Nab this view of Cusco from Saksaywaman en route to the trailhead. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Saksaywaman, an Inca complex known for its stone walls, is just north of Cusco. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Kick off the Choquequirao Trek by descending to the Apurímac River. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Two hikers traverse a ridge along the Apurimac River Gorge. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Reach the Apurímac River near the end of day one. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Take in a view of the switchbacks you descended to the bottom of the canyon. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Get your first view of the Choquequirao ruins on day two. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
A local prepares food just off the trail en route to the ruins. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
The Choquequirao Trek takes you through a variety of landscapes; here, transition from the arid canyon to a lush jungle. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Perks of going with a guide: room service. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Get this bird’s-eye vantage over the ruins. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Llamas hang out on the distinct, terraced white stones. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
A hiker ascends the terraces to the settlement’s epicenter. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
The photographer, Andrew Bydlon, takes in a view downcanyon across the Apurímac. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
On the trek, you’ll be privy to this up-close view of the 15th-century settlement. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Locals play pick-up soccer in Choquequirao. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Hit these switchbacks on the “out” and the “back” of this hike. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
When the photographer did this trek in 2014, hikers needed to cross the Apurímac via a rope bridge with an open, metal basket. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
The sun sets over day four’s camp. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
Trekkers close out the Choquequirao out-and-back through cloud cover. [photo: Andrew Bydlon]
OK, you won’t find true solitude at Machu Picchu itself, so the best way to see Peru’s 15th-century Incan ruins without the crowds is on a four-day out-and-back to the Choquequirao settlement, an old Incan bastion of stone temples and structures atop a truncated hilltop. But there’s a catch: You have to do it within the next year or so. Officials are planning to install a tramway to the ruins; once the tram is in place, Choquequirao will be almost as bustling as its more popular alternative.
From Cachora, my guided group followed the Apurímac River gorge, which is up to 9,800 feet deep in spots—nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Despite hiking in August (prime trekking season in Peru), we encountered only a handful of locals on the path, including a corn farmer and a cowboy. After tent-camping by the river on night one, we spent the second night just a 45-minute walk from the Choquequirao ruins, allowing plenty of time to explore. While the ancient relics aren’t as dramatic as those at Machu Picchu, you can only access them on foot, so we had the stone-ringed settlement to ourselves.
Neither this trek nor the Salkantay Trek require a guide, but we recommend using one; the author used Adventure Life Guides (adventure-life.com). Expect to pay roughly $1,535 for a five-day Choquequirao Trek and $2,285 for a seven-day Salkantay Trek.
Season: For the best weather (but more people), go May through August; for guaranteed solitude, pack rain and snow gear and aim for December through April.
To see photo’s from Peru’s mountainous Alto Route, click here.