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Choquequirao

the challenging trail to the Choquequirao ruins

After parking up we packed our stuff for the trip. Everything fitted in one bigger and one smaller backpack. This included two sleeping bags, a small budget tent, a few litres of water and food for us and Layla. We set an early alarm and after a rather large breakfast we took off for the challenging trail to the Choquequirao ruins as the sun rose over the mountains.

the Choquequirao track

The hike basically consists of 3 different parts. From the trailhead it’s a little over 1500 vertical meters downhill. Then across the river and the same distance uphill on the other side, after which the trail levels out (as much as possible in the Andes). Along the way there are several campsites so plenty of opportunities to rest, and sometimes it’s possible to buy some snacks. The natural water sources provide you with crystal clear and cold water. Not everybody might want to drink the water or wants to use a filter, but we drank basically non-stop and had no issues at all. It’s good to carry around 2 litres each, which gives you normally enough to get from one source to the other.

A challenging journey

According to other people’s experiences, the regular time schedule for the trip is 4 days. Some people opted to do the trip in 3 days, but apparently nobody was happy with the 3-day-decision. We didn’t want to be disappointed, so we decided not to plan for 3 days but for 2 instead. The idea of walking a little bit and then being stuck on a campsite until the next morning wasn’t appealing. We’re more the kind off people who’d like to do something all the time.

We reached the valley floor by the time we normally had breakfast. We had planned on a second breakfast, but there was an unpleasant surprise; Sandflies. We barely had taken off our backpacks, when we decided to keep going instead. At this time we were hoping it would be due to the river, but the sandflies didn’t go away until we made it to the top on the other side, hours later. Maybe affected by the time of the year (early July), but long sleeves and mosquito spray are highly recommended.

sandfly bites on Claras leg

The last few hundred vertical meters Alwin had to carry Layla with an improvised carries inspired by the locals. At the top of the climb the trail takes you through one of the most beautiful villages I’ve ever seen. Not only because the sandflies were gone, but due to it’s simplicity. Without the hiking trail (and the tourists) they would probably never see anybody else. Only accessible by foot these people live isolated and pure, probably for generations. Layla probably liked it too, because she told us she could walk herself again. As we went on, it was only a few more kilometres to the last campsite where we set up camp.

Alwin as pack donkey for Layla on the Choquequirao track

The campsite

This campsite is completely free, but still offers a bathroom and a (cold) shower. We arrived before dark, set up our tent and saw the sun go down as we had our pre-cooked dinner. There were surprisingly a lot of people, considering the fact we could count all the people (non-locals) we saw on the challenging trail to the Choquequirao ruins on only one hand.

The tent turned out to be rather cosy, for this one-time occasion we of course bought the very cheapest we could find. It was so narrow that we had to leave one backpack outside, the smaller one on our feet and Layla had no choice to sleep on top of us. But we were tired, so we slept well anyway.

The next morning we got up early again, this day would be even more packed since we were visiting the ruins and return all the way to Grisu as well. The site opens at 7am and we were probably the first visitors. This is were we expected to be able to pay our entrance fee because we didn’t have a ticket (yet). Because we left the parking before the ticket office opened, but there was nobody and nothing to pay our 60 Soles.*

The ruins

The site was beautiful, many different little locations. Of course parts of it have been cleared of the jungle and partly restored. But it has been done in a very subtle way, it wasn’t obvious or disturbing. I think the most beautiful part was the location in combination with the serenity. We had the place basically for ourselves, can you imagine? This being high season and the weekend, hence the most popular and busiest time.

We spend around 3 hours in the ruins, strolling and taking pictures. You could easily spend more time, probably even a whole day if you wanted. But for us, more is not necessarily better. A solid impression that sticks is what we want, not a picture of every stone from all possible angles.

the challenging trail to the Choquequirao ruins

The long way home

They way back was the exact same as we came, but of course we felt the previous day in our legs. We made it back to the river and decided to have a longer break. Main reason was that the last ascent was in the blazing sun, without any shelter. So we decided on purpose to wait here for the sunset and take the climb after dark when it was a lot cooler. This was a good decision, the clear sky with the moon provided so much light we didn’t really need the headlight we brought. A few hours later, just in time for second supper, we made it back to Grisu.

It was an amazing hike, perfectly doable in two days. But there are many ways to make it an easier hike. The couple we shared the parking with had a very similar approach. They spend one more night and left so early on the third day they arrived just after the sun started shining on the last part (which we hiked after dark) so they also did it without the sun. But with so many campsites you can create your own schedule, and you can even hire mules to carry your stuff.

local with pack donkeys on the Choquequirao track

Our time schedule was tough for the challenging trail to the Choquequirao ruins, but I would not have done it otherwise. The more effort things take, the more you enjoy it in retrospect. And Layla has proven that also lazy lapdogs can make it, although Alwin did play for mule a few times carrying her. Definitely one of the highlights from our trip (so far) and highly recommend if you’re in the area.

*We paid the entrance fee upon return to the parking, which was equivalent to €16.

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