Choquequirao, "the Cradle of Gold", is arguably the last Inca outpost in the province of La Convención, Cusco. At 3085m, it is on a promontory on the western flanks of the Vilcabamba range, nearly 2000 metres above the raging Apurimac River. The Apurimac is responsible for carving one of the world's deepest canyons.
It is believed Choquequirao was the last resistance point of the Sun's Children, who were looking for shelter under its stone walls after the defeat of rebel Manco Inca.
Wedged in dense cloud forest, it is comparable in size to Machu Picchu. It is accessible only by a tough and demanding trail, which ascends and descends almost 1500m twice, in a zig-zag pattern. Within just a few kilometres it offers the extremes of glaciers at over 6000m to steamy tropical valleys at 1800m.
The remote archaeological complex has enormous historical importance and is superbly preserved. In 1768, historian Cosme Bueno was the first person to announce its existence. The Frenchmen Eugen de Santiges and Leónce Angrad went there in the 19th century, as did the Italian naturalist Antonio Raimondi. In 1911, Hiram Bingham, who found Machu Picchu the same year, acknowledged the importance of its buildings.
Choquequirao is divided into two zones and its stone buildings form small villages. The governors' houses and main temples are around a main square. The complex was an important religious, political and economic centre, as well as a commercial and cultural link from the coast to the highlands and the jungle. There are systems of fountains, canals and aqueducts and its amazing land shelves, covered with thick vegetation, were built during the Inca Pachacutec government in the 15th century.
It is believed around 1200 people lived there. Kings, queens and high priests adorned in gold and feathers and necklaces, with sweeping staircases, ritual baths, temples and squares where ceremonies were held must have made for a very elegant life.
Only 30 percent of the ruins have been uncovered and there are more in the area still covered by thick jungle. Locals believe that when the final blanket has been lifted, Choquequirao will outshine its more famous neighbour, Machu Picchu. Money from tourism is important to continue the arduous jungle clearing.
There are pros and cons if you are trying to decide which ancient Inca site to visit. Machu Picchu is reached by a well-trodden path and over half a million visitors go there each year. On the other hand, it takes four punishing days of trekking along one of the hardest stretches of the Inca Trail to get in and out of Choquequirao and thus fewer people visit there.
The 60km round trip to Choquequirao begins in the tiny village of Cachora, three hours from Cusco, which was once the Inca empire capital.
Ultimate Tours Peru is one of just a few local companies offering the alternative trek along a section of the 22,000km of trails and roads, carved by the Incas over 500 years ago.
Porters and their sturdy animals carry all gear and supplies trekkers just carry a daypack. This means you have more strength to enjoy yourself and take in the beauty at each turn. The porters, who also double as chefs, appear to be super-human. As the altitude takes its toll on mere mortals, they run ahead to set up camps, tend their animals and prepare meals.
It is vitally important to drink at least two litres of water a day and constantly re-apply sunscreen in this terrain and to walk the Choquequirao Trek is not the time to break in new boots.
The Peruvian Andes.
Ultimate Tours Peru has a five-day trek to the Choquequirao Ruins, starting at Cusco. Prices start at $395 per person. All meals, transport, most camping equipment, guides and entrance fees are included.
Aerolineas Argentinas has return flights to Lima. Prices are valid for sale until July 31, 2006, and for travel until October 31, 2006. Taxes are not included. Connections to Cusco are available.
- Sydney, $1699
- Melbourne and Brisbane, $1949
- Adelaide and Hobart, $2149
- Darwin and Perth, $2719
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
For further information
Level 3, 64 Clarence Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9234 9000
Fax: (02) 9234 9020
Ultimate Tours Peru
Suite 7, 35-36 East Esplanade
Ph: 02 9977 1152
Fax: 02 9977 2011