Sunday, September 17, 2017

Choquequirao, Another of Peru’s Remote and Lost Ruins

From a lookout point called Huancacalle, high above the Apurímac Canyon, a peaceful, attractive rest area and small village along the trek to Vilcabamba, Spanish-prospector Juan Arias Díaz Topete rested his mules.
View looking down upon the Apurímac River from the area of Choquiquirao

Based on his findings, he reported three expeditions into a country between the Apurímac and Urubamba rivers during which he found “four ancient towns of heathen times, wholly uninhabited, one named Choquiquirao (Chuqui K’iraw in Quechua, or “cradle of gold” or “gold cradle”).
    Choquequirao, a town of some 15,000 people, situated on a high plateau in the Province of La Convencion in the Vilcabamba Valley on the right side of the Apurímac, turned out to be a site of well-constructed double houses with a single common wall, paved apartments, antechambers and baths, all built on constructed terraces, with walls built of hewn stone, stepped down the mountain side with vast squares, triumphal walls and narrow streets—all completely overgrown with trees and creeping plants.
Here on this ancient and previously unknown foot path, he found the ruins of Choquequirao, almost entirely hidden beneath a thousand-year growth of vegetation, trees and bushes. About two hundred years later, an unknown American explorer named Hiram Bingham crossed a flimsy wooden bridge that had been built by a local expedition a couple of years earlier, and announced the finding of Choquequirao to the world, documenting it thoroughly; however, his discovery two years later of Machu Picchu, 40 miles to the north, drew attention away from the more difficult to reach Choquequirao. In addition, another hidden and lost city, Vitcos (also known as Rusapatak, and the site where Manco Inca was murdered by a renegade group of conquistadors attempting to win back favor with the Spanish crown), was discovered in the Vilcabamba Valley.
    Vitcos, an hour’s walk up the heavily forested hill from Huancacalle, past numerous orchids, perhaps a fox or two, and numerous birds, including wide-winged condors, as the amazing, sacred white rock of Yurac Rumi, a giant carved rock and remains of the Sun Temple, is reached. Beyond is Wayna Qalli viewpoint where Choquequirao can be seen in the distance along with the mountains of the Vilcabamba cordillera.
When Díaz reached this ancient city, then overgrown with trees and underbrush, he reported a main plaza, surrounded by groups of terraces, small sacerdotal houses, aqueducts, and intricate architecture that surprises the imagination. From the Priests District, the bright green central plaza stretched along the narrow summit of a high ridge and dropped precipitously on both sides to a turquoise river thousands of feet below. He must have wondered why anyone would have chosen this specific location to build such a wonder.  The vegetation hides a rich fauna and flora, orchids are abundant and birds of all sorts can be found at this area. Condors fly overhead, especially in the afternoons, where they fly nearby before going back to their mountain nests. Beyond lay a panorama of jungle and 17,000-foot peaks, all enclosed in silence and isolation.
The citadel of Choquequirao, which actually contains nine architectural groups, all made of stone, and a system of 180 terraces, along with residential houses (huasi), meeting houses (kalankas), administrative buildings, storehouses (qollqa), artists residences, religious platform (usnu), and irrigation systems (larq’a), takes up two hectares (though only partially excavated), and is approximately the same size and configuration as Machu Picchu. Both sites are built on the side of a mountain peak, with Choquequirao resting in obscurity these past 300 years since Díaz’ first visit, with little work and almost no archaeological interest and work accomplished, yet it is of such magnitude and scope that surely it will someday offer up secrets and stories of its own as Machu Picchu has done.
    The nearest city, Cachora, is hardly different from its farming origins hundreds of years ago, and rests 20 very difficult miles from Choquequirao, a trail along winding cliffs over the Apurímac River, with the snow-capped Salkantay ridge to the north, then down a 4,000 vertical-foot-descent, and up a 5,000-foot climb to the main plaza of Choquequirao.
The trail to Choquequirao was steep and dangerous

This vast, undiscovered ancient complex eluded the Spanish, and most explorers up until recently, not withstanding Diaz’ exploration 300 years ago. Its isolation near the northern end of the Sacred Valley of Peru near Cusco, elevated from the valley by more than 1000 feet, and cloaked in dense tropical vegetation, was several miles away from any well-known Inca or ancient Peruvian site. There were no roads, and only a single trail that connected the citadel with the outside world.
    Called the “Cardle of Gold,” Choquequirao, was not made known until 1768 when the first written site reference was made by Cosme Bueno, but it too was ignored at the time. Then just over 65 years later, Eugene de Santiges rediscovered the site, and three years later Leonce Agrand mapped the ruins for the first time, but unfortunately his maps were forgotten.
When Hiram Bingham, visited Choquequirao in 1909 the site gained more attention. The first excavations started in the 1970s. But today, only between 30% and 40% of the Choquequirao ceremonial center has been cleared of vegetation. The remaining area is formed by a complex terrace system built on extremely steep slopes, with an impressive stairway of 180 terraces recently observed that descends from one of the ceremonial center flanks and reaches the river open to swimming.
    This is the high-altitude land, with its violet hills, of the communist-guerillas of the Shining Path (Partido Comunista del Perú) of the 1980s, and now trying to make a comeback after many years of decline. A land of dense and humid high forests between the Salcantay snow-capped mountains to the north of the Apurímac River. A land of pumas, foxes, bears and the deep red orange, beautifully-plumed rupicola peruviana (Tunqui) bird (cock or rooster of the rock).
    Beyond is the green valley of the Rio Blanco and the village of Maizal (cornfield), which is little more than a terrace on the side of a mountain, surrounded by high peaks on three sides, and a small farm in the midst of the jungle, filled with colorful tall flowers.
    Choquequirao is an interesting site, claimed to have been built by the Inca, however, that is often  an invention for tourists that makes for good story-telling during hikes and when viewing ruins.
It’s out-of-the-way location, its arduous difficulty to reach, and its entirely isolated location suggests that it was located in these mountainous canyons for the sole purpose of remaining isolated and not as a base of operations, because of the difficulty in going and coming. It is a type of location that Alma would have found to build his town of Helam (Mosiah 23:19-20), after traveling several days into the wilderness (Mosiah 23:3), at a height on the side of a mountain that afforded them a view of the borders of the land (Mosiah 23:25). Building terraces where they could “till the ground round about” (Mosiah 23:25)—it was certainly a land in which unfamiliar people could wander for days, not knowing where they were (Mosiah 23:30), even though they were less than fifty miles from the City of Nephi (Mosiah 23:35).


  1. Another great post Del. Thank you.

    If you put Choquequirao in google earth, it is very impressive. It is spread out over multiple locations across the mountaintop. Buildings were built on the side of very steep mountains. Impressive terrain. Clearly built by a very industrious people.

    It is also very interesting to plot Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Choquequirao and see where they are relative to each other. You can see how the Lamanites could have gone from Cusco (Nephi) and found Macchu Picchu (possible City of Amulon)- then from there find the City of Helam (possibly Choquequirao) while trying to find the city of Nephi.

    Mosiah 23:5 5 And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.

    You think of these new converts working so hard to build this amazing city and live in peace- and then in verse 30, the Lamanites and wicked priests take over the city. It brings it to life.

  2. I just happened across this article of an archaeologist who discovered 2 more ruins locations near choquequiaro. It's pretty interesting and has some pictures.