Posted by Cassie, October 1st, 2011

We had an amazing time on the hike to the Choquequirao Ruins! The hike is very tough, but it was worth it to visit the ruins. To get to the ruins, you have to cross the Apurimac River, but to do so, you have cross the river gorge by descending 1,500 meters and then ascending 1,500 meters. Normally, we hike on our own, and last year, we did a hike through Colca Canyon in which we had the same elevation gain and loss. But, it is very tough to do a hike with so much elevation gain and loss with full packs, so we decided to hire a mule and an arriero for the hike to Choquequirao. It worked out very well with mule, and fortunately, our arriero, Paulino, was great!

Archeaologists believe that Choquequirao was built by Pachacutec´s son Topa Inca. After an Incan emperor died, their palaces and holdings were passed on to a set of relatives to maintain. Therefore, each Incan emperor had to build their own palaces. Machu Picchu was built by Pachacutec, but after his death, his son Topa Inca had to build his own winter palace. There are similarities between Machu Picchu and Choquequirao. Both palaces are built on mountain ridges overlooking winding rivers. The stonework is different at Choquequirao because of different materials that were available at the site. But, Choquequirao was definitely built as a rival palace to Machu Picchu. There is no evidence of the Spaniards finding Choquequirao either as there is no mention of it in the Spanish chronicles. It is believed that the last Inca, Tupac Amaru may have been raised as a priest at Choquequirao, and it was used during the time of the rebel Incan empire. Choquequirao was used as a pleasure palace, so only minimal agriculture was done there. There is evidence that later agricultural terraces were quickly built to feed a population living there.

It took two days to hike to the ruins, and we spent an entire day exploring the ruins. The ruins are very spread out. There is a lower section with a series of terraces built into the steep mountainside, and there is an upper section with a ceremonial plaza, a temple, and houses. It takes about an hour to hike from one section to another. The upper section was so extensive that we spent an entire day exploring all the ruins. There is a principal plaza with a temple and ruins of some houses. Above the principal plaza is the usnu, or ceremonial plaza. The Incas actually leveled the top of the mountain to build the usnu! Below the usnu, you can walk out onto ridge that has amazing views of the river valley and the surrounding mountains. This was where the priest´s house was located, and it was an amazing spot to put a house.

View of principal plaza and usnu

The most amazing section of the ruins was the Sector of the Llamas. All the ruins of Choquequirao have not been completely uncovered yet. It is estimated that only 30% of the ruins have been cleared. Recently in 2005, they uncovered the agricultural terraces that make up the Sector of the Llamas. The terraces are narrow and steep, and the Incans inlaid white rocks in the walls of the terraces to make the designs of llamas. The effect of the llamas walking up the terraces in amazing! Only about 25% of the terraces have been cleared, so there could be more llamas underneath the terraces!

View of Sector of the Llamas from the viewpoint

Detail of llama design in Sector of the Llamas

After visiting the ruins, we had to hike down to the valley and climb back up. On our last day, it was really clear, and we had great views of the snowcapped mountains. The mountains here are incredible. From the river to the top of the mountain, Padreyoc, it is 4000 meters! We had an amazing time at Choquequirao, and it was very special to visit the ruins with only a handful of other people.

View of Padreyoc Mountain

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