Cusco-based adventure tour operators have developed several alternative trekking routes in response to desperate excess demand for the Inca Trail. The most popular of these is Choquequirao, and like the Inca Trail, this trek ends at a fabulous ancient citadel, although the hike is much more challenging.
The walks around the sacred glaciated mountain of Salcantay are also well developed and, to some extent, overlap and link with the Inca Trail itself. Much less walked but just as impressive is Ausangate, another snow-capped sacred peak (with a convenient loop trail) seen from Cusco, dominating the southern horizon on a clear day. A shorter and more popular trek is the route from Ollantaytambo to Lares.
An increasingly famous yet more challenging alternative to the Inca Trail, the trek to Choquequirao can be done with a four- to five-day trekking tour; these tours tend to depart from Cusco on demand and almost every day during the tourist season.
It is not as spectacular as Machu Picchu; it is still an impressive Inca citadel, whose name in Quechua means “Cradle of Gold,” partly due to its excellent and isolated surroundings—sitting among fine terraces under the glacial peaks of the Salcantay Mountain range, less than half of the original remains of centuries of vegetation have been discovered. He was visiting here similarly to what Hiram Bingham may have experienced at Machu Picchu when he stumbled upon the site in 1911.
Located 1,750 m above the Apurimac River and 3,104 m above sea level in the Vilcabamba district, Choquequirao is believed to have been a rural retreat for the Inca emperor and a ceremonial center. It was built at the end of the 15th century on top of previous Huari constructions.
It almost certainly had an important political, military, and economic role, controlling people and producing between the jungle communities of the Ashaninka, who still live further down the Apurimac River, and the Andean towns and villages of the Incas. It is easy to imagine that coca, macaw feathers, cassava, salt, and other Ashaninka products arrive in Cusco through Choquequirao.
Hiram Bingham arrived in Choquequirao in 1910 in his search for lost Inca cities. Regardless of the exquisite stonework of the ceremonial complex and the megalithic agricultural terraces, Bingham, like many archaeologists since, failed to see how strong the Choquequirao citadel was. Evidence from excavations suggests that a large population continuously inhabited Choquequirao and nearby settlements, even after the Spanish conquest.
The direct route from Capuliyoc walks down the royal trail, where, at 2,915m, there are fantastic views over the Apurimac valley. Preferably find a tour operator (KONDOR PATH TOURS). The trail descends almost 1500m from here to Playa Rosalina on the banks of the Apurimac River, where it is possible to camp the first night. The second day has the most strenuous uphill hike: about five hours to Marampata and a further two hours of hiking to conquer Choquequirao.
The site was a political and religious center of nine main sectors connected by complex aqueducts, canals, and springs. Most buildings are located around the central ceremonial patio or plaza and surrounded by well-preserved and stylish Inca agricultural terraces.
Alternatively, you can enter and exit by the same path or leave Choquequirao by a different route, more or less circular, following the path that leads directly down from the ruins to the river bridge in San Ignacio. The small town of Huañipaca has two to three hours of steep uphill walking from here. Alternatively, Choquequirao can be reached this way (it’s a quicker route than through Cachora), and on a reverse circular route, you can exit through Cachora.
Salkanntay Trekking Tours
The NEVADO SALCANTAY (6271m) is one of the main Apus, or gods, of the Cusco region. Its majestic snow-capped peak dominates the landscape northwest of Cusco, making it a relatively peaceful trekking territory. The main route links the Machu Picchu train line and the Urubamba Valley with the less-visited town of Mollepata in the Apurimac River basin. The trek usually lasts five to seven days. It offers more meaningful contact with the local population, a more comprehensive range of ecological niches to pass, and higher paths than the Inca Trail, making it a good, albeit challenging, option for more adventurous and experienced hikers who have already acclimatized.
Most people start on the Urubamba side of Machu Picchu at Km—82, where the Inca Trail also begins. You can follow the path of the Inca Trail to the Cusichaca Valley, continuing straight uphill from the village of Huayllabamba, ignoring the main Inca Trail that turns west and right here to Abra de Warmiwañusca – Dead Woman’s Pass. The landscape and scenery are very similar throughout the journey to the Inca Trail. The trek is steep and challenging, up to the high pass at 5000m, which takes you along the southern edge of the Salcantay Glacier before descending directly south to the town of Mollepata.
The trek increasingly approaches reverse, with guides and rented mules in Mollepata. There is less competition for them than on the Huayllabamba side; this route ends in the Urubamba Valley, between Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo. There are no official camping sites along the way, but plenty of good tent sites and several traditional stopping places exist.
There are several options for trekking in the Lares Valley, lasting from one to four days, with splendid views of snow-capped peaks and green valleys. The walks allow you to experience the life of the people of the Andes, although it is becoming a more touristic version. You will pass through indigenous communities where you can stay with local families and shop for traditional handicrafts. The Lares hot springs are a relaxing end or start to any hike in the area.