While most people stop at La Playa and its campsite, we wanted to trek all the way to MP. It was about seven hours to La Playa and we heard of a truck that moves fruit from La Playa to Saint Teresa about noon everyday. When we got there, there were no buses taht day but locals said they usually do, but not until 3/4pm. Anyway, we were there for hour eating passion fruit when we got a shout from the driver to get into a commercial truck. I think we payed 3 soles each.

Santa Teresa is a nice village with quite a few Aljamientos. There are excellent Thermals 20 minutes walk from town, which cost 5 soles (much betters then the ones at Aguas Calientes!). Santa Teresa is the ending point of the Salkantai trek, so from here the continuation is the same as for the trek. From Santa Teresa you have to go to the football field and from there to the river. Here you cross the river by hand cable car. At the other side you walk to the road. Its a good 20 minutes from the town to the river.

Trucks to Hidroelectrico (planta hidroeléctrica) leave regularly from the near the river in Santa Teresa, bringinging workers back and forth starting early morning till about 15:00. When we got there there was one other local guy who confirmed there might be one last truck. The ride cost us two soles each and takes about fifteen minutes. They are playing canny and have produced a book of tickets to sell to tourists for I think was 10 Soles. When you tell them no, two soles – they point to their ticket book and say 10 soles. They don’t sell these tickets to locals. Bullshit. It is possible to walk the way, about 2 hours, but it’s a bit on tough walk on a hot day, especially when trucks pass back and forth.

The truck stops at the railwaytrack. From here it’s 10 km flat walking. Walk along the track, you see escape routes. These will take you to the upper railway track to Aguas Calientes. You have to sign your name at a small building and then you can start walking. The walking is not difficult but walking on the rail you have to take smaller steps than you used to so the walking speed is slower than normal. If you don’t want to walk, the train leaves daily at 15:00 and costs 8 USD(!). The railroad actually goes around Machu Picchu, look at the mountain to your right as you walk.

From the Hidroelctrico it is about 2.5 hours (less then 10 km) of easy walk along the railroad to Aguas Calientes. If you are too lazy, the trail leaves daily at 15:00 and costs 8 USD(!). We found this quite difficult. While some say it should take two hours, its about three.
Once we got to the have three hours of climbing, two hours of descent and 2.5 hours of relatively flat walking as we follow the train tracks into the village of Aguas Calientes. A soak in the thermal baths here are often the perfect respite for aching muscles!!!

Accommodation: Hostel in Aguas Calientes

Day 8: Cultural day. The next morning you can walk up, this will take about 1 hour to 1.5 hours depending on your condition and acclimatisation. The gates open at 6 am. Walk from town via the same road the busses take to maccu pichu. You walk past the parking lot of the busses, cross a bridge and after the sign to the museum (don’t take that path) look for a path up. Probably you’re not the only one going up early in the morning, so follow the other flashlights. It’s a clear path no trouble following it after you found it. Not enough walking? Walk up to Huayna Piccu (gates open at 7 am) and after that to the Temple of the Moon(caves). After a nice day of walking (up) you can walk back to Aguas Calientes.

Accommodation: Hostel in Aguas Calientes

Day 9: Getting Back
We went back the same way, starting again at 7.00am and walking back on the tracks and taking a truck back to Saint Teresa. 2. Trucks leave Hidroelectrico to Santa Teresa till about 15:00. You can also get the train. The train leaves Aguas Calientes between 12:00 to 13:00.This truck driver pulled out his book of ‘tourist tickets’ with a smile and wanted 5 soles each. We got hime down to 3 soles each and told hime to keep his tickets. When we arrived at Teresa, we were told the recent rains had closed all the roads and the bus drivers were on strike as it was too dangereous to travel. Normally, you can take a bus to Santa amria (costs 6 soles and takes about 2 hours) or a colectivos which goes hen full (6-10 soles, depending on the number of people) but there was no transport to Santa Maria or no buses from Santa maria to Cusco.

We were really stuck until we saw some locals lads jumping into a dumper truck. We followed and jumped in for 5 soles each and got a lift all the way to Quillabamba. While we passed through Santa Maria, there were no buses going directly to cusco as the roads were closed. Tahts why we continued onwards to Quillabamba. Normally, Cusco bound buses pass Santa Maria at about 09:00, 13:00 and between 20:30 to 22:00. You can book a seat through one of the shops around for 15 soles, or wait for the bus and pay 10 soles

Day 10: Still Getting Back.
Anyway, it was about 4 hours to Quillabamba, but found where were no buses to Cusco until about 4.00am (15 soles). A bummer as we had to wait there all day for a seven hour journey back to Cusco. Great scenery on the way back.

(of couse, this explains the way of getting from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco. If you are not doing any trekking, buses to Quillabamba, which pass through Santa Maria, leave from Santiago de Pess terminal, at around 08:00, 13:00, 19:00-21:00. These buses pass throught Ollantaytambo, The ride takes 6-8 hours. You then take a Bus/ Colectivo from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa (6-10 soles). A bus goes from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa just after the night buses from Cusco arrive (at around 03:00-04:00 am). The bus costs 6 soles and takes about 2 hours. )

Note: According to the BBC, in February 2007 a 80-metre long Carilluchayoc bridge, which crosses the Vilcanota river near Santa Teresa was inaugurated in February, despite a court order prohibiting its construction and protests from the government and environmentalists.

Its unlear to as to whether this bridge is open to tourist traffic i.e buses.

Getting back – Another Option
Finally, you can also walk back to Cusco or Ollantaytambo Via Aguas Calientes. The route is from (Km110- Aguas Calientes), to Km104, Km88, Km82, to Ollantaytambo and Cuzco.

Start early, it will be a long day. First the path next to the railway track is a nice path but after a couple of km, after the helicopter landing place you have to walk on the track. Just look around you and you will see Inca terrases and ruins. You pass another hidroelectrico and at km104 there will be “Macchu Pichu police” This is the begin point of the 2 day Inca trail. We had no problem and could continue our walk. Around Km96-94 you will find a kind of trainstation where you can shelter in case of rain and or have lunch. Around Km90 start looking for Inca trails, the main one will be on the left side. Km88 is another “Macchu Pichu police” point. On the other side you will see a lot of Inca ruins but you’re not allowed to cross the bridge unless you arranged some tickets in Cuzco. At Km85 and a few km further you will find some ruins not on the map, Qanabamba and Salapunku. Around here there are good camping places.
At Km82 there are a lot of empty tourist busses going back to Ollantaytambo, Cuzco after delivering the Inca-trail people.

Km90 till Km82 is the nicest part from the track. After that, you can continue walking, all the way to Ollantaytambo, but for 1 SOL pp we took a bus. Also good to know, if you want to walk it in 1 long day and at 14:00 there will be a bus to Ollantaytambo, so if you want to catch this one start early, and expect to walk 4km/h (sounds easy, but with campinggear and walking on the traintracks, it ain’t easy!).