Choquequirao

The archaeological complex at Choquequirao is a settlement that dates back to Inca times, and it is known as the place where the last Incas of Vilcabamba resisted the Spanish invaders. The name Choquequirao comes from the Quechua words choque, gold, and k’irao, cradle, together meaning “cradle of gold.” 
In fact, the length and width of Vilcabamba’s Choquequirao Archaeological Park are scattered with ruins. Historians believe that the sites were built by the son of the Inca Pachacuteq as part of a bulwark against a possible resurgence by the Chanca people after their defeat at the hands of the Incas in the 15th century. Later, during the period of the Spanish invasion, Choquequirao served as a refuge for Manco Inca, who likely fled to there after seven years of resistance in Cusco. It was from this stronghold that the Incas of Manco’s dynasty continued to resist the Spaniards for some 36 years; in fact they were never expelled from this ancient city, which has only recently recovered its identity after lying hidden for centuries in the tangled Peruvian jungle. 
Surrounded by verdant countryside and biodiverse cloud forest, Choquequirao is made up of plazas, houses, temples, and storerooms hewn into an impressively steep natural rock formation: the main plaza is 65 meters below the upper sections. Royal pathways lead from the complex down along agricultural terraces and stone irrigation channels that are molded to the steep local topography. The site represented the doorway to the entire Vilcabamba region and served as the administrative, political, social, and economic nucleus of the empire after Cusco fell to the Spanish. In planning the city, the Inca followed the same symbolic patterns found in the architecture of Cusco, including places to worship the sun, the earth, the ancestors, water, and other divinities. The city also featured royal palaces, houses for administrators and artisans, spacious dormitories called kallancas, terraces for raising crops for the Inca and for the population, and storage barns. 


LOCATION
Choquequirao is located at latitude 13°32 South and longitude 72°44 East at an elevation of 3,033 m (9,951 ft.) above sea level, in the foothills of Salcantay, and to the north of the Apurimac river valley. 
Territorially speaking, the area of Choquequirao falls under the jurisdiction of the districts of Mollepata and Santa Teresa, in the provinces of Anta and La Convencion, respectively, all within the region of Cusco. It has an area of 103,814 hectares (over 400 square miles). 
CLIMATE
The Andean climate can be unpredictable in spite of the marked difference between the dry and rainy seasons. The dry season starts in May and lasts until October or November; the rainy season begins in December and lingers until April. However, in the forests of the Amazon basin that surround Choquequirao, sudden downpours are common all year round. 
The temperature during the day can vary greatly, from 10°c (50°F) up to 32°C (90°F), while the temperature at night ranges from 10°C (50°F) down to 4°C (40°F). 
ELEVATION
The elevation is 3,400 m (11,150 ft.) above sea level 
HYDROGRAPHY
The watershed area for the Apurimac river covers an area of 1312 square kilometers (506 square miles) and catches melt water from the snow peaks Qoriwayrachina, Sacsarayoc y Padreyoc. It constitutes the major water source in the region, thanks to the many small tributaries flowing down the right flank of the Apurimac valley, including the Yanama river, and also the reedy basin that drains into the Santa Teresa river. 
STEEP MOUNTAINSIDES
This geomorphological feature can be found in highest sections of Choquequirao, specifically in the area’s snow peaks, such as Sacsa, Choquetacarpo, Pumasillo, Cayco, Chaupimayo, Padreyoc, Coihuayrachina, Amparay, and Chaupiloma. These mountainsides are typically made up of quartzite stone and mica, a product of glacial erosion. 
FLORA
The environment around Choquequirao is one of the richest in biodiversity, featuring plants such as ichu, or feathergrass, and a great variety of orchids, including the famous wakanki variety. All these species of flora have acclimated in spite of the swings in temperature produced by sun-drenched days and frosty nights. 
FAUNA
Choquequirao is rich in wildlife, including Andean condors, Andean deer, northern viscachas, skunks, pumas, hummingbirds, spectacled bears, and the Andean Cock of the Rock. 
WAYS TO GET THERE
The trip to Choquequirao is long and challenging, but definitely unforgettable. 
You leave from Cusco by car or van, heading towards Abancay. At kilometer 154, take the turnoff that leads to San Pedro Cachora, the last village you will see until arriving at the archaeological complex. From there, you continue on horseback or on foot. In the village you can hire horses to carry your bags. The path has recently been repaired and widened, making for easier walking. Nevertheless, to get to Choquequirao on foot requires you to be in good physical condition and carry appropriate equipment. 
Leaving Cachora (2,900 m or 9514 ft.), you must descend to the Apurimac river (1,530m or 5020 ft.) to camp for the night. On the second day, you climb up to 3,085 m (10,121 ft.), at which elevation the archaeological complex is located. From there, it is possible to continue on to Machu Picchu on foot or on horseback, or you can return by the same path to San Pedro Cachora and return to Cusco. Five or six hours of trekking are required each day. The steep climbs and descents and the dramatic changes in climate along the route make for a hike that is demanding but well worth the effort. 
It is recommended that hikers take plenty of water, electrolytes for rehydration, and water purification tablets. It is also essential that travelers carry their original passport in order to pass the checkpoints. 


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