We had debated this one for a long time. Luckily we were fortunate enough to have the enormous stretch through the desert along the Peruvian coast to think about it. This stretch wasn’t particularly interesting so plenty of reason to keep our mind occupied otherwise. In the end, we decided to go to Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu. And we were happy we did.
Although we haven’t been to Machu Picchu, which kinda feels like we’ve missed something, but it also feel like I’ve been there already. It’s hard to find a postcard in Peru without Machu Picchu, and it’s hard to look up information about Peru without getting results from Machu Picchu. All together I’ve probably spend as much time reading information and posts to make up our mind, as I would have spend hiking up the mountain.
In the last 10 years, the visitor numbers for Machu Picchu have roughly doubled. With over 1.5 million visitors a year and a daily average of 4400 people, the Peruvian government had to put a limit on the number of visitors. But not only the numbers are restricted. Since January this year can only visit with a tour guide and in the ruins there’s only one route to follow, even with “one-way” traffic rules. There’s a strict time schedule restricting you to a part of the day and to which parts you can visit at which time during your visit.
To me, this doesn’t sound like “holiday”, and definitely not like freedom. This sounds like every day life in your average big city where you have to make appointments for everything. Some people writing about Machu Picchu even went as far as calling the site a “tourist trap”. At least for us, this is not what we wanted to do. We’re all about freedom and doing things independently. Probably the deciding factor, was that dogs aren’t allowed in Machu Picchu, and we aren’t going anywhere without Layla. So it actually made the decision very easy, because therefore we couldn’t visit Machu Picchu and had to go to Choquequirao instead.
Machu Picchu’s little sister
Instead, we found another site, less well known but very similar to Machu Picchu; Choquequirao. It was build around the same time, with a very similar style and at a similar location. Choquequirao is also called “Machu Picchu’s little sister”. And there close together as well, and even linked by a trail which takes you from one to the other site in less than a 100km. For us, deciding was that Layla could come with no issues. Despite the lack of official information (which in this case was a good sign) we found reports from fellow travellers with dogs who visited the site.
There are, of course, reasons why Choquequirao isn’t as popular. As we approached the location we were given two different options by our Maps.me navigation. One followed an orange coloured road and was slightly longer, and one followed a white coloured road and was a little shorter. Orange, in this case, stand for a bigger (and usually better) road. White coloured roads on the maps are often unpaved and with all kinds of troubles making 20km last forever. We choose to drive past the turn-off for shorter way and take the detoured version. Unfortunately, this was a mistake.
After some km the road changed from paved to unpaved in a very bad state, despite Maps.me still telling us it was a “main road”. When we crossed a little stream, we asked some locals who washed their car in the water. They laughed and sad the road turned impassable very soon. Thankfully we asked, but unfortunately we had to turn around to the other turn-off we passed.
The access road
This road actually was what our app told us it would be. A rough gravel road with everything but a smooth surface. But at least it was drivable and an hour later we arrived in a little village. From here the road continued but could be described as a “path” more than a “road”. On iOverlander comments had learned us “big rigs” wouldn’t be able to drive here.
As we continued the sun went down, and we wanted to reach the trailhead parking before it was dark. Due to our unfortunate mistake earlier that day, we didn’t quite make that. The 8km from the village to the trail head parking made us no longer want to go to the Death Road in Bolivia, since this was very much alike that road. Just not so famous. A very narrow and windy dirt road, cut out in the mountain side so steep a mistake would mean free falling hundreds of meters down.
We reached the trail head when things had just gotten dark. The trail head in this case was nothing else as the point where the track became so narrow, only foot passengers would be able to continue. There were a few tiny wooden buildings, including a mini-market. After asking for permission, we were told where we could park. The parking was so tiny and narrow, we needed to drive past and reverse in the parking because there wasn’t enough space to turn Grisu. Besides us, there was only enough space for one other vehicle. Costs, 5 Soles* a night.
So the main reason for people not to go to Choquequirao, is obviously it’s hard to reach. Where this is an argument not to go for some people, the adventure attracted us also to go to Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu. And for those of you without your own vehicle, tours are available.
*5 Soles, the local Peruvian currency, is less than €1.50