These Under-The-Radar Ancient Ruins Are Best Known As Machu Picchu's Uncrowded 'Sister'

For many, Machu Picchu is one of those once-in-a-lifetime destinations you don't want to miss out on, but believe it or not, there is another nearby site that offers a lot of the same features, but without the crowds: Choquequirao. The ruins of the Incan city Machu Picchu are so popular that Peru has had to cap the number of visitors who are permitted to visit daily. That number is usually 4,500 per day, and with thousands of people trying to experience the thrill of visiting Machu Picchu, it's literally always crowded. That doesn't mean you won't enjoy your trek up Inca Trail, but if you're looking for a quieter journey, you should consider the "sister" site of Choquequirao instead.


Like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao was once an Incan city, and to get there, you'll have to hike up a tricky 39-mile trail into the mountains. The journey is difficult, but if you're hoping for a more private experience, it works to your advantage. While thousands flock to Machu Picchu on a daily basis, estimates say that only about 20 people visit Choquequirao each day. When you arrive, you'll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of stone ruins, including walls painted with images of llamas, huge halls, and the places where the mummified remains of the dead were once laid to rest.

What is Choquequirao?

Today, these ruins are mostly just stone walls hidden away amongst staggering mountain peaks, but at one time, it was a city for kings. Choquequirao was probably built on the orders of Hanan Dynasty ruler Topa Inca, and, like Machu Picchu, once had the same religious and political importance. It was designed to mirror the sky above, so if you happen to explore at dawn, you will see the early morning light fall on exactly the places that its architects intended — including into the niches that were final resting places for important dead.


Although it is believed that this was the most important religious site for the Inca at the very end of the Empire, historical references to it are scant. As described by the New York Times, some, like archeologist Gary Ziegler who worked to excavate Choquequirao, believe that this might be due to attempts to protect the city from the colonizing Spanish invaders. While Choquequirao is now better known than it once was, and there are numerous companies that will offer you guided tours, it's still barely visited compared to Machu Picchu, so you should be able to take your time and explore these ruins in relative privacy.

The difficult route to Choquequirao

While it might not have as frightening a name as the Stairs of Death hike near Machu Picchu, the route to Choquequirao is not one to be underestimated. In fact, it is almost certainly because this hike is so hard that Choquequirao is so uncrowded. For most visitors, the trek up the abandoned city is a major deterrent. If you're looking for an adventure, though, this journey might make your bucket list.


You will likely start your journey in Cusco and hop on a bus to Cachora to reach the trail. This trail takes around four days, there and back, and often runs along a dizzyingly high cliff's edge. This hike will take you up and down rocky terrain, along switchbacks, changing altitude fairly quickly, and requiring you to camp out along the way. Even before you reach the ruins, you'll have plenty to capture your interest, looking down at the rushing river from the peaks of jungle-covered mountains.