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TRAVEL READING ON PERU, SOUTH AMERICA:
Things to Do in Nazca, Peru
Take an adventure trip to the Peruvian Amazon

Choquequirao – the Real Lost City of the Inca  by Alex

Hundreds of thousands come back from Peru unaware that just about 100 km or so from Machu Pichu lies another magnificent complex. Choquequirao has taken over from over-crowded Machu Picchu as the true Lost City of the Inca.
 
Choquequirao: 3030 m altitude, 60 km round-trip over 5 days, transport: none, terrain: gorgeous.

Choquequirao was actually first discovered way before Machu Picchu. However, it is less preserved and the excavation works are more recent. To date, only about 30% of it has been recovered – mainly the top (and most important) part. The slopes are still largely buried. How does it compare to Machu Picchu, I hear you ask. Well, it doesn’t. They are different cities altogether. Choquequirao is built very differently, more conventionally. 

Palaces, religious structures, living quarters and military constructions surround the ample main square. Many of the buildings are 2-3 stories. 

Inca Fortress on Hill, Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
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The city is dominated by a magnificent ceremonial hill with the top chopped off and turned into a religious arena and an observatory (6 of the peaks and 2 of the rivers sacred to the Inca can be viewed from here). The slopes hold a vast number of structures, from simple shacks to well-preserved large agricultural terraces. The overall area covered by Choquequirao is 1810 hectares, much bigger than that of Machu Picchu. 

Choquequirao is more than just a pretty face. They call it a sister of Machu Picchu, I would call it a brother. While the Virgins of the Moon were dancing around in MP, Choquequirao kept everyone fed and safe – it was the administrative, military and economic centre of the whole area, as well as a bearer of a strong religious significance. Choquequirao is where the remnants of the Inca had their last days. 

The archaeological work here is slow due to inaccessibility and low funding, but it seems that what they do find makes Choquequirao more and more significant every year.

Choquequirao is a genuinely lost city. Harshly inaccessible from either side, it is no wonder it never got discovered (even in our days of New-age Machu Picchu worship). This little corner of paradise is firmly locked by the guardian mountains. They isolate this spot from the whole world, like a ring a soundproof padding. There is only the low-flying condor and the rainbow reaching the city from the bottom of the valley. We could almost touch that rainbow. 

But that’s still not the best thing about Choquequirao. Lost in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by silent mountains, it was absolutely empty. And with that comes freedom. There was an invisible team of archaeologists somewhere, my guide Victor, Felipe and Rolando (two Austrian guys I came with), and an English / Peruvian explorer with his loyal Sancho Panza. Yet it was still the end of the high season. No ticket booth, no security, no supervision, not even a toilet. It was all up to our ethics. We were not on a tour, we were guests here – the camping ground was on one of the terraces. We wandered wherever we wanted (respecting the archaeological restrictions), day or night. Choque is particularly magic after nightfall, if you have the guts. It’s not for the faint-hearted to walk around the ruins surrounded by wilderness, hearing whispers of ghosts and wondering which sacred grounds you are trespassing. 

ChoquequiraoThe reason we could have a Lost City all to ourselves was because there was no train. You had to beat the trail for two days, and it was not all a Sunday promenade.

The starting point is Cachora, a charming sleepy village at the bottom of a valley. A bus from Cuzco drops you off just before it gets to Abancay. You have to spiral downwards for two hours to get to the village.

Once there, things were easy to find. Cachora is the mule depot of the mountain range. There is a pretty basic hotel, a basic place to eat some potatoes or soup, and a basic shop to buy basic provisions. Water is not essential if you have purifying tablets – you will come across many springs on the way. I’m not sure, but I think they pretty much pull whatever villager is available when you ask for a guide. They are all good anyway. Our guide for the trek was Victor – a farmer who had done the 7-day trek to Santa Teresa 12 times. Luigi (my buddy) and me also rented two mules: one for the backpacks and one for riding, if required. 

 The first day is a gradual shedding of civilisation. We went through the village, kids running after us, adults smiling and wishing good luck. Then some farmland with an occasional campesino. Then an abandoned hacienda and a short forest trail, and, finally, the mountains.

For three hours or so it was a leisurely promenade on a wide flat trail. The serenity…just the birds, the sun and the peaks bathed in sunlight. The road wound round the bends like a box of chocolates: at every corner a new view, more impressive than the one before. A wall on the left, a drop on the right, and a bunch of summits as far as the eye can see.

Later, the soil changed from grey rocks to red powder and we began our descent into the Apurimac river valley. We reached the Chiquisca camping station right in time for the dark. It was no more than a cleared patch of wood, 20 m in diameter, looked after by a 14 year old girl living there in almost total solitude. That was the most institutionalised accommodation we were to encounter for the rest of the trail. 

We woke up in the clouds, literally. They were all around us. You could wash your face in them. Our guide took us to the edge of a cliff and pointed out the task for the day. A vertical wall going all the way into the sky, the trail a thin cord zigzagging schizophrenically over its face like a crack. It looked totally intimidating. But first we had to come down into the valley and cross the Apurimac river that separated us from the wall.

So we did, slowly, savouring the stereotypical scorched cactus scenery of the valley. The bridge was modern and strong  (I guess the government attended to that in search of some tourist revenue). Finally, the ascent: 3 hours of mind-numbing grunt work. Left, push, right, push, left, push, right, push. Water was going by the gallons. But the views were unobstructed and once you detach from the physical effort you mind floats in the mountains. 

Three hours later we came across a few huts (Santa Rosa settlement) and rested with one of the owners. We stayed for a while, tired and soaking up the sunny afternoon with our numbed brains. Could have stayed there forever. Then another 2 hours of grunt-work ascent and we break the gradient – finally there, on a flat top. Looking back at the thin silver string of the river down in the valley, I couldn’t believe we got so far. 

There were a couple of huts at the top. We camped outside the house of the local bear hunter, an amazing guy full of life. He warmly welcomed us to his wife’s cooking. The reason he is so happy is because from his porch you can see the most beautiful sunset panorama on the planet. 

Next morning we got our first sighting of Choquequirao just a few steps from the settlement. But it took another one and a half hours of beating the trail to get there. We dived into the woods, stepped out of a bush and there we were – on the terraces of the Lost City, just like that. No gates, no tickets, not a soul.

Choquequirao was the jewel of my trip. Sure, Machu Picchu is gorgeous and if you are looking for convenience, you can be there and back in one day. Choquequirao takes 4 days of hard walking and that is why it is so serene, challenging, profound and rewarding. It is a true Lost City.

You get back the same way you came. For me, the journey to Choquequirao was the first leg of the 7-day trek over the mountains to Machu Picchu (if you wanted to know whether that could be done). But that’s another story.

Notes

This trek took place in August 2002. There have been some changes, although minor. The entry to Choquequirao is now purchased at 10 soles, this lasts you as long as you want. The camping on the terrace now includes toilets and an emergency line with Cachora. The destination is also getting more popular, although still far from crowded: in the high season of July / August 2005 there were an average of 50 visitors on site plus about the same number en route at any time. Hurry before they build a railway! The trek can be completed in 4 days if needed, but you only get 1 hour on site: you carry on straight to Choquequirao on your 2nd day, have a tour in the morning and set off, arriving to the Apurimac river crossing by night. For any treks to Choquequirao make sure you have adequate footwear and you are accustomed to the altitude: that second day will get you sweating and your ankles twisting. 

Cuzco Hotels

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Alex is the webmaster of Valencia Tourist Information - an independent resource on travelling in Valencia, Spain.

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Things to Do in Nazca, Peru
There are several things to do in Nazca, Peru. Nazca, sometimes spelled Nasca, is a town in the desert of Peru's southern coast, as well as the name of the surrounding valleys. The Nasca culture flourished in the area between 300 BC and AD 800. They have left behind the Nazca Lines, the ceremonial city of Cahuachi and many impressive underground aqueduct systems called Puquios.

The Top 5 Things to Do In Nazca, Peru Are:

1) The Nazca Lines

These geoglyphs are etched in the desert stretching across more than 50 miles.

Aerial View of Nazca Lines on Mountain Side, Peru, South America
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Probably created by the Nasca culture between 200 BC and 700 AD, there are hundreds of geometrical shapes, human figures and animals. They can only be seen from the air. The largest figures are over 200 m across. No one knows why they were made, yet there are several theories ranging from relations to astronomy to ancient astronauts. You can fly over the Lines by taking a tour, which usually includes a trip to the nearby cemetery and aqueducts. Flights last about 45 minutes.
 
Nazca Desert Cemetery, Peru, South America
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2) Chauchilla Cemetery & Cantalloc Aqueducts Tour

These two sites are usually packaged together in a single tour, sometimes along with a flight over the Nazca Lines. Chauchilla, dating back to 1,000 AD, is a cemetery whose mummies can be seen in their open tombs in the ground. The Cantalloc underground aqueducts are over 2,000 years old and are still in use today.3) Cahuachi

The ceremonial city of Cahuachi covers an area of 15 square miles and within its territory exist huge pyramids, temples and platforms. Cahuachi was built by the Nasca culture, and from the tops of its pyramids part of the Nazca Lines may be viewed.


4) Maria Reiche Museum and Planetarium

The Maria Reiche Musuem was Maria Reiche's home for many years. Maria Reiche (1903 - 1998) was a German born mathematician and archaeologist who dedicated over 50 years of her life to study, protect and measure the Nazca Lines.

The Hotel Nazca hosts the Maria Reiche Planetarium with excellent nightly shows about the Nazca Lines.

5) Antonini Museum

The Antonini museum displays ancient relics found at the ceremonial centre of Cahuachi. Some of the displays are mummies, trophy heads, fine textiles, ceramics, and musical instruments made from bone and clay. 

The mysterious Nazca Lines are not to be missed. Nazca is a popular tourist destination for those with an interest in mysteries and ancient history.

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FEATURED HOTELS IN AREQUIPA, PERU

Crismar Hotel Arequipa ***
Offering warm welcome and high standards of accommodation, this modern style property is an ideal place for a comfortable stay.  Situated in the heart of the city, Crismar Hotel Arequipa is just 3 kilometres from the Feria International Arequipa Fair Site and 6 kilometres from the airport.  The property offers 50 warmly decorated guestrooms, which provides its guests with modern and comfortable amenities. Attentive room service is also provided for your convenience.  Guests can relish delectable local as well as international cuisine in an elegant setting of the on-site restaurant. You can enjoy delicious snacks and refreshing drinks at the cafe, which is also an ideal place to relax after a tiring day.  After an exhausting day, you can have a bracing dip or relax on the sun bed beside the swimming pool.
La Maison D'elise Hotel Arequipa ***
Boasting a tranquil ambience and comfortable accommodation, this property is an ideal place for business as well as leisure travellers.  Located in the most exclusive residential area in Arequipa, La Maison D'elise Hotel is just 3 minutes drive from the downtown and 10 minutes from the airport.  This hotel offers comfortable guestrooms that are air-conditioned and facilitated with an array of modern amenities to make your stay a pleasant one.  The on-site restaurant serves delicious international cuisine for you to feast on. The cosy bar is an ideal place to chill out with a refreshing drink after a busy day.  During leisure, you can have a bracing dip in the swimming pool or wander through the beautiful garden.
La Plazuela Hotel Arequipa ***
Offering stylish and contemporary accommodation, this property is the perfect base for business as well as leisure travellers.  Located in the Vallecito District, La Plazuela Hotel Arequipa is just a few blocks away from the main square. This property is easily accessible from the city centre and the shopping areas, while the airport is 10 kilometres away.  The hotel offers warmly decorated guestrooms, which provides its guests with modern and comfortable amenities. In addition, attentive room service is provided for your convenience.  Guests can begin their day with a delicious Continental or American breakfast in a warm and pleasant atmosphere of the breakfast room. You can relax at the cafe with snacks and beverages as well as sip on various drinks at the cosy bar.

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