Since we did the out and back version of this trek (there is a 10-day version that takes you all the way from Cachora to Machu Picchu), there’s not much new to say about the trail out. Except, of course, that this time you’re climbing up, up, up instead of trudging down, down, down. We realized early in our climb that the trail is fully exposed to the sun (we were fortunate to have cloud cover on our hike up to Choquequirao the day before), and that the Andean sun amplified by canyon walls is, to say the least, intense. If I were to do this again I would definitely muster up the motivation to get up and out of camp way earlier than our 8:30am departure. And, still be prepared with plenty of water, sun screen, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from sun burn or possible sun stroke. Insect repellent should also be kept handy during your entire trek; although it doesn’t seem to completely deter the sand flies towards the river bottom there are actually several spots with mosquitos where it will come in handy.
It was a task to climb the seemingly endless switchbacks back up to Mirador to Capuliyoc – and I’ve never been so glad to see a stone bench in my life. Just before the lookout point that marks the beginning of more mellow trail we were lucky to see three massive Andean Condors floating upward on the thermals directly above us until they were soaring high above the canyon rim. We also watched a falcon surfing the opposing air currents, staying perfectly still in one spot in the sky as he searched for possible prey below.
After a long, well-deserved rest at the lookout we began our walk along the road back towards Cachora. After our days of steep trail the smooth terrain felt like a gift and I tried lengthening my stride to loosen up my tight quads and calves. About an hour later the trail drops off the road to the left and we had another hour of rolling up and downs before crossing the bridge and getting back to the road in Cachora. My final thought on why you should do this as part of a guided tour is that most likely this is where your transportation will meet you to drive you back up the hill into the village or back to your hotel in Cusco or elsewhere. It’s a cruel blow when you feel like you’ve spent every ounce of energy you have only to realize you have another 40 minutes of uphill or say to reach the hostels and shops in the main square.
We took a room in the first hostel we came across, a very basic place that had all the amenities I was looking for: a bed and a shower that was at least warm (hot would have been nice, but I was willing to compromise in order to get the dust and sweat off). We asked the hostel owner about a restaurant, and he told us he would call the couple who ran a small guesthouse and restaurant up the street and ask them to prepare two meals. So, an hour or so later we were walking up another steep dirt road in Cachora, guided by a local worker who eats at the restaurant every night and his head lamp. Our meal was basic -a fried rice type plate with an egg on it- but we gratefully polished it off and returned to our room in the hostel to enjoy the sleep of the dead until our 5am wake up time to catch the local taxis that take people up to the main road at 6am.
We ended up in a Toyota Corolla with 9 people wedged in for the 45 minute drive up the winding dirt road to where we could catch a bus back to Cusco alongside the main road. This time we had no problem flagging down a bus and arrived in Cusco without any problem around 11 – just in time to take a long and very necessary nap as soon as we got back to my apartment.
To summarize, I would say that Choquequirao is definitely one of the more amazing sites you could see during your trip to Peru. The trek is difficult, but if you use a guide who knows the best way to go and has horsemen to carry your gear you should be fine – just try to get your legs ready before you leave for Peru.
Of all the things I’ve done during my time here this was probably the most physically challenging, but I will also remember it as one of the most amazing.