This review comes from a slightly overweight 60 year old woman who never goes to the gym, does not jog, does not play any sports. But I must confess I have been hiking in high mountains every summer of my life. So, yes, while I am not in great shape, I am used to mountains.
My first and most important advice: take strong mosquito repellent. We used a lot of it but of a lower deet content and wore long sleeves and yet got totally disfigured by the bites. All the people we saw, of different nationalities, hence with different insect-repellents, had scary looking limbs.
You know the description from other reviews: you go down 1400m before you climb them back on the other side of the valley. The track is not easy but it somehow does not feel as exhausting as you'd imagine. That could be because at each point there is an amazing view, you are constantly in what to Europeans and Yankees seems like a botanical garden (plants we're used to seeing in a pot indoors are bigger than houses there). I strongly suspect that part of my strength came from the coca I was consuming through the tea with which we started our day as well as some chewing (coca leaves are sold everywhere).
I went there with Choquequirao Trek Company. Our group consisted beside myself of my 28 year old son, and another mother with a girl in her 20s. We took the 4 day 3 night trip instead of the longer one because of our schedule constraints. We definitely did not have enough time at the ruins but to a large extent it was the fault of the trip planning. If you can, do the longer trip but beware that that means another night in a tent. My son, being in great shape, gained more than an hour at each half day stretch, so for younger people who go faster, the 3 day trip could be enough.
The problem with our trip was that we got to the base camp for Choquequirao too late in the day and visited the ruins just before sunset, for only a few hours. It could have been longer had we tightened a bit the daily schedules to help us arrive to the base camp at least by noon.
One suggestion I have is to shorten the lunch breaks, especially on the first day, when you go down and it's not as exhausting. That would get you to the bottom of the valley early enough to cross the river and start the uphill track. There is a lovely camping place about one hour up the hill.
The meals Choquequirao Trek offers are absolutely fantastic and the cook we had, Jaime, was fit for a 3 star restaurant. He cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, each with multiple courses, all fresh and delicious.
However, when you are tight on time and you spend a lot of resources to see unique ruins, you can forego a good lunch for a quick cold one in order to gain more time seeing what you actually came for.
We could have gotten to the higher camp ground for the first night had we: 1 not spent so much time up at the top after getting our of the car. 2. had a quick, sandwich lunch. We also waited in Cusco, in the car, for a long time to get the supplies. That could have been done on the eve of our departure.
I strongly advise you to ask that you start the descent as early as possible and spend the night on the uphill track. Insist on getting to the base camp at least by noon and off to the ruins immediately. And if possible, avoid a stop at the farm 1/2 way on the stretch from the car to the river. It is filthy! There is another spot for camping a bit higher; ask to stay there overnight. The two stops on the other side of the valley are both at lovely, clean farms.
Because we spent the night at the lowest point, the second day was the most difficult, with more than 2000m elevation gain (if you count all the ups as there are some downs!). The longer lunch break was welcome but there too, it dragged too long; had we not had to wait so much we could have arrived at the ruins earlier.
About Choquequirao Trek Company: overall we were satisfied with them and would recommend them. Our guide and helpers were efficient and very nice. Our tents were comfortable, the food, as I said, amazing. The schedule could have been planned better.
Another problem was that at Choquequirao we were again delayed by a lengthy lecture on the Incas. In principle, it would have been nice to sit there on the old walls and listen to the history. But, since we got there so late, spending half hour listening to something most of us knew from our preparations for the trip as well as having visited museums in Cusco, plus Machu Picchu. On the 4 day trip that lecture can be delivered during dinner the previous night when you have nothing to do.
We rushed down to the Llama terraces which should not be missed, and then back up to the ruins but did not have time to linger nor to see everything. We missed the upper part of the site and returned to the camp in the dark.
The area is beautiful and there's a lot to see (some terraces and ruins on the other side of the mountain from the Llama terraces) so if you can, spend two nights there and have a full day lingering among the ruins and taking in the landscape.
“Not for the faint hearted but magical.”
One of the toughest treks in Peru. Our guide ranked it harder than the Inca and Salkantay. You need to have been exercising or allow more time to break the climb. Best combo is 2 days to get in, 1 day at the site and 2 days out. If you start early on the second day and leave later on the 4th day you can see the whole site. 4 day trips leaves you little time to visit - the excavated sections are spread over about 700m height of steep slopes.
The trek is over a rock and dirt trail, often loose - not paved like the Inca or gentle like the mountains. It can get very hot and the path can be slippery both when dry and wet. Go with proper boots (ankle covering), socks, walking sticks (2), long sleeve, breathable Ts, wide hat or a real all around shader attached to a cap (UV resistant), knee protectors, lots of sunblock and repellant, plenty of water (2 liters whenever you start), electrolyte salts and gatorade. Drink the salts/gator a day before and keep drinking. You need a rain poncho, layers to stay warm as it cools later in the day/evening. Never do more than 1 hour w/o a 10-15 minute break, and count on 6 hours a day. Don't speed and don't overdo it: the payback is quick and merciless. Slow and steady works - constant stopping is exhausting.
We hiked from just outside Cachora to the valley entrance but some people drive to that point. The trail for day 1 drops down about 1200m into the Apurimac valley from a viewpoint - almost a gorge. It is a mix of steep zig zags and more reasonable stretches.Use knee protectors. We got to camp site at Chikiska late - starting early from Cusco is key. It is a pretty scruffy site with minimal bathroom facilities but after your first 6 hour trek you just want to rest and sleep.
Day 2 early start. You trek another steep 400m over 2km to the river at Rosalina - much better site but no grass to camp and limited flat area. It occurred to me that skipping bathrooms at Chikiska and showering Rosalina quickly might work. Anyway you need to keep moving because after crossing the new bridge you go straight up some 1300m almost all steep zig zag. You need to do this early to minimize the time in the heat and sun (slope is east-west so sun hits from about 8am until sunset). The goal is to get to the top by noon or even earlier. After 400m over 1km you get to Santa Rosa Baja - good stop (second place) or push on for another 30 mins to Santa Rosa Alta, again second house, or stop at both. Much better shop and bathrooms, nice bit of grass and shade. You can camp also. After that there is nothing until the top but there is a stream that crosses the path about halfway where you can stop inside and then bathe your feet (very restorative). Top out at Marampato which has several places for relax, bathroom, lunch and even camp.Best bathrooms on the trail. Our guide told us we had just done the equivalent of 5 full spinning sessions...Best is to lunch and then trek last few km to the campsite in Choquequirao. Drop your stuff and go explore for the rest of the pm. Facilities better than Chikiska but still basic. Shows are ice cold.
Day 3 roam the place. Do not miss the terraces with Llama pictures in stone - go fairly far down by the path not the steps and on your right there is a trail to a lookout point which lets you look back and see the whole set of terraces. It's steep down and steep back so allow time. There are a set of terraces down lower that are majestic but about 400m below the campsite so again needs time. You need to use your imagination to extant the lovely parts that have been restored to gras how impressive it must have been. Today it is less than Machu P. Fully restored it would knock Machu P into a cocked hat.
Day 4 if you your guide agrees explore early and then head back. The descent is steep so you need knee protectors and do your own little zig zags to shift weight and stress. You need to get back to Chikiska so mentally prepare for a 400m climb after all the descent. Again depending on timing use Rosalina for showers etc, even if just to cool off. The shop is pretty bare so don't rely on it for gatorade.
Last day early again to get out of the heat unless weather is benign. Climb has steep sections but by now you are a veteran and take it in your stride and you are like the mules - perking up as you go home. You can make Cachoro for lunch and then bus back to Cusco. Depending on roadworks you get home 5-8pm.
Overall it is a rare experience. The site itself is mystical and uplifting, in part because you have sweated to get there and feel on a high. Unlike Inca and Machu P you will meet a handful of people on the way and at the site. If you have only one option you probably do Inca and MP but if you have time or want something different this is it ( of course you can also do Salkantay which is a sort of in between). If you have the time and the stamina you can trek from Choque to MP in 4-5 days, more if you want to see Salkantay. It is does not join the Inca but is spectacular scenery. You go up another 1500-2000m and then go down. No facilities so all camping.
In total you trek 60-65km. We used Choquequirao Trek. High end, knowledgeable, good tents, lovely food, great staff. Our group was very large so no hot water but smaller groups can have some heated up. If you go low end be very careful to see the have everything - we have friends who discovered that their tour had no cooking gas, limited food etc which is why it was so cheap. If you go by yourself go well equipped and get maps, guides etc - signs are not reliable. There is project to put a cable car to skip the hike but locals doubt to will happen; the slopes are too unstable, hugely expensive and the site would need much more excavation to support that level of visitors. Still anything is possible so go soon.