Inspire

Peru Is Home To One Of The World’s Most Stunning Hikes (& It’s Not The Inca Trail)

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SMALL GROUPS, BIG ADVENTURES. OUR STYLE OF TRAVEL MEANS YOU’LL STAY UNDER THE RADAR, TRAVEL THE LOCAL WAY, EAT THE LOCAL WAY AND SLEEP THE LOCAL WAY.

Peru is perhaps the best place in the world to take a long walk. The tectonic plates that brush shoulders beneath South America have pushed up the mighty Andes mountain range, which shapes both Peru’s geography and its history, culture, ecosystem, and people. The hiking, as a result, is world-class.

There’s the Colca Canyon. Rainbow Mountain. Laguna 69. And – of course – the Inca Trail to the “lost” citadel of Machu Picchu. Except that, today, Machu Picchu is very much found. Inca Trail hiking permits sell out months in advance and, regardless of how you get there, seeing Machu Picchu means dealing with queues, crowds, packed trains, and tour buses. While the ruins are remarkable, visiting is not the adventure it once was.

If you’re after a more secluded journey into the “cradle of civilisation” that is Ancient Peru, and you’re not one to turn your back to a challenge, the nearby Choquequirao Trek is the best hike you’ve never heard of. Better yet, it ends near Machu Picchu, so you can make that stop an emphatic exclamation mark at the end of your trip.

The time is now

 

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The 103km, eight-day hike passes through Peru’s real “lost city” and archeological site, Choquequirao, which is currently only accessible on foot. Dubbed Machu Picchu’s “little sister”, the sprawling hilltop citadel is actually thought to be three times the size of Machu Picchu, with most of the ruins still buried deep in the belly of the surrounding jungle.

As one of the most remote ruins in the Peruvian Andes, Choquequirao rewards those adventurous enough to make the journey with a near-deserted Incan refuge. While it lacks the polish of Machu Picchu, it also lacks the traffic. Only dozens of hikers pass through on a given day. It’s not unusual to turn a corner and be faced with an uninterrupted glimpse of the past in a place once dominant, then abandoned, and now unearthed again.

The Choquequirao Trek Is The Best Hike In Peru, Not The Inca Trail

But it won’t stay that way for long. The Peruvian government has announced plans to upgrade the area’s infrastructure, creating new in-roads and a cable car that could deliver up to 1500 visitors to Choquequirao per day. With mass tourism on the horizon, the Choquequirao Trek is the kind of limited-time-only adventure you can still claim you experienced before everyone else arrived.


A brief history, with a side of mystery

 

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Choquequirao is a Quechua word meaning “cradle of gold”. Built between the 15th and 16th centuries, the site is an impressive demonstration of Incan engineering and architecture. It features public squares, chambers, ritual baths, platformed terraces cut into the hillside (complete with white stone llamas carefully set in the steps), and temples dedicated to the sun, the moon and the earth spirit, Pachamama.

Like many of Peru’s ancient sanctuaries, Choquequirao’s purpose is not entirely clear to historians. Whether the remote city was a refuge from the colonising Spaniards, a royal estate, or an administrative centre linking the Amazon Rainforest with nearby Cusco is up for debate.

Undiscovered when the Spaniards colonised Peru in the 1500s, Choquequirao hid above the clouds for centuries before Spanish explorer Juan Arias Diaz claimed the unearthing in 1710. Due to its remote location, excavation efforts didn’t begin until the 1970s, and work continues today.


The road to Choquequirao

 

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Experiencing the Peruvian Andes on foot is to become completely immersed in them, and this is especially true on the quiet Choquequirao Trek. The path is well-marked but hardly worn, traversed by the thin stream of savvy hikers who prefer their adventures with elbow room.

Beginning at the Capuliyoc Pass, almost 3km high, the hike threads you over alpine passes and dusty plateaus, across rivers and valley floors, and beneath high-altitude forests and snowy peaks rising in every direction like spikes on a crown.

The Choquequirao Trek Is The Best Hike In Peru, Not The Inca Trail

Socialise with the residents of remote local villages, spend the night camping on Incan terraces, and try not to let your breath escape you at Yanama Pass, which punches over four-and-a-half-kilometres into the sky. And stay on the lookout for the region’s other inhabitants, including toucans, condors, hummingbirds and spectacled bears.

In terms of the actual trek, while it’s not technically difficult, it is challenging. Really challenging. Switchbacks dominate the walk, leading you up the kind of ascents that quickly kill conversation and push you to the edge of your physical limits.

Yes, it’s steep. Yes, it’s strenuous. Yes, it’s isolated. And that’s kind of the point. Out there, as a lone dot in the silent landscape, the sheer scale of the Andes will take your breath away (if the altitude hasn’t already). It’s a world far removed from the one we inhabit everyday. And if that’s not the point of an adventure, then what is?

Ready to start planning your next adventure to Peru? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of trips.

(Images: Intrepid Travel / supplied)