#TBT Machu Picchu

It has been just over three years since my small South American adventure (thanks Timehop) so I am feeling rather nostalgic. We only had the school holidays to explore (my friend is a teacher) so we decided to conquer Peru and Bolivia. Out of the whole of SA, I had only been to Brazil in the past so I was beyond excited for this trip – yes it costs an arm and a leg for flights (from the UK anyway) but it was worth every penny.

Rather than try and remember in detail everything I did I thought I would share a travel article I wrote way back when for Tropical Sky. Hope you enjoy…

Machu Picchu – Let the fun commence…

So, we have all dreamt of hiking for hours and hours with a heavier-by-the-minute backpack, up steep terrain in both sub-tropical and freezing, (snow-capped mountains freezing) climates for four days to reach the summit of the breath-taking Machu Picchu right? Well for me, no actually, and I happen to know I am not alone! I do however, like to keep an active lifestyle so getting the train there seemed too much of a cop-out, so upon seeing online a three night/four day “trek” involving cycling (descending from 3,000 metres above sea level on smooth asphalt), white water rafting (Grade II – III), jungle canopy zip-lining (200 metres high and 400 long) and a bit of hiking/mountain climbing thrown in for good measure – I jumped at the chance to embark on the adventure and I was not disappointed!

I’m referring to the ‘Inca Jungle Trek’ which can be purchased from various travel agents in the stunning city in Cusco (or if you don’t want to chance it, like me, you can pay in advance here –  it is more expensive though so don’t say you weren’t warned!)

Day 1 involves a bus journey to Ollantaytambo where you stop to get supplies (breakfast bars, fruit etc.) then it’s up the mountain (Malaga High Pass) we go, there are some amazing views from the bus and it’s a great chance to get to know your fellow ‘trekkers’. Once at the top, you choose your bike, get a safety helmet for your protection, a small briefing and then you start a very, very, very fast descent downhill, admiring the scenery as you go.*

On yer bike…
On yer bike…

Upon reaching the bottom you feel extremely invigorated, very hot and desperately in need of food. As always on this trip you receive 2-3 courses at lunch and dinner, the food is quite delicious and includes fresh guacamole (avocados picked by you if you like) with homemade tortillas, quinoa soup then grilled chicken, llama, beef, or a veggie substitute (usually omelette) served with rice, salad AND chips (you need your carbs for energy but they do attract mosquitos).

After lunch and a quick change it’s on to the river in Santa Maria for the grade II-III rafting, having never rafted before the word apprehension doesn’t really sum up my feelings prior to this. Being totally truthful I LOVED it! I didn’t fall into the freezing rapid which is always a plus; it was lots of fun and was also a great chance for yet more team bonding.

Dinner is served later in your hostel (yes hostels, no tents on this trip), the hostels are all basic but clean (cold showers) but after a physical day it is just what’s needed.

Day 2 – the trekking!

I love a good walk and as Cusco is rather cold (especially at night) I welcomed the jungle, low altitude heat (ensure you reapply sunscreen frequently as today you sweat A LOT). What the itinerary, guides, past explorers don’t mention is that at one point of the seemingly ‘easy’ trek you have about a 12 inch wide part of gravel cliff to work your way across with a fatal drop to your left (don’t believe look at the photo that’s me holding on for dear life).

cliff hell
Cliff hell

This part is not for the faint-hearted. Everyone (there were 28 people in total) was fine though, even those afraid of heights made it across safely. As mentioned you do perspire, your back especially as you have your daypack for the entire 25kms! So it’s best to take more t-shirts if sweat isn’t your thing.

Along the way you visit traditional places where you get lessons in spotting exotic fruits and plants from papayas to baby pineapples to mangoes to coffee beans to cacao (fresh choccie – yum) and of course expertly identifying the coca leaf. You can also have an Inca makeup lesson with natural colouring from a fruit (just don’t rub your face as you’ll end up looking like an oompa loompa not unlike my dear friend pictured).

Oompa Loompa
Oompa Loompa

It is a tiring day but the views are worth it…

"I'm queen of the world..."
“I’m queen of the world…”

Your efforts are soon realised – vast, hot springs lie in Santa Teresa to soothe and massage your aching body. This is an additional cost but at 5 soles is well worth it. (Do expect to be in bed by 9pm most nights, early starts and moderate exercise equals sleepy souls).

Day 3 sees you and your new friends get suited and booted ready for the canopy zip-lining. This part is hilarious and the scenery is amazing. Again, not for the faint-hearted, you are very high with a jungle below your feet but you are harnessed up I felt very safe. You zip along 6 cables in total each one getting longer and higher. If you’re a true adrenaline junkie this is nowhere near as heart-pumping as a bungee or sky-dive but it is still thrilling and worth doing.

After lunch and a little nap in a hammock you then walk along the Peru Rail train tracks for about 4 hours and then you will finally reach the Machu Picchu mecca of Aguascalientes.

Stand by me style
Stand by me style

This is where everybody has to come to start the climb up the ancient steps or catch the bus into the sacred Inca site so as you would expect it is very touristy.

Everyone is very excited on this night a) because the walk prior is very easy so you have excess energy and b) tomorrow you will be in Machu Picchu!! You spend the night in hostel with your first hot shower in days and prepare for your 4am start tomorrow. Personally, I was so excited I barely slept but it didn’t decrease my energy for the Inca Trail at all. I’m not going to lie the steps (2,500 in total) are by far the most difficult part of the Jungle Trek. Good points are however, that you don’t sweat as much as it is very early in the morning and the southern hemisphere stars and glorious moon look fantastic at that time of night/day.** I found the climb a lot easier when I popped my iPod on and I actually found myself racing up the steps for the last 10 minutes. You may feel a slight stab of disappointment when you reach the top and see a queue of travellers who took the bus waiting outside to enter the site and it’s not the twin peaks of the ancient mountains themselves. But once you’ve changed your clothes (you do still sweat and want to look nice on your photos) and entered the mystical attraction (gaining another stamp on your passport) the scenery is literally indescribable. I don’t want to give too much away but put it this way the photos do not do this site justice in the slightest.

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Your guide stays with you and your group and explains in great detail all of the history from who lived there to who discovered it. Then you have free time to do as you please. I opted for a picnic with wine, grapes and cheese at the top and a spot of sunbathing (the first time on this trip) you can then leave on the bus or down the steps to Aguascalientes when you like, depending on who you book with your train times may vary. We had a train booked back to Ollantaytambo at 14:30 and felt that was more than enough time to explore the fascinating ruins considering you get there before 6am. From the ancient Sacred Valley town you then get a minibus back to your hostel in Cusco.

All transport, meals, activities listed and accommodation are included in the price you pay.

I cannot recommend exploring Machu Picchu enough and I wouldn’t hesitate on embarking on the Inca Jungle Trek all over again.

*Please note you don’t have to speed cycle! But it is lots of fun.
** Bring a torch it is an essential

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