Tim and I returned to Peru, ready and excited to go and explore Machu Picchu. We had been saving the city of Cusco as a sort of grand finale to our time in South America. We arrived really late after an interminable bus ride from hell from La Paz, and took the following day to rest up and relax before we made our plans to visit the notorious Inca ruins, Machu Pichu. We definitely didn’t expect that we we’re both about to get sick and take turns being bedridden for the next week. Fortunately it was nothing serious, and once we we’re feeling better, we knew that simply visiting Machu Picchu by bus wasn’t going to be enough. We needed a little bit of an adventure to get there, so we booked a 4 day/3 night Inca Jungle trek.
It all started at 7am the first morning. We drove uphill through extremely winding roads until we reached our first stop at Abra Malaga at a chilly altitude of 4200 meters. From there, we met the 23 other people on the tour, got geared up, and for the next 2 hours we mountain biked down into the hot and steamy jungle. We were literally biking through clouds when we first started, with no idea of how beautiful the surrounding views were about to get. The scenery was so stunning that it was hard at times to keep our eyes on the road. Tim in fact got distracted by a waterfall and ended up crashing his bike into a mountain wall. But don’t worry; all the protective gear he was wearing saved him from being hurt.
After the biking, it was time for a little rest and some lunch to fuel us up for the next big activity of the day: whitewater rafting. We drove to what seemed like a guy’s garage (which also doubled as a changing room) and once again got geared up. Life-jackets and helmets in tow, we climbed into the rafts in groups of six and our guide gave us a quick rafting lesson. With that, we were off. It was extremely fun and thrilling. For the next hour and half, we tried to follow the guide’s instruction and row when needed. Mostly though, we just clung on for dear life, hoping not to fall out of the boat. Unfortunately, photography isn’t exactly practical while rafting, therefore we don’t have any pictures of this activity.
Wet, tired, and hungry we hiked for about an hour through the jungle at night with nothing but our flashlights to lead the way. We finally arrived at our jungle lodge and because Tim and I were the last ones to check-in with our guide, we ended up with a private room. Score! We ate dinner, and went to bed. It was only day 1, and we had already experienced so much adventure. No need to tell you how well we slept that night!
We awoke on day two only to realize that once again we we’re surrounded by more beautiful landscapes. Our hike the night before definitely paid off. We had breakfast and the guides explained to the group that we would be hiking for about 7 hours that day. After the first hour of walking, we took a break at a lookout point and were given a lesson in Inca history. We walked along original Inca trails, stopping everyone once in a while to eat delicious fruit from trees, or get an explanation on the surrounding vegetation.
Things were getting pretty hot out there, so after lunch the group chose to stop at a river for a dip. The water was freezing, I could barely keep my feet in it for more than a few minutes at a time. Feeling refreshed, we continued on our trek until it was time to cross to the other side of the canyon. We each paid a local guy 2 pesos ($0.75 CAD) to get a ride across on the cable-car. This thing definitely fell into the category of “things that wouldn’t be legal in my home country”. But it offered great views on both sides and was actually pretty safe and fun. We continued hiking for another hour or two until we reached the much deserved hot springs of Santa Teresa. We enjoyed it so much that most people in the group ended up staying there much longer than we we’re supposed to and elected to take a local bus to our next hostel instead of walking in the dark. Once again, we we’re the last ones to check-in and we got the only private room in the hostel!
Day three started off with a nice pancake breakfast, and then it was time to get that adrenaline pumping and go zip-lining across the nearby canyon. We went across 5 different lines, suspended 150 meters in the air. It was fun, but I actually preferred the cable car ride from the day before, as you actually got to enjoy the scenery for more than a minute at a time. The last part of the zip-lining was a suspension bridge which was the most difficult/fun part. You are strapped in, but every time someone would take a step the whole thing would shake and wobble, leaving you in terror of falling.
From Santa Teresa we got into a van which drove us all the way to Hidroelectrica, which is the closest you can get to Aguas Calientes (a.k.a Machu Picchu town) by road. From there you can either walk along the train tracks for a few hours or take the insanely expensive tourist train. Guess which one we did?
By the end of the walk, we we’re pretty beat. We had finally arrived to Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu was within reach. The town is overly touristy and expensive, but you can’t deny how magnificent the scenery is there. We settled into our hostel (private room again!), decompressed a little and then walked around the town before dinner. At dinner our guide gave us a run through of what our visit to Machu Picchu would be like the next day. We had a choice of either the hour long walk up the stairs to the entrance at 5:00 am or to pay 10 USD and take a 15 minute bus ride. Tim chose the stairs, and I chose the bus. We were warned about how expensive everything is once inside Machu Picchu, so we spent our evening purchasing food and water for the next day before a very early rise.
Before we knew it, it was time to wake up and get ready. Excitement was definitely in the air, we were about to finally get to see the magical ruins everybody raves about. As I waited in line for the bus, all I could think about was Tim and the others climbing up those stairs and how happy I was that I was not with them. The whole group met up (some a little sweatier than others) at the site entrance just in time for the gate opening. It was about to happen, that grand finale we had been thinking about for not only the past 3 days, but the past few months. It definitely lived up to the expectations.
The guides gave us a tour of the site for a few hours, explaining the history and the architecture, giving us a much better understanding of Machu Picchu and the Incas. After that, the guides left and we were on our own to discover the rest of the area. Most people choose to climb Huayna Picchu as part of their experience, but this hike is limited to 400 people per day, and sells out quickly. We chose to climb up the less popular, slightly higher, 650 meter hike up Machu Picchu mountain instead, and I think we got the better deal. It was a long way to go climbing up stone stairs the whole way, but the 360 degree views we were offered at the top were definitely one of the highlights of this trip so far.
After the climb we came back down and continued exploring the site until closing time. We were a little tired but the energy of all that we had seen that day gave us enough juice to tackle the walk down to Aguas Calientes instead of taking the bus. As the day was coming to the end, we were filled with a serene sense of accomplishment. Not only had we seen and experienced so many great things, but the entire group got along really well and we met a lot of really cool people. Of course, another great night’s sleep was to be had.