There is much unknown about the site, Choquequirao still reveals its mysteries to archeaologists today. Ceramic studies demonstrate that the area where Choquequirao stands was inhabitated long time before the incas. Either Tupac Yupanqui or Huayna Capac (XV and XVI centuries) built the impresive citadel on that location as well as a complete trail system that connected with Machu Picchu, Vilcabamba and the central site of Vitcos (capital of the last Incas).
The story of the last Inca rulers or “The Vilcabamba Incas” starts with Manco Inca’s failled seige of Cusco. He scaped to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and then went north to the heart of the Vilcabamba Mountain Range. The rebelion only ended 36 years later, when Tupac Amaru I, was executed in Cusco’s Main Square in 1572.
News of Choquequirao were heard in 1710 and French explorer Eugene De Sartiges got to the site in 1834. Bingham reached Choquequirao in 1909 and pressed on to Machu Picchu in 1911, claiming the latter as the “Lost City of the Incas”. Most scholars agree that Espiritu Pampa (“Plain of Ghosts” or “Vilcabamba The Old”, also discovered by Bingham and then studied by Savoy) is the last city of the rebel Incas of Vilcabamba.
Choquequirao was once again forgotten until 1968 when the sanctuary was included in the Official Register of Archeological Monuments by Peruvian authorities.
Politically, Choquequirao belongs to the department of Cusco but geographically, it is easily accessed through the Apurimac department. The monument is located in what peruvians call the “eyebrow of the jungle”, a term that signals an ecological floor characterised by a dry, mountainous subtropical forest zone, with an average temperature of 60.8 ºF.
Then, the eyebrow of the jungle is both a region of huge mountains and thick forests. On top of that, the Apurimac Canyon has desert like areas near its bottom, given the traveler an unsurpassed chance to walk through worlds apart ecoregions. The canyon is home to endangered species such as the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus). Bromeliads and orchids abound, these are known for their exotic beauty, delicate and whimsical forms. The most representative being the genera Odontoglossum, Epidendrum Secundum and Pleurothallis.
“Choquequirao”, stands for “Cradle of Gold” in Quechua, the ancient Inca language. It is a composite term: “choqe” meaning gold and “kiraw” meaning cradle. Today we usually see it written as “Choquequirao”, which is a Spanish onomatopoeic transliteration of the word.
Although only the 30% of the Complex (totaling approximatetly 1.800 hectares) has been uncovered and studied, investigations suggest Choquequirao was a religious site and an important commercial and cultural enclave between the Cusco mountains and the Amazon jungle.
Choquequirao has an impresive terrace system, these served a double purpose: contention and agricultural use. This explains why terraces are found on both sides of the ridge, to the east and west of the central plaza.
Choquequirao was built in accordance with the Inca duality concept of life; its urban distribution is thus divided in a high sector or “hanan” and a low sector or “hurin”. Water is symbolically praised by architecture; the vital element flows from the Apus (Mountain Gods) into the site via a stone canal that connects hanan and hurin sectors as a vertebral column, organizing the building distribution. Today one can visit some of the twelve sectors that have been restored and are opened to the general public. Other parts within a 6,2 mile radius of Choquequirao remain uncovered, under the dense forest. Its many constructions, including temples, storerooms, meeting grounds, homes, squares, fountains and stairs, fit into ground topography and the sorrounding environment naturally: walls align with mountain profiles, windows frame mountain tops. In sum, Choquequirao is full of enchanting details. Within the west side of the site, 22 white stone mosaics representing a group of traveling llamas decorate the terraced walls. The “Llamas of the Sun”: is the only example of this type of ornamental design known in the Inca world. Recent studies suggest a connection with an enemy cultural group conquered by the Incas just before the Spanish arrival. The fierce Chachapoya, people of the northern cloud forests, are said to be the builders of this unique work of art. The “Ushnu” or ceremonial platform stands as the uttermost symbol of the human aspiration to connect with Nature. On the ushnu the traveler gaises down the canyon, water flowing north, condors flying high in the bluest of skies only below the towering snowy peaks.