Most people associate the magnum opus of the Inca Empire with sites like Machu Picchu but Choquequirao also makes for an immensely rewarding visit.
This ‘lost city’ often escapes notice despite its prime location near Cusco even though it exists on a larger scale than the city of Machu Picchu. Excavations and discoveries are ongoing to this day and the full extent of the city has not yet been claimed.
Archeologists are convinced a considerable part of the ruins are hidden in the adjoining forest and would require more work to reveal. Tourists can still visit the city however if they are willing to make the long hike up to the site as what awaits them is truly worth it.
Choquequirao is also much less busy than other historical Inca sites since it is harder to get to (no lovely luxury trains) and most tourists don’t hear about it on their Peru holiday.
Purpose Of Creation
The explorer who discovered Machu Picchu more than a century ago was also aware of the existence of Choquequirao but was not successful in fully excavating the site.
Machu Picchu is known to receive thousands of tourists daily while its sister site remains an unknown wonder, perhaps meant for the truly brave and adventurous.
Historians have speculated that the city was built exclusively for the elite and the royal family as a way of providing secluded repose. Its architectural details indicate it did not house a large number of people and was not meant for the needs of the common man.
There are quite a few large structures to be found on the site called ‘Kallankas’ which are essentially sizeable semi-enclosures meant for gatherings. A few ceremonial rooms for the royals exist on the site and there are irrigation channels running through the city as well.
Possibly The Last Stronghold Of The Incas
There is archeological evidence now to support the premise that most of the key Inca sites like Sacsayhuaman and Machu Picchu had been evacuated before the time the Spanish invaded.
Some evidence has been unearthed that most of the major Inca sites including in their ‘City of the Sun’ (Cusco City) had been cleared out for some time almost in anticipation.
Choquequirao, however, is believed to have been inhabited till the very end and it also managed to escape the notice of the Spanish conquistadors due to its hidden and unlikely location.
To this day it remains underutilized for the same reason except for those that especially seek the city out and revel in its wonders.
Location Of This Hidden City
If you are undertaking a tour of the sacred sites Peru has in store then you must try to visit Choquequirao if possible. The site lies nestled in the Andes of Cusco and its exact location is in the shadow of the mountain Vilcabamba.
The Incas leveled a part of the hill it stands on, to make it easier to reach. To this day in order to visit this hidden city, tourists have to undertake a two-day hike which can also extend to quite a few days depending on skill and stamina. Choquequirao stands at approximately 3000 feet.
Making The Trek
Choquequirao is not easy to reach so it does require a strong desire to learn about the last days of the Incas and a genuine passion for history. This is the reason why most tourists do not actually undertake the trek to the city.
Choquequirao is fiercely guarded by the surrounding Andean mountains which in olden times would have made it into the perfect refuge for the Inca when they feared being captured.
Tourists start from the small town of Cachora which is about 161 kilometers away from main Cusco city. From there one has to undertake an 18-kilometer walk all the way to Capuliyoc Mountain where hikers can eat and rest at night.
The next day the Apurimac River has to be crossed and then a further 8 kilometer of uphill struggle leads you to the final campsite before Choquequirao. A further 2kms leads you right to the city at last where you can witness its full splendor.
Splendid In Its Loneliness
Most tourists need to designate at least a week to complete the trek as many may not be professional hikers or mountain climbers. Regular people generally lack the stamina and take longer even with tour guides and a schedule to keep.
In general, the city only receives 30 to 40 people a day and experts say that only 30% of the city has been claimed from the elements and restored. For those that end up making the trek, they see a view of Inca culture and history like no other.
The city is virtually untouched and has a pristine look to its structures which not a lot of other Inca historical sites can fully claim. This is so as some were altered by the Spanish while others are subjected to overuse with too many visitors daily.
The site can provide a breath of fresh air with its lonely yet remarkably scenic location, perfect for artists and photographers that can appreciate true beauty.
The Near Future
Efforts to make the city of Choquequirao more accessible are underway. A system of cable cars to bypass the necessary hike to the site is being planned. This development alone would increase the visitors to 3000 a day much like Machu Picchu.
Since 2014, there has already been an increase in hikers as the Puente Rosalina Bridge was completed the same year. Tourists can get across on foot or horseback depending on their preference.
The Expanse Of The Ruins
Choquequirao is surrounded by three mountains namely Panta, Ampay and Quishuar. An incomplete royal estate lies hidden in the site which was undoubtedly for the emperor Pachacutec.
This city is a monument to the intelligence and inherent knack for engineering of the Incas. Even the water fountains on the site are impeccably made utilizing large rocks so they would last longer.
The houses for the royals and the nobles were made with two doors instead of one to emphasize power and inaccessibility. This is in keeping with the Inca belief that the royal family had descended from the gods and hence had to be obeyed without question and kept separate from the common people.
The Incas even had an ancient system of refrigeration in which they made provision for storage underneath windows. This worked because the area has a temperate climate for most of the year.
The Incas were also artistic in their own way (as they did not really believe in writing or keeping records). The main stairway in the site is beautifully made with white stone llamas embedded in each step.
While this is a small part of the city, it leads one to reflect upon the Incas and their inherent greatness and need for advancement which made them a venerated power in the region.
Archeologists and other experts have concluded that it was slaves from neighboring cultures and civilizations that built the city from the ground. The Incas ordered the use of limestone and granite in the vertical construction plan for beautification and longevity.
Choquequirao remains a wonder for the lucky adventurer to witness, all the more spiritual and powerful in its unapologetic seclusion.