Choquequirao means "cradle of gold" in Quechua although this is probably not its original Inca name. It is another "lost city of the Incas" located high on a ridge spur almost 1750m above the raging glacier-fed Apurimac River and surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks.
The US explorer Gary Ziegler suggests that Choquequirao may have been the place where the last Inca, Tupac Amaru, was raised among Inca Priestesses. The abundance of many double jamb doorways and niches indicates that the place was held in high status.
The ruins were first visited and described to the western world by a French explorer during the 18th century. Hiram Bingham visited the site in 1910. This was his first experience of "lost cities" prior to his discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911. The remoteness and inaccessibility have discouraged visitors until fairly recently when COPESCO constructed a footbridge over the Apurimac River below the ruins. Even today the ruins are still rarely visited although, with the enforcement of new regulations on the Inca Trail, Choquequirao is destined to replace the traditional hike as the serious trekkers alternative.
CHOQUEQUIRAO THE OTHER LOST CITY OF THE INCAS
Legend and history become confused among the mists of the Andes mountains. Choquequirao caught the world's attention as the last bastion of Inca resistance against the Conquistadors. Adventure and history create a new attraction in Peru.
The canyon seems bottomless. From the lookout where the trail begins, the Apurimac river is a greenish-white ribbon speckled with tiny black dots, which you know are house-size boulders. Beyond the canyon, the massive snow peaks of the Cordillera Vilcababamba seem to fill the sky.
The terraces of Inca at Choquequirao are dimly visible on a ridge to the north-east, green and hazy in the distance. To reach it will take two days of hard walking.
Choquequirao is one of those places we have always know about, yet never really known. Unlike Machu Picchu, its name has been mentioned since colonial times. Treasure hunters went there occasionally form the early 18th century onwards, lured by its tantalizing name - "Cradle of Gold". The French scholar Leonce Angrand drew the first maps in 1847. Hiram Bingham went there in 1909, two years before he reached Machu Picchu.
Yet Choquequirao was extremely difficult to reach, its access barred by the roaring waters of the Apurimac, which could only be crossed by means of an oroya - a death-defying cable and basket. All that changed when the Peruvian government built a sturdy footbridge near Cachora in 1994.
Even today the journey is long, but for the growing army of those who love the challenge of the Andes it is everything one could hope for. It starts in Cusco, with a scenic 4 or 5 hour drive along the highway towards Abancay, first crossing the rolling Pampa de Anta with vistas of the Urubamba range, Salcantay, then a stupendous series of hairpins in the descent to Limatambo and the Apurimac. A steep ascent from the river leads past fields of white anise flowers in the balmy climate of Curahuasi, while along the way you can visit the elegant Inca stonemasonry at Tarawasi and the unique Inca sculptures of Sayhuite. The road is paved until the turn-off to Cachora, where a series of hairpins descends into a high Andean valley sloping once again towards the mighty Apurimac canyon, mirador de Capulilloc Cachora is the place to rent mules, guides and saddle horses. The trail is good, but the journey calls for a 4,300 ft. to the Inca ruins. The views are spectacular, and the ecology passes through those radical Andean changes, reaching a hot and arid canyon-floor ecology of tall cactus and thorn bushes at the river. Most hikers camp the first night at the small, wooded site of Chiquisca, about 1,300 ft. above the river. Next day you descent more steep zig-zags to the river, and cross the footbridge. It is vital to leave early, since the canyon becomes extremely hot as the day wears on, and the only way to avoid this is to gain some altitude before mid-day. As you climb the north bank of the Apurimac you reach a world of green slopes and remnant patches of cloud forest which grow more dense and less disturbed by humans as you near Choquequirao. Scattered farmers occupy the few areas of semi-level terrain along the way, including one who grows sugar cane and distills his own firewater - available for sale!.
You see the Inca ruins across a deep ravine long before you reach them, sitting on a ridge, below a forest-covered mountain, gazing down into the immensity of the canyon - a setting more than equal to the splendor of Machu Picchu.
Comparisons with the latter seem inevitable. The place would almost seem to have been constructed to rival that exotically located settlement. Like Machu Picchu, it bears the characteristics of an elite ceremonial center, and certain architectural details suggest that, in fact, the settlement many have been constructed for the emperor Topa Inca.
The present campsite is a sloping area some 20 minutes below the ruins.
Choquequirao is larger than anyone realized until recently, since forest still conceals so much of its ruins. But the arriving visitor reaches the heart of the site via its most prominent feature, a series of enormous, beautifully - constructed terraces. The central plazas display the typically careful Inca planning, with tall, two-story residential buildings, assembly halls, and complexes of ceremonial baths and temples.
The broad ceremonial platform overlooking the site gives superb views of the surrounding snow peaks and a sweeping panorama of the Apurimac canyon. Condors soar low across the ruins each afternoon, and bears are sometimes seen on the pathways near the site. The unforgettable beauty and fascination of the Andes is as powerful here as any place in Peru.
You must simply retrace your steps to take the standard return journey to Cusco - but don't miss a delicious swim in the Apurimac, which you will inevitably cross in the heat of the afternoon.
This magical place, which appears to be almost suspended from the steep western slopes of the Vilcabamba range, is really an excellent example of what Peru has to offer in terms of natural and cultural diversity.
For nature lovers Choquequirao is much more than a set of stone and adobe building on the side of a mountain overlooking the Apurimac valley. This magical place, which appears to be almost suspended from the steep western slopes of the Vilcabamba range, is really an excellent example of what Peru has to offer in terms of natural and cultural diversity. A variety of species and scenery together whit the imposing archaeological remains left by the ancient inhabitants of this area.
Its strategic location means that this singular sanctuary encompasses what could be considered one of the most extraordinary variations of ecosystems anywhere in Peru; in only a few miles it includes mountains permanently covered with snow almost 19 700 feet high and steamy tropical valleys little more than 5 900 feet above sea level.
Seen from air, Choquequirao looks like a great open book with the fast-flowing river Apurimac at its foot and a great range of mountains with its eastern slopes covered with tropical vegetation. On the right bank of the river is a significant section of one of the most important sub-basins in the region, The Vilcabamba range.
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