This Less Crowded Alternative Destination To Machu Picchu Is Truly Just As Breathtaking

Traveling to Machu Picchu is on many people's bucket list. It's a breathtaking destination that draws in about 1.5 million visitors each year. It's accessible by foot, bus, or train and is a lasting piece of history. This site, however, isn't the only spectacular place to see significant Incan ruins. Located along the Salkantay Mountain and near the Apurímac River, you'll find a massive spread of ruins that once formed the bustling Incan city of Choquequirao, which translates to "cradle of gold." Despite the name, it isn't a place rich with gold.

While much larger than Machu Picchu and just as spectacular — regarding architecture and the surrounding views — Choquequirao is far more difficult to access. It requires a multi-day hike to reach it, and while that certainly is quite the commitment, the sights are definitely worth it. "There is nothing else like this in the Andes," Gori-Tumi Echevarría told National Geographic. "It was an artistic innovation that occurred prior to the 16th century and was never repeated."

History and preparation

Choquequirao played a significant role in Incan society. It was an important military base, and some experts believe it was a gateway to the Vilacabamba. Now, you can see and explore it for yourself; just be sure you are ready to face the elements.

Proper preparation is essential for the trek to Choquequirao. Everything from planning which season to visit to what socks to bring are critical factors to consider. The best time of year to visit is the dry season, which is May through September, bringing stable weather that's better for hiking. Temperatures during the day are around 77 degrees Fahrenheit and drop at night, dipping as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can visit Choquequirao alone, or you can go with a guide. Touring with a guide enables you to learn more about the land you're trekking, the ancient sites you're exploring, the Incan civilization, and more. Danzak Peru offers a four-day tour that takes you on a moderate hike to and through Choquequirao for $550. Another great option is Unu Raymi Expeditions, which offers a four-day tour for $719.

The journey to Choquequirao

As you venture to Choquequirao, you'll come across a plethora of wildlife as well as a diverse array of flora. Llamas, Andean bears, pumas, vizcachas, foxes, tigrillos quetzals, and more all make their home in the surrounding area, and given how isolated the trails are, you're more likely to see them because of the lack of noise.

To get to this secluded location, you'll first want to make your way to the bustling Peruvian city of Cusco. When you reach this destination, you can hop on a bus headed towards Abancay, transfer to a minivan (or colectivo, as it is known), and get off at the town of Cachora. Once you're there, you can embark on your journey. It takes most people two full days of hiking to reach Choquequirao, but some extend it to three. It also takes that same amount of time for your return trip, so be prepared for a couple of days in the wilderness.