Two Lost Cities of the Inca on a high-altitude adventure

Escape the trekking crowds and follow the trail to Choquequirao on a 13-day Lonely Planet Experience, powered by Intrepid. Hike steep paths that zigzag through dense cloud forest, past dusty desert and over high-altitude passes to views of snow-capped peaks. Believed to be up to three times larger than Machu Picchu, Choquequirao has a secluded splendour that will leave you in awe, and with a local leader joining you each step of the way, you’ll experience this Inca marvel in all its glory. Continue on through Peru, visiting to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and bookended with a visit to the high-flying centre of Cusco, embark on an all-encompassing Inca adventure with a group of likeminded travellers.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Cusco, Peru
Finish
Cusco, Peru
Destination
Peru
Style
Basix
Theme
Lonely Planet Experience, Walking & Trekking
Code
GGXQ
Physical rating
Ages
Min 17
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

A powerful partnership

Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel share the same philosophy: we help curious people explore the world.

Why you'll love this trip

  • Tucked high in the Andes, Choquequirao may not get the same fanfare as Machu Picchu, but is no less spectacular. Few visitors make the journey each day, meaning you often have the whole Inca site to yourself!

  • Your trek through the Apurimac Valley to Choquequirao may be challenging, but it’s incredibly scenic. See cloud forests and canyons, high passes and snow-capped peaks, often without another trekking group in sight.

  • After visiting Choquequirao, continue on to enjoy a guided tour of Peru’s most acclaimed Inca city, Machu Picchu, as well as the Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.

  • Spend time exploring artisan markets, lively squares, historic sites and thriving nightlife in Cusco – South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and an interesting blend of Inca and colonial influences.

  • With a knowledgeable local leader and a team of guides and porters assisting you along the trail, all you have to worry about is keeping your footing and capturing the best photos you can.

Is this trip right for you?

  • Significantly more strenuous than the classic Inca Trail, this demanding trek takes you up to high altitudes on steep but well-defined trails, mostly following mountain switchbacks as you move from valley floor to mountain pass on your journey through the Andes. This trail follows ancient Inca pathways the same as the Inca Trail, but without the restrictions of trekking permits and human porterage. Expect early starts and long days (up to 11 hours) with steep gradients throughout, all rewarded with breathtaking views across the Andes. This trek is not technically difficult and is suitable for all walkers with a good level of fitness and some experience of multi-day trekking. There are some steep drops and narrow paths which makes this trek unsuitable for vertigo sufferers or those without a head for heights.

  • Walking times mentioned in the itinerary are approximate only, they include lunch and photo stops and will vary depending on the pace of your group. More information can be found here: www.intrepidtravel.com/machu-picchu-peru/choquequirao-trail

  • As this trip spends considerable time at altitude, we ask you to refer to the altitude warning within the ‘Health’ section of your Essential Trip Information. We spend two days in Cusco (3400 metres) acclimatising before starting the trek. the maximum altitude reached on this trip is approximately 4660 metres (Yanama Pass).

  • Protest action/strikes are not uncommon in Peru, and while these are generally peaceful, they can involve roadblocks and cause disruption to travel. Occasionally your leader may have to adapt your itinerary in response to this.

Itinerary

Welcome to Cusco! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 2 pm where you'll meet your group leader and fellow travellers. After this important briefing, get acquainted with this charming city's intriguing blend of Inca and Spanish culture on a guided walking tour with your local leader. Check out some of Cusco's main attractions, as well as its lesser-known sights such as the Coricancha temple, San Pedro market, the main square, the 12 Angled Stone, Regocijo Square and San Blas Square.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that to arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).

As Cusco is a high-altitude town (3400 metres), it's a good idea to arrive a few days early so you can spend some time acclimatising. As this tour doesn't involve much time in Cusco, this will also give you a chance to take part in optional activities available. Due to the high altitude, the air is thinner and some people can suffer altitude sickness, regardless of age, gender or fitness. Please see the 'Health' section in the Essential Trip Information for details.
You’ve got a free day to explore the sights of Cusco. Perhaps revisit the San Blas neighbourhood and spend time browsing its boutique shops and handicrafts made by local artisans, or simply grab a coffee and people watch in Plaza de Armas. Alternatively, use this day to visit Sacsayhuaman – the remains of an impressive Inca fortress that offers stunning views of the city. Cusco’s bustling markets offer a delicious range of Peruvian eats. Though the Mercado San Pedro is larger, the locals tend to prefer Mercado San Blas. As you’ve got an early start tomorrow, it’s a good idea to have an early night; however, Cusco does have a thriving nightlife due to the large number of travellers who pass through.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today you start your trek! It’s a 5-hour drive to Capuliyoc Pass, the start of the Choquequirao Trek, so you need to wake early and be ready to leave the hotel at 5 am. Stop twice along the way to explore two incredible but lesser-visited Inca archaeological sites: Tarawasi (also known as Rimactambo) and Saywite. Arrive at Capuliyoc around noon (12 pm) and be immediately struck by the panoramic views of the Apurimac Valley and snow-capped peaks in the distance. Beginning at an altitude of 2915 metres (9560 feet), today's walk is downhill. Descend into the valley through dry forest, taking in the beautiful scenery and wide variety of flora and fauna. Your campsite for the night is at Chiquisaca (1950 metres/6400 feet).
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Archaeological sites: Tarawasi and Saywite
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today is one of the longer, more challenging days of the trip, but the awe-inspiring views make it worth it. Start very early and descend to Playa Rosalina. Cross the Apurimac River here and begin the long and steep climb through dusty desert up to the village of Santa Rosa. After a rest stop, continue climbing to a plateau above Maranpata (2920 metres/9580 feet). From here, the path becomes less steep and the hike to Choquequirao camp becomes easier. The landscape transitions to high-altitude forest and the region is home to spectacled bears – you just might catch sight of one as we approach the Inca citadel. Throughout the day, it’s also possible to see toucans, hummingbirds and maybe even a condor.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Spend most of the day exploring the vast, sprawling ruins of Choquequirao. Meaning ‘cradle of gold’ in Quechua, Choquequirao sits nearly 1600 metres (5250 feet) above the roaring Apurimac River. Significantly larger than Machu Picchu, only about 30 percent of this ancient Inca city has been cleared, but you can clearly see the main square, ceremonial platforms, palaces, terraces, ritual baths and temples dedicated to the sun, moon and earth spirit, Pachamama. Choquequirao is also significantly less-visited than the country’s more famous ruins – in fact, it’s not uncommon to have the entire site to explore to yourself. In the afternoon, visit the terraces of Pacchanta.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ruins of Choquequirao
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
In the morning, embark on a short but steep climb to the top of the Choquequirao Pass (3215 metres/10,550 feet) for sweeping views of Choquequirao. You’ll get a real sense of the enormity of the ruins from this vantage point, as well as its isolation. Then begin the descent down the Apurimac Valley. Walk down a dusty road to Pinchinoyoc (2400 metres/7875 feet) where we’ll stop to visit Inca terraces previously hidden by vegetation before descending to the bottom of the valley. There, we cross the Rio Blanco and begin our ascent back up the other side of the valley to Maizal (3000 metres/9840 feet). This is a strenuous day, descending over 1500 metres (4920 feet) and then ascending over 1500 metres over the course of the day.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Archaeological Site: Pinchinoyoc
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Start the day with a five-hour, steep switchback climb up the San Juan Pass (4170 metres/13,680 feet). The climb is challenging, but the reward is panoramic views of the snow-capped Vilcabamba mountain range at the top. Make a stop at the 500-year-old La Victoria silver mine on the way up. After taking in the breathtaking views, descend for about three hours following an old miner’s track to the camp at Yanama (3400 metres/11,155 feet). In May, this path becomes particularly beautiful as it winds through a landscape filled with wild lupins in bloom. Keep an eye out for Andean condors today, which frequently soar above this trail.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • La Victoria silver mine
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Journey through stunning landscapes as you climb to the highest point of the trek, the Yanama Pass (4660 metres/15,290 feet), where the magnificent snow-capped Vilcabamba mountain range dominates the skyline. Our rocky trail follows the river up the valley, then begins to climb to the pass. Afterwards, pass small villages as you descend for about four hours to the campsite for the night, Totora (3440 metres/11,285 feet).
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Continue to descend today as you make your way to the Salcantay Trail, where you’ll begin to notice more trekkers and greener surroundings. Follow a road for a short section, then a gravel path beside the river that runs through a lush cloud forest. You’ll notice lots of fruit trees and coffee plantations along this part of the trek. After about six hours of hiking, set up camp at a particularly special location – on Inca terraces in the middle of a coffee plantation. If there’s time, you may opt to tour the coffee plantation for a small fee.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with basic facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Salcantay Trail
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Rise early today and follow an original Inca trail that climbs uphill for three hours to the Inca complex, Llactapata. Spend some time exploring the site, then descend for two hours to Santa Teresa, where we stop for lunch. Afterwards, continue the last leg of the trek, crossing the Vilcanota River and finishing at the train station. Enjoy a comfortable train ride to Aguas Calientes and check into a hotel upon arrival for a well-earned shower and rest!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Archaeological Site: Llactapata
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
In order to beat the crowds (and queues), rise very early to tour the famous Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. This fascinating Inca complex is considered one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world – made only more dramatic by its stunning mountain backdrop. After taking advantage of the seemingly endless photo opportunities, catch an afternoon train to Ollantaytambo where you will spend the night.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Machu Picchu - Entrance and guided tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Explore the village of Ollantaytambo this morning and spend time strolling its narrow, cobblestone streets. See the colossal Inca stone terraces carved into the surrounding hillside up close, then continue to Pisac in the Sacred Valley, where you’ll visit the ruins of the Citadel. There’s also time to wander its colourful markets and perhaps shop for local handicrafts and last-minute souvenirs. Afterwards, drive to Cusco, passing gorgeous Andean scenery, old towns and quaint villages along the way. Tonight, you may choose to get a taste of Cusco’s exciting nightlife and celebrate with your fellow travellers.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
With no activities planned for today, bid farewell to Cusco and your fellow travellers. Your Peruvian adventure comes to an end after breakfast. If you would like to spend more time in Cusco, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation.
Optional Activities
  • Rainbow Mountain Hike - USD97
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Before your trip comes to an end, why not pay a visit to Rainbow Mountain (or Vinicunca in Quechua, the local language). Please note that this activity involves climbing up to more than 5000 metres above sea level in one day, which could lead to life-threatening altitude sickness. As such, your leader is only able to assist you in booking this activity at the end of your stay in Cusco (when you will be better acclimatised) and on our own operated tours where we have full control over the safety aspects of this activity (such as transport, oxygen, emergency horses, adequate first aid kits and experienced guides). The price listed is indicative only and the final price will depend on the total number of travellers taking this activity. Ultimately the cost can range from as little as USD 56 (with 16 travellers) to USD 216 for 2 travellers. A minimum of 2 travellers is required for this activity to take place. Your leader can assist with booking this on the ground.
This trip is a Lonely Planet Experience
Our Lonely Planet Experiences include plenty of free time so you can do the things that suit your budget and interests. Between your Intrepid Travel leader’s local knowledge and Lonely Planet’s trusted travel tips and recommendations, your trip will be more epic than ever.

Meals

12 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Train

Accommodation

Hotel (5 nights), Camping with basic facilities ( 7 nights)

Included activities

  • Archaeological sites: Tarawasi and Saywite
  • Ruins of Choquequirao
  • Archaeological Site: Pinchinoyoc
  • La Victoria silver mine
  • Salcantay Trail
  • Archaeological Site: Llactapata
  • Machu Picchu - Entrance and guided tour

Lonely Planet extras

  • Free access to the Lonely Planet mobile app for one year
  • 25% discount on all items in the Lonely Planet Shop

Dates & availability

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Important notes

PASSPORT DETAILS REQUIRED
Full passport details are required at the time of booking in order to secure entrance to certain sites. Additionally, on some trips these details are needed to book bus, train or flight tickets. Delays in providing this information may result in extra booking fees or changes to your itinerary.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View Essential Trip Information

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