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Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu via Vilcabamba to retrace the steps of the ancient Inca. Visit the Cradle of Gold (Choquequirao), the Last Refuge of the Incas (Vilcabamba) and finally, end your Choquequirao trek at Machu Picchu!
Wondering about the Choquequirao trek difficulty? Read our blog
This is a trek for hikers, history lovers and adventurers! The 9 day Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu via Vilcabamba is Apus Peru’s signature trek. This tour follows a completely innovative route, pioneered by Apus Peru, deviating from the standard Choquequirao to Machu Picchu route taken by other agencies.
One of the most challenging and spectacular hikes in all of Peru, you’ll have the chance to visit the stunning Choquequirao ruins without the crowds, travel along original Inca trails, and visit the last refuge of the Incas: Vilcabamba. The 9 day Choquequirao trek culminates in a visit to the unforgettable Machu Picchu. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Please note: The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu treks are the MOST difficult treks in the region. Make sure you fully understand what each day of trekking is like before you sign up for any of these treks, and ensure that you are equipped to face the challenge.
We offer you the opportunity to personalize your trek and make your experience more comfortable through our Optional Extras and Upgrades. All options are available during the reservation process; please ask your sales consultant for more information.
See What to Bring for our comprehensive recommendations on what to pack for your trek.
While the weather in the Andes is always changing, you need to be doubly prepared on the Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu!
You will cross two deep river canyons (the Apurimac and the Rio Blanco), where it is hot and humid and the sun scorches. Then, you will trek through some high mountain passes and sleep at campsites around 4000m (13,123 ft) for a few nights, where temperatures are likely to be below freezing.
Layering will be vital! Make sure you have thermals, a winter hat (toque or beanie), mitts and scarves for the cold nights, but much lighter clothes for down in the canyon. We like zip-off trekking pants which are very versatile. Layer them with thermals on the cold sections of the trek, then convert them to shorts when down in the hot canyons. Additionally, they are quick to dry so you can do a quick wash and they will dry on your back the next day. Very practical!
Please take note that there might be biting insects on the trail, thus repellent will be needed.
There are cold showers at some of the campsites along this route so you may also want to bring a flip flops and a towel!
When it comes to footwear, water-resistant trekking boots with a high top to support your ankle are the best hiking boots to take on the Choquequirao trek. If you’re not ready to invest in specialist hiking boots, at a minimum hiking shoes will suffice.
What is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots? Hiking shoes are durable, trekking shoes that are generally water resistant. They don’t have ankle support though. Hiking boots are tough footwear that last a long time due to their strong construction. They have ankle support and often are very waterproof.
For more help with what to pack, check out our blog How to Prepare for a Trek in Peru.
As the Choquequirao region that you will be trekking through is very remote and the terrain very steep, it is beneficial to have a trek guide with you who is experienced, knowledgeable and quick-thinking.
At Apus Peru we have a rigorous assessment and trial process before bringing our guides on board, and they receive ongoing training in topics such as mountain rescue. All guides are chosen for their knowledge and interpretation of Incan sites, their ability to handle groups and also their personality.
Get to know our team!
At Apus Peru safety is paramount and one of the ways we have melded the backgrounds of the Peruvian and Australian owners is having risk assessment policies. We cover evacuation, illness on the trail, right through to vehicle maintenance.
Additionally, we will not operate in dangerous conditions. We will not offer the Choquequirao to Vilcabamba trek (with Machu Picchu), among others, in the wet season under any circumstances due to the risk of landslides.
Want to join a trek? Ready to confirm a departure date of your own, but interested in having others join you? Then Trekkers Wanted is for you! Our innovative Trekkers Wanted system matches people up who are interested in hiking the same Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek, bringing costs down and multiplying the fun for everyone!
Read More about Trekkers Wanted, post your trek or search for confirmed departures!
We leave Cusco early in the morning to start our Choquequirao to Machu Picchu 9 day trek and head towards the Apurimac Canyon, surrounded by breathtaking snow-capped peaks. After about an hour and a half of driving, we will have a short stop at Tarawasi (2675m / 8776 ft).
Tarawasi gets its name from two Quechua words: tara, a type tree native to the Andes (latin name: caesalpina espinosa), and wasi, which means “house”. So Tarawasi is “the house of the Tara tree”. The tara tree is a multipurpose tree that produces large bean pods that turn orange when ripe. The seeds inside are used as a natural dye, and also have medicinal purposes.
Tarawasi is a ceremonial centre that dates to Incan times. One of the most striking features of this archaeological site is the presence of an usnu, a ceremonial structure where ritual offerings would be prepared.
We will then continue another 3h to Capuliyoc (2915m / 9563 ft). When we arrive, we’ll have our first views of the incredible Apurimac Valley stretching below, as well as the surrounding mountains Padrayoc and Wayna Cachora.
Our horsemen will meet us here and we’ll walk about 15 minutes to the Capuliyoc Lookout where we’ll have our lunch. With full bellies, we’re ready to start the steep 3-4 hour descent into the Apurimac Canyon. After passing Chiquisca (1950m (6397 ft), we arrive at the roaring Apurimac River (1550m / 5085 ft).
We’ll cross the river and then begin the difficult 2-hour climb to Santa Rosa campsite (2095m / 6873 ft). This is a less popular camp, making for a typically quiet and restful night under the stars.
This day is flexible and so the route you trek might not correspond exactly to the route described here. Walking times depend on the time of departure and on the nature of the group. The guide may change lunch spots and campsites, depending on the progress of the group.
Please take note that there might be biting insects on the trail, thus repellent will be needed! It can get very hot on the trail (not just in the canyon!), going up to 30-35 Cº (86ºF – 95ºF). It can get as hot as 40ºC (104ºF) in the canyon.
It’s another early start this morning as we depart early to escape the heat of the canyon. Today, we are continuing upwards towards Maranpata (2940m (9646 ft). After a good night’s sleep, we should be ready to tackle this tough, 3-hour uphill stretch.
A little beyond Maranpata we’ll be treated to our first views of Choquequirao, a nice reward for the morning’s challenge. From here, it’s just another 2 hours over gentle, undulating terrain until we reach the ruins – a welcome change of pace! Stopping first for lunch at the Choquequirao campsite (2900m / 9,514ft), we then head for the site itself where we have the entire afternoon to explore.
Originally discovered in 1710, Choquequirao was given little importance by European explorers passing through the area until it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1909. This was largely overshadowed by Bingham’s additional rediscovery of Machu Picchu, and so it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Peruvian government began to excavate at Choquequirao.
With only about 30% of the site excavated today, Choquequirao consists of an extensive set of terraces, irrigation channels and various religious and administrative complexes extending over 1800 hectares. And all this set against the dramatic background of the Apurimac Canyon!
We’ll watch the sunset over the ruins and, with any luck, catch a glimpse of condors soaring through the canyon that surrounds us.
Early this morning, we’ll have another chance to wander the ruins at Choquequirao before continuing on to Pinchiunuyoc after lunch. This is a 3-hour hike taking us over a ridge and then down towards this other stunning archaeological site.
We’ll take a short break here to enjoy the majestic views and then continue our descent for another 1.5 h to the Rio Blanco where we’ll camp for the night. Note: insect repellent is a must at Rio Blanco!
After a nourishing breakfast, we start a difficult 3-hour climb, zig-zagging uphill to Maizal (3000m / 9,842ft), a small, cleared agricultural area on the mountain. Make sure you are physically and mentally prepared before we head out: many people find this to be the hardest section of the entire Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek!
We’ll have lunch in Maizal and then climb a further 4-5 hours uphill through cloud forest to the Victoria Mines, gaining about 2000m in elevation as we go! We’ll take a short rest here and admire the shine of the outcropped rocks illustrating the high concentration of minerals and metals – it’s no wonder this was an ancient mining site!
We then continue our trek through the puna, treading well-preserved Inca trails with their classic zig-zag shape, before setting up camp for the night at Pajonal (4150m / 13,615 ft). From here we can look back over the terrain we’ve just traveled towards the incredible Apurimac Valley. This will be a cold night so make sure you’re prepared to bundle up!
Between Maizal and Yanama are the recently discovered Coryhuayrachina ruins. We won’t have time to stop and explore them, but we encourage you to read more about this fascinating and little-known Inca history.
After spending the night at this cold, high altitude campsite, we venture higher still, climbing for about an hour to the San Juan Pass (4150m / 13,615 ft).
From the pass we’ll have spectacular views as we descend for about 2.5h to the charming village of Yanama (3700m (12,139ft). We’ll visit Yanama, having lunch near the village. Some of the horsemen accompanying you on your trip may even be from Yanama! We always try to hire locals and many come from this community.
From here, we head into virtually uncharted territory on a route pioneered by Apus Peru that takes us to Vilcabamba, the Last Bastion of the Incas! This is what makes our Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu so unique.
After lunch, we head down into a valley towards a small river, and then start climbing again on the other side towards Yutuypata where we’ll have beautiful views through the valley. Hiking time to Yutuypata is around 3 hours. Although we are still at high altitude, the valley creates an interesting microclimate, leaving the landscape green and forested with lush vegetation.
We’ll have a relatively easy morning today, walking for about 4 hours through the Quellqua Machay valley over gentle terrain. We will be surrounded by dramatic mountain views until we reach our lunch spot.
After lunch, we climb another 2 hours to our highest point along the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu route, the Choquetacarpo Pass (4600m / 15,091ft). Surrounded by craggy mountain peaks, this is a spectacular pass with an incredible view, a definite high point – literally and figuratively! – of the trek.
At this point, we have the chance to walk an almost perfectly preserved Inca trail. Following in the footsteps of the Inca chaskis or runners, you’ll marvel at the engineering skill of the ancient Incas who created these unique trails.
We head down for about a 1.5h over original Inca steps, observing many ancient Inca dwellings along the way. This is an incredible immersion into ancient Incan history as we’ll have constant opportunities to admire their ingenuity. How did they manage to build in such remote places??
We end our long day at a beautiful, isolated campsite where we will rest our weary legs and absorb the tranquility and awe-inspiring scenery.
We continue downwards this morning, following a gentle slope and passing some small roads no longer used for transportation along the way. After about 4 hours, we arrive at the village of Huancacalle (2900m / 9514 ft) where we will have lunch.
From here, we will climb up to visit the interesting ruins of Vitcos-Rosaspata and Ñustahispana for the afternoon before returning to Huancacalle for the night. The route from Huancacalle to the ruins and back again is around 3.5 hours.
This morning we can relax and reflect on the journey we’ve just taken along the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trail, from the verdant valleys and plunging canyons to the high mountain passes at San Juan and Choquecatarpo.
Huancacalle is a quaint rural village, where you might spot pigs and their adorable piglets wandering the streets. Isolated in the mountains, you might feel a sense of nostalgia for a forgotten time as you take in the peaceful lifestyle. This is a stark difference from what awaits us in Aguas Calientes, a busy city bustling with tourists eager to visit Machu Picchu.
From here we will take private transport over narrow, winding mountain roads to Santa Teresa (1550m / 5085 ft). The 5-hour drive is an amazing journey in itself, as you go from high Andean plains down to the lush vegetation of the jungle, passing villages and then banana, tea and coffee fields. The final leg of the journey sees us traveling along the edge of the rushing Vilcanota River – a reminder of the powerful natural forces that are a constant presence in the Andes.
Please note that some private transport on the road is lower quality than in Cusco.
From Santa Teresa we take the train from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. This will feel like a nice change of pace after days of hiking from Choquequirao to Vilcabamba and finally, Machu Picchu, including hours of driving! Peek up as the train winds along the canyon and you might get a tantalizing glimpse of the lower reaches of Machu Picchu!
Arriving at Aguas Calientes, a soak in the thermal baths might just be the perfect recipe for aching muscles! We’ll enjoy a celebratory dinner in Aguas Calientes before turning in early in anticipation of the next day’s centerpiece: Machu Picchu.
Today we achieve what for many is a lifelong dream: a visit to the Imperial Inca City of Machu Picchu! In the pre-dawn hours, we’ll take the bus up to the site to enjoy the ruins at sunrise. Your guide will give you a 2-3h walking tour of the historic citadel.
If you’re feeling adventurous you may wish to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain, but take note: this requires an extra permit, and they can sell out well in advance! Be sure to tell us at booking if you would like to add one of these hikes. For more tips on what to see, check out our Visiting Machu Picchu page.
Want more time to explore? Consider our Extra Day Upgrades.
We return to Cusco in the afternoon by Expedition (tourist class) train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, where we will be met by our driver who will transfer you directly back to your hotel in Cusco. Total travel time is about 4 hours from Aguas Calientes to Cusco.
We rate the 9 day Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek as very difficult. (See how we rate all of our treks in the Cusco region!)
Without a doubt this is amongst the very toughest in the region due to the high altitude, intense elevation gains and losses, length of the trek and remoteness. The physical and mental stamina to do difficult day after difficult day requires resilience and fortitude.
The trail is characterized by a large number of ascents and descents:
The highest point of the trek is on Day 6 when you climb to 4600m (15,091 ft) at the Choquetacarpo Pass. The climb up isn’t as intense (a mere 600m / 1969 ft!), though, being at higher altitude, it can be hard to breathe.
In addition to being physically challenging, the Choquequirao Machu Picchu trek takes you through some remote areas which can be a mental challenge. You will see no one except your own trekking group for many days!
You should be extremely fit and healthy to do the Choquequirao Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu. Under no circumstances should you attempt this trek without having done some training.
We have had some older people complete this trek but they are extremely fit and well prepared. Without a doubt, anyone who is not fit should train in consultation with a medical and fitness professional before considering this trek. What this training and preparation will involve depends on each person and their own abilities.
Remember: the challenge of the 9 day Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu is the steepness of the trail, the remoteness and the sustained difficulty of the terrain and hiking conditions.
See Tip #3 of our Trekking Tips for how to get ready for your trek.
The Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trail is a remote, long distance trek for those who are looking for a challenge. You should be well acclimatised prior to heading off on this trek quite simply because you are going far into the mountains.
For this trek we recommend a minimum of 3 days at high altitude prior to beginning the trek. This may mean spending time in the Cusco area, Lake Titicaca or the Sacred Valley.
We would also recommend doing one short day hike while acclimatising in the Cusco area. This will make it easier for you when you start trekking “for real”.
In addition to allowing 3 days in Cusco for your body to acclimatise, you should also stay away from alcohol and rich foods, and rest as much as possible. In short, be kind to your body!
Read more about Altitude and How to Acclimatize before starting your trek.
Cusco’s cold, dry winter months (May to August) are the best time to do the Choquequirao Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu. During this time, there is little rain and the trail conditions throughout the Andes are optimal.
It can get quite cold, though, so be prepared! On this particular trek, you will hike at a variety of altitudes and experience a range of temperatures – from hot and sunny to cold and windy, even below freezing.
We will not operate the trek in the rainy season which typically runs from December through March. This is because the heavy rainfall can loosen the mountainsides and there is a high risk of landslides in both the Apurimac and Blanco canyons.
This instability and falling rocks have caused death and injury in tourist groups in the past. We put safety first, and we don’t consider this an acceptable risk!
The shoulder seasons for trekking Choquequirao – Machu Picchu are April, September, October and November. The suitability of the shoulder months depends on the year and the amount of rain at the time. For example, April can still be very slippery if it was an especially wet rainy season; by the same token November can be dangerous if torrential rains come early.
In general September and October should be ok, though we always reserve the right to change or cancel treks if the weather conditions will make trekking unsafe.
Read more about the best time to hike and take note of our wet season trekking policy.
Part of the challenge of this hike is that the average hours of trekking per day range dramatically, between 6 and 10 hours daily.
As the Choquequirao Vilcabamba area is such steep terrain, there are not a lot of suitable places to camp. This means that some days’ trekking is much longer than others as we have to go further to reach a flat campsite with good water for the animals.
In addition to the terrain and distance between campsites, the average hours of trekking will depend on group dynamics, fitness and more. Our guides are experts in planning around the personal needs of groups, and will tailor each day’s hike to suit the group.
Yes! Guides do take solar powered chargers with them so you can charge your devices along the way.
That said, you should take every battery you have fully charged when you leave Cusco. If you have your own power bank, we recommend bringing these as well as the solar charger must be shared amongst the whole group.
The Choquequirao Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu includes seven nights of camping and one night in a hotel.
For the nights spent camping, we use North Face tents. These all-weather tents ensure that our trekkers will be prepared for whatever weather conditions come their way!
At the end of each day’s hike, expect to arrive at the campsite with your tents already set up by our professional field team. They will have hot water ready for you to wash your hands and face, as well as boiled water for tea and a snack!
Want a little more comfort? We have a “glamping” option you can choose! Read more about Comfort Camping here.
Please note that some private transport on the road is lower quality than in Cusco
Many of our trekkers comment that they eat better on the trail than they do at home! For the duration of your trek, you will be accompanied by a trained chef and an assistant. They whip up a range of tasty meals on the trail that will leave you fully charged for each day’s hiking.
We have clients from all around the world with a wide range of dietary requirements. Our chefs do very well adapting to these requests. For any particular need – whether it’s vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free meals, or anything else – sufficient notice and clear are very appreciated.
Read more about What to Expect on the Trail, including more about meals and equipment.
There are no permits required to hike the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trail, but you do need an entry ticket to Choquequirao and Machu Picchu sites.
These tickets are included in the price of your trek; you will not be asked to pay anything extra at any point.
Should you wish to hike Huayna Picchu when you are at Machu Picchu you should pre-book this permit approximately 4 months before travel. There is an extra cost for this hike, not included in the price. Read more about Huayna Picchu.
We love the Choquequirao region, especially as it is possible to customise the treks in this area.
It looks like this long-anticipated project is finally going to go ahead. The regional authorities have been talking about a cable car to Choquequirao for years, but it seems like it is finally going to happen. The latest report indicates the Choquequirao cable car may finally be operational some time in 2022.
The government anticipates tourism to Choquequirao to increase exponentially with the cable car. So if you want to experience Choquequirao in the relative absence of other tourists, you better go now! For more, read our blog about why you should trek to Choquequirao now.
In order to answer whether this trek is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
The 9 Day Choquequirao trek to Machu Picchu begins and ends in Cusco. Travel to/from Cusco is not included in the price of your trek.
…or Take the Long Way
Our treks are designed so that you only have to carry a day pack with you. The rest of your belongings, along with the food and camping equipment, is carried by mules. At your briefing, we will provide you with a duffel bag where you can pack up to 10kg (22 lbs) of personal belongings. (If you think you will need more than that, you can hire a personal mule for an extra cost!)
You will reunite with your duffel bag of belongings each night at the campsite. Therefore, your day pack should contain everything you will need during the day’s hike: layers, water, a camera, extra batteries, sun protection, beanie, gloves and insect repellent. A scarf or sarong can also protect you from dust or keep you warm, as the Choquequirao treks can be quite dusty during the dry season.
Especially on the Choquequirao to Vilcabamba trek when you are trekking in hot, dusty canyons you should carry plenty of water, starting the day with either 2 or 3 litres depending on your personal hydration needs. Our meals are plentiful, but if you like to snack do bring some of your own for on the trail.
If you’re still not sure if this 9 day Choquequirao Vilcabamba trek to Machu Picchu is right for you, or want to read more about the area or other people’s trekking experiences, check out these helpful articles from our blog:
Arturo is an exceptional guide, full of knowledge and love for nature and national heritage. He is also well organised, tolerant and mild person. Excellent guide! Meals were much better than expected, really tasty and diverse.
It was everything I wanted – ruins, scenery & fun! Tough, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was perfect as the views and vistas were different every day.
Everything was great. I really felt like I was waited on. The entire team was always one step ahead making sure I had the best experience – I’m wowed by the attention to detail to make sure I’m having the best trip possible.
Office Staff: Claire did an amazing job answering any and every thought that popped into my head.
Guide: Urbano is awesome. Very knowledgeable about the ruins/area. Great at letting us trek at our own pace. A true pleasure to spend 9 days with!
Meals: Amazing food. The taste, variety, presentation & thought that went into each meal impressed me.
“Our organized hike and tour with Apus Peru was magnificent. The organization of the hike, from contacting and receiving information, customizing aspects of the tour to the day to day carrying out of the 10-day trek was so efficiently, caringly and well done. The Apus team was always helpful the entire way and was what made our hike so enjoyable. I truly enjoyed the company of our amazing guide, the cooks and our horsemen. The food was perhaps the best I had the entire time spent in Peru, all cooked on the mountain sides! A wonderful, sustainable company that treats their employees and the local context with great reverence and respect. Superb!”
My boyfriend and I went with Apus on their Choquequirao-Vilcabamba trek. We wanted to do something a bit more adventurous than the trampled Inca Trail. It’s a tough route but has lots of rewards: watching the sunset over the Choquequirao ruins, possible condor sightings and the Vitcos ruins. Best of all, we were able to explore both sites without any crowds at all.
There are a ton of tour operators in Cusco but I can tell you from experience that Apus is the best. They certainly aren’t the cheapest but they offer great value for your money and work hard to make sure you have a memorable trek. If you’ve ever been with a cheapie operator, you know you get what you pay for. You do pay more but Apus provides tailored tours not cookie cutter ones, has top notch North Face tents, knowledgeable guides and you certainly won’t be handed a bag with a bologna sandwich and a candy bar at lunch time.
Speaking of food you won’t believe how well you can eat while hiking with Apus. Our chef kept us fueled up with healthy and fresh dishes. We were amazed by the variety even on an 9 day hike. There was always too much food but the mule driver and his helper didn’t mind helping us finish.
All of your gear is carried by mules so all you need to bring is a water bottle, some layers, sunblock and a camera. Going light means you can really enjoy the views and don’t have to worry about lugging a heavy backpack. The mules, mule driver and cook go ahead of the group so when we arrived to camp our tents were already set up and tea and snacks were waiting for us.
The only things we didn’t like about this trek was the mosquitos. We went in September which is the worst month for them. Make sure to pack bug spray if you go on this trek.
Whenever our friends ask who to hike with in Cusco, we always send them to Apus. Don’t let the price put you off, you’re going to spend your holiday trekking in the mountains so you might as well pay a bit more to go on a top quality tour, be comfortable, eat well and get the most out of the experience!