Choquequirao - Cool Facts About Peru's Other Lost City

By: Lindsay MacNevin


10. Introducing Choquequirao

Choquequirao: sister of Machu Picchu, the golden cradle, keeper of many secrets. This monumental site built by the Inca’s holds many secrets as archeologists have barely scratched the surface of what lays hidden beneath the earth.

Choquequirao is located on the spurs of the Wilkapampa mountain range in the La Convención Province in the northwestern part of the Cusco region and was first discovered in 1710 by Spanish explorer Juan Arias Diaz. Over 250 years later in 1970 excavations began and to date only 1/3 of this site has been explored, leaving much to be discovered.

9. The History of Choquequirao

Choquequirao is often considered the twin of Machu Picchu, for the resemblance they have to one another in terms of architecture and structure. The history of Choquequirao is widely speculated and with only 1/3 of the site excavated, it’s only theories that exist about this incredible set of ruins. The first theory is that the city was built as a royal estate by Tupa Inca, the tenth ruler of the Inca Empire who lived during the latter half of the 15th century.

It is said that Tupa Inca intended to build a city similar in location and design to Machu Picchu, which is said to have been built by his father and predecessor, Pachacuti. Another theory states that Choquequirao was built around the same time as Machu Picchu, and its construction was commissioned by Pachacuti, rather than by his successor.

8. Evidence of Tupa Inca

Choquequirao is located in the area considered to be Pachacuti’s estate and the architectural style of several important features appears to be of Chachapoya design, suggesting that Chachapoya workers were probably involved in the construction which means Tupa Inca probably ordered the construction. Confusing, we know.

To further back up this claim, colonial documents also suggest that Tupa Inca ruled Choquequirao since his great-grandson, Tupa Sayri, claimed ownership of the site and neighboring lands during Spanish colonization.

7. Choquequirao’s Importance

There is something that all experts agree on though and that is that Choquequirao was most likely one of the entrance checkpoints to the Vilcabamba, one of the most important valleys in the perimeter. It most likely served as an administrative hub serving political, social and economic functions.

It is no doubt that the city also played an important role as a link between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco. It has also been widely speculated that Choquequirao provided a seasonal pilgrimage destination for regional state-sponsored ceremonial events. And going one step further there is evidence to suggest that Choquequirao was also an important center for the cultivation and distribution of coca.


6. The Layout

Architecturally this city is very similar to Machu Picchu and laid out over six square kilometers. There are two plazas along the crest of the ridge that follow Inca urban design and host main structures such as temples, elite residences, and fountain and bath systems. The complex of the city is divided into 12 sectors, with different contents in each but it seems most of the buildings were used for one of three things; ceremonial purposes, residences of the priests, or used to store food.

5. Excavations

The recent excavation of Choquequirao has further revealed the skill of the Inca engineers. Everything here was built with great precision and attention to detail. The wealthy residents of the city built houses with towering double doors, the water fountains were made with large rocks as to not wear quickly and flat slabs were created under windows in order to store food. Most buildings are well-preserved and well-restored, making it an absolutely beautiful place to visit.

4. Unique Features

There are a couple of significant and interesting features of these ruins. On a set of terraces down the stairway of the main plaza, there is unique art. The builders of the city decorated each terrace with white rocks in the shape of either llamas or alpacas, now thought to pay tribute to this animal as they were used to transport food and supplies.

There are also two unusual sacred temple sites that lie below the two plazas. They are step terraces that have been designed around water, leading experts to believe that water played an important factor in this city.

3. Day 1 of “The Trek”

Getting here to discover this ancient city is the hard part, and the trek is considered one of the hardest in Peru. It’s no surprise that during high season when Machu Picchu is seeing 2,500 visitors a day, Choquequirao is seeing 30 people. From the starting point at the village to the ruins and back this trek is a whopping 46 miles, and that doesn’t take into account the elevation changes.

On the first day it’s an 18km walk to Capuliyoc Mountain, then down to Playa Rosalinas, where travelers camp for the night. The trail drops 6,000 feet to the floor of the Apurímac River valley during that first day. If you choose to travel alone make sure you have money for the two different access fees along the trail. It is possible to travel there without a guide, just make sure to brush up on your Spanish.

2. Day 2 of “The Trek”

Day two is when it gets really intense, as trekkers then have to cross the Apurímac River and traverse 8km of grueling uphill switchbacks to reach the campsite close to the ruins. Here some people continue on the extra 2km to reach the ruins, 3,100m above sea level but most spend the night at the campground. In the morning, refreshed, it’s a 2km hike up to the ruins themselves.

Most guided tours take anywhere from 4-7 days to complete this trek as getting home is just as hard as getting there. What you will be rewarded with though is sweeping mountains views at every turn, lush wilderness, untouched ruins and the place to yourself. This is not a tourist destination, yet and besides a couple more travelers who have made the same journey you have and a few excavation workers, the ruins are yours to explore.


1. The Future

Although the ruins are deserted now, they may not stay that way forever. In August 2014 completion of the Puente Rosalina bridge, which spans the Apurímac River made it that much easier for people to visit. Now tour operators can easily cross the bridge on horseback, instead of using a hand pulley system to transport them across the river one by one or hiring another set of horses to be waiting on the other side.

Campsite owners say the number of travelers has increased since the completion of the bridge. Officials also have a plan in motion to construct a cable ride that would shorten the journey from a multi-day trek into a short 15-minute cable car ride. The timeline for the cable car has already been pushed back twice, and the bridge took an extra four years to construct so chances are we won’t be seeing it anytime soon. One thing remains certain though, Choquequirao remains so spectacular because of how untouched they are and we secretly wish they would stay that way.