Machu Picchu is an awesome place, no doubt. It’s a cornerstone of Incan history, an astoundingly gorgeous place and also possibly the most Instagrammed place on the planet. It may be “the Lost City of the Incas” (or was that a B-grade explorer films from the ’50s?) but it’s a tourist trap. It’s everything you don’t want it to be: crowded, noisy, sweaty, underwhelming.
If you’re the type of person to lace up before you buckle up, then I’ve got good news. And even if you’re not, keep reading because this place should definitely be on your list of places to see. Because there’s another lost Incan city in Peru.
Choquequirao (“cho-kay-kee-rao”) was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, on an early expedition to South America in 1909. It’s about 10,000 feet above sea level, and as such requires a bit of dedication to get to it.
Two days of hiking from the small village of Cachora follow a four-hour car trip from Cusco. Then you have another four to six day journey at high altitude, before coming back down via the Salkantay trek route. No cars, no cushy hotels, nothing but you and nature. Beautiful, huh?
Josh Roberts from SmarterTravel recently committed to getting to Choquequirao, and the images he took are stunning. With no tourists and no money-making outlets to be seen, the ruins are immaculately untouched.
The trek is over a hundred miles, camping in tents and drinking boiled water. The highest point is nearly 14,000 feet, and if you go in winter, saying a thermal sleeping bag is a must is an understatement. You’ll also need a good amount of sunblock. But then you get views like this…
But, if you want to see these beautiful mountain ruins like this, get in quick. The Peruvian government recently announced plans to build a cable car to Choquequirao, and there’s work underway to build a road from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu that would allow tourists to walk to same route the Incas once walked. Archaeological renovation is also on the cards.
Roberts’ guide, a man really named Rambo, summed it up well:
“Five years ago, you might get one or two groups a month to Choquequirao,” Rambo says. “Now, one or two a day. Five years from now…” He doesn’t have to finish the thought.
Hopefully we won’t let the tempting smell of money overwhelm the need to keep these sites as pure and untouched as possible. These places have lasted a good thousand years on their own, and should last at least that again.