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To do it in 8 days is the bare minimum but pushing it - 9 days is good and then 10 days is a bit more leisurely. It is always a tough trek - there are some hot spots and steep ascents/descents. There are some distances in there but the main thing with this trek is the time - it's very up and down and takes into account high passes, altitude and local geography such as steep ascents.
There are two routes - both go to Choquequirao and on to Yanama - at Yanama you have a choice: left or right.
Cachora to Huancacalle via Choquequirau
This is a spectacular trek of approximately 100km with over 5,000m of ascent and slightly less descent! You cross the entire Vilcabamba range in approximately 8 days of trekking. You pass through an immense range of vegetation types and temperatures and with a variety of panoramic views to match: from the ice-capped peaks of the high Andes, their sharp ridges, deep gorges and raging rivers to the lush flora and prolific wildlife of the sub-tropical rainforest. There is not much water around for the first few days, so be sure to have the capacity to carry at least 2 litres each. You need to take your passport also as there are police cheques at Puquiura.
|Altitude:||Between 2,400m and 4,600m|
|Maps:||Machu Picchu 27-q|
Take the bus from Cusco. Four hours (145km) after leaving Cusco get off the bus at Cachora near the Inca site of Sayhuite, 45km before Abancay.
Don’t miss the huge carved boulder of Sayhuite (4000m) and its surrounding site of baths, plaza and carved rocks. The monolith of Sayhuite has over 200 figures carved into it, they are animals that were important in the beliefs of the Incas such as jaguar, lizard, monkey, snake as well as anthropomorphic forms and various plants. To get to the site from the main road walk left down an obvious dirt track for 5-10 mins. Pay a small entry fee of US$2. Allow at least an hour to visit the site. You can buy snacks such as deep fried pork (chicharron de chancho) and maize from the houses by the roadside.
Head back up to the road junction, cross the road and follow the dirt track up to the top of the ridge. From here you will see the village of Cachora far below. Well beyond it is the dramatic Apurimac gorge. It takes one to two hours of fast downhill walking to reach the village.
Cachora (2,875m) is a small town of around 3,000 people, with stunning views across to the snow-capped peaks of the Vilcabamba Range on the far side of the Apurimac. The mountain of Ampay towers above. In Cachora basic services are available.
COPESCO has recently done a lot of work on the path that you follow to get to Choquequirao. There are signposts and generally it is in excellent condition. From the Plaza in Cachora take the road that leaves town heading downwards from the bottom left corner. There is a sign post after about 20mins indicating a left turn and from there the path continues to wind its away along the side of the valley leftwards. There is little or no water on the route until you reach an old farm house at Chiquisaca (17km from Cachora) just 3km before you reach the mighty Apurímac river (20kms from Cachora), so you need to carry several litres with you.
Two to three hours walk (10km) from Cachora you reach the edge of a ridge and a picnic/camping spot known as Capilliyoc (2,800m) You can just make out where Choquequirao (3,050m) lies, in the distance, slightly above you on the far side of the river. There are a couple of thatch covered huts on the ridge which makes for a scenic, though somewhat exposed camping spot, with just enough space for 2 or 3 tents. From here a further 10km (2 to 3 hours), this time all descent, takes you down to the new bridge across the Apurímac (1550m). There is water at Chiquisaca (1930m), two hours from Capilliyoc and fruit if you are lucky from the trees at the abandoned farm there. The flies bite nastily from here on down though, so insect repellent comes in handy. Looking across the river you can see only too clearly the steep climb that awaits you.
You can camp by the river if you can stand the biting flies here.
Head slowly up the steep zig-zags from the river to bring you, after a hot sweaty one and a half to two hours, to the sugar cane camp of Santa Rosa (2,200m, 22km from Cachora). Here you will find plenty of fresh water right down by the houses where they turn sugar cane into alcohol. If there is anybody about they might show you the primitive machinery used for brewing this strong and noxious spirit. A further steep climb (1.5 – 2 hours) takes you to the grassy field at Maraupata (2,850m, 25km from Cachora now). Views of Choquequirao gradually appear ahead, and its just 90 mins of relatively flat walking to get there. This last part of the walk is through typical cloud forest, replete with orchids, bromeliads and lichens. There is ample camping space on the extended terraces that you reach as the beginning of the site. There is water here also and a drop toilet has been built.
The site is gradually being restored under the guidance of the Peruvian archaeologist Percy Paz, who is usually to be found on site with a team of workers. He is often willing to show people around the 30% of the site which has been cleared and explain something of the many different sectors of Choquequirao, including the main square, long terraces, ceremonial platform, palaces, houses, and water canal. Before work began the whole site was almost completely engulfed by the thick vegetation which grows so prolifically at these altitudes.
It is believed that Choqueuirao was constructed during the reign of the ninth Inca lord Pachacútec, dedicated to the sun, the water and the apus. Some of the temples have trapezoidal doors and windows typical of the palaces and temples of other Inca sites. The location is dramatic, views over the Apurímac gorge are spectacular and in the distance are the snow-capped peaks of Ampay, Panta and Quishuar. Condors are often seen soaring overhead and the men that work on clearing the site claim many sitings of the spectacled bear (oso de anteojos) .
Head out of the site on the path signposted from the water pipe down the bottom, where you first arrived. Alternatively from the highest cleared point of the site a rather overgrown path leads straight upwards for 200m, then joining the main path. Turn left and continue through rich cloud forest on an exposed section for an hour to reach a great lookout point on a sharp ridge with spectacular drops to the Apurímac gorge. Ahead is a steep grass covered hillside, down which the path zig zags. Across the valley you can see where you will be heading, there are huts and yet another steep zig zagging climb.
Part way down the slope is another Inca site, known as Pincha Unuyoc or Pinchunío (2,470 m), where there is water and extensive terraces probably used for agriculture. Keep a careful eye on the path as it is quite easy to get lost amongst the terraces. The path winds down leftward through the terraces and then heads more to the right to leave this area in the bottom right corner of the lowest field. This is where the water source is, and some Inca buildings. The path follows the stream of water downwards and from here on takes a more obvious course. The temperature rises considerably as you continue descending to reach the river Victoria (1,990 m)(on some maps Rio Blanco) where you can have a welcome wash in the cold meltwaters from Corihuaynachina. Take care when crossing the river. There is no bridge and it can be quite fast flowing. There are camping spots on the far side about 200m downstream from where you emerged, if you can stand the flies, known locally and very appropriately as Pumahuacachi, "that which makes the puma scream".
It is a long steep climb of over 2,000 metres to the pass of Abra Victoria (4,130 m). It is possible to accomplish this climb in one day with an early start, but perhaps better to take more easily over two days. Be warned that there is no reliable water source on the way up. Three hours up from the bottom of the valley you reach several small houses, inhabited for only part of the year by families from Yanama, who grow crops nearby. There is some water here, but it doesn’t look too savoury. It is at least another five hours to the pass itself. The transition from hot dry bamboo rich scrubland through dense cloud forest and then out into typical high mountain paramo, is remarkable. Even more surprising is the entrance and slag heaps of the Victoria mine, just an hour below the pass, apparently so high in the mountainside and so far from anywhere. This silver and lead mine was successively exploited by Incas and Spaniards alike. From the mine a beautifully constructed Inca road leads to the pass, where a superb view of the impressive snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba awaits.
The bottom of the next valley is your next destination, at the small village of Yanama (3,480m). The Inca trail continues, carved expertly into the cliff side, leading you downwards along an impossible looking, somewhat vertiginous route. There is water not far from the top of the pass. It is something of a relief to get to Yanama, a beautiful setting and one of the most cared for mountain villages I have seen in the Andes . Typical adobe houses are surrounded by small cultivated plots. There is plenty of water, the village is very clean and friendly.
From Yanama there are good paths leading in several directions. There is no road access to the village so everything is brought in and taken out by mule. Go east up the valley, over the pass and you can join the route to Santa Teresa or Mollepata.
For Huancacalle follow the river downstream, westwards, crossing on a large bridge before continuing up the valley known locally as quebrada de Quilcamachay named on the map as Quebrada Otiyoc. There is no shortage of water on this walk. Follow the path, keeping right at any junction, up this broad U-shaped valley. Look out for the many species of orchid growing in the forests you pass through, especially the rare and exquisite Waqanqi. Towering granite spires loom on the right, and spectacular mountain vistas appear as you climb. It is approximately 6-8 hours from Yanama to the pass Abra Choquetacarpo (4,600 m). There are plenty of places to camp on the way up the pass. The last few kilometers of ascent are on Inca trail again, of amazing quality. Some sections are three metres wide, paved beautifully and have weathered the test of time remarkably well. At the pass, after an extremely steep last section, there are cairns constructed as offerings to the apus, and the spirits of the mountains that watch over walkers.
From the pass it takes around 4 to 5 hours to get to the road head at the village of Huancacalle . There are camping spots on the way down. Follow the Inca road, then a well marked path until you reach a dirt road, go left to Huancacalle. Huancacalle boasts a couple of pensions, the most well known of which is Hostal Sixpac Manco. There are a few shops and basic restaurants and a police check point here too.
From Huancacalle it is well worth spending half a day visiting the remains of Rosas Patas and the Palace of Manco Inca and Ñusta Hispana. The local official responsible for all of the archaeological sites of the Espíritupampa area is Genaro Quispicusi. He is willing to discuss the sites with you if you can pin him down. The Cobos also have a long history of working in the area with explorers (Gene Savoy and Vincent Lee), and are a mine of local information.
Ñusta Hispana is an immense carved boulder, even bigger than Sayhuite. Its five metres high with finely carved steps and angles. All around it there are extensive terraces linked by water canals, probably used for irrigation.
When you come out at Quillabamba, to get to Machu Picchu, you need to drive to Ollantaytambo, then train to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
The second route sees you turn right at Yanama and head to Santa Teresa. This is not as interesting a trek as the trek to Huancacalle but does get you closer to Aguas Calientes. You would drive from Santa Teresa to Urubamba and then train to Aguas Calientes.
|Days 1-4:||As above|
|Days 5/6:||Buffer days, day hike options|
|Day 7:||Yanama pass (4,500m) to Totura. (6-8 hours)|
|Day 8:||To La Playa (7 hours)|
|Day 9:||To hydroelectric and on to Aguas Calientes. End of trek. Optional trek up Putucusi (this will take 4-6 hours)|
|Day 10||Machu Picchu visit, no trekking, return to Cusco.|