Discovering Choquequirao – Intriguing Insights Into Peru’s Enigmatic Lost City


Unveiling the Mysteries of Choquequirao

Choquequirao, often hailed as the golden cradle and the sister city of Machu Picchu, guards its secrets with unwavering mystery. This monumental Inca site holds numerous enigmas, as archaeologists have merely scratched the surface of what lies concealed beneath the earth.

The Location and Exploration of Choquequirao

Nestled amidst the majestic Wilkapampa mountain range, in the northwestern part of the Cusco region’s La Convención Province, Choquequirao was initially discovered in 1710 by the Spanish explorer Juan Arias Diaz. However, it wasn’t until 1970 that extensive excavations commenced, with only one-third of the site explored to date, leaving a vast realm yet to be uncovered.

Unraveling the Historical Enigma of Choquequirao

Choquequirao, renowned for its striking architectural resemblance to Machu Picchu, has been a subject of widespread speculation regarding its history. With only one-third of the site excavated, theories abound about this extraordinary collection of ruins. One prevailing theory suggests that the city served as a royal estate, envisioned by Tupa Inca, the tenth ruler of the Inca Empire during the latter half of the 15th century.

Legend has it that Tupa Inca aimed to establish a city that mirrored Machu Picchu in terms of location and design, believed to have been crafted by his father and predecessor, Pachacuti. Another theory posits that Choquequirao was built contemporaneously with Machu Picchu, commissioned by Pachacuti himself, rather than by his successor.

Traces of Tupa Inca’s Influence

Choquequirao is situated within the region believed to have been Pachacuti’s estate, and the architectural elements resembling the Chachapoya style hint at the involvement of Chachapoya craftsmen in its construction. This strongly suggests that Tupa Inca likely commanded the creation of this city. However, the evidence can be perplexing.

Supporting this claim, colonial documents indicate that Tupa Inca maintained control over Choquequirao, as his great-grandson, Tupa Sayri, asserted ownership over the site and the surrounding lands during the Spanish colonization period.

The Significance of Choquequirao

While experts may differ on various aspects, they generally agree on Choquequirao’s probable role as one of the entrance checkpoints to Vilcabamba, a crucial valley within the region. It likely served as an administrative hub, fulfilling political, social, and economic functions.

Undoubtedly, the city held importance as a connection point between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco. There is also widespread speculation that Choquequirao served as a seasonal pilgrimage destination for ceremonial events sponsored by the regional authorities. Taking it a step further, evidence suggests that Choquequirao played a pivotal role in the cultivation and distribution of coca.

(Note: The information provided in this response is based on the original text provided. Historical research and understanding may evolve over time, leading to different interpretations and perspectives.)

City Layout

Choquequirao, with its architectural resemblance to Machu Picchu, spans an expansive area of six square kilometers. It is designed according to Inca urban principles, featuring two plazas along the ridge’s crest. These plazas house prominent structures like temples, elite residences, and fountain and bath systems. The city complex is divided into 12 sectors, each containing different structures. However, it appears that the majority of buildings served three main purposes: ceremonial functions, residences for priests, or storage of food.

Excavations Recent excavations at Choquequirao have showcased the remarkable engineering skills of the Inca civilization. Every construction exhibits meticulous precision and attention to detail. The affluent inhabitants of the city erected houses with grand double doors, while the water fountains were built using large rocks to ensure durability. Flat slabs were strategically placed beneath windows for efficient food storage. The majority of the buildings have been well-preserved and carefully restored, creating a truly captivating and visually stunning destination.

Noteworthy Features Among the ruins, several significant and intriguing features can be found. Along the terraces descending from the main plaza stairway, unique artwork adorns the structures. Each terrace is adorned with white rocks arranged in the shapes of llamas or alpacas, which are now believed to be a tribute to these animals that were vital for transporting food and supplies.

Additionally, there are two distinctive sacred temple sites located beneath the plazas. These sites consist of step terraces intricately designed around water, leading experts to believe that water held a significant role in the city’s functions and rituals.

Day 1 of “The Trek”

Reaching and exploring this ancient city is no easy feat, as the trek to Choquequirao is considered one of the most challenging in Peru. While Machu Picchu receives around 2,500 visitors per day during peak season, Choquequirao sees a mere 30 individuals. The journey from the starting point in the village to the ruins and back spans a staggering 46 miles, not accounting for the elevation changes.

On the first day of the trek, adventurers embark on an 18km walk to Capuliyoc Mountain, followed by a descent to Playa Rosalinas, where they camp for the night. This initial leg of the trail involves a drop of 6,000 feet to the floor of the Apurímac River valley. If you choose to undertake the trek independently, it is essential to have sufficient funds for the various access fees along the trail. While it is possible to travel without a guide, brushing up on your Spanish is recommended.

Day 2 of “The Trek”

The second day of the trek is where the intensity truly ramps up. Trekkers must navigate across the Apurímac River and endure a challenging 8km ascent along steep switchbacks to reach the campsite near the ruins. Some adventurous souls may choose to continue an additional 2km to reach the ruins themselves, situated at an elevation of 3,100m above sea level. However, most opt to spend the night at the campground, ready to embark on the final 2km hike to the ruins the next morning.

Most guided tours allocate 4-7 days to complete this trek, as the journey back is just as demanding as the initial path. Yet, the reward is worth it—a mesmerizing panorama of mountain vistas greets trekkers at every turn, accompanied by pristine wilderness, untouched ruins, and the privilege of having the site mostly to themselves. Choquequirao is not yet a bustling tourist destination. Apart from a few fellow travelers who have made the same arduous journey and a handful of excavation workers, the ruins await exploration in serene solitude.

The Future While the ruins currently lie deserted, their solitude may not endure indefinitely. In August 2014, the completion of the Puente Rosalina bridge, spanning the Apurímac River, significantly eased access for visitors. Tour operators can now traverse the bridge on horseback, eliminating the need for the previously employed hand pulley system or the hiring of additional horses on the other side of the river.

Campsite owners have noted an increase in the number of travelers since the bridge’s completion. Furthermore, there are plans in motion to construct a cable car system that would transform the multi-day trek into a short 15-minute aerial journey. However, the timeline for the cable car project has experienced delays, and the bridge itself took an additional four years to complete. Therefore, it is uncertain when or if the cable car will become a reality. Nonetheless, one thing remains certain—Choquequirao’s allure lies in its pristine, untouched state, and there is a collective desire for it to remain so.

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