Choquequirao Trek, Peru’s remote Inca ruins
25 September, 2015 Por: Casa Nostra Choquequirao Trekking
Choquequirao is one of the most remote Inca ruins in the Peruvian Andes, but plans for a cable car could bring much change to Machu Picchu’s ‘little sister’
Halfway down the track, Nixon stops. He thwacks his machete into a stump to free his hands and reaches over a stone wall, groping for something in the vegetation beneath. A moment later he pulls up a clear plastic bag and hands it to me. It is full of human bones. “Incas.”
Since the Spanish never found this place, Nixon, the custodian, is surely right about the bones. They belong to the people who built Choquequirao, one of the most remote Inca settlements in the Andes, and were stashed here by the archaeologists who, over the past 20 years, have been slowly freeing the ruins from the cloud forest. The site that has emerged looks like a film director’s fantasy of a lost city. On the day I arrive a time lapse of cloud is drifting across the ridge, above a geometry of Inca stairways and terraces cut into a steep, jungly spur above the Apurímac river, 100 miles west of Cusco in southern Peru.
Inevitably, it’s been called the “sister” of Machu Picchu. But while Peru’s poster girl is surrounded by the paparazzi crush of up to 2,500 visitors a day, Choquequirao (the Quechua name means “cradle of gold”) is almost entirely deserted. It’s not hard to see why: at least two days of mules, sweat, and wild camping separate these ruins from the nearest road or hot shower. The reward for those adventurous enough to make the Choquequirao Trek is an Inca sanctuary that still feels, in Rudyard Kipling’s phrase, like “something lost behind the ranges”.
But it won’t stay that way for long. In what may be the most ambitious tourism project in the world, the regional government is investing $50m in a mile-high cable car that will glide up to Choquequirao in 15 minutes. The contract to build and operate it is already open to tender. Whichever company wins the deal will begin work in the hamlet of Kiuñalla, from where a 5km span of high-tensile steel cable will cross the Apurímac. When it’s up and running (the most optimistic estimates say 2016), as many as 3,000 people a day will be shuttled up to the ruins, breaking Choquequirao’s 500-year silence and releasing a flood of investment into one of Peru’s poorest provinces. The region’s politicians are talking about a new airport, asphalt roads, international hotels.
A week earlier, driving to the trailhead town of Cachora, I had seen these same slogans painted all along the highway. It was election time in Peru, and extravagant promises were being made.