A brief history of Choquequirao: Peru’s real ‘lost city’ archaeological site

written by Jenna Hoare August 29, 2018

Choquequirao’s well-preserved Inca city ruins cover an area three times larger than Machu Picchu! The archaeological site is surrounded by dense cloud forest in the Andes Mountains, and overlooks the Apurimac River in south Peru.

It takes two days of hiking along the Choquequirao Trek to reach the ruins, and a day’s worth of exploration to truly get a grasp of this epic site.

Choququirao ruins

Image by Maritza Chacacanta


Choquequirao translates to ‘Cradle of Gold’ in the indigenous language, Quechuan. Located in the Vilcabamba Valley, the city was built during the height of the Inca empire in the late 15th century. Experts suggest it was constructed around the same time as Machu Picchu. Choqueaquirao, like its sister site, was never discovered by Spanish conquistadors – instead, as the story is told, it was publicly uncovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Arias Diaz in 1710. Due to the site’s remote location, excavation of the site didn’t start until the 1970s and since then, work continues to unearth and restore large parts of the ruins still covered by jungle.

The agricultural centre of the Inca empire  

Archaeologists have linked the history of Choquequirao to the conquering Inca emperor Pachacutec, suggesting it was designed as an agricultural hub for the cultivation and distribution of coca leaves (a sacred plant to the Incas). Choquequirao’s layout is made up of an urban area, with lined terraces and fountains, ceremonial rooms and agriculture zones. Many of the large stone walls are still intact and the site showcases what even engineers would describe as impressive building techniques, incorporating limestone and granite throughout the building structures.

Choquequirao archaelogical site

Image by Maritza Chacacanta

Choquequirao is an awesome example of Inca architecture, and set in a striking location; 3000 metres (9842 feet) above sea level certainly adds to the visual impact of journeying to the ruins. The main reason for its low profile internationally is the lack of accessibility –  the trek is an adventure hiker’s dream – and the site receives only about a dozen visitors a day. Recently, the Peruvian Government announced plans to upgrade infrastructure and roads in the area, and build a cable car that could deliver up to 1500 people a day. So now is the time to go.


Choquequirao ruins

Image by Maritza Chacacanta

Getting to Choquequirao

It takes about a week to complete the 8-day Choquequirao Trek. While being a physically demanding trek, it takes you through a rural region of Peru not many get to see. And being in a less populated area, there’s the opportunity to see more wildlife, such as condors, hummingbirds, foxes and perhaps even a spectacle bear.

To find out more about the Choquequirao Trek click here. For other hiking options in Peru that are just out of this world, check out Intrepid’s small group adventures.

Feature image by Enselme Arthur/Shutterstock 

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