This was one of those adventures that I will keep with me for my entire life.
When I set out on my most recent trip to South America in October, I had no intentions of visiting Machu Picchu. My goal was to pass through Ecuador and Peru as quick as possible to get settled in Bolivia and start working with BiblioWorks.
The trip developed, one stop led to the next and before I knew it I found myself in Lima contemplating holiday plans and itching to do something big. As I caught my breath from the first 2 months on the road, I realized that Cusco would be a great place to spend Christmas and that Machu Picchu would be a great distraction from being away from home for Christmas.
I was hesitant at first because of all the hoopla around the famous monument. I worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype, I wondered if the rainy season would ruin the trip and I was sure I’d get annoyed with Asian tourists throwing up peace signs all over the place.
Despite my concerns, I wanted to experience Machu Picchu and I thank the Incan gods I did. It turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I was amazed by its size and condition, baffled by how it was all built, in awe of the scenery and absolutely captivated by the energy that flows through the ruins, jungle, and surrounding mountain range.
But before I made it to these incredible ruins, there was a beautiful adventure to be had just getting there. Here’s how the trek to the Picch went down…
CHOOSING THE TOUR
This is the part that sucks about planning for Machu Picchu. Cutting through all the Machu Picchu bull shit and tourist traps in Cusco to find a tour operator that won’t over promise and under deliver. I teamed up with a British friend (Lauren) I met in Arequipa and we set out to find the best possible tour by negotiating around town and reading reviews online. Turns out there are a million different tour sales offices in Cusco but only a few actual tour operators.
After 2 days of scavenging, we decided on the Inca Jungle Trek with Reserv. Cusco for $220 US. A 4-day, 3-night, guided tour that included 1 day of mountain biking, 3 days of hiking, zip-lining, hot springs, food and accommodations.
DAY 1: THE KICK START
Lauren, myself, and our Australian friend (Annika) arrived at the Reserv Cusco office at 7:30am where we met our guide (Juan Carlos) and the last member of our trekking team, Vicky, a professor from California. 4 days in the jungle with 3 women and a guide was a nice perk to the trip.
We got acquainted as our tour bus took us out of Cusco to Abra de Malaga, where we geared up to mountain bike. The ride started way up in the clouds and descended 65 km (40 miles) into the jungle. We road for about 4 hours, mostly downhill along the highway, and we hit a few small patches of “off-roading,” which was basically just unpaved streets. It wasn’t anything too extreme, but the view was so beautiful that I had to catch myself sometimes so I wouldn’t go over edge.
After the ride we jumped back in the bus and cruised for a bit more before we unloaded again for a quick hike to the village of Santa Maria, where we spent our first night.
DAY 2: HIKE LIKE AN INCA
Well rested and ready to roll, we hit the ground running on day 2 for what was planned to be longest hiking day of the trip. We traversed across mountains and cut through thick jungle as we hiked for 7 hours, including about an hour on the official Inca trail.
We finished day 2 at the hot springs of Cocalmayo before making a final push to our second night’s stop in Santa Teresa.
DAY 3: ZIPPING INTO AGUAS CALIENTES
Sore and blistered, the girls sucked up their funky foot issues to keep up on day 3. After breakfast, a shuttle bus took us to the zip-lining headquarters where we received some safety instructions and got geared up.
There were 6 different zip-lines stretching across a deep canyon that could be reached by a network of muddy trails, each one faster and higher than the last. The highlight was definitely the “Spiderman” move Juan Carlos taught us, which is where you swing yourself upside down and let your hand fly free as you zip over the river a few hundred feet below. It freaks ya out a little bit.
We unhooked from the zip-line and continued on foot for another few hours, through the jungle and along the train tracks to the beautiful village of Aguas Calientes, which would be our base camp for Machu Picchu…
SEE PART II: My Machu Picchu Experience