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A difficult question we're often asked at Leap Local is, what exactly is Local and how do you define responsible tourism? An obvious extreme example of irresponsible tourism is booking a tour to Peru with a London agency that flys out English guides and you stay in a US-owned hotel. Very little of your money goes into the local economy you are visiting. But there are no black and white rules and often you need to use your judgement and be pragmatic.
Choquequirao is a good example. You could book a tour in Cusco with an agency owned by a Cusquña that uses its own guides from the Sacred Valley. So far, so local, but Choquequirao, which is in Apurimac, sees very little of your cash, which has all gone to the Cusco region. Is this a problem? The access towns for Choquequirao, Cachora and Huanipaca, are both poor towns with little infrastructure. Because of this, trekkers are bussed straight through. Yet the residents of these towns would like to benefit from tourism and would like to begin building the required infrastructure.
You can help overcome this stumbling block by going directly to Cachora to organise your Choquequirao trek, which is easy to do, will ensure you a good time with our recommended locals and will save you considerable money over the headline price quoted by Cusco agencies.
From Cusco to Cachora and Back
There are several bus operators on the Cusco to Abancay route and it is not unusual to end up in a convoy of three buses all stuck behind a slow lorry on the mountain section of the road! We travelled out with Bus Bredde and back with Empresa. Both cost soles 15 for a one-way trip, so soles 30 for the return.
Bus Bredde leaves Cusco at 0600, 1000, 1300 and 2000 from Terminal Terrestre. Turn up at least half an hour before departure to get your ticket.
You need to get off at Ramal. The bus will not stop unless you ask, so look out for the KM markers for 145. Ramal is just past KM 148. This is about 3 to 4 hours after Cusco.
At Ramal you can get a minibus down to Cachora for soles 5. However, these are infrequent and tend to be at the start and end of the day. Taxis wait at Ramal and cost soles 25 per taxi; the more people you fit in, the cheaper it is! Or you can walk downhill, which takes about 45mins to 1hr. Do not follow the road, which switchbacks; instead drop left off the road soon after Ramal and walk straight down to Cachora, which is visible below.
To return from Cachora, either catch a taxi or get one of the minibuses. These leave early (8am to 11am) for Abancay. Get off at Ramal, on the main Cusco - Abancay road. Buses stop here, so flag down the first heading for Cusco and buy your ticket onboard.
All prices are quoted for May 2007.
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The Trail to Choquequirao
The trail is excellent, being newly built and maintained by the INC. You can walk it solo, without a guide or horses, but adding a horse obviously lightens your backpack and adding a guide will get you more information about the route and Choquequirao itself.
Click here to open a map of the route in a new window.
The INC have built three campsites with bathrooms and running water. These are free, and at each a family lives who can provides basic food. In addition there is a fourth private campsite at the start of the trek. The campsites are:
In addition there is an INC campsite at Choquequirao itself (KM 32), which has no food and is not in the ruins, but a bit below. Marampata makes a better evening camp as it holds the afternoon sun.
A popular itinerary is:
Of course, a big advantage of organising your own trek is walking any itinerary, so if you feel tired you can stop early!
If walking without a guide or horses, the navigation is easy apart from leaving Cachora itself! Head down the valley on the road, following the line of telegraph poles. Bear left as if to cross the river and you will soon see a large blue concrete plinth for KM 0. Keep heading leftwards and the path crosses the river and rises up to Colmena. From there, rise to the road and follow the road until Capuliyoc, before descending into the Apurimac. From there, the path is very obvious.
Alternative Exit via Huanipaca
The map linked above does not show the Huanipaca exit, but it is easy to pick out. From Choquequirao there is an alternative path, which descends to the junction of the Rio Tambobamba with the Rio Apurimac. This is Playa St Ignacio. From there the path follows the Rio Tambobamba and rises gently up the valley. This is a much more gentle climb than returning to Cachora, and is very scenic, from the bannana oasis at St Igancio through rich farmland with flocks of green parakeets up to Huanipaca itself on the edge of the altiplano.
The distance is slightly shorter to the Cachora route, about 25KM from Choquequirao to Huanipaca.
If walking without a guide or horses, once you reach Tambobamba, do not follow the road, which has very long switchbacks. Instead look for the obvious path that continues up the Tambobamba valley to Huanipaca.
The route has only one INC campsite.
The descent from Choquequirao to Playa Ignacio is too steep for horses. Some guides are able to arrange a way around this, but if you want to do this route, it may well require more organisation.
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To return from Huanipaca, as with Cachora, minibuses leave in the morning for Abancay, which will run you to Ramal for soles 5 (May 2007).
Setting aside responsible tourism for a minute, doing this trek locally will cost you very little. In May 2007 you could easily spend less than soles 200, and this contrasts favourably with agencies in Cusco quoting US$200: 3 times the price. When you then consider your money is being spent directly in Apurimac, helping Cachora to begin to develop a tourism infrastructure, and so their quality of life, then going Local is a winner!