After having suffered a lot during the first two days of the trek to reach the ruins of Choquequirao (me because of the weight of the backpack and Fabienne of her stomach flu…), we had nevertheless recovered a little by taking a whole day to visit the ruins quietly.
Well, let’s face it, visiting the ruins was not easy because it goes up and down all the time. But without the backpacks on our shoulders, it still felt good.
In addition, Fabienne recovered nicely from her gastro and could eat again to regain her strength. I might as well tell you that it was more than necessary because on paper, the next days looked pretty scary!
Day 4: Choquequirao – Maizal
This day, we had already marked it with a red marker before leaving… 🙂 On the program: a small ascent of 300-400m to the Choquequirao pass to warm up, followed by a good descent of 1300m to the rio blanco, followed with a very steep ascent of 1100m to the hamlet of Maizal. Our legs were already hurting even before we left! 😉
Mule hunting in Choquequirao
To be honest, we were a little afraid that we wouldn’t make it, so we tried to find a mule driver to help us out on that day.
But no matter how hard we tried to ask in the village of Marampata (the only village with Cachora where there are muleteers), we were unable to find mules. It must be said that most of them were already booked by a group of tourists who arrived the next day.
Especially since the muleteers didn’t seem very happy about the idea of continuing with us on the “camino de los locos” towards Machu picchu.
But it is a little understandable, in the sense that we only needed one mule for 1 or 2 days. Not very interesting for muleteers compared to a group of 10 tourists. So we gave up our search and told ourselves that we might meet a mule driver on the way who would agree to take our bags with us for the climb (let’s face it, we were pretty naive on that one).
Leaving Choquequirao early
When the day looks tough, the best thing to do is to get up early!
So, we woke up at 5am and left towards the Col du Choquequirao at 6am sharp. You probably know it if you follow us, Fabienne is not an early morning person AT ALL (that’s a euphemism ;-)). So she had a little trouble starting the machine as we say. But after 1h15 of climbing (and some swearing by Fabienne) we were at the pass just in time to admire the sun rising over the misty ruins. A view that we will not soon forget.
After a well-deserved photo/snack break, we start the descent towards the rio blanco. First good surprise, the descent is less steep than the first day. As a result, we could walk a little faster without the risk of getting on our buttocks every 5 minutes. (With big bags, the descent is not necessarily the most pleasant part).
The ruins of Pinchaunuyoc
After a good hour of descent, we reach the ruins of Pinchaunuyoc which, although unknown, are really worth a visit. The site looks like a terrace amphitheatre with a water channel that cuts it in half. Note that the canal still works here and the water flows happily from terrace to terrace (which is not the case in Choquequirao and Machu).
We enjoy this beautiful site for about 15 minutes before continuing to go down… it’s that we don’t really have time to hang out today! The landscapes of the rest of the descent are really nice. We discover trees, plants and birds that we had never seen before. However, we are already shivering as we watch the path that goes up the other side of the valley and that we will take later in the day. It really looks like it’s going up steep!
Getting to the Rio Blanco
1h30 later, we are finally at the bottom of the valley, at the level of the rio blanco (white river). The place is full of orchids. I had never seen so many of them in the wild! The place would be perfect for an impromptu picnic if there weren’t those damn sandflies to spoil the party yet. As a result, we hurry to eat and get our hands literally eaten by these dirty beasts. We would have loved to take a longer break before attacking the climb to Maizal…
Here there is no real transition to start the machine ;-). It climbs steeply from the beginning! But since we left early, it is only noon when we start the climb and we have plenty of time to take breaks.
After 3-4 hours of climbing, we see a sign indicating the “Valentine’s farm”. This is the only place where you can still camp in Maizal. The farm was indicated at 15 minutes but at the pace we are going, it took us a good half an hour to reach it (15 minutes at the pace of the locals we will say ;-)). We are welcomed by a grandmother who lives there alone with her husband.
They are the last inhabitants of Maizal, the others having decided to move to Yanama, a slightly larger village that will be our destination the next day. She shows us the place where we can camp, in the middle of her chickens, pigs and goats. The view is really amazing! After preparing a large plate of polenta, we go to bed early, exhausted by this difficult day.
Info Day 4
From Choquequirao to Maizal
- Distance: 12kms
- Elevation gain: 1400m
- Elevation loss: 1300m
- Duration: about 8h30
- Meals: IThere is no possibility to buy food all day long until Maizal. Once there, you can buy cookies and drinks but not much else (everything was out of date)). Moreover, the grandmother who lived there was not very motivated to cook for us, so it is better to have something to eat on yourself!
- Mules: It is better to organize yourself directly in the village of Cachora if you want a mule. The bridge that allows muleteers to cross the river on the 1st day (where we took the basket ;-)) must now be completed and you can therefore directly rent the services of a muleteer for several days (it was more complicated in our case since the mules could not cross the river). Count 60 soles a day for a mule and a mule driver.
More Info: The beginning of the path that climbs to the Choquequirao pass is not necessarily easy to find. From the campsite, take the track which goes up to the choquequirao on the right (at the beginning of the campsite). You should arrive at a kind of checkpoint at the entrance to the ruins, where you turn right following the signs for Yanama.
If you go up to the ruins by the other way (at the bottom of the campsite), once on the main square of the ruins, follow the water channel (it is the straight canal that the Incas had built to irrigate the city). Simply follow the canal until you cross a hiking trail and turn left (you will actually reach the path to Yanama at that time).
Day 5: Maizal – Yanama
As usual when camping, we get up at dawn and heat up some water to make a good, caliente coca mate. Well, I admit, that that day I got woken up at 4:00 in the morning by these damn insomniac roosters, but hey. We sleep relatively well in camping (we have warm and comfortable equipment. It’s important according to us) so we’ve recovered quite well from the long day the day before and we’re ready to start the climb to the San Juan pass (4150m).
On paper this day looks easy
The day promises to be much shorter than the previous day (only 11.5 km of walking) and for once, we start with the climb (1100m to the San Juan pass) and finish slowly with the descent (700m to Yanama).
It’s still more pleasant in that direction! We ask the grandmother how long it takes to walk to the pass and she answers: “dos horitas” (2 short hours)… We can imagine that this is how long it takes for the locals to run up behind their mules, but still we leave rather confident in the fact that it will maybe take us 2,5 hours.
So we start walking around 8am enjoying the view which is simply beautiful. The first part of the climb is much less steep than the day before, which is not to displease us. On the other side of the valley, in the distance, you can see the pass of the choquequirao that we passed the previous morning.
In the footsteps of the Incas
We then reach the beginning of the “Inca path”…. What is an Inca path, you may ask? It is simply a path that was used at the time by the Incas and of which there are still some traces to this day. In general, it is quite easy to recognize, this is where the stairs begin (painful memory of China and Mount Emei)! Thus, that’s also where it starts to climb steeply.
And to top it all off, the Incas had the unfortunate tendency to make stair treads at knee level… You might as well say that we quickly felt the thighs heating up 😉 especially with the efforts made the day before.
After a good 2.5 hours alternating between stairs and steep muddy paths, we reach the Victorias mines (old silver, copper and lead mines abandoned since the time of colonization… even if we think we heard people working in them).
So we think back to the “dos horitas” of the grandmother in Maizal and we think that to climb to the pass in 2 hours from Maizal, you have to be a machine! We don’t even dare to imagine her husband to the grandmother ;-).
Arrival at San Juan Pass and descent to Yanama
We then continue to climb for another hour before finally reaching the San Juan pass (4150m). It won’t have been a piece of cake but we are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.
But after almost 5 days of walking, even a superb viewpoint can hardly make us forget our general state of fatigue. Fortunately, for today, there is only a small descent (1h30) to the village of Yanama.
We are very happy, once we arrived in the village, to be welcomed by very friendly people who immediately offered to cook for us in the evening. We readily admit that we no longer had enough energy to cook for ourselves. Well, it was the best meal of those 9 days (rice, a very good piece of meat with a tomato sauce and a kind of guacamol). So we go to bed with a full stomach and hope to get our legs back for the next day.
Infos Day 5
From Maizal to Yanama
- Distance: 9,5kms
- Elevation gain: 1100m
- Elevation loss: 700m
- Duration: about 5h30
- Meal: You will not be able to buy anything to eat until Yanama again. But this village is still bigger than Maizal. (maybe 100 inhabitants). There, You can buy food in the campsite’s tienda. (when we talk about camping it’s more like people’s garden ;-))). Especially since in recent months, a dirt road has been coming to the village from Totora, which allows the village to be supplied by car (and no longer only with mules as it was until now).
- Water: A quick note about water! There are no rivers or other water points between Maizal and Yanama. So make sure you have enough with you.
Day 6 : Yanama – Totora
It was during this day that we passed the highest point of this 9-day trek: the Mariano Llamoja pass (4660m). As you are good at math, you will have noticed that it is the 3rd day in a row that we climb more than 1000m.
But fortunately for us (and for the first time since the beginning of this hike), the slope is rather gentle (1200m over 9kms)! But not enough for Fabienne who is starting to get seriously tired. I try to encourage her as best I can by telling her that this is the last big climb of this trek but after 5 days, the head and especially the legs are not really playing along anymore.
I told you earlier that in recent months, a dirt road has been coming to Yanama. So, we looked while walking if a car could push us a few kms but we didn’t see a single car the whole day… So we didn’t really have a choice but to walk to the top. It took us almost 5 hours to get to the pass… a challenge for Fabienne who reached the top beeing totally exhausted.
Crazy landscapes while trekking in Peru
On the landscape side though, there’s not much to complain about! It felt a bit like a week earlier in the Cordillera Blanca on the Santa Cruz trek… The mountains are all more impressive than the others… and in addition, icing on the cake, we met for the first time llamas roaming freeling (well now that we are in Bolivia, we met many others).
This will have had the merit of giving Fabienne a little more energy on this difficult day. The only small negative point is the new road that is damaging this sublime valley a little. But well, you can still imagine that people have a little easier life since the road arrives in the village.
The descent to Totora is quite good (-1150m over 7kms). We alternated between the road and the path to spare our knees a little. In the distance, we can see the Salkantay (the highest mountain in the region and known for the trek around it to reach Machu Picchu), a sign that we are getting closer to our objective but also masses of tourists at the same time… it feels like the end of tranquility is close. After a good 3 hours of descent, we will stop at the first house that will let us camp. And after a good pan of polenta, we go to bed… We still have three more days of walking to get to the Machu Pichu!
Info Day 6
from Yanama to Totora
- Distance: 16kms
- Elevation gain: 1200m
- Elevation loss: 1150m
- Duration: 8h
- Meals: In terms of food, there is nothing between Yanama and Totora. But there is plenty to buy to make sandwiches in both villages. A little advice, when you get to Totora, don’t stop at the first part of the village and continue for 1 km to the rest of the village. The camping site is better and the small shop is much nicer (we stopped at the other one of course ;-)).
- Water: On the water side, there is not much to fill the bottles on the way. But since we are much higher up, it is also much cooler. As a result, we hardly sweat and we need a little less water than in the first 4 days.
- Additional Information: If you are tired after the first 5 days and would like to take a collectivo to save some time, it is possible. But the collectivo leaves very early from Yanama (like 4:30 in the morning). It can save you up to 2 days of walking (to Playa). You can also take it from Totora (around 6am). On the other hand, don’t expect to hitchhike during the day. On days 6 and 7, we may have seen 2 vehicles. In short, it’s the collectivo or nothing!
Day 7: Totora – Playa
To be honest, this day (28kms for 1500m of descent) we would not have walked it if there were no hot springs! These springs are at the height of the village of Collpapampa, located about a dozen kilometres below Totora. It must be said that after Totora, there is no longer really a separate path to cut the curves of the dirt road.
And as we descend, we sink into the valley, thus losing the magnificent view we had of the mountains above. But then, we take our courage with both hands and start going down. After 2 hours between road and path, we finally reach the village. The hot springs are 15 minutes further down, at the crossroads of the 3 valleys.
Well-deserved hot springs
So this crossing of valleys is where we join the itinerary of the very popular Salkantay trek. Then it should be known that the itinerary of this trek is not subject to any limitation. (Unlike the Inca trek which has a daily person limit). As a result, Cusco’s agencies are happy to send between 200 and 300 tourists (if not more) a day on these roads. In short, there’s no chance you’ll be feeling lonely starting from this point!.
In general, the people who do this tour, sleep in the village of Collpapampa on the 2nd night and bathe in the thermal waters in the late afternoon. But as we arrived at the springs around 10am, we were able to enjoy the pool for ourselves. After 6 and a half days of walking, I can promise you that swimming for an hour in very hot water is really good (and it cleanses you too;-)). We enjoyed this moment as it should be.)
When hitchhikcing finally worked!
We then had to reach the village of Playa where the people of the Salkantay usually spend their 3rd night. For this purpose 2 options: take the 12km path along the river at the bottom of the valley or follow the dirt road (rather 15-16km) in the hope that a car will pass. We chose option number 2 in the hope of being luckier than the day before.
However, after 2 more hours of walking, not a shadow of a car… Damned! We probably still had 6-7 km to walk when finally a van deigned to pass on the road. We signal him to stop and the driver agrees to take us in his trailer to Playa for 5 Soles… Bingo! It was about time.
Getting to Playa
20 minutes later, we arrive in Playa and there is the shock! There are about thirty minivans waiting for tourists to finish their lunch, about 50 shops, at least 10-15 campsites. In short, we are dangerously close to Machu Picchu, it seems!
As the Inca road that will take us to Hydroelectrica the next day starts 2-3 km further, we don’t hesitate a second to continue until then and leave this hell! And we did well because right next to where the trail starts, there is a great campsite in the middle of a coffee plantation (there was only one other group there). Perfect! In addition to eating well that evening, we’ll even have good coffee… pretty nice, right?
Info Day 7
From Totora to Playa
- Distance: between 22 and 28kms (depending on whether you take the road or the path instead)
- Elevation gain: 0m (finally!!!!)
- elevation loss: 1500m
- Duration: 6h
- Meals: No more food and water problems from this stage. We are back to civilization and there are tiendas (small shops) in all the villages.
- Additional Information: If you don’t really want to go swimming, we advise you to take the collectivo that leaves Tortora around 6am to do this stage because the landscapes are not incredible and you will walk mostly on the road. Otherwise, you can do as we do! Perhaps you will have more luck with cars ;-)…. But don’t count on it too much.
- Additional Information: We strongly advise you not to stay in Playa to sleep! As you were told, this place has absolutely no charm. We advise you to continue 2-3 km on the dirt road until the beginning of the Inca road that leads to the ruins of Llactapata (it is from there that we will see for the first time the Machu ;-)). 300M further on, there is a path that turns right. This is where you will find the campsite in the coffee plantation ;-).
See you at the next article for Machu Pichu
So here you are, you know everything about the wildest part of the Choquequirao – Machu pichu trek. These 4 days were not easy, especially with all our stuff on our backs…. But the landscapes, the lost Incan ruins, the great encounters with the locals, the thermal waters… were well worth all these efforts.
In the last part of our story, we will tell you where we first saw the machu, how we walked along these famous train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes and finally, our discovery of Machu Picchu in the early morning after climbing the no less famous stairs ;-)… And with the trekking video as a bonus!
Map of our hike (full itinerary)
Video of our trek to Machu Pichu
And as promised, here is to finish the video of these 9 days of trekking. You can find all our travel videos on this page and if you like it, don’t forget to follow our youtube channel 😉