LIMA, Peru (AP) — The former mountaintop refuge of Incan royalty has elegant halls and plazas much like those of fabled Macchu Picchu just 30 miles (50 kilometers away). Yet only a handful of tourists visit the ruins each day, those willing to make a two-day hike to reach its majestic solitude.
That is about to change: The national government has approved what would be Peru's first aerial tramway. Bridging the deep canyon of the Apurimac River, it is expected to make Choquequirao reachable in just 15 minutes from the nearest highway.
The 3-mile (5-kilometer) long cable car will be designed to whiz 400 people an hour in each direction a half mile (nearly a kilometer) above the river. The president of the Apurimac state government, Elias Segovia, anticipates the $45 million tramway will bring about 3,000 tourists a day after it opens in late 2015.
"This is going to generate tourist services. It will generate great investment" in hotels, restaurants and other amenities, he says.
The idea is to shift some of the tourist burden from Machu Picchu, where authorities have a limit of 2,500 daily visitors and where reservations are now required for people who wish to hike the famed Inca Trail to the ruins.
Currently, most visitors to Choquequirao must fly to Cuzco, the former Inca imperial capital, then drive four hours on mountain roads. Then it's another 12 to 16 hours on foot.
It's little wonder Choquequirao (CHO-kay-keer-ow) gets only about five visitors a day.
"When we went there it was the two of us and the two rangers," said Jeff Widman, a 27-year-old Internet entrepreneur from Menlo Park, California, who trekked there with his wife, and continued on to Machu Picchu.
Choquequirao, which means "cradle of gold" in Quechua, is believed to be the last refuge of Incan rulers who fled Cuzco after its leader Manco Inca was defeated by Spanish conquistadors. It is draped over the fold of a lesser mountain in the shadow of Salcantay peak, surrounded at 9,950 feet (3030 meters) by steep precipices. Its buildings and irrigation canals meticulously hewn into rock are as well-preserved as those of Machu Picchu, its "top-of-the-world" views equally spectacular.