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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

X-Phase Trek Log

Choquekiraw – Machu Picchu X-Phase Trek Log1

Day 1              11/22/19          Partly cloudy with rain in the distance

Ate lunch at a small hostel overlooking Apurima2 valley.  Hiked up to a stunning mirador with views of snowcapped peaks and Yungas3 river.  Traveled further into the valley and down switchbacks before ending near the valley floor at a charming campsite/restaurant/tienda as it grew dark.  About five hours of trekking, all in good health and good spirits.

Start: Capulejo                       End: Chikisaca


Day 2              11/23/19                      Morning sun, partly cloudy during the day, evening rain

Woke up at 5 am and hiked down switchbacks to the Apurima river in the morning sun.  Hot and buggy.  Crossed the river on a suspension bridge and began climbing the other side.  Stopped at a place called Santa Rosa and chatted with an Italian and Colombian hiker.  As we climbed further (completing a 30 minute silent, solo walk along the way) the valley unfolded behind us until we reached Marampata and could see the rocky gorges of the Yungas river valley and the seemingly endless green mountains of the cloud forest, crested with billowing cumulus, checkered with the bright green of mountainside farms, flecked with the glints of the tin roofs of houses, and graced with the thin tan line of the trail we left behind.  Camped at a small hostel in hilltop Marampata.  Ample time for rest, naps, and card playing.  About 7 hours of hiking.

Start: Chikisaca                      End: Marampata


Day 3              11/24/19                      Partly cloudy with scattered showers, clear night

Hiked to the Choquekiraw4 ruins for two hours with clouds everywhere.  At Choquekiraw we began at la plaza principal then went to the administrative sector, and a temple where we made a group offering to Pachamama5.  After lunch we hiked down to a viewpoint where we saw more tree and cloud covered mountains, the famous white terrace llamas, and a lone condor.  Climbed absurdly steep Incan terrace stairs to return from the viewpoint.  We then explored the houses and temples of the main plaza before hiking back to Marampata where we spent a second night, seeing more cliffside Incan terraces along the way.  We took freezing showers and ate lots of popcorn.  About four hours of trekking and six hours of ruin exploration.  Some nervousness for the big day tomorrow.

Marampata  –  Choquekiraw  –  Marampata


Day 4              11/25/19                      Big morning clouds, scattered showers, rain at night

Returned to the Choquekiraw ruins to view the upper part.  We climbed Incan stairs next to a canal and viewed a food depository and temple area before continuing to climb nearly the rest of the mountain along the Qhapaq Ñan 6 , being rewarded with another stunning landscape and spotting our camp for the night, across a deep river valley.  We descended during scattered showers to stop and eat lunch next to one of the two Rio Blancos7 while being swarmed by bugs.  We then began our long climb up the other side, arguing whether the zigs or zags8 of switchbacks are superior and naming and creating stories for each one.  We finally arrive at our hillside camp with gorgeous mountain and valley views “casi muertos” as our guide Percy put it while darkness crept over the cloud forest.  We chatted with a cursing, dreadlocked, Croatian hiker; ate lots of butter pasta; and retired early and exhausted as a rainstorm swept in.  About 11 hours of trekking.

Start: Marampata                    End: Maizal


Day 5              11/26/19                      Blue skies in the morning, scattered showers, clear night

Continued climbing the same hill as the previous day, passing out of the Yungas to the Altiplano9 encountering a cow along the trail and leaving the Croatian behind as we climbed towards a high mountain pass.  We enjoyed views of circling condors and a mountaintop glacier which fed an Incan canal.  After a hot and grueling climb, we arrived at the pass as it began to sprinkle, greeted by stunning views in all directions including a towering group of snow covered mountains.  We took lots of pictures at Edson’s direction10, consumed expensive candy and soda from the pass’s tienda, and sat in quiet awe.  We then descended on cliff side trails to the town of Yanama where we ate lunch before taking a van11 over another high mountain pass and descending to the ceja de selva12 where we reunited with three of the four people who had been too sick to trek with us up to that point and enjoyed dinner and a soccer game on the television.  Our exhaustion matched only in degree by our excitement for the coming days, we went to sleep early.  About seven hours of trekking.

Start: Maizal               End: Luqmabamba


Day 6              11/27/19                      Cloudy morning, partly cloudy midday, evening rain

We awoke in Luqmabamba for a delicious breakfast of three egg omelets con verduras and fresh coffee before beginning the day of trekking.  Accosted by the dense morning heat and light mist of the near rainforest environment, we climbed through coffee plantations, avocado trees, and more tourists than we had seen in the rest of the trek combined.  Reaching the Llactapata ruins at the top of the pass, the dense clouds parted temporarily, allowing us our first view of Machu Picchu.  We realized that the view students who started slightly early were not waiting at Llactapata as we had expected and worriedly hiked back to other miradors and campsites to look for them before a helpful French couple informed us that they had seen Estadounidense campers matching our friends descriptions begin the descent and we continued on as well.  We quickly (yet safely) climbed down the other side of the mountain through boot-sucking mud and fall-inducing exposed tree roots and then crossed a very wobbily suspension bridge before reuniting with the whole group at a restaurant near the entrance to the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary in the town of Hidroelectrica.  We then hiked through forests of trees and tourists along flat train tracks to Aguas Calientes (stopping for delicious ice cream along the way) where we set up our tents in a soccer field and then walked a few minutes further to the Las Vegas-atmosphere of Machu Picchu town for an overpriced dinner and snack restock.  We returned in pouring rain to our campsite, excited and somewhat skeptical about the following day.  About nine hours of trekking.

Start: Luqmabamba                End: Aguas Calientes


Day 7              11/28/19                      Morning clouds, light showers, clear evening

We awoke early and ate a quick campsite breakfast before beginning the ascent to Machu Picchu.  We took a switchback heavy section of the Inca Trail up from Aguas Calientes, intersecting the road with buses shuttling tourists, and arrived at the entrance sweaty but excited.  Realizing that our Montaña Machu Picchu13 tickets had an entrance time limit, half our group ran through the  swarm of yammering, photo taking, illogically dressed that is modern day Machu Picchu to climb the 2670 steps of the mountain.  After more than an hour of burning muscles and dripping sweat, we reached the summit and were greeted by a 360 degree view of the surrounding area and cloud forest, including the Machu Picchu ruins, the hotels of Aguas Calientes, and even our bright orange tents in the campsite far below.  After multiple people in the group were asked to leave the “picture taking only section” while trying to enjoy the view and we had imbibed sufficient food and liquids to replenish our bodies, we returned down the mountain to reunite with the rest of the group and tour the ruins themselves.  Despite the overwhelming crush of tourists which made it hard at times to even move, our fantastic guide Edson managed to give us a comprehensive and refreshingly honest tour of the incredible and impressive ruins.  We then returned to our campsite, packed, and left for Hidroelectrica, eating a very late lunch and running into Group A along the way.  Night fell as we trooped along the train tracks and we were well behind schedule by the time we packed all of our stuff into a taxi and left for Santa Theresa.  Arriving at the hot springs where we camped, the group explored and enjoyed the extensive and perfectly refreshing springs, and went to bed late; exhausted, sore, and content.  About seven hours of hiking and four hours of ruin exploration.

Start: Aguas Calientes                        End: Santa Theresa


Overall Distance Hiked:  140 km


A huge thank you to Percy, Edson, Rebecca, David, Daime, Victor, Eddy, the mules and horses, and everyone else who helped, supported, and fed us along the way.  This trek would not have been possible without your help.




1 To preserve authenticity and historical accuracy, this trek log has been reproduced nearly exactly from the nonsense I scribbled in my journal each night during trek.  I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies, misspellings, grammatical errors, or other annoying results of my exhaustion and lack of proper editing.

2 A word from the language of the Incan empire, known as Runasimi (although more often referred to by the Spanish name Quechua).  Apu means mountain and Rima means word, so the word is generally accepted to mean something along the lines of “Speaking Mountains.”

3 Yungas refers to a rainy, humid, and warm ecoregion in the transition between Andean highlands and lower forests in South America.  Comes from the Quechua word yunka meaning warm area.

4 The Choquekiraw (also spelled Choquequirao) is an Incan ruin complex near Cusco, similar in architecture and time period to Machu Picchu.  It can only be reached by a rigorous two day trek however, and receives approximately as many visitors per year as Machu Picchu does per day.  Means metal cradle in Quechua.

5 Pachamama is an Earth deity central to Indigenous Andean Cosmo vision.  It is usually loosely translated as “Mother Earth.”

6 Qhapac Ñan is the Quechua word for the 40,000 km long Incan road system, meaning royal road.

7 This name comes from the fact that the river is white.

8 Zigs are paths that begin with a left hand turn and have the walker facing the right side of their body towards the mountainside.  Zags are the exact opposite.  Your humble author passionately believes that zigs are superior in every capacity.

9 The Altiplano is a region of the Andes Mountains above approximately 3,500 meters in Peru.  It is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth outside of Tibet.

10 Unfortunately none of us will be able to enjoy any of the hundreds of photos our wonderful guide Edson took during the trek, as he somehow managed to lose his camera while at Machu Picchu.  Fingers crossed that he finds it.

11 We had initially been planning to hike this section for the nine day trek, and would have walked all the way to Machu Picchu, however after illness led to the itinerary being shortened to seven days, this was the section that was cut.  After seeing what we had initially signed ourselves up for: thousands of meters of elevation change over a two day period, and a pass that appeared especially steep and brutal, many in the group were glad about the van decision.

12 Ceja de selva or selva alta is the ecoregion of Peru comprised of rainy mountain forests.  It is a very general and somewhat colloquial term and is thus somewhat hard to define specifically.

13 Machu Picchu Mountain rises 3,050 meters above the Machu Picchu ruins and is the name sake of the complex, coming from Quechua and translated loosely as “Old Mountain.”  It is the taller sister of the famous Huayna Picchu which appears behind the ruin complex in nearly every famous photo and provides iconic views of the area.